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13 November 2014

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You are in: Isle of Man > History > Goddess of the Gas Pedals

Beryl Swain

Image Manx National Heritage

Goddess of the Gas Pedals

In 1962 Beryl Swain had the world at her feet. She was a beautiful and ambitious motorcycle rider with a bright future. She should have had a pioneering racing career but sadly she was born at the wrong time.

On target to become one of the leading female lights in the world of motor racing Swain was unstoppable, until a decision to revoke her licence broke her biker’s heart. 

Beryl Swain

Image courtesy of Manx National Heritage

After a fruitless protest she hung up her leathers in the garden shed for the last time.

Beryl Swain died in May 2007 taking with her one of the centuries most incredible stories of thwarted dreams.

In 1952 Beryl Tolman met and fell in love with Eddie Swain, the owner of a motorcycle repair business.  This gave his new wife the opportunity to start racing.

Beryl’s passion grew and grew and she soon became a competitor at both Brands Hatch and Snetterton, eventually finding her niche in the 50cc class.

Preparing for the big race: Beryl Swain

Image courtesy Manx National Heritage

In 1962 she became the first woman solo rider to ride the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy course in an official event, riding her Italian Itom 50cc Racer into 22nd place in a field of 25.  Swain was hooked and shortly after crossing the finishing line she announced plans to return the following year.

That was until the sport’s governing body, the FIM, revoked Swain’s international licence.

Curator of social history for Manx National Heritage, Matthew Richardson, says the decision was a sign of the times.

“Having a male racer injured or killed on the TT course was one thing, but the organisers were just not prepared to take the risk of that happening to a woman.

A woman's work is never done

Image courtesy Manx National Heritage

During the early sixties there was a feeling that the Isle of Man TT was too dangerous a race for solo women competitors.

Beryl actually tried to enlist the help of the Lieutenant Governor and despite gathering a lot of support for her cause, her license was never reinstated.

Her resilience is admirable.  Swain was ahead of her time but really she was facing an uphill battle all the way.

The sport was even more male dominated than it is today and it was a much more conservative time than we live in today.

Many people supported the decision to ban Swain from competing in the TT.”

Swain- cleaning an engine on the kitchen table!

Image courtesy Manx National Heritage

Just a decade later women were competing again in the TT and perhaps Swains' pioneering efforts somehow paved the way.

Although she didn’t succeed in breaking through the barriers for herself, it could be said that she laid the foundations for aspiring female riders coming after her.

last updated: 09/09/2009 at 12:54
created: 17/01/2008

Have Your Say

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

stuart marshall
now we have female heads of government..... we cannot turn the clock back..unfortunately.

Linda Craine
Excellent biography, an inspiration to all! Love the photos too.

Matthew Richardson
If anyone has memories of Beryl Swain which they would like to share, Manx National Heritage would be very pleased to hear about them. Contact Matthew Richardson on 01624 648000 or matthew.richardson@gov.im

dave martin
theres a news reel of her on the british rathe web site that you can view

Debbie Pettet
A great inspiratioin she is sorely missed some girl will come along one day and equal her achivement

Lynsey Fryers-Hedrick
I am was born in the IOM, now live in Sydney, Australia. Growing up on the island, TT week is the most exciting week of the year. Thoroughly enjoyed listening to the Radio4 programme on Beryl Swain - the first female TT rider.It is wonderful to hear about this brave, passionate lady.Great to see the photographs of her too!

Chris Peston
My dad [Lewis Peston] was one of Beryls mechanics and he was always proud of his association with her TT efforts. I now carry on the family tradition by owning a bike shop in the east end of London myself. I'm pleased to say that women make up a goodly percentage of my customers. Both Beryl and my father would be very pleased !

Shiela Seymour
What a coincidence! I was just telling someone today about visiting the TT in my teens, but could't remember the name of the lady rider. Google came up with this article about Beryl Swain, and it brought back memories of that time, the smell of the Castrol R, meeting Geoff Duke and John Hartle, as well as the fantastic Mike Hailwood.And as I remember, we stayed in a lovely guest house in Douglas for the grand sum of £3.10 each full board for the week!

A.W Gunter
Thank you for sharing those lovely photographs. She was a beautiful woman. Once again my wife and I want to thank you for turning back the hands of time and landing in such a beautiful place. My wife and both give you and your's a hearty hooraa to you for your generosty. May god be with you always. Senserly touched A.W Gunter Athens Georgia.

treece kevin phipps
i remember my dad talking about the swains the prospect hotel

Greg Hamm
It's great to hear more about the women who have made an impression in motor cycling through the ages. They have made an impact and it is good they are finally drawing some attention.

Elanor Scott
Fantastic article. Could we hear more about this amazing woman??

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