An independent spirit in an 8-litre Bentley: Carol Mary Langton King

Wendy Tibbitts holds an MSc (Oxon) in English Local History. Last month, Amersham Museum published her book Mabel Brailsford: A wartime journal 1941 to 1943 – a transcribed wartime homefront journal to which she has added the writer’s biography and all persons in the journals content. She has another local history book in progress and continues ongoing research on several other subjects.

As Carol drove her supercharged Bentley over the hill climb course she felt a rush of adrenaline. It wasn’t just the excitement of controlling a powerful car over a dangerous course, but the thrill of competing against men and being treated as an equal. [1] At the age of 40 she was travelling the United Kingdom competing in male-dominated motoring competitions with great success. She embraced the danger and thrived on it.

Motor racing in the early twentieth century was a dangerous sport. Popular among the affluent who could afford to buy themselves into this exhilarating sport, and popular among spectators who enjoyed seeing the powerful cars. It was even more exciting to see women drivers who were flouting conventional stereotypes. These were dangerous women. What does it mean to be a dangerous woman? In the 1930s, two years after women over the age of 21 had been allowed the vote they were still regarded as unequal to men in most spheres of life. However women were breaking down boundaries. The Victorian patriarchal society had been eroding for over thirty years with women encroaching on male-dominated culture. Yet the breaking of gender barriers did not receive universal support and so emancipated women were considered a dangerous departure from societal norms.

However there were no barriers attached to new technological areas where gender separation did not exist. Before the turn of the twentieth century both sexes enjoyed the popular pastime of cycling. Wealthier women embraced more advanced technologies such as aviation and motor engineering. Woman were not just interested spectators, but enthusiastic participants. Carol had the time and the means to follow her dreams.

Carol Mary Langton King’s birth would not have prepared her for the lifestyle she had adopted. She was born in London, but conceived in China where her father, Paul, was Commissioner for Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs. [2] Her mother was a writer, the daughter of a missionary couple in China. Carol’s birth on 4 August 1893 was at a time of unrest in China so when her mother returned to her husband and sons in Kuikiang (now known as Juijiang) Carol was left in the care of Mrs Ellen Florence Chester, a wealthy childless widow who later adopted her.

Ellen Chester was a close friend and supporter of Mrs Massingberd, a wealthy land-owner in Lincolnshire, an activist for temperance and feminist issues. Massingberd founded The Pioneer Club in London in 1892 as a venue for women of all ranks to socialise and discuss moral and feminist issues. [3] This early exposure to women with strident views on the role of women must have had an effect on the strong-minded Carol because for the rest of her life she did not feel the need to conform to normal conventions. Carol’s upbringing taught her that she lived in a world where woman were not limited by their gender. This concept, together with the inherited genes of generations of her family who had been brave enough to be missionaries or officials in India and China, shaped her future.

One of Carol’s brothers, Louis Magrath King, after an education in English boarding schools, joined the Consular service and returned to China in 1905. [4]

In 1917 during WWI a Chinese labour corp of 140,000 men were posted to France and Louis and his friend and fellow consular official, Charles Fortescue Garstin, were given temporary commissions in the British Army to command the Chinese. After the war both officers had home leave and returned to London. It was then that Carol met Charles Garstin. They married in February 1919 at St Peters Eaton Square London. Louis King and another brother, Patrick, were witnesses. Carol was 25 and Charles 38. After his leave Charles was posted back to China as Vice-Consul in Shanghai. [5] He left England in May 1919 but his new wife did not return with him. By this time Carol was pregnant and the decision was made that she would stay in England to have her baby. David John Ivor Garstin was born on 15 Jan 1920 in London.

Carol and the baby continued to live with Mrs Chester. Mrs Chester had moved from Hanover Square, London, to Ninnings Farm, Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire. Here Carol was able to indulge in her passion for motor cars – the faster the better. A young neighbour was Terence Windrum, who also had an interest in engineering and motor racing. He fostered Carol’s interest in developing fast cars and soon she began competing in races.

Carol took part in the inaugural five-day RAC rally in March 1932 driving a Lagonda. [6] The event attracted 367 crews who started from nine different towns and culminated in Torquay. It became a popular annual event. Throughout the thirties she successfully competed against both men and women in many competitions driving Bugattis, Delage and Bentley. Windrum, helped her prepare her cars and was her mechanic at race meetings, occasionally competing himself.

