Queer Places:
Ladies' Automobile Workshops, Brick St, Mayfair, London W1J 7DH, UK
106 Ebury St, Belgravia, London SW1W 9QD
Wickhurst House, Wickhurst Ln, Broadbridge Heath, Horsham RH12
Ravenstone Castle, Newton Stewart DG8 8DS, UK
Villa di Bellosguardo, Via Roti Michelozzi, 2, 50125 Firenze FI

Hon. Gabrielle Margaret Ariana BorthwickLady Gabrielle Margaret Ariana Borthwick (June 30, 1866 – February 27, 1952) ran the Ladies' Automobile Workshops in Brick Street, London. She was also a theosophist. She was initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn at its Isis-Urania temple in London, in July 1891. She chose the Latin motto Sine metu. She passed the exams was initiated into the GD’s inner order, the 2nd Order, on 8 July 1897. As a member of the 2nd Order she will have been able to begin doing practical magic; but she wasn’t able to be as active as she might have liked as she lived abroad for most of the year at this time.

The Borthwick family were Scottish. Gabrielle was the eldest child of Cunninghame Borthwick (1813-1885), who was either the 16th or the 19th Baron Borthwick, and Harriet Alice Day (1834–1917 (m. 1865)).

The barony of Borthwick had lain dormant since the death of a Baron Borthwick in 1772 without any obvious heirs. Cunninghame Borthwick’s father, Patrick Borthwick, had claimed the dormant peerage in 1816. Cunninghame’s elder brother Archibald took up the claim when Patrick died; and when Archibald died in his turn in 1867, the baton passed to Cunninghame as Patrick’s younger son. Cunninghame went into the matter with a great deal more energy and determination than either his father or his brother: he spent a great deal of time and money petitioning the House of Lords to agree that he was the true baron, against the claims being made by two other members of the clan. After four years of effort by Cunninghame, the House of Lords’ Privileges Committee finally agreed with him, and he was declared the 16th Baron Borthwick on 5 May 1870.

Cunninghame bought a landed estate in 1870. It was on the Machars peninsula in what was then the county of Wigtownshire (it’s now in Dumfries and Galloway). The land came complete with a castle, Ravenstone Castle, some parts of which dated back to the 15th-century. The Borthwick barony was a Scottish one, and not all Scottish peers had a right to sit in the House of Lords. For 10 years after becoming the 16th Baron, Cunninghame worked for the Conservative Party in Scotland and joined the right clubs in London to build up a circle of useful acquaintances, and in 1880 he was elected as what was called a ‘representative peer’ for Scotland, and took up one of their seats in the House of Lords.

Patrick Borthwick was appointed the first manager of the National Bank of Scotland, when it was founded in Edinburgh, with a salary (enormous for those days) of £1000 per year. He married Ariana Corbett, daughter of Cunninghame Corbett of Tolcross and Glasgow, in 1804.

Patrick and Ariana’s second son Cunninghame was born in 1813. By the mid-1830s he was working as an actuary in the family accountancy business in Edinburgh. However, his father and his younger brother died around 1840 and although the business in Edinburgh may have continued, at some point in the 1840s Cunninghame had cut loose from it. He moved to London and become a partner in the stockbroking firm of Dowling and Borthwick of 75 Old Broad Street. The partnership with Dionysius Wilfred Dowling was ended by mutual agreement in 1853. For the next 20 or so years he was a partner in another stockbroking firm, Borthwick, Wark and Company of Bartholomew House, Bartholomew Lane (also in the City). Cunninghame’s daily involvement with Borthwick, Wark and Company ceased in 1877 but the firm continued in business, keeping the full name, and after Cunninghame’s death his son Archibald joined it as a partner.

Cunninghame Borthwick married Harriet Alice Day in 1865. Harriet - who was over 20 years Cunninghame’s junior - was the daughter of Thomas Hermitage Day, whose family ran a bank in Rochester Kent. The bank doesn’t seem to have survived long after T.H. Day’s death in 1869. One of Harriet’s brothers became a clergyman, the other two joined the army. Between 1865 and 1880 the Borthwicks lived most of the year in various houses in fashionable and expensive Mayfair; and after 1870 there was the estate in Scotland where they could spend summers and Christmas.

