Surrey

Brooklands race track 'built by society lady'

Dame Ethel Locke King in the paddock with a programme c.1935 Image copyright Brooklands Museum
Image caption The exhibition focuses on Dame Ethel Locke King in her own right "rather than as a wife", curators said

An Edwardian woman who helped to build the world's first purpose-built motor circuit and went on to race on it, is the focus of an exhibition in Surrey.

Dame Ethel Locke King took over supervision of the Brooklands track when construction was affected by debts and her husband's stress.

The daughter of the governor of Tasmania went on to come second in the first ladies' race in 1908.

Brooklands Museum assistant curator Abi Wilson said Dame Ethel was "pivotal".

Image copyright Brooklands Museum
Image caption Ethel and Hugh Locke King led the opening parade in their Itala on 17 June 1907

A member of the wealthy Gore-Brown family, Dame Ethel stepped in after the stress of the project affected the health of her husband, Hugh Locke King.

Her family also lent money to pay off debts racked up from the work.

Image copyright Brooklands Museum’
Image caption Brooklands was the world's first purpose-built motor racing circuit

Ms Wilson said: "You think of her as your classic society lady, but actually she's just this incredible woman.

"She actually was really pivotal in having the track constructed - we always think of it as being something that her husband Hugh did, but he suffered from quite delicate health, and there were some severe financial strains.

"She took over signing all the letters, making all the decisions - a really sort of forceful woman but also very vibrant and generous, from all accounts."

Image copyright Brooklands Museum
Image caption The exhibition also looks at the work of Dame Ethel Locke King (right) with the Red Cross

Construction of the track started in about 1906, although experts are unable to pinpoint the exact date, and it opened on 17 June 1907.

Ethel and Hugh Locke King led the opening parade in their Itala car - which Dame Ethel raced in the Ladies' Silver Bracelet Handicap event a year later.

Image copyright Brooklands Museum
Image caption Locke King Cars - Daisy in the centre, and Itala Bambo second from left
Image copyright Brooklands Museum
Image caption It took up to a year and a half to construct the original racing track

"They weren't really fans of women racing, they sort of let them have a go," Ms Wilson said.

"It was a long time until they raced against men on equal terms."

The exhibition also looks at Dame Ethel's work during World War One as assistant county director for the Red Cross, for which she established up to 15 military hospitals.

Image copyright Brooklands Museum
Image caption The display includes an autograph book from Brooklands House military hospital with notes and drawings by soldiers

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