In 1934 Carol’s adopted mother, Ellen Chester, died at Ninnings Farm and Carol inherited the equivalent of £4.5 million pounds in today’s money. [7] Carol moved back to London and was living in Ladbrook Grove in 1935. She and Terence Windrum formed an engineering company (Windrum and Garstin), with premises in Hansard Mews, Kensington. [8] This specialist company developed a fine reputation for supercharging Bentley’s for competitive racing. The business precept was to buy second-hand high-powered Bentleys whose high fuel consumption put their running costs beyond the reach of normal car owners.

By shortening the chassis and adding power to the engine their cars were ideal for competitive racing. Carol’s own car was an 8-litre Bentley. [9] She was a success in a man’s world, but only her single-mindedness and determination got her there.

Carol and Charles’ son, David, joined the Royal Navy after leaving school. It is not surprising that he inherited a desire for travel and adventure from several generations of his parents, or that he chose a wife with a similar background. In 1951 he married Diana Satow a grand-daughter of a senior diplomat that had spent his career in Japan and China.[10] Her father was also in the Royal Navy and before her birth was a Lieutenant-Commander based in Shanghai. David had obviously inherited his mother’s sense of adventure. Not only did he spend his entire career in the Navy, rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander, but in 1951 he also gained his private pilot’s licence at the Royal Navy Flying Club.

Carol’s marriage was a casualty of her success. Although Charles Garstin returned to England for home leave several times during their marriage Carol did not join him in China to carry out her duties as a Consul’s wife. Charles had risen rapidly through the diplomatic system receiving a CMG and a CBE. His last post before retirement was as Consul-General in Harbin, northwest China. On retirement in 1935 he returned to London, but lived separately from Carol. In November 1938 the High Court of Justice dissolved their marriage in an undefended case brought by Charles Garstin on the grounds that his wife had deserted him for three years without cause. [11] The following spring she married Terence Windrum.

Mr and Mrs Terence Windrum only had six months together before the war started. Terence joined the Royal Artillery at the start of the war and in 1940 was made a Lieutenant. He survived the war but did not return to engineering. Instead he and Carol bought Manor Farm in St Mary Bourne, Hampshire which they farmed all through the fifties and sixties before retiring to Taunton. Carol died there in 1979 aged 86 and Terence Windrum died in 1985 aged 82.

Motor sport had given Carol the opportunity to break into a male-dominated profession and to show the world that she was as good as a man. From a man’s point of view she was a dangerous lady. She flouted convention; did not feel the need to be a dutiful wife; and led a life of her choosing and not in the shadow of her husband. From her own point of view she thrived on danger. She lived her life according to her rules not society’s rules. She was attracted to exciting new technology and refused to be a spectator on life. She loved the danger of driving fast cars and excitement of being in the company of like-minded people. She was an emancipated woman in an era when this was considered shocking, but both she and motor sport benefitted from her embracing the danger.

At least one of Winthrop and Garstin’s supercharged cars still exists. In 2001 the 1928 Windrum and Garstin Special Bentley was auctioned at Bonhams. It is a 4½-litre short chassis 2-seater (YV 695) and it fetched £112600. [12] If she ever envisaged that the pioneering technology developed from her racing experience would have been so acclaimed she would have felt satisfied that her independent spirit had been vindicated.



[1]Littlestone Speed trials”, Motorsport Magazine, May 22nd 1937, accessed 20 March 2016.

[2] “KING, August 4, at London, the wife of Paul H. King, Chinese Imperial Customs, of a daughter.” London Evening Standard, Tuesday 8 August 1893

[3]The class problem in Clubland: A Social History of the Pioneer Club”, accessed 25 April 2016.

[4] Louis King , accessed 21 March 2016.

[5]GARSTIN, Charles Fortescue’, Who Was Who, A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 1920–2016; online edn, Oxford University Press, 2014, accessed 22 March 2016.

[6]  RAC rally 1932, The GEL Motorsport Information Pages,  [search criteria: Garstin. Listed as O.M.L. Garstin should be C.M.L.], accessed 20/3/2016.

[7] The London Gazette

[8]Testing a second-hander”, Motorsport Magazine, December 1936, p.33.

[9]Club News”, Motorsport Magazine, August 1936, p.30.

[10] Sir Ernest Mason Satow

[11] “High Court Of Justice.” Times [London, England] 1 Nov. 1938: 5. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

[12] Auction details of 4.5 litre Bentley sold at Bonhams and Brooks.