The image of motorcycle racing is often defined in popular culture by the vision of men motors and leather. There should, however, be no doubt throughout the history of motorcycle sport, which predominantly post dates the era defined by Women’s campaigns for the right to vote and the germination of the principles of equality the ACU banned their taking part in road racing in 1925. Women although few in number instead became active and competitive entrants in off road motorcycle racing Cottle and Edyth Foley both winning Gold Medals in the ISDT in 1925.
In more recent times riders like Katrina Price have been able to show women are as competative and skilled as men and able to take on events of the severity of the ISDT/E. The involvement of women in the sport is featured in its own page.
Marjorie Cottle has a notable presence in the early days of the sport and a quick check through the pages of the pre war events often feature an image of her competing which appears to be an image that has survived through history as part of the sports archive. I was drawn to create this post whilst hunting down obscure online photos of the ISDT a link to recent time, 25 April 2010 no less where in the Bonham Auctions online catalogue is a listing for an collection at Auction #213 “the Marjorie Cottle Collection” in the auction the items sold for a princely sum of £1900 clearly showing her name holds value today amongst vintage motorcycle enthusiasts and collectors. They had survived as a collection to the end of her life and it was the passing of a friend she had entrusted them to that saw the collection come out for public sale.
Much of this post will be based on the contents of the auction listing but if any body has further information on Marjorie please pas it to us to feature either in the event article for the year or the page dedicated to the history of women who took part in the ISDT.
The relative scarcity of female competitors in motorcycle sport has meant that those few trespassing in this predominantly male domain have always attracted considerable publicity, and during the 1920s and 1930s there was no lady motorcyclist more celebrated than Marjorie Cottle. Born in 1900, Marjorie Cottle is perhaps best remembered today for Raleigh’s famous 1924 publicity stunt, in which she rode a 2¾hp solo model around the coast of mainland Britain – a journey of over 3,000 miles – while colleague Hugh Gibson rode a 7hp combination in the opposite direction. Two years later she completed another headline-grabbing exploit for the Nottingham manufacturer riding one of its 174cc unitary construction models, following a meandering route that wrote the word ‘Raleigh’ in script on the country’s roads, a 1,370-mile journey that took 11 days. Industry journal ‘The Garage & Motor Agent’ declared that Miss Cottle was ‘undoubtedly one of the trade’s most useful propagandists.’
The Cottle name by this time travelled as the below press cutting from a newspaper in Adelaide, Australia shows only too well reporting on a club event held in Cheshire in England in 1925.
CHESHIRE FREAK HILL CLIMB.
At the Cheshire freak hill climb, Miss Marjorie Cottle, of round-the-coast fame, sent her Raleigh up the steep incline in the fastest time of the 350 c.c. class. J. Bourne rode his Raleigh into third place in the same event. Those two riders are well known in the English competition world, and their specialty is the long distance reliability trial. In all the big events of that nature in the past, both riders have done well with the Raleigh. The result is that Raleigh machines, sell well in England and other parts of the Empire. The South Australian distributor is Lenroc Limited, Flinders street. There is on view at their showrooms one of the models used by Miss Cottle, and a big twin outfit, similar to that which Hugh Gibson drove round the coast of England in 12 days. Those interested in Raleighs may obtain literature from the distributors on application.
Despite the fact that Cottle and other female riders had proven themselves the equal of male competitors, the Auto-Cycle Union announced a ban on women in road racing in 1925, citing the bad publicity that might ensue should one be seriously injured in a crash. The ban did not apply to trials and it was in this area of motorcycle sport that lady riders shone. In 1925 Cottle, together with Louie McLean and Edyth Foley, had won individual gold medals at the International Six Days Trial, an achievement that led to the ACU grouping them in a semi-official national team for the Vase category in following year’s event. They finished equal first with no marks lost, dropping to 3rd place after special tests to determine the winners. Promoted to full Vase status for 1927 but given no chance of success by contemporary commentators, the trio rose to the challenge by winning that category outright, beating Denmark into 2nd place with the all-male Great Britain team finishing 3rd.
By 1930 she had become so famous and well respected a rider that when she was not selected in 1930 to ride in the ISDT team by the ACU there was a national outcry that went as far as the popular papers of the time.