Cunninghame and Harriet had five children, one son and four daughters. In the 1881 census they and their daughters were at their Mayfair house, where their household included a butler, footman, cook, a lady’s maid, the daughters’ governess, two housemaids, two nursemaids and a kitchen maid. Even as a widow, Harriet Borthwick was able to maintain a high standard of living; on the day of the 1891 census she was living at 14 Seymour Street, and could afford to employ a governess for her youngest daughter, a butler, footman, cook, two housemaids and a kitchen maid.

Gabrielle Margaret Ariana Borthwick was the eldest of the five children growing up in the Borthwicks’ lavishly-funded household. She was born on 30 June 1866. The heir Archibald was born in 1867; Alice in 1868; Violet in 1871; and Mary in 1876. Archibald was sent away to school; but Gabrielle and her sisters were educated by governesses.

In March 1884, Harriet Borthwick went with her daughter to Buckingham Palace to introduce the Honourable Gabrielle Borthwick to the Princess of Wales (who was standing in, as she normally did these days, for Queen Victoria). Gabrielle had been through two ‘seasons’ when, on the day before Christmas, 1885, Cunninghame Borthwick died. Alice had her first ‘season’ in 1888; Violet her’s in 1890 and Mary her’s in 1894. Archibald was introduced to the Prince of Wales by the Earl of Orkney during a levee - the male equivalent of the women-only ‘drawing-room’- in 1889. Alice, Violet and Mary married, Gabrielle never married. She was friend with a group of wealthy ex-pats who spent all or part of their year in Florence. Among them Walburga Paget, widow of the English diplomat Augustus Berkeley Paget; and Mabel Dodge Luhan, an American banker’s daughter.

Walburga Paget knew a great variety of people. Everybody from Cosima Wagner through Indian brahmins to Wilfred Scawen Blunt spent time as her guests in Florence. She was interested in spiritualism and was also a member of the Theosophical Society. It may have been through the TS in London that Walburga Paget got to know Gabrielle Borthwick - Walburga’s daughter was married to an Englishman and Walburga visited her very often during the London ‘season’. By June 1900, Gabrielle and Walburga Paget were well enough acquainted for Walburga to write to a friend that, “Miss Bayly with red hair and Gabrielle Borthwick with black, both handsome, are staying with me”. Gabrielle was her guest at Villa Bellosguardo (a 13th century villa once owned by poet Guido Cavalvanti). In November 1900, Violet was the last of Harriet’s other daughters to get married. With that marriage Harriet decided that her social duties were finally done, as far as they could be, and for the next few years she spent her winters in Florence. It was Gabrielle’s duty, as her only unmarried daughter, to go with her.

In her memoirs, Mabel Dodge Luhan suggested that she and Gabrielle Borthwick had a lesbian relationship. Mabel Dodge Luhan arrived in Florence in 1905, moved into the Villa Curonia, and with Walburga Paget’s help quickly got herself established among the ex-pats. Here’s how Mabel describes Gabrielle: “Plump and pretty, though her skin was so gray”. Mabel says that Gabrielle, “used to sniff something from a little bottle, and then her child-like, deep-set gray eyes would lighten up a little.”

Mabel admits in her memoir that she was strongly attracted to Gabrielle from the start; and she means sexually. Before long she was inviting Gabrielle to stay at her villa. These visits seem to have taken place in a hot-house atmosphere of the sort that ends in tears. Mabel likes to feel that everyone she meets is sexually attracted to her; but she describes her son’s nanny, Marguerite, as having feelings towards Mabel that were certainly possessive, if not sexual, and sufficiently out-of-control as to be obvious to others in the house. She says that Gabrielle was one of several women-friends of Mabel’s who “made Marguerite suffer” over it, but goes further in Gabrielle’s case, describing how “her own [Gabrielle’s] muscles dimpled, reflecting the titillation of her being at someone else’s pain”.

Writing her memoir in the 1930s, Mabel hadn’t had second thoughts about Gabrielle’s sexuality - she still believed Gabrielle was a lesbian, and grouped her with women she knew in Florence whom Mabel thought of as never having any men in their lives, the group’s leader being Violet Paget, who dressed as a man and preferred to be known as Vernon Lee. Mabel includes in it Mary Berenson, married to Bernard Berenson.

