Who was the first British woman car driver?


On Thursday 9th June 1904 Victoria Martin drove the leading car in the first rally that marked the inauguration of the Ladies’ Automobile Club.

Victoria lead the procession from its starting point at Carlton House Terrace in London, along Pall Mall, around Hyde Park and on to Ranelagh in Chelsea in time for tea.

For this Victoria was widely reported in the press to be the first woman motorist.

However in the preceding couple of years several wealthy women had been meeting together to promote the idea of women as car drivers.

In 1899 Viscountess Harberton invited several women of her acquaintance to meet at her house to discuss mechanical traction and to consider the formation of an automobile club for women.

This encouraged Lady Cecil Scott Montague to make the preliminary arrangements for the Club.

The Duchess of Marlborough, the Duchess of Sutherland, the Marchioness of Winchester and the Countess of Dudley were amongst the founding members of the Club.

The Countess of Warwick declined her invitation to join the Club. She replied that she rather disliked automobiles although she could see they might become useful for carrying heavy loads in both town and country. However at the present time she could only regard them as an amusement for rich people as they were so very expensive and considered them very unnerving for the horses.

The first meeting of the Ladies’ Automobile Club took place on 2nd October 1903 at the Hans Crescent Hotel in London.

Many more members were enrolled into the Club and agreed to pay an annual subscription of two guineas.

The ground floor drawing room of the hotel was designated for the exclusive use of the Club. The room could accommodate one hundred members and was furnished with easy chairs and sofas and contained many small writing desks as well as being decorated with flowers and palms.

A series of lectures on practical engineering and talks by well-known motoring experts was planned for Club meetings. Tea was taken at the end of the meeting in the winter garden of the hotel by all the ladies present.

Wealthy ladies were very keen on “clubs” and the Ladies Automobile Club soon became very popular.

By mid-1904 the Club had taken new, improved rooms at Claridge’s Hotel and planned the first rally which was attended by 56 vehicles.

Although a few of the ladies drove themselves the majority were driven by men with the women as passengers.

However Victoria Martin or Mrs John Biddulph Martin as she was known and the Duchess of Sutherland drove themselves.

Many of the vehicles were decorated with flowers and a crowd of photographers and well-wishers watched them set off.

Victoria Martin was another wealthy socialite.

She was the widow of John Biddulph Martin, a philanthropist and the owner of Martin’s Bank who had died in 1897.

He was Victoria’s third husband and although American by birth, she’d adopted Britain as her second home.

Although credited with being the first woman car driver to explore the highways and byways of rural England, Victoria was equally well known for her interests in women’s rights.

Photo credit: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons