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13 November 2014

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Penelope Keith

Penelope Keith

A vintage journey

As part of the Joy of Motoring season on BBC Four, actress Penelope Keith found herself in Coventry and Warwickshire.

The Fast Lady, a documentary about Edwardian ‘it girl' Dorothy Levitt, followed Penelope Keith re-tracing her journey from London to Liverpool.

In 1905, Levitt successfully set out to prove that a lady could drive from London to Liverpool and back in two days – without a mechanic. Her only companions were her dog, Dodo, and a gun in the glove compartment.

Levitt was one of the first female petrol heads and is reported to be the first woman to compete in a motor race. She also wrote The Woman and the Car: A chatty little handbook for all women who motor or who want to motor.

de Dion-Bouton

Keith set off from London in a 1902 de Dion-Bouton Type K, similar to that driven by Levitt, and followed most of the A5.

Sadly, it would be difficult to travel the whole distance in a vintage car such as this on the roads of today, but she still followed in her tracks and visited towns such as Towcester, Warrington and even the city of Coventry and parts of Warwickshire.

It is recorded that Levitt arrived in Coventry, home of the motor industry, at 11:36am. While in the city, Keith met with the curator of the Coventry Transport Museum, Steve Bagley.

They met on the site of an old cotton and spinning mill which, in 1896, became a motor factory after being purchased by Harry Lawson. Here, they manufactured several makes of car, but mainly Daimler.  

Stonebridge

The journey then took her to the A452. On Levitt’s journey, she stopped for lunch at the Stonebridge Hotel. But it was demolished in the 1950s so Keith stopped for lunch at an alternative venue and continued her journey through the centre of England – Meriden.

It is also thought that Levitt was a passenger in the Sunrising Hill climb drive, near Edge Hill, in 1903.

Click on the link below to watch again on the BBC iPlayer:

last updated: 20/02/2009 at 14:10
created: 20/02/2009

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