FEATURE: History of Women’s Racing Part 2


Jon Miles continues his look at the battle women have had to rage against a governing body to be given equal opportunities 

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Read part of this feature from Jon by clicking here

March 1958
At its annual meeting, held at the Palais D’Orsay, the UCI voted that women should be allowed to participate in the World Championships at Paris and Rheims later in the year. No formal vote was taken. With their immediate goal achieved, the WCRA went all out to organise as many road races as possible as track racing was already well catered for.

SHE magazine sponsored a race at Loughborough and Viking Cycles gave a trophy for a season long road race competition and ‘Cycling’ – as it was called then – supported women’s road racing.

The Kettering Friendly club ran the first women’s stage race and the WCRA Championships (the governing body still did not have a women’s championship) were organised in Cardiff over the Empire Games (later to become the Commonwealth Games) road race course which would be held a week later.

This event gave the women good press coverage as all the Games facilities and staff were used, including the Glamorgan Police and Welsh Military, to act as a run through. 2000 people attended the medal ceremony! To augment the track championship, two record attempts were held with Betty Creamer and Bobby Tingey being the successful riders.

With all these preparations, the women were horrified to discover that the Birtish Cycling Fderation did not intend to send a full team to the first ever World’s for women. Thus began another campaign that was to go on for years. Subsequently, the WCRA funded two extra riders with the World’s selections being.

J Poole. B Harris. E Cropper. S Clark. D Johnson. M Swann. Millie
Robinson set her heart on winning the B.A.R and so asked not to be selected.

J Dunn. P Hodgson. B Tingey. S Ball. K Ray


AUGUST 1958 and The first World Championships for Women
With all the experience gained at stage races in France, the women did not expect too many problems but the first obstacle was the horrendous travelling itinerary the BCF travel agents made with the BCF’s agreement. Eileen Gray stepped in though and changed a lot of it to avoid too many stop overs. The BCF President Mr Taylor and the BCF Secretary Miss Russell were stranded overnight when they went on the original travelling plan!

The girls team were advised, by Eileen, to stock up on extra food for the train/boat/train journey (Molly Swann had brought a whole hand of bananas). The men’s team on the other hand did not have so much as a boiled sweet amongst them!

So Benny Foster’s instructions that the two teams should not fraternise came to naught.

The first road race was beset by many crashes, caused mainly by inexperienced riders from other countries, and our riders all finished in the same time as the second placed rider; 5th was June Poole, 7th Harris, 11th Cropper, 13th Molly Swann, 14th Johnson and 15th Clark.

As Benny Foster was no where to be seen, it was up to Eileen to get the team of 12 from Rheims to Paris without booked seats and then to send them on their onward journey to England. Foster obtained a lift in a car and so arrived in Paris before Eileen.

The track programme was a nightmare as the women’s events were slipped in between the printed programme for the men. Eileen did not leave the track centre for 15 hours on the first day in case the riders missed a ride in the Sprint or Pursuit, the only two events for women on the programme.

Jean Dunn progressed to a very credible 3rd place in the sprint, Pam Hodgson fell in training as the track was steeper than she had seen before. The Pursuit was a different story. Stella Ball with 4.30 was 7 seconds faster than Russia’s Kotchetova with Kay Ray 3rd; Ball was fastest in the 1/4 final and the semi, Kay lost to the Russian by a small margin – then tragedy struck in the final in the form of Benny Foster, Reg Harris and well known people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the women’s team prior to Stella’s magnificent riding.

Foster assumed the role of team manager and Bob Dunn was pushed aside by Bill Shilibeer to hold Stella on the line. The whole routine that had been practised so many times with Eileen and the women totally went to pot. Stella was a nervous and inexperienced rider and had trained on a routine of starting with Bob and Eileen, on this, the most important ride of her life, these two had been pushed aside!

Her first two laps were a disaster but by gritting her teeth she was only narrowly beaten, alas by British males rather than the Russian rider. In the first World Championship the team gained 1 Silver and 2 Bronze medals.


In June, the WCRA received a letter from the BCF asking that they take responsibility for the World Championship team that was due to be held in Belgium in August. This was a very late request after the WCRA had been agitating for the Worlds to be organised somewhere else after Holland refused to allow their women riders to participate in their country even though the UCI had agreed that the men raced in Holland and women raced in Belgium.

The WCRA asked the Isle of Man could organise the Worlds for women but the notice given was too short. The BCF offered £100 as expenses to the Worlds but saying that only Jean Dunn, Sprint and Millie Robinson for the Pursuit would go and to double up for the Road. This was very unfair as Kay Ray was a medalist from the year before and Beryl Burton had beaten Millie during the year.

Later the BCF agreed that Beryl could also travel but at no extra cost. The WCRA’s faith in Beryl Burton was well justified as she became the World Pursuit Champion, the first by a British girl; fastest in the qualifying rounds she went on to beat all her rivals and in the final she beat Elsy Jacobs.

The road race became a lottery as rain caused a bad crash not far from the finish and Beryl was 5th, Robinson in 7th with Yvonne Reynders the winner. The team had nothing but the £100 grudgingly given by the BCF with tyres loaned by Dunlop (they could not be given under the amateur rules). After all the work done by the WCRA, Eileen was invited to be a Commissaire at the track, and as delegate to the UCI and British team manager.

After the racing was completed, the UCI gave a large Official Banquet for all the officials but Eileen was refused entry as she was “a woman”! The British journalists Peter Bryan and J Dennis took Eileen out to dinner and they refused to go to the Banquet without her.

By making a budget and sticking to it, the whole team went to the Worlds for £150 but when fees were paid back to the BCF they refused to share it with the WCRA.

The Worlds in this year was held in Leipzig, East Germany. As the men were going to the Olympics after the Worlds, they got all the money but the WCRA held raffles all year with the slogan “Send a Girl to the Worlds”. This was supported by many national newspapers and British cycling industries and the WCRA eventually received £100. They had a team of 5 for the track and 6 for the road. Tom Feargrieves had a big ex American Army Staff car that he was able to buy for £75, which was 7 weeks wages then.

It had a top speed of 45 mph, 14 miles to the gallon, a roof rack was added to take 6 bikes, two rows of seats which folded into a bed for Tom and the mechanic Ian Thackeray and was christened “Brittania”.

In this, all the team travelled to Germany and although the car had been made comfortable, it was a long way for the riders to travel and with only one driver.The team stayed with all the other teams in a university but the men had to stay elsewhere.

The team came home with 2 World Championships, a Silver Medal and a Bronze. Beryl Burton won the Road and Pursuit titles, Kay Ray the Silver and Jean Dunn the Bronze in the Sprint – the men only achieved a 3rd in the sprint and nothing at all in the Olympics for all the money that had been lavished upon them.

This was such a crowning glory for the WCRA that it led to many changes in the BCF. They suddenly decided that the women should come under their control and in future years men were appointed as team managers but never again with the same results.

Complying with regulations, the East Germans paid the BCF £200 and as the BCF had only given the team £100, the WCRA asked for the remaining £100 for their funds; they refused of course but it went to the Appeals Panel who overturned the decision.

… to be continued ….


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