Marjorie Cottle

Marjorie Cottle (5 September 1900 – 17 July 1987) was an English works supported motorcycle trials rider. She was one of Britain's best-known motorcyclists in the 1920s and 1930s. She competed regularly in reliability trials and was considered to be one of the best riders in the country – male or female. Her greatest success was the International Six Days Trial of 1927, in which the British Ladies' Team won the International Silver Vase. That year the trial was held in the Lake District, and attracted a large number of competitors. She was described as the "most famous girl rider in the world".[1]

Marjorie Cottle
Born(1900-09-05)September 5, 1900
DiedJuly 17, 1987(1987-07-17) (aged 86)
Other namesMrs Watson-Bourne
OccupationMotorcycle Rider
Known forWinning 1927 ISDT Silver Vase and many other awards. She promoted motorcycling worldwide, particularly encouraging women to get involved.

Early lifeEdit

Marjorie Cottle was born in Seacombe, Wallasey, Cheshire, on 5 September 1900 to Emily and William Cottle.[2][3] She had a younger sister Eileen, and her father William, a manage of a confectionary factory was a keen motorcyclist.[4] As soon as she could legally ride, at the age of 14, she persuaded her father to let her have a motorcycle. He acquired a pre World War 1 Premier from a scrapyard and Marjorie had to rebuild it before she could ride it. When she had proved her ability to ride and keep the motorcycle running her father gave her a Calthorpe which she later sold at profit in order to buy an ex WD Triumph 500cc.[5]


The Triumph was then used in a hill climb held by the Liverpool MCC. As the only female entrant and one of only 2 people out of 300 entrants to succeed in reaching the top of the hill she gained a lot of publicity.[5] She rode in her first motorcycle trial in 1920, the Blake Amateur Trial. After winning a gold medal in the North Wales Open Trial a motorcycle manufacturer in Wrexham, Powell, gave her a works supported machine.[6] She later had works support from Raleigh, BSA[7] and Triumph.[8] Works support ranged from a specially prepared new machine along with some financial support to a small discount on spares. British motorcycles were exported worldwide, and many were marketed on competition success. Therefore. the riders as well as the makes became famous.


Marjorie first rode a Raleigh in a 24-hour trial from Birkenhead to Aberystwyth. It is unclear whether she was works supported by Raleigh for that event but it is likely as the machine was delivered to her by Hugh Gibson who was a famous rider and Raleigh's competition manager. She had no chance to familiarise herself with before starting the trial.[5]

Hugh Gibson planned to ride round the coast of Great Britain on a 7hp (798cc) Raleigh and Sidecar. It was deemed an impossible task as some of the roads were of poor quality and the reliability of motorcycles was not as good as they are now. It was to be the longest ACU observed test ever. Marjorie announced that "What man can do, woman can do" and that she would ride the same route at the same time but in the opposite direction so as not to interfere with the official test. She rode a 2 3/4hp (348cc) Raleigh. They both completed 3,429 miles, averaging 300 miles a day in 11 days and 10 hours on 12 June 1924.[9] The ride started and finished in Liverpool. In 1984 Ken Hallworth, a Raleigh owner and friend of Marjorie recreated the trip on his own Raleigh.[10]

From 5 to 15 July 1926 Marjorie undertook a 1,400-mile promotional ride on a 174cc Raleigh. The object was to show how suitable the motorcycle is for female riders. Her route spelt out the word Raleigh in cursive script on a map of the UK. The first leg from London to Southampton was the upright (back) of the letter R. The finish, the bottom of the second down-stroke of the h, was in Edinburgh.[11] It was a well publicised journey. Raleigh's adverts featured a similar machine which was to be awarded to whoever guessed correctly (or nearest to) the number of towns and villages that she passed through.[12] One retailer's journal, The Garage and Motor Agent, was particularly enthusiastic about Miss Cottle's promotional activities on behalf of the motorcycle industry. She was, it declared, "undoubtedly one of the trade's most useful propagandists." Not only did she demonstrate that physical strength was not crucial for operating a motorcycle, but this magazine was especially impressed with "the fact that Miss Cottle always manages to look nice when engaged in her exploits, and not the least like a professional motor cyclist." In that way she "produces the best possible impression on the public" (Jones 532).[13]


She married Jack Watson-Bourne, who was a well-known trials rider, on 5 January 1927 at CerrigyDruidon in North Wales.[14] Even after the marriage she was always referred to as Miss Cottle in press reports.