Marjorie Cottle rode for the Raleigh factory, marrying another of it’s trials riders, Jack Watson-Bourne. When Raleigh ceased motorcycle manufacture in 1933 Marjorie switched to Triumph and it was on one of the Coventry manufacturer’s machines that she was entered in the infamous 1939 ISDT in Austria, which by then had been annexed by Germany. Despite the worsening political situation in Europe the German organisers went ahead with the event, which saw 61 British competitors make the start. Marjorie Cottle, riding a 250 Triumph, formed part of the Sunbeam ‘A’ club team, the other members being Geoff Godber-Ford (350 Sunbeam) and A A Sanders (350 Triumph). The trial commenced as scheduled on Monday 21st August with a run into recently occupied Czechoslovakia but within a few days the British competitors were becoming increasingly concerned. On Friday 25th the recall telegram arrived from the War Office in London and the remaining British contingent, including Marjorie Cottle, was escorted to neutral Switzerland and safety. Britain and Germany were at war nine days later.
After the war Marjorie gave up competing and worked for BSA as a motorcycle sales representative. She died in 1987 leaving her trophy collection to a friend, on whose passing away they were put on auction.
The above is taken from the auction catalogue and there is also an informative entry in wikipedia on Marjorie Cottle
List of auctioned Items including items of relation to ISDT
23 assorted medals and badges including
BMCRC lapel complete with 1939 bar,
FICM ISDT (July 12th-17th 1937),
Sei Giorni Internazionale 1932,
North Western Centre ACU (1925),
various motor and motorcycle club medals, including
West of England Motor Club (x2 inc. West of England Trial),
Sutton Coldfield & North Birmingham Automoble Club (x5),
Morecambe Carnival Motor Cycle Races ( x4),
Midland Cycling and Athletic Club 24 Hour Trial,
North Wales Centre ACU (x2),
Birmingham Motor Cycle Club Victory Trail (x3);
7 various medals awarded to J Watson-Bourne;
3 International Six Day Trial plaques for 1934, 1936 and 1937, together with a silver 1936 Scottish Six Day Trial plaque;
various embroidered and printed armbands and flags, including
International Vase Team 2 1929,
Auto Cycle Union British A Team,
Auto Cycle Union British C Team,
British Team C,
ISDT Service 1933,
ISDT Service 1938,
1933 ACU International Six Days flag and a
1931 Sei Giorni Internazionale;
a leather document case embossed M.W.B. and containing 7 Scott Trial certificates for 1925 (Watson-Bourne), 1926 (Cottle), 1927 (Cottle), 1928 (Cottle), 1930 (Cottle), 1930 (Watson-Bourne), 1931 (Cottle); a signed 1930 Scott Trail programme with a total of 36 signatures including Monkhouse, Reed, Wright, Ryan; Scott Trial programmes from 1925 to 1929 and 1931 to 1933; 1929 ISDT Stewards’ Report;
1928 copy of the Illustrated News covering Marjorie’s ‘Remarkable Endurance Run’; assorted paperwork, correspondence, newspaper cuttings and first hand written accounts by Marjorie a letter confirming the ‘Round the Coast’ route dated June 1926; a complete itinerary of a route with mileages, stops and press calls; Marjorie’s personal diary and rally notes.
Once, not so very long ago, the woman motorcyclist was regarded as something of a crank or a freak. Times have changed, and motorcycling as a sport is becoming more and more popular with women. It has been conclusively proved that motorcycling is not harmful to women… Girls will find that motorcycling brings health. It will give them honest, fresh-air complexions. It will make them hardy and strong, and although the powder puff is not a part of the girl motorcyclist’s make-up it can always be hidden away for use when occasion demands it.
Marjorie Cottle, article: “Motor Cycling for Beauty”, Evening Standard (UK) 25 September 1928
Lieutenant Commander John Moffat, a second world war Navy pilot, in his memoirs ‘I sank the Bismark’ recalls encountering Marjorie Cottle whist still a youth in school near Kelso.
This area of the country was often used for motorbike trials and a checkpoint for the riders was set up nearby. I remember seeing a well known woman motorcyclist, Marjorie Cottle, there, riding an extremely impressive bike called a Red Indian. I had heard a lot about her, as she was one of the few woman motorcyclists in those days, and she was very successful in races and time trials. The fact she was competing in a sport dominated by men was controversial – after all women had only been given the vote in 1928 – and she was often the subject of articles in newspapers and magazines. She had blonde hair and, even with her riding gear on, she was quite glamorous. She left a great impression on me. I must have been growing up.
Women and the ISDT a page dedicated to recording the women who competed in the ISDT
There is a worthwhile study of the involvement of women in inter-war years of British Motorcycling written by Steve Koerner published in 2007 by the International Journal of Motorcycle Studies ‘Whatever Happened to the Girl on the Motorbike? British Women and Motorcycling, 1919 to 1939‘