‘They shouldn’t have put Eleanor’s head on it...’ This comment by Eleanor Thornton’s doctor Reginald Ingram reflected the views of some of her friends, who knew that she modelled for Sykes. The theory that Eleanor was the inspiration, if not the actual model, for the mascot was strengthened by a photograph of her taken in 1911, which shows her standing on the running board of John Montagu’s Silver Ghost with the new Spirit of Ecstasy mascot in the foreground.
Eleanor is also thought to be the inspiration for another car mascot designed by Charles Sykes. The Whisperer or Whisper was a private commission from John Montagu. A few people, including his own wife, knew that Eleanor was John’s mistress, and this mascot is thought to represent the shared secret that they had a daughter, Joan, who was born in 1903. Cast in aluminium, this mascot was kept on John’s own car until his death in 1929.
Eleanor Thornton died tragically on 30th December 1915 when the ship she was travelling on, the SS Persia, was torpedoed by a German U-boat. She was travelling with John, who was returning to his post as Inspector of Mechanical Transport for the Army in India. John was one of the few survivors of the sinking, but Eleanor drowned. Her body was never recovered. She was not forgotten, however – John saw her every time he drove his Rolls-Royce and the figure she is thought to have inspired, the Spirit of Ecstasy, still adorns every Rolls-Royce car.
Eleanor Thornton (left) with Charles Sykes (centre) and Jessica Sykes (2nd right). One of the other two men is Joseph Longhurst, an artist friend of the Sykes’. The other man may be Gordon Hayter, Eleanor’s brother-in-law.
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