On this day in history : 12th May 1937 – The birth of English cyclist Beryl Burton – who was to dominate women’s cycle racing in the United Kingdom, winning more than 90 titles….

Beryl Burton – Dutch National Archives CC0

Born Beryl Charnock in the Halton area of Leeds, West Yorkshire, Beryl was to spend the duration of her life in Morley…. As a child she suffered with rheumatic fever resulting in a hospital stay and then fifteen months in a convalescence home….

She married her husband, Charlie Burton, in 1955 and it was he who introduced her to cycling…. In 1957 she won her first national medal – a silver in the National 100-mile Individual Time Trial Championship….

During her international career she won the Women’s World Road Race Championship in 1960 and again in 1967…. She won world championship medals 5 times, was a silver medalist 3 times and won bronze 4 times….

Competing on the track, 1967 – Dutch National Archives – CC BY-SA 3.0nl

But it was at home that she was to really dominate…. For 25 consecutive years, from 1959-1983 she was the Road Time Trials Council’s ‘British Best All-Rounder’…. She won a total of 72 national time trial titles and a further 24 national titles in road racing and on the track….

She was to set 50 new national records…. In 1963 she became the first woman to break the hour barrier for a 25 mile time trial…. And in 1967 she set a 12-hour time trial of 277.25 miles – surpassing even the men’s record by .73 miles…. Beryl’s motto was “Anything lads can do ~ I can do”…. It appears she wasn’t wrong there…. It was 1967 and 99 men started off on an Otley Cycle Club 12-hour time trial…. Beryl waited for a couple of minutes after their departure and then set off after them…. One by one she overtook the lot – including the famous Mike McNamara…. The story goes that as she passed him she handed him a liquorice allsort – to which he said “Ta, love” – popped it in his mouth and ate it….

Even in her mid 40s she was still setting records – when in 1982 she set the British 10-mile record for women’s tandem bicycle, with her 26-year-old daughter, Denise….

Beryl remained an amateur throughout her cycling career – even though she was offered plenty of lucrative sponsorships ~ as a day job she worked on a rhubarb farm…. In 1968 she was awarded an OBE….

On the 5th of May 1996 Beryl was out on her bicycle delivering invitations for her upcoming 59th birthday party – when she suffered sudden heart failure and died…. There has to be an element of irony in there somewhere….

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