Part of our Women in Motorsport series by guest writer Lara Platman
In this next instalment of women in motorsport, I would like to introduce you to Mrs Elsie Wisdom, known to her friends and family as ‘Bill,’ a nickname given by her brothers at an early age. Growing up with many of them, Elsie (then Elsie Gleed) wanted to drive fast, and started with a motorcycle as soon she could. Her brothers had no idea that allowing their sister to ride pillion on one of the motorbikes, would make Elsie want the life of a speed queen!
Her first car was a G.W.K (Grice Wood and Keiller), followed quite promptly by a Lea Francis which would provide her entrance into racing. Super-charged and a genuine race car, Elsie managed to get the Lea Francis to 70 mph.
The Lea Francis soon progressed to a Fraser-Nash, around the same time as Elsie married her husband, Tommy Wisdom. Together, they seemed the perfect racing couple. Tommy was a tall, good-looking journalist and amateur racing driver; Elsie, also tall and slim, had dark hair and bright green eyes – they were the glamour couple in the paddocks wherever they ventured. The pair married in 1930, and one week later Tommy announced that he had entered Elsie into the Ladies March Handicap at Brooklands.
Elsie was reportedly quite petrified and didn’t speak to her husband right up until after the first practice, when she realised that actually this was all jolly good fun. The race took Elsie up to a lapping speed of 95.05 mph and eventually to a win.
Elsie was the first woman to win a mixed race at Brooklands. A successful run up the Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb, setting the hill climb record, followed, and next the Double Twelve at Brooklands – a 24-hour race divided into two sections. The Fraser Nash ran well initially, whilst Birkin’s super-charged Lagonda retired with engine trouble.
The Talbot team also had trouble, and Elsie was still in the running until the drive chain on the Fraser Nash caused her race to finish prematurely with just one hour to go.
Following that almost-success, Tommy wanted her to try for the Ladies’ lap record on the outer circuit. This caused a flutter, as prejudice toward the idea of women racing was still very much a thing at this time.
Elsie drove a large Leyland lapping at just over 108mph.