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Page last updated at 11:53 GMT, Thursday, 3 February 2011
Rolls Royce flying lady mascot's 100 year history
Eleanor Thornton on Lord Monatu's Rolls Royce
"Thorn" was the inspiration behind the famous bonnet ornament

One of the world's best-known motoring icons - with its origins in the New Forest - is celebrating its centenary.

The precursor to the Rolls Royce flying lady mascot was inspired by Eleanor Thornton, secretary and secret mistress of the 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu.

Lord Montagu originally commissioned artist, Charles Sykes to make a mascot for his 1909 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.

Using Eleanor as a model, he produced a statue of a young woman with fluttering robes holding a finger to her lips.

It was named "The Whisper" and became the icon on the Montagu family's Rolls Royces.

Charles Skyes' design was later developed into the famous flying lady bonnet mascot, Spirit of Ecstasy. It was first registered by Charles Skyes on February 6, 1911.

To mark the centenary on Sunday, 100 classic Rolls Royce's will drive through London passing the original homes of the cars.

Illegitimate daughter

Montagu fell in love with Eleanor, who was also known as Thorn, in 1902 when she worked for him on The Car Illustrated, his motoring magazine.

Eleanor Thornton "The Whisper" on Lord Monatu's Rolls Royce
Eleanor died when torpedoed liner Persia sank

Their long affair held another secret. The lovers had an illegitimate daughter, Joan, who was given away for adoption.

Tragically Eleanor never saw the global success of the figurine.

On December 30 1915, the P&O passenger ship, Persia was on her way to India with 500 passengers onboard. Among them Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, and Eleanor Thornton.

The liner was the first passenger ship to be torpedoed without warning during World War I.

Montagu survived thanks to his bespoke life jacket, Eleanor went down with the ship, her body was never found.


The current Lord Montagu of Beaulieu has continued his father's legacy at the National Motor Museum. The family home since 1538.

The original "Whisper" statue, along with other Spirit of Ecstasy figurines and five Rolls Royce are on display along with 250 other vehicles.

The display includes Phantom I bought in 1925 by Lord Montagu's father. It was used by him until his death in 1929, the car features the "Whisper" mascot.

Lord Montagu has fully accepted Eleanor and his half-sister Joan, plus Eleanor's grandsons, Richard and John Moorby into the family.

A bronze plaque has been placed in Eleanor's memory in Beaulieu Abbey Church, beside the family pew. Joan's ashes were scattered on the family grave in Beaulieu Abbey.

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