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Beryl Swain, the first lady to compete on the Isle of Man

Text: Luís Cardoso

Beryl Swain (1936-2007)

"Some women refuse to be slaves to routine", so began a news piece in Pathé News in 1962, the year Beryl Swain participated in the Isle of Man TT, "An unlikely hobby - motorcycle racing and," says the announcer, with some mute amazement, “she's good at this!” yet that was the only time the organization accepted her application!!! Beryl Swain, the fruit of her enormous willpower, became a legend in the Isle of Man TT fraternity, in 1962, aged 26, she was the first woman to participate, in solo races at the Isle of Man TT, in the class Ultra Lightweight, 50cc TT, at a time when riding a motorcycle was by no means considered a ladies' occupation.

Short documentary about the mural that artist Helen Bur, in 2019, painted in Beryl's hometown of Walthamstow/London (WOOD STREET walls / Street Artists for Hire London - Wood Street Walls)

That year, Beryl completed the two laps of the circuit using an ITOM 50cc Racer, he finished in 22nd place ahead of some of his male rivals, out of a total of 25 participants, his average speed during the race was 77.78 km/h (48.33 mph) this despite losing 3rd gear during the course of the second lap on a manually operated three-speed ITOM was a remarkable performance. It was the first year that the 50cc Ultra Lightweight class was given world championship status, and the class proved immensely popular, in the end, confidently, he declared his intention to move up to the more powerful bikes the following year, aiming to challenge the Senior class. 500cc TT.

However, unfortunately, this was not the start of an international career for Beryl.

As is known, sporting officials, the FIM together with the ACU, were afraid of the possible negative publicity that could be generated if a woman were to suffer a fatal accident during the Isle of Man TT, so it took the regrettable decision to revoke the issue of a women's international license and, at the same time, introduced a minimum weight limit rule that she could not reach. This resulted in a ban on female participants for a period of 15 years, this rule was changed in 1978, the year in which Hilary Musson participated in the TT Formula 3 class, having finished in 15th position.

Musson continued to race in the TT until 1985. However, in 1962, the introduction of this discretionary rule ended Beryl's dream of an international career.

Beryl Jean Tolman was born on 22 January 1936 in Walthamstow, in 1952 she met Eddie Swain, of Bethnal Green, they fell in love and were married at St Mary's Church, Walthamstow in 1958. Eddie was a motorcyclist who ran his own car and motorcycle repair shop, the CONNAUGHT Sport garage, in Stoke Newington.

Since the beginning of their life together, Beryl helped Eddie take care of his racing bikes, he raced occasionally and assisted several other riders in national events. In this environment, it didn't take long for Beryl to warm up and experience the pleasure of riding.

Eddie bought Beryl her first motorbike, a 98cc MOTO GUZZI Zigolo which she used as a means of transport and her love for riding and speed grew from that point on. A little later, Beryl discovered that the riding style of the MOTO GUZZI didn't suit her, i.e. it didn't give her the feeling of a racing bike, so she switched to a MASERATI Tipo 50-T2-SS 'Rospo' (also known as Toad).

This model, with a sporty riding position, gave him the possibility to gain experience on the road for racing and, being a 50cc, allowed him to explore the engine's capabilities for racing as well as for everyday use. During the week the bike had all the standard paraphernalia fitted, lights, number plate, exhaust, but on race day all this was removed and the number plates fitted. At the time, several other 50cc riders did the same with their bikes, Beryl's main goal was to own a more competitive ITOM 50cc Astor.

Girl Racer (1962) - (British Pathé - YouTube)

Beryl found the experience exciting, became a member of several motorcycle clubs, starting with 'The Chiltern 50 Motorcycle Club', which was later renamed 'Racing 50 Motor Cycle Club (R50MC)', and 'The Hackney Wick Speedway Club ', was seen as an active member of the groups and did not hesitate to express her opinion on matters relating to racing. He soon began racing at Crystal Palace, Snetterton and Brands Hatch in the small 50cc class, yet in the process he tried out a few 500cc bikes. At Brands Hatch, during filming for the BBC's "Sportsview" programme, Beryl, Margo Pearson and Pat Wise, after a six month break, set times close (about 3sec) to the lap record for this class.

At the end, for the press, Beryl commented: "It was my first time on the track in six months my hands were frozen around the accelerator" and about the circuit: "I felt very good on this track” Beryl was always very direct and said exactly what she thought, 'R50MC' was striving to improve the racing schedule and always trying to find new places for members to race, members didn't always understand that, especially from racing members , she was not happy and sent a demanding letter to the secretary for inclusion in the July issue of the club magazine! This action led to a serious discussion about how the problem could be overcome, without neglecting the interest of the spectators, if there were not enough participants the class would have to do the track times alongside a class with a higher displacement. That's when he acquired a one-piece LEWIS LEATHERS leather suit, which he combined with a distinctive helmet that he painted to match his bike: red with white stars to race on the continent, and then the purple helmet with yellow stars to match the deposit that had a yellow background and purple stars for the TT, in 1963 it returned to the red and white scheme.


In addition to Beryl and Eddie preparing and tuning the little bike, they often had the help of two other friends in their kitchen, Bob Summerill, their brother George's best friend, became their first mechanic - he was known to do wonders with the temperamental ITOM, he said that Beryl: “as a pilot, she was aggressive, very aggressive and didn't give in to anyone”.



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