Beryl Burton garden of remembrance
Arguably the greatest woman cyclist ever, Beryl Burton, remains little recognised outside of her Yorkshire County homeland in the United Kingdom.
However, in her memory is a beautiful Garden of remembrance, in her home town Morley, and several cycle tracks in the Yorkshire area have been named in her honour too.
A typical champion's life story of battling against adversity to achieve international honours, Burton is an inspiration to many cyclists today. Here is the London Times obituary for Beryl of 8th May 1996.
Beryl Burton, OBE, international cyclist, died after falling from her bicycle on May 5 aged 58. She was born on May 12, 1937.
DETERMINED in her aims, but modest in her claims of success, Beryl Burton reigned over women's cycling in this country and on the international stage for more than a quarter of a century. Indeed she could compete with men on more than equal terms as her beating the British men's record for a 12-hour time trial in 1967 testifies. This pre-eminence over such a long period in a field of activity which makes relentless demands on physique surely has no parallel in any other branch of sport.
Burton was five times world 3,000-metre pursuit champion and twice world road racing champion, besides winning innumerable national titles in pursuit, bunched road racing and road time trials. Had women's cycling been an Olympic event during her career it seems inconceivable that she would not have added Olympic Games medals to her other trophies, so complete was her dominance of cycling at her peak. But women's Olympic cycling was not introduced until 1988 (and the 3,000 metres pursuit not until 1992) by which time she was in her fifties, and inevitably some way past her best. Men's cycling had been part of the Olympic Games since their modern reincarnation at Athens in 1896.
Yet Burton was a woman whose world renown never affected the friendships she made on wheels. In spite of the cluster of honours she garnered in her long career (she had ridden competitively as recently last October in the time trials centenary celebrations) she remained in essence the down-to-earth Yorkshire club cyclist she had been since taking up the sport in her teens.
Her life was steeped in cycle racing. Her husband Charlie gave up a promising cycling career of his own to nurture hers. Her daughter Denise also became a highly competitive cyclist, and mother and child were both selected to represent Britain at the 1972 world championships in Barcelona. Only recently she and Denise were out together, winning a team prize in a local time trial. It was a career which exemplified the hard, and until so recently largely unsung, sport of women's cycling.
Beryl Charnock was born in Leeds. As a child she fought chronic ill-health. She suffered from St Vitus's dance and then rheumatic fever kept her in hospital and in a convalescent home for 15 months. She had difficulty with her speech and was temporarily paralysed down one side of her body. All this affected her education and she left school at 15 and went to work.
She met Charlie Burton, her husband-to-be, when she started her first job in Leeds. It was he who introduced her to serious cycling, quickly spotting her potential and giving up his own competitive targets to act as her trainer. They were married in 1955 when she was 17. In 1957 she came second in the national 100-mile championship, a feat which immediately announced to the world that a young cyclist of quality had arrived on the scene. Two years later she won the first of her five gold medals for the 3,000 metres individual pursuit, a feat repeated in 1960, 1962, 1963 and 1966. In addition she was three times a silver and three times a bronze medallist in this event.
Even though technology has improved the performance of machines, no woman has ridden faster than Burton at 25 miles (1976, 53 min 21 sec), 50 miles (1976, 1 hour 51 min 30 sec), 100 miles (1968, 3 hours 55 min 05 sec) and 12 hours (1967, 277.25 miles), and no British woman has won a world track pursuit title since Burton's last championship victory 30 years ago. Her 1967 assault on the 12-hour time trial was the more remarkable for the fact that she was pitted against men, and the distance she covered in that time was 5 3/4 miles further than the British men's record at that time. Cycling folklore has it that as she passed the leading man she offered him a stick of liquorice as "the poor dear seemed to be struggling a bit".
In this competitive atmosphere it was hardly surprising that her daughter Denise, born in 1956, received her introduction to cycling from the rear seat of her mother's bicycle. Burton always said that during the pregnancy she "only gave up cycling for the three months that the bump stopped me from squeezing behind the handle-bars". As a family trio the Burtons cycled the country for pleasure and established an annual Christmas celebration spent in local youth hostels.
