Tuesday, August 05, 2008


by Gwen White

[I had the great fortune of meeting Gwen White at the first Legend of the Motorcycle Concours in 2006, and
she's featured in one of my very early posts. Intrigued by her mention of riding in the 1950's as a trials competitor, I've pressed her since for photos and a story, and she has graciously rewarded my needling. Here, in her own words, is Gwen's story, with a few photos from the period.]

"My interest in motorcycles began in 1946, when, as a teenaged Gwen Wickham, I cheered on my heroes every week at Wembley Speedway. A few years later, after my family moved from North London to Southampton, I met Jack White, a great character who taught me to ride a motorcycle, became my best friend, and eventually, in 1958, my husband, although he was 24 years my senior.

'Jackie' White was a well-known member of the Ariel works trials team just before the war, and he encouraged me to ride in trials with him. My first trial was the Sunbeam MCC's Novice Trial in 1950 on Jack's 'Flying Flea' Royal Enfield. Another competitor that day was Mike Jackson's elder brother John, who at 17 was also competing for the first time! Jack then prepared a 125cc BSA Bantam for me, which I rode in open-to-centre trials most Sundays and a few Nationals when I could get a Saturday off from my job as a hospital laboratory technician.

In 1952 I progressed to a 197cc Francis Barnett, and rode it in that year's Scottish Six Days Trial, along with Jack who had a similar bike. He had modified them by fitting friction dampers to the forks and had altered the steering head angle, which made them handle well. Unfortunately, Jack's bike developed ignition trouble and he had to retire on the Wednesday, bu mine carried me to the finish 'without missing a beat'. The Scottish was an adventure and experience that I shall never forget, and I was lucky enough to ride in it again in 1957, this time on a 197cc James Commando (incidentally, the previous owner was John Jackson - he and Mike were fellow Southampton Club members and were by then very successful trial and moto cross riders). The James went well until mid week, when, during a downhill tumble, the frame got twisted and I suffered with chain trouble for the rest of the trial. I managed to finish, but with a large loss of marks!

I rode Francis Barnett until 1955, and then the James, in some of the other Nationals including the West of England, The Welsh Two Days, Beggars Roost, Cotswold Cups Trial, the Hoad Trial, and the Perce Simon Trial, the latter being close to home for me and in those days, run on the New Forest.

What I loved most about trials was the fun, camaraderie, and challenge, all in beautiful surroundings to which one would never normally have access on a standard road vehicle, although most of us in those days rode the same bike to work each day! [pic shows Gwen at rest during the West of England Trial in Devon, 1952. Photo and lemonade courtesy Mr. Huntley, Francis Barnett rep!]

Jack and I were married in 1958 and we set up home together. When our two daughters came along I gave up competition riding, but still rode a bike on the road. I also rode the odd vintage bike, including Jack's 1930 Ariel 250cc Colt [pictured] in a few club runs. Sadly, Jack died in 1977, but I still have that battered up old Ariel on which he won so much, including third place in the 1934 Scottish Six Days [photo shows Gwen riding the Ariel at a Vintage club run in 1995]. Despite advice to the contrary, I refuse to have it restored. To remove all its battle scars and Jack's modifications would rob it of its considerable character!
I have never lost my love of motorcycling which, these days, I enjoy as a spectator, along with the great friendships which have survived the years."

The 1952 SSDT women's contingent; left to right - Molly Briggs, Joan Slack, Lesley Blackburn (whose Bantam is pictured - see 'comments' about her, and watch for a future post!), Barbara Briggs, and Gwen Wickham.

A nice shot of 'Jackie' White on his 125cc Royal Enfield, ca 1951 - note white shirt, clean so far, and the deep soil track. It must have been a warm day - no mud, no jumper or jacket.

And Jack White's 1934 Ariel 250cc ohv 'Colt' as it sits today; unrestored, as it should remain.


vintagent said...

This came today:
"Hi Paul,
I'm a regular reader of your blog...had a surprise today though ! Bang in the middle of the team photo of the trials riding girls there's my Auntie Maureen ! [Ian calls Leslie Blackburn - any relation? - 'aunt Maureen']
Had a bit of motorcycle race success myself and so every time we meet we talk bikes...needless to say she's my favourite aunt !. Not only trials stories but tales from her time working in the drawing office at the Scott motorcycle factory in Shipley [yes, we need to know more about this woman!].
She lives near Abersoch in wales and still owns a couple of vintage vehicles (a Scott and an old AC car) though both not on the road.
is there any chance you could send me the file of the picture ?, I'd love a copy.
If you want any more info for your blog I'll see what I can do [YES!!]

chat soon

vintagent said...

This from Marie:
"Just had to say how wonderful your item about Gwen is. She was my boss for 15 years and I had the "privilege" of riding pillion on a Honda with her around the hospital car park on several hysterical occasions. She was a great motorcyclist and is still a great lady!
Best wishes

Anonymous said...

dear all
i have just been reading the article on gwen white/what a lady superb photos and looked to be a superb competitor.
i have raced s/cars nearly all my adult life and was passenged by debra statham for 17years at i.o.m tt she is still a life long friend.
i would just like to say if gwen could be bothered both debs and i would love to hear from her.
if poss please pass this onto gwen ,thank you for reading this,await reply ,i hope!!!

martin dwyer and debs

Anonymous said...


I have just seen your blog. I am Gwen's cousin and remember those days very well, as a child. Jack, her husband was a smashing man who I absolutely adored. I thought their lifestyle was amazing!

Thanks for putting it down in a format like this - it was lovely to see all those old photos again - I remember them as a child and was very proud when Gwen won her trophies! I have forwarded the link to my children who will love reading it too.

best wishes
Yvonne Castino

Anonymous said...

I am Barbara Briggs nephew and was delighted to see this I have an original of the SSDT girls photo but without names so was great to be able to complete the record.Barbara rode in 2 SSDT one on her own Bantam and one for James
Her husband Billy Briggs was also a trials rider on a Norton. I still have all their photos, film clips newspaper articales trophies etc from those days including a double page spread from the Daily Mirror on Barbara entitled "The Mud Princess"
It was through Barbara and Billy that I got my interest in bikes and have been a lifelong rider
Alan Clapson

speedtracktales said...

Fantastic article and I'm sorry it took me so long to find it. You might be interested in a related post on my site speedtracktales about the women of Reliability Trials and the ISDT