Gabrielle, Archibald and Mary were all interested in that area where archaeology, antiquarianism and folk history all meet. Archibald was a member of the Glasgow Archaeological Society; Mary’s first book was a selection of folk tales from Lancashire; and in the years before the first World War Gabrielle was a member of the Gypsy Lore Society. Gabrielle and her mother were the only members of the family who joined the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society. They had joined it by August 1885, when the Sinnetts - Alfred Percy and Patience - came to stay with the Borthwicks at Ravenstone. In his autobiography, Alfred noted that he found Gabrielle’s mother “not altogether an easy person to get on with” but Gabrielle became a close friend of both Sinnetts. Gabrielle kept up her membership of London Lodge until Patience died, in November 1908. When the time came for Patience’s friends to pay their subscriptions for 1909, Gabrielle and her mother were amongst several who decided they didn’t want to continue in the TS now she was gone; but Gabrielle was still in touch with Alfred Sinnett as late as 1912. Another member of London Lodge in its early years (but not later) was George Wyld. Gabrielle will have known him too, as a friend and business acquaintance of Cunninghame Borthwick.

In 1915 the Times described Gabrielle as having many years’ experience as a car driver. Georgine Classen’s research for her book Eat My Dust: Early Women Motorists has established that Gabrielle went into business as a woman garage proprietor at some time before the first World War, firstly in Slough, later in Northwood in west London. Late in 1915 Gabrielle rented a garage at 8 Brick Street, a side-alley off Piccadilly. On 11 December 1915, Gabrielle was mentioned by name and her garage featured by the Times in an article called ‘Increasing demand for women drivers’. A series of adverts for the garage at Brick Street appeared in the Times in January and February 1916, just as the first conscription laws were passed.

In 1918 Gabrielle advertised her courses again, this time focusing on ambulance driving. A course of 10 lessons would cost 5 guineas. Later coverage of Gabrielle’s courses said that some of the women she’d taught had gone to drive ambulances in France and Serbia, but they were also needed in the UK. Georgine Classen feels that charging 5 guineas meant that learning driving and maintenance with Gabrielle was not for the hard-up; but by 1918 enough women had found the money for her to rent a second garage in Kinnerton Street Knightsbridge; which means that by this time she must have had a second tutor.

By the time World War 1 began, Gabrielle was taking part in the formation of a trade union for women, the Society of Women Motor Drivers, founded to fight women’s corner in the battle to be taken seriously in the motoring trade and have the same rights as its male workers. Another of the Society’s founder members was Barbara Drake, social campaigner and wife of Bernard Drake who was a nephew of Beatrice Webb.

In June 1910 Gabrielle’s sister Violet died aged 38; and then Archibald died at the age of only 43. Archibald and his wife, Susanna MacTaggart Stewart, had not produced a male heir to the barony Cunninghame. The barony went into abeyance again on Archibald’s death and remains dormant to this day. Harriet Borthwick died at Sevenoaks in Kent, on 17 February 1917. Gabrielle was the chief mourner when she was buried. Gabrielle’s brother-in-law Harold Chaloner Dowdall (husband of Gabrielle’s sister Mary) managed to attend - he was the executor of Harriet’s Will; Harriet’s brother Francis Day and his wife and daughter were there; and Archibald’s widow Susanna who was now Countess of Euston. In January 1916 Susanna had married Alfred Fitzroy, heir of the 7th duke of Grafton; he was a brother of TS and GD member Lady Eleanor Harbord.

Gabrielle became involved with the Pelman system of mental training; in April 1920 she chaired an evening meeting at the Pelman Institute at 4 Bloomsbury Street, during which a lecture on how it worked was given by a senior employee, who took questions from the audience afterwards.

By the early 1920s Gabrielle’s business had branched out into the running of a restaurant and a hostel. She had acquired a business partner, Lady Gertrude Crawford. Lady Gertrude Crawford (1868-1937) had been born Lady Gertrude Eleanor Molyneux; she was the daughter of the 4th Earl of Sefton. Both her father and her grandfather the third earl had been enthusiastic ‘turners’ - they used a lathe to make things out of ivory and wood - and Lady Gertrude’s father had started her off in the craft by buying her a lathe when she was two. She inherited both his talent and his enthusiasm and continued to do ‘turning’ work all her life, exhibiting her work, winning awards and being made a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Master Turners in 1907; although she never took payment for her work. Lady Gertrude married Captain John Halket Crawford in 1905. They lived mostly in London, where Crawford was stationed.