In 1978 she was seriously injured when she was knocked of her bicycle and broke her right leg and shoulderblade as well as suffering lacerations to her face which necessitated 56 stitches. To most it would have been a signal to hang up the cycle clips, but she came back to continue competing. As recently as last month she was revelling in the discipline for which she was best known: time trials, unpaced out-and-back competition against the clock at which she so excelled, and which is accepted by cyclists everywhere as "the race of truth". She collapsed on a ride, although the exact cause of her subsequent death was not initially clear.
Beryl Burton was appointed MBE in 1964 and advanced to OBE in 1968. She is survived by her husband and daughter.
Thanks to Harold Bridge for the following corrections and comments ,
1984, Los Angeles, not 1988, Seoul, was the site of the
women's cycling to the Olympics, albeit only the road race. It
by American Connie Carpenter.
By 1984 Burton was 47 & had set
on the inaugral Women's Tour de France that was also
year. But typically, the powers in UK cycling decided she
any road racing qualifications that year as she had limited
time trialing & she wasn't selected. But a selected rider
dropped out &
BB was asked, at the last minute, to step in. In effect, she
to find themselves a taxidermist!
It is relatively recent that the individual time trial has
to Olympic & World Championship cycling. If Burton had been
opportunity her haul of only 7 World Championships would have
increased 2 or 3 fold, not to mention the possible Olympic
World Championships extending from 1959 through to 1972 it is
that her Olympic golds would have covered Rome 1960, Tokyo
1968 & Munich 1972
With a different attitude to road racing Burton could have
more than 2 World's road races. Her somewhat arrogant attitude
the regular "sit-in-and-sprint" tactics meant she would often
other riders an armchair ride to the finish & thus get beaten
sprint for the line. The pathetic little races the MCP's of
considered suitable for women's races meant there wasn't
in which to burn the wheelsuckers off her back wheel.
Beryl Burton had 2 failings at the extreme ends of the range
Despite 2 attempts at the World's One Hour unpaced record she
attain that honour. It was due, I think, to insufficient
Her one & only attempt at a 24 hour time trial also ended in
In 1969 Roy Cromack became the first Brit to go over 500 miles
(816 kms) when he won the Mersey Roads "24" with a 14 mile
lead over 2nd
However, at 12 hours Burton was at 268 miles, 9 miles
Cromack. At 300 miles Beryl Burton had a 20 minute lead over
Her reckless start caught up with her & she quit soon after
the 300 mile
A knee, injured in an accident, should have been nursed
the early stages. But that wasn't the Burton way.
Burton won the British Womens'
Rounder competition 25 consecutive years from 1959 to 1984.
of 25 BBARs goes toward an unimaginable 122 National
one includes all road time trial, track(pursuit) and road race
autobiography, published in 1985, lists 120. But in 1986 at
the age of
49 she her last 2. However I think she still contributed to
team wins after that.
"BB" was not just the world's great woman cyclist she was the
greatest amateur athlete!
With many thanks to Harold Bridge
Beryl Burton Palmares
Racing career: Multi Record Holder; seven world titles; seventy-three national titles; nineteen times winner of the BBAR time-trial competition; dominated ladies' road, track, and time-trial races between 1958-1977.
Place of Birth:Leeds
Date of Birth: 12 May 1937
Amateur Clubs: Morley CC
12 Hour Record Holder: in 1959, Beryl covered 250.37 miles in a Twelve Hour Time Trial... That was astonishing, especially considering the road surfaces and the the equipment she was using; it was also remarkably close to the men's record. It was in 1967 that she took the big leap she knew she could do... She set off two minutes behind the men's national champion, catching him around the ten hour mark: she offered him some liquorice and went on to cover 277.25 miles/ 443.6 km in the twelve hours... beating the men's existing record by over 5.75 miles/9km.
World Pursuit Champion in 1959, 1960, 1962, 1963 and 1966 (silver in 1961, 1964 and 1968, bronze in 1967, 1970 and 1973)
World Road Champion in 1960 and 1967 (silver in 1961)
National Road Champion in 1959, 1960, 1963, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1974
National Pursuit Champion in 1960, 1961, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974
National 25 Champion in 1958, 59, 60, 61, 62, 62, 64, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77
National 50 Champion in 1958, 59, 60, 61, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77
National 100 Champion in 1958, 59, 60, 61, 62, 64, 66, 67, 68, 70, 71, 73, 74, 75
British Best All Rounder in every year from 1959 to 1977 (19 victories)
Photos thanks to Classic Rendezvous, RTTC, and TC home.