British cycling pioneer and former Mayor of Kingston, Eileen Gray, was instrumental in the development of women's cycling internationally.
Gray took up cycling to get to work after the train line near her home was damaged in the Blitz. She found that cycling gave her a newfound sense of freedom. She soon joined the only cycle club near her home that accepted women.
In 1946, Gray and two other British riders were invited to take part in a women's track event in Copenhagen. The organisers thought it would be a novelty event and the Danish team were actually a theatre troupe that did cycling as part of their act. Needless to say the British team won easily and the experience inspired Gray to get women's cycling taken seriously.
After giving up competitive racing in 1947, Gray became involved in cycling administration. She founded the Women's Track Racing Association in 1949, which became the Women's Cycle Racing Association in 1956. She continuously fought to achieve international recognition for women's cycling. Her breakthrough came in 1955 when the international cycling governing body agreed to recognise women's world records.
However, British female cyclists encountered hostility from their male counterparts and one celebrated cyclists, Reg Harris, managed to get women cyclists banned from the track. Gray recalled how at one meet in Germany a male "colleague" deliberately stole all the women's spare tyres and tubes in an attempt to scupper them. Despite this, the British Women's Team returned home with two gold medals, a silver and a bronze.
Gray served as president of the British Cycling Federation from 1976 to 1986 and helped secure the women's road race at the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984. Gray was deputy commandant of the British team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and a torch bearer for the London Games in 2012. She was also a Conservative councillor for Kingston from 1984 to 1998 and was Mayor for a year in 1990. She died in May 2015.
You can find out more about history in Kingston at the Kingston Museum and History Centre.
The future of cycling in Kingston
As a borough so rich in cycling history it is fitting that we continue to invest in cycling for the future with Go Cycle. Through a £30 million fund from Transport for London and the Mayor of London, we're developing healthy streets across our borough by creating 10 new cycle routes with improvements to public spaces as well.