I recently directed Mrs. Ramsbottom to a small tin of old photographs I had squirreled away in the works. In that tin she found this image. It instantly took me back to that amazing day in 1922. the photograph is a little bit contravercial as the photo was taken at a Brooklands session in 1922 when Gwenda was involved with Col. Stewart, director of the Trump Motorcycle Company.
I confess to being quite taken by Gwenda's rather bolshie nature at the time and asked her, off the cuff, if she would mind trialing one of our machines. She simply responded by asking if the machine was swift to which I replied, 'My dear, it is a Phantom.' She instantly climbed aboard and instructed her lads to fuel the machine. The machine in question was the prototype of what would later become 'The Fanny Hammer.'
Once filled with evaporative spirits we pushed her off, up the starting straight. The machine came to life with a large bang and a lengthy flame from the tail pipe. Gwenda's head rocked back momentarily but she held on. By the time she reached the members' banking the machine had settled into a throbbing rhythm. She gradually built speed on her out lap and came roaring past the fork to begin her first flying lap. All seemed well when she flew by our position at the junction of the starting straight and the members' banking. we then ran up test hill to watch her enter the flying kilometer gate on the railway straight. Her speed was tremendous! We could feel a record was on the cards. Then, suddenly, something went wrong. Towards the timing shed at the end of the straight she reduced speed significantly as she entered the Byfleet banking. She turned up the finish straight at the fork and we ran down to meet her. Amazingly, when we reached her in the paddock, the front tyre was laying on the ground next to the front wheel and still looped around the front fork of the machine.
She told us, in a rather excited state (and in rather animated terms), that the front tyre had expanded through centrifugal force as she was reaching top speed on the railway straight, and then simply hopped off the hoop! She took the machine out of gear and simply coasted back on the rim. We were all quite relieved that no harm came to Gwenda as she was such a favourite of all the chaps there. But this was later replaced by lingering curiosity at what might have been had that tyre stayed on. There was possibly no braver, more skilled, or lighter rider at Brooklands at that time and every manufacturer dreamed of having her trial their machine. We had our one chance and that was it.
This was the only time Gwenda ever rode a Phantom as far as we know. Of course she went on to great fame as she set record after record at Brooklands and Monthlery in both motorbikes and automobiles throughout the 1920s and 30s. I have always wondered how the Phantom story might have altered had that tyre not left the rim that day back in 1922....
If you look closely at the photograph you will notice that three of The Phantom founders are in the picture. the gentleman kneeling in the left foreground is none other than Enoch Podsnap. To the right foreground with his hand on his hip and wearing boots is Titua Bottomly. And in the rear left, wearing the dark suit and hat, is Erasmus Thump himself!