International Six Days Trial (ISDT)Edit

She rode in the International Six Days Trial every year from 1925 to 1939 inclusive. The Auto Cycle Union selected female riders Marjorie Cottle, Louise MacLean and Edyth Foley as British B squad for the International Six Days Trial (ISDT) in August 1927 as they had done the year before.[15] The News of the World carried a picture of Cottle, Edyth Foley, Miss Louise MacLean and two other leading female motorcyclists, Mrs M Grenfell and Mrs Spokes. The five were described as "the British ladies who triumphed in the International Trials" on 20 August. This was the International Six Days' Trial of 1927, in which the British Ladies' Team won the International Silver Vase. The trials were held in the Lake District, and attracted a large number of competitor.[16]

year where no machine award other women
1925 Wales 36 Raleigh Gold medal 2
1926 England 24 Raleigh 348cc Gold medal and 3rd in Silver Vase 6
1927 England 39 Raleigh 348cc Gold medal and Silver Vase 4
1928 England 26 Raleigh 348cc Gold medal 5
1929 Germany 113 Raleigh 348cc Silver medal 7
1930 France 38 BSA Gold medal 5
1931 Italy 78 BSA 500cc Gold medal 3
1932 Italy 19 BSA 250cc Gold medal 1
1933 Wales 94 BSA 250cc Silver medal 1
1934 Germany 80 BSA 250cc Gold medal 3
1935 Germany 197 BSA 348cc retired 3
1936 Germany BSA 348cc retired 0
1937 Wales and England 25 BSA 250 Bronze medal 1
1938 Wales Triumph 249cc Silver medal 1
1939 Austria 255 Triumph 249cc retired 1

Details above taken from various issues of The Motor Cycle and Motorcycling magazines.

  • 1935 retired on 5th day due to marshal using concrete dust to extinguish a carburettor fire and thus preventing the engine from restarting[17]
  • 1936 retired due to seized big end on the final day.[18]
  • 1939 It was held in the last few days before England declared war on Germany. That year, Britain sent both a civilian and a military team to compete. After four days, when it seemed that war could break out at any minute, British officials told the civilian team to return to England immediately.[16] Cottle refused to leave because she thought it was just gossip and as she had such a fine bike it seemed daft to give up,[17] She competed on the fifth day alongside the British Army team. When they too were ordered to abandon competition, Cottle and the Army team rode their motorcycles to neutral territory in Switzerland.

Scottish Six Days Trial (SSDT)Edit

The Scottish Six Days like the International Six Days Trial is an extreme test of both rider and machine. A set number of miles are completed each day. It includes observed tests over tricky off-road sections and some road riding between sections. Marjorie competed in the SSDT every year form 1923 to 1939. In the 1923 event she was the only female rider. She won a gold medal and a special award from Raleigh for "her perseverance, endurance and expert riding ability in the most severe and difficult trial ever recorded".[5] She won quite a few other Gold medals and awards over the years.[19] Since then a number of women riders including Mary Driver in the sixties, Maria Conway and Katy Sunter have competed in this event.

Women and motorcyclingEdit

By 1926 there were so many women participating in various races and trials throughout Britain that the Motor Cycle Manufacturers' Union, the industry's trade organisation, decided to honour some of the more prominent ones with a special banquet in London.[20] The occasion was well publicised, not only in the mainstream press but also in motor cycle publications and even women's magazines such as Home Notes.[citation needed]

Miss Cottle won the prize for the best performance by a "lady rider" in the 1927 Scott Trial. She was the only woman to complete the course.[21] After competing in the famous Scott Trials, the magazine 'The Motor Cycle' had to admit she had successfully finished the grueling course "while burly men had given up from sheer exhaustion".[13]

The fact that she was often the only female entrant and very successful meant she often featured in daily newspapers, motorcycle magazines and general publications. Her riding skill and expertise were regularly praised such as "rode better than any mere man could hope to".[22] At least one editor specifically said the Marjorie was judged not just for doing well as a woman but for riding better than most of the men.[23] Marjorie also gained a lot of press attention and photographs because of her appearance and the importance she placed on it. Many event reports included comments like "smiling as happily as ever"[24] or on how smart she looked when her fellow riders were disheveled and muddy. Marjorie wrote articles for various publications extolling the benefits of motorcycling and how to look smart whilst doing it. She wrote about how women riders are finding motorcycling is healthy and good for the complexion.[25] She described herself as a fanatic about women motorcyclist doing themselves justice. She was concerned that all riders face prejudice, but females faced the most. Her advice was to never let yourself be photographed using the wrong spanner or donning make up whilst sat on the motorcycle or of being untidy and dirty. This was also extended to male riders. She was clear that you got filthy riding trials but you cleaned yourself up as much as possible before going into a bar or other public area.[26]

On one occasion she rode to Holyhead and got on a ferry. She arrived in Dublin at 4pm. The 5am start of the End to End Ireland regularity Trial was 250 miles away in County Cork. so she rode there and arrived with 2 hours to spare before riding the 260 miles of the first day of the trial.[27]