In 1924, Gabrielle and Lady Gertrude expanded their business yet again, opening an estate agency. But taking on yet another outlet was a step too far, in very difficult economic times, and later that year a receiver was appointed to take control of Borthwick Garages Ltd after a court order against Gabrielle’s firm had been obtained by one of its creditors. Gabrielle and Lady Gertrude seem to have been able to fight off bankruptcy that time but the firm’s financial situation didn’t improve and at the beginning of 1927, another set of bankruptcy proceedings began and this time Borthwick Garages Ltd shut up shop for good. Lady Gertrude held an exhibition of her turning work at Leighton House in 1929 where, for the first time, some of the exhibits were for sale.

Gabrielle and Lady Gertrude committed themselves to another company run by a woman. Cleone de Heveningham Benest was from a well-known Channel Islands family, though she herself was born in London. Cleone had a certificate in motor engineering. In 1915, she too was running a garage for women, in Dover Street Piccadilly, a short walk away from Gabrielle’s own garage; though later in the war she was employed by Vickers as an inspector of aircraft. In 1922 or 1923, Cleone had founded the Stainless and Non-Corrosive Metals Company Ltd, based in Birmingham, to make high-quality household goods. Cleone herself was chairman and managing director, and a list of shareholders in the firm shows that the overwhelming majority of them were women. At the beginning of 1924, Cleone was planning an expansion of the firm’s range of products and wanted to move to bigger premises. As part of the fund-raising effort she sold 100 shares from her original holding of 1000: 50 to Lady Gertrude, and 50 to Gabrielle. Lady Gertrude and Gabrielle joined the Company’s board of directors; though Cleone remained its chairman. It seems, though, that the Company over-reached itself: at a meeting in December 1925, the shareholders agreed that as it couldn’t pay its current debts, it should be wound up. Even in this crisis, though, the preponderance of women involved with the Company continued: the liquidator was a woman, Florence Durant of 230 Rotton Park Road Edgbaston.

In 1929 Gabrielle got involved with the Women’s Automobile and Sports Association, which was founded to organise and promote sports events for women competitors. Its first headquarters were at the St Ermin’s Hotel Westminster and it had negotiated a deal whereby its members could have rooms there, presumably at a discount. Later it had enough funds to lease its own headquarters building, at 17 Buckingham Palace Gardens. It held its annual dinners at the Savoy Hotel. When it decided to hold a motor rally to raise funds for George V’s jubilee, in 1935, it was able to hire the very exclusive Hurlingham Club as the venue. WASA’s first president was Irene Mountbatten, the Marchioness of Carisbrooke; formerly Lady Irene Denison, a relation of GD member Albertina Herbert. Its second was Ermine Oliphant-Murray, Viscountess Elibank. WASA’s secretary was the author Edith Waldemar Leverton. Gabrielle was an active member of WASA from the beginning. At one of its first meetings she was elected chairman of its executive committee and she continued in that role until the second World War.

Although it held other events from time to time, WASA’s main function was to organise cross-country trials for vehicles whose drivers were mostly women. The trials were mostly for cars though one or two, especially in WASA’s early days, were for motorbikes. The first trial was held in 1929, from Slough to Exeter and back again, and from that year until 1939 there were three trials a year, noted for their good organisation and the level of challenge presented to the drivers and navigators. The one held on a circuit around Llandrindod Wells was regarded as particularly tough. Lord Wakefield of Hythe was persuaded to donate a trophy for the trials’ overall winner, which was presented at the annual dinner. WASA also took part in motor-racing at Brooklands and at Montlhery in France.

During the 1920s and probably until the second World War, Gabrielle was still living in London, at 106 Ebury Street. She had a place in the country for when she could spare a weekend: a house called Wickhurst, in Broadbridge Heath just outside Horsham. By her death it had become her main residence.

Lady Gertrude Crawford died in 1937 at her house near Lymington in Hampshire. Gabrielle’s sister Mary died a few months before the 1939 Register was taken; and her sister Alice died only a few weeks before it, leaving Gabrielle the last survivor of Cunninghame and Harriet’s children, though the oldest. On the day of the 1939 Register - 29 September 1939 - Gabrielle was at Wickhurst. With her were two women. They were both widows, Mrs Evelyn C. White, and Mrs Mary B. Carleton. Mrs Carleton was born in 1886. Gabrielle and Mrs White both told the Register official that they had no occupation, but Mrs Carleton told him or her she was a company director.

Gabrielle died, at Wickhurst, on 10 October 1952, leaving personal belongings valued at about £10,000. A few months later some jewellery Gabrielle had owned was sent for sale at Christie’s by her executors.

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  1. http://www.wrightanddavis.co.uk/GD/BORTHWICKGMA.htm