The Whisper and the Secret Affair

18 February 2022

Lord John Douglas-Scott Montagu, both an MP and motoring enthusiast, was the first man to drive onto the grounds of the House of Commons in his 12hp Daimler.

Lord Montagu was a most colourful figure and was married to Lady Cecil Kerr, ‘Cis’, whilst conducting a secret affair with his secretary, Eleanor Velasco Thornton. They met in 1902 when Eleanor started working on Lord Montagu’s motoring magazine, Car Illustrated.

Charles Royce and Henry Royce were friends of Lord Montagu. In the early 1900s, it was very fashionable to have a mascot on your motor car; Lord Montagu wanted one for his own 1910 Royce; at the time, Rolls-Royce did not offer the option.

Lord Montagu commissioned the sculptor, Charles Sykes, to create one; he chose Eleanor as the model, the mascot is adorned in robes with one finger to her lips, symbolising secret love, the work of art was named ‘The Whisper.’

A version of the sculpture has adorned Rolls-Royce cars ever since.

Lord Montagu and Eleanor had a daughter together in 1903, Joan. Eleanor gave her up for adoption and never attempted to contact her. The affair continued, and Lord Montagu met with Joan on several occasions, and she was in his will.

In 1915, Montagu was seconded to leave for India to advise mechanical transport with the government.

His wife was aware of the affair and resigned to it by this time, agreeing that Eleanor should accompany them. They boarded the SS Persia on Christmas day in 1915; at lunchtime on 30 December 1915, the SS Persia was sunk south-east of Crete by German submarine U-38, which had not issued a warning to the ship before opening fire.

Eleanor Thornton drowned, Montagu survived, and after the death of his wife in 1919, he remarried but died at the age of 62 in 1929.