Monday, 14 September 2015

Jill Scott-Thomas

Jill in 1938

Jill was a British racer of the late 1920s and early 1930s. She was born Eileen May Fountain in 1902, and was the daughter of a coal mine owner. Her entry into motorsport came via her first husband, William “Bummer” Scott, who was a regular at Brooklands and lived next door.
She competed at Brooklands between 1926, when she entered her first trial, and 1939.

1928 was the year when Jill really made her mark on the motor racing scene. She became one of the first women to be awarded the Brooklands 120mph badge, to be displayed on the front of her car. This was given to her after she lapped the circuit at the requisite speed in September, driving an ex-Grand Prix Sunbeam that she and Bummer owned jointly. She was also elected to membership of the BARC, but this offer was downgraded to honorary membership; the BARC was a conservative association and had only recently allowed women drivers to enter its sanctioned meetings. Jill was the first woman suggested for membership.

At about this time, she attempted to race the ex-J.G. Parry-Thomas Leyland Eight, which she and Bummer had bought after the death of their friend and mentor. Although the car was nominally hers, and she was actually quite skilled in handling very large cars, it defeated her. Her main Brooklands experience in it was riding as a passenger with John Cobb, who raced the car on her behalf. They also owned the Thomas “Flatiron” special, which Jill is said to have driven, but no results are forthcoming.

In 1929, she entered her first big international race, driving a 4.5 litre Bentley with Bummer. It was the JCC Double Twelve race, and the Scotts were eleventh overall, from 26 finishers. Just a week later, Jill won a Brooklands ladies’ handicap, driving a Delage, after Miss Burnett was judged to have jumped the start.

The following year, she tried her hand at the Double Twelve once more, in a Riley Brooklands 9. She and her team-mate, Ernest Thomas, were sixth, a very pleasing result. Jill also had another go at one of the Brooklands ladies’ handicaps in March, and was second. Her car was a Bugatti.

After the 1930 season, Jill was absent from the track for a long time. Her marriage to Bummer Scott ended, and she started a relationship with Ernest Thomas, her erstwhile Double Twelve team-mate. The pair had met whilst flying their respective planes at the Brooklands airfield (Jill had had her pilot’s license since 1927). They married, a union that lasted until Jill’s death in 1974.

As Jill Thomas, she returned to Brooklands in 1938. She drove an Alfa Romeo in the March meeting, and in the JCC International Trophy, but did not finish either of the races. In the international Ladies’ Race at Crystal Palace, held in June, she was third, in a Delahaye, behind Mrs Lace and Kay Petre. Despite her absence, and the personal upheaval she had experienced, she was still a popular figure. Madame Yevonde produced a colourised photograph of her in her distinctive red racing attire, which is now in the National Portrait Gallery.

In 1939, she mostly drove a Frazer-Nash BMW. She was second in the First March Long Handicap at Brooklands, but was disqualified from first place in the Second March Handicap, due to a coming-together with another driver. In April, she also raced a big Alfa Romeo in the Road Championship, but did not finish. She then raced at Crystal Palace again in April. Her best finish was a third place in the Second Long Scratch Race. Her last competitive outing looks to have been the Second August Mountain Handicap at Brooklands, in which she was unplaced.

After the war, Jill did not return to motorsport. Although her marriage to Ernest was a happy one, her personal life was not straightforward, particularly in regard to her eldest daughter, Sheila, whose father was Bummer Scott. After her death, her racing trophies and Brooklands 120mph badge were found in a charity shop.

(Image copyright The National Portrait Gallery)

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