June Larkins was the first woman to race up the track at the Shelsley Walsh Hillclimb in 1905. This automotive pioneer is now a very small footnote in British motorsport history; who was she?

She is usually credited solely as “Miss Larkins”, but contemporary newspapers sometimes name her as June (occasionally Jane).

Shelsley Walsh is Britain’s oldest active purpose-built racing circuit. June Larkins was not only the first woman to drive on it, but one of the first drivers at all. She entered the first meeting held there in 1905, alongside 40 other competitors.


Writing in 1955, Leslie Wilson recalled her:

I well remember Miss Larkin (sic) and her woman passenger lying underneath the 6hp Wolseley she used to drive, preparing for the fray.

Wilson was the secretary of the Midland Automobile Club, which runs Shelsley Walsh. He had attended every meeting held at the circuit.

Miss Larkins’s time was not the most competitive. She made it to the top of the course in 267 seconds. As a comparison, that day’s winner, Mr Instone, made the climb in 77 seconds. The current hill record for a runner (on foot) is very similar to Miss Larkins’s time.

Unsurprisingly, this was Miss Larkins’s only attempt at a hillclimb or other high-speed event, on land at least. She did take part in some other motor competitions in 1905, namely motor gymkhanas at Portsmouth and Moseley. The first was organised by the Navy, the second in aid of the Moseley Hall Convalescent Hospital for Children. June won a “towing race” with Lt C Good at Portsmouth, as well as winning a round of “Musical Cars” driving solo. This event consisted of the cars driving round in a circle until the music stopped, when the passengers had to get out and run to a central flag. The Moseley event was similarly playful. June was second in the “Coach House Race”, which involved a reversing test into a “garage” marked on the floor. She was not involved in the “Ladies’ Passenger Race”.

For both of these events, she drove her 6hp Wolseley.


She raced motor boats with some success between 1905 and 1908, always skippering her Wolseley craft herself. She took part in the Motor Yacht Club’s Reliability Trials in 1905, 1907 and 1908, finishing second in class in 1908 in a boat called “The Cid”. This vessel had a twin-cylinder 10hp Wolseley engine and had been used by June for at least a year beforehand.

As well as motor boating, she also enjoyed sailing. In 1907, she skippered her own yacht, called the Veronica.


June Larkins was clearly connected with the Wolseley company. A contemporary report in the Tatler from 1905 describes her as a driving instructor to ladies. Other sources maintain that she worked for Wolseley as an advisor to potential female customers.

June’s career trajectory shows some similarity to that of Dorothy Levitt, probably the most famous of the Edwardian women motorsport personalities. Dorothy was always closely allied with the Napier marque and other makes imported by its manager, Selwyn Edge. Although she was undeniably an excellent driver, she was just as famous for her articles and books of driving advice for ladies as she was for her results. Whether June was hired to emulate Dorothy or vice versa is not clear, but both women were part of a trend in Edwardian motoring. The Ariel company, more known for its motorcycles, employed Victoria Godwin as its female figurehead and occasional competition driver. Muriel Hind hillclimbed and promoted a three-wheeled Rex “Tricar” at about the same time. She would later go on to design motorcycles in the 1930s.

June was described in a report on the 1905 Yacht Reliability Trials as “the niece of Lt Mansfield Smith-Cumming”. Smith-Cumming is widely regarded as the first head of the Secret Service in the UK.

He had some involvement in motorsport himself. Records exist of his purchase of a racing Wolseley in 1903.

No records from the appropriate time exist for a “June Larkins”. Searching the genealogical databases for Smith-Cumming finds a likely candidate: Georgiana Marion Larkins, born in 1878 in Kingston, Surrey. Her mother, Georgina Henrietta Valiant, was the sister of Cumming’s second wife, Leslie Marian. June and Smith-Cumming were not blood relations, but he was her uncle.

Georgiana had a sister, Helena. Aside from the more obvious use of “June” as a pet name for Georgiana, Helena appears to have suffered with ill-health at a time when June would have been active. She died in July 1908 at the Home Sanatorium in Bournemouth, probably of tuberculosis.

June’s sporting career appears to have ended before her marriage. She and Rowley Conway-Hill were married on 16th August 1910 in Durban, where he was stationed with the Royal Horse Artillery. June’s brother, Lockhart Larkins, also lived in South Africa at the time and it seems that many members of the family emigrated at about the time that June stopped racing.

In 1906, an announcement in the Dublin Daily Express suggests that June was set to marry WH Paget-Swaine “quietly” in London. No record of this marriage taking place exists and June was still Miss Larkins at the time of her marriage to Hill, so it seems that the engagement was broken off.

June and Conway Rowley Hill had two sons: John in 1913 and Alistair in 1915.

Georgiana died in Bordon, Hampshire in 1924. Her estate was left to her husband and her younger brother, Francis Edmond.