World War IIEdit

By 1940 she was using her trials Triumph to ride as a Home Guard despatch rider.[28] Marjorie was Group officer in the National Fire Service in charge of DR training in North Wales.[29] She had also assisted her husband, Jack, who trained military despatch riders at 2nd Signals Training centre, Prestatyn, North Wales[30] before his death in March 1943.[31]

Later life and legacyEdit

According to Koerner:[13] For several years after she gave up competing, she was employed by the BSA company as one of their motor cycle sales representatives although she seems to have been kept in the showrooms not where she wanted to be, out on the road or riding in competition events. She became very involved with the Vintage Motor Cycle Club attending meetings, giving talks and prizes as well as sitting on the Brains Trust panel,[32] She did drive cars in car trials.[5] She was interviewed and filmed riding a BSA Bantam by the BBC in 1968[33]

Marjorie died on 17 July 1987 in Chester hospital after a short illness.[34] She left her trophy collection to a friend, on whose death it was put up for auction at Bonhams in 2010.[35]


  1. ^ "A Great Sportswoman". Motorcycling: 457. 10 February 1932.
  2. ^ "1939 England and Wales Register for Marjorie Watson-Bourne, Denbighshire, Ruthin Rd". Retrieved 19 September 2022.(subscription required)
  3. ^ Classic Motorcycle magazine, Jan. 2014
  4. ^ "1911 England Census". Retrieved 19 September 2022.(subscription required)
  5. ^ a b c d e Brown, John (February 1982). "Marjorie Queen of Trials". The Classic Motor Cycle: 24–27.
  6. ^ Cottle, Marjorie (8 January 1931). "I Enjoy Them All". The Motor Cycle: 42–44.
  7. ^ "Famous Lady Motorcyclist joins BSA". Motor Cyclist Review: 398. February 1930.
  8. ^ "Change of Mount". The Motor Cycle: 126. 27 January 1938.
  9. ^ "Round the Coast". Raleigh promotional brochure. July 1924.
  10. ^ "Ingenuity in Lark Lane". Classic Motor Cycle: 61. September 1984.
  11. ^ "The Raleigh Ride". The Motor Cycle: 125. 15 July 1926.
  12. ^ "Raleigh advert". The Motor Cycle: 25. 24 June 1926.
  13. ^ a b c Koerner, Steve (March 2007). "Whatever Happened to the Girl on a Motorbike? British Women and Motorcycling from 1919 to 1939". International Journal of Motorcycle Studies.
  14. ^ "Famous riders married". Motorcycling: 263. 12 January 1927.
  15. ^ "isdt 1927".
  16. ^ a b "Marjorie Cottle and the ISDT".
  17. ^ a b Brown, John (April 1982). "A Dash for the Border". The Classic Motor Cycle: 26–29.
  18. ^ Pugh, Karl (25 June 1942). "A Clubman on the Continent". Motorcycling: 140.
  19. ^ "The Marjorie Cottle collection". 25 April 2010.
  20. ^ "My Lady Comes to Town". The Motor Cycle: 694–697. 14 October 1926.
  21. ^ "Scott Trial". Motorcycling: 549–550. 14 September 1927.
  22. ^ "Scottish six Days". The Motor Cycle: 25–27. 5 July 1928.
  23. ^ editorial (4 December 1935). "Miss Cottle". Motorcycling: 17.
  24. ^ "The Scottish". Motorcycling: 66. 24 May 1933.
  25. ^ Cottle, Marjorie (25 September 1928). "Motor Cycling for Beauty". Evening Standard.
  26. ^ Cottle, Marjorie (4 December 1933). "Be Fair to Yourselves". Motorcycling: 172–174.
  27. ^ "Miss Cottle's Gruelling Ride". The Motor Cycle: 118. 21 July 1927.
  28. ^ Cyclops (31 October 1940). "Sports Gossip". Motorcycling: 653.
  29. ^ "Miss Marjorie Cottle". Motorcycling: 353. 16 September 1943.
  30. ^ "Letters to the editor". VMCC Journal: 428. September 1984.
  31. ^ "Jack Watson-Bourne". Motorcycling: 385. 1 April 1943.
  32. ^ "Vintage Brains Trust". VMCC Bulletin. April 1953.
  33. ^ "Marjory Rides Again". Motor Cycle. 31 January 1968.
  34. ^ "Marjorie Cottle". Old Bike Mart. August 1987.
  35. ^ "Bonhams : The Marjorie Cottle Collection". Retrieved 19 September 2022.
  • Mika Hahn, Fritz J. Hahn: Faszination des Erfolges - Das Sport-Leben der Ilse Thouret . Korschenbroich: Rheinischer Mobilia-Verlag 2004, ISBN 3-938140-00-3

Chris Stevens of Surrey & Isle of Man Historian & Author, David Wright.