As the world’s eyes are glued to one of the greatest races of all time — the Tour de France — now seems like a fitting time to remember one of the greatest female riders of all time, Beryl Burton. Who is Beryl you might ask? Well, you can be forgiven if you don’t know too much, as she was largely an unsung heroine on both a local and global stage. But believe it or not, before Victoria Pendleton, Laura Trott and Lizzie Armitstead there was another good ole Yorkshire lass dominating the cycling scene and setting new world records all over the place.
Born in 1937, she grew up outside of Leeds in West Yorkshire. Throughout her childhood she displayed immense sporting prowess, however she was plagued with chronic health problems that put an end to any sporting enjoyment before it began.
It wasn’t until 1955, aged 18, when she met & married Charlie. An amateur cyclist himself (and a downright lovely man) Charlie introduced Beryl to cycling and recognising her talent coached and supported her to her first national medal. Such was her astonishing improvement, sheer determination and burning desire to succeed, that Beryl won silver in the National 100 mile individual time trial within two years of starting out. By the time the decade was over Beryl was competing internationally and winning.
In 1967 she set a new 12 hour time trial record of 277.25 miles, famously overtaking her male counterpart, Mike McNamara, who was also trying to set the record. When passing, she offered him a liquorice allsort (“You’ve been chicked!”). Unfortunately for him it didn’t work any magic and he clocked 276.52miles.
It was 2 years before another man broke her record and to this day no woman has ever bettered it.
She also set 50 national records at 10, 15, 25, 30, 50 and 100 mile distances. Her last 10, 25 and 50 mile records each lasted 20 years before being broken and her 100 mile record lasted 28 years.
So then, it is clear to see how this determined, amazing, accomplished, sportswoman who won more than 90 domestic cycling championships and 7 world titles, all incidentally, whilst working at a rhubarb farm and raising a daughter could so easily be forgotten??...NOT!
It was (perhaps) the norm 40 years ago not to put Beryl on a pedestal — but in my mind it is STILL unfathomable how there has been very little media coverage and hype about her achievements in the years since. Good grace she was even awarded an MBE and OBE in 1964 and 1968 respectively.
It saddens me that perhaps she never knew just how inspiring a woman she would have been to us all and is now. I am eternally grateful to Maxine Peake’s fantastic play that introduced me to such a sporting legend, so much material could surely be made into a film? Until that time, I think all us ladies should raise a glass to Beryl (and to Charlie, the man behind her!).
Get out on the road this weekend and eat those Liquorice Allsorts :-)
Article written by Nova Berry
Read more about Beryl in her autobiography.Burton won the women’s world road race championship in 1960 and 1967 and was runner-up in 1961. On the track, she specialised in the individual pursuit, winning world championship medals almost every year across three decades. She was world champion five times (1959, 1960, 1962, 1963 and 1966), silver-medallist three times (1961, 1964 and 1968), and winner of bronze in 1967, 1970, 1971 and 1973.