The following story comes from reader (and Chef from Hell) Paul Hughes, who writes, “I know you like a story! My mother and father were both bikers, and also my grandfather on dad’s side, with a 1917 Levis it is told.  My mother Philippa Cooper (maiden name) was a member of Eastbourne MCC and preferred to be called ‘Phil’. In the ’50s she met my father, Ifor Hughes, who was very keen biker with an Ariel Square Four and a Douglas ex-racer converted for road.  In 1951 Phil embarked on a journey to Wales on a 197cc Francis-Barnett with the addition of her mother as pillion.  Here is a small story written by her in period, with a few photos.”

While plenty of women rode motorcycles in the 1950s, it was still socially unusual.  In her modest way, Paul’s mother was a pioneer of motorcycle travel for women, and showed considerable spunk on her journey. As did her mother, for doing the miles on the back of a rigid-frame popgun! The following is Philippa ‘Phil’ Cooper’s account of her 1000-mile journey two-up on a two-stroke:

Phil Cooper and her mother, about to embark on a week’s tour of Wales on her 198cc Francis-Barnett. [Hughes Family Archive]
A Trip to North Wales, June 1951

I have just been to North Wales on my Francis-Barnett (197cc) with my mother, who is nearing 70 years of age, as a passenger. My journey started on a Saturday, not a very promising one at first, but the sun did eventually shine.  We left Eastbourne at 8.30 a.m., having decided upon Reading for lunch and Cirencester for the night. I had a small twinge of envy along the road to Reading when we passed a girl on a “Golden Flash” [the new BSA 650cc twin – ed.], but this was forgotten at Wantage, where we came upon the local weekly market. A statue of King Alfred looked on here — not entirely approving of two females on a motor-bike! The whole journey so far (Cirencester 153 miles) was very pleasant, good roads and little traffic.

We awoke In the morning to the sound of Church bells ringing a hymn tune right under, or should I say above our window. On through the beautiful Cotswolds with the lovely old stone houses and the Fosse Way which is lined by low stone walls. We arrived at Stratford-on-Avon for an early lunch, after which we went over Shakespeare’s birth-place. The house, especially the room in which he was born, seems to be in very good preservation, with low beams and walls made of clay and straw. Later we saw Anne Hathaway’s beautiful cottage. We spent the night in Kidderminster and, although only a further 89 miles had been covered, we were very tired, especially my mother. I expect this was the result of the previous day.

Phil Cooper with her c.1949 Villiers Junior lightweight (98cc two stroke single). [Hughes Family Archive]
The next day was the real beginning when, through Shrewsbury, a very pretty Tudor town with black and white buildings, we entered Wales. Unfortunately, however, we were greeted with a Iittle rain. The road from here began to get a Iittle hilly and winding but the machine, although it had a good 19 stone [120kg/266lbs – ed] to carry, went up without grumbling. During lunch at Pontybont we remarked on the splendid roads from Shrewsbury; bye-roads and main roads alike were all lined with luminous studs. We arrived at Bala to find a rather rough Bala Lake — and how the wind blew, no photographs this time!

We continued on to Ffestiniog, our destination, over very desolate countryside flanked by mournful looking hills and mountains, and passed unheard of gates where old men are to be found waiting to earn sixpence by opening them. These old men live in extremely queer contraptions which they call their homes.
The journey ended here at Ffestiniog but the road from Bala is terrible — if you break down along here you are stuck for hours! The mileage so far is 348, and the cost 16/— (with a gallon of petrol in hand) — somewhat different from the Railway cost of £10. My mother travelled very well, a bit sore on the vital parts but she is definitely “broken in”.

Moving up: Phil with her c.1950 James Captain, with 200cc two-stroke engine. [Hughes Family Archive]
The next few days are to be spent making trips from our headquarters here, but I must admit to abandoning the motor-bike the next day as it simply poured with rain and would not have been very pleasant for the pillion passenger! So we went by ‘bus to Criccieth and Pwllheli, passing Portmadoc, Tomnadoc (Lawrence of Arabia’s birthplace) and Lloyd George Memorial. By now the weather had cleared and we were better able to appreciate the scenery, although it was on the flat side. Later we went to Harlech Castle by motor-bike and on the way crossed one of the many Toll bridges. There really is a wonderful view from the battlements of the old Castle. Near here we witnessed a very amusing scene: Some sheep were quietly grazing in a field beside the road when along came a man on a bicycle. He stopped, clapped his hands and whistled and the sheep immediately jumped over the wall, crossed the road and jumped another wall into a second field. These sheep had rather long flapping tails and looked extremely funny, but were apparently intelligent enough to do without a sheep-dog.

We then came upon a very quaint and rather eerie little place called Pontmarion where a very long lane led to the village and ended down at the seashore. At the beginning of the lane we found a notice advising visitors of a 2/— Toll further on “so turn back now”. We went on, however, but found no Toll and I am still wondering if this was really true or just an excuse to deter visitors, as the village was deserted. The buildings were very tall and bore very queer figure paintings on the walls, which seemed to leer at you. I also noticed a nice, but again queer petrol pump. Adorning the top of this was a lady’s head carved in wood and also painted. The village was so quiet and deserted that it seemed to be “out of this World”.  I could learn nothing about this place but am still very intrigued.

The Eastbourne Motor Cycle Club circa 1950, with Phil Cooper aboard her James Captain, just to the right of center. [Hughes Family Archive]
The next day’s tour was very different – through villages surrounded by slate quarries and slate hills which seemed to come right down to the road. The houses are very close to the quarries and I imagine the whole thing to be rather frightening at night. On then to Donway Bridge where I met a fellow club-member, what a small world. There we saw several fishermen making and mending their nets, their hands covered in tar. Next, Colwyn Bay, where to my delight I found horses on the beach. As this is my ex-profession I simply could not resist a ride, but with helmet, waterproofs and cycling gloves I must have looked ridiculous.
We came back through Bangor, viewing Ogwen Falls through the Nant Francon Pass. By this time, unfortunately, it was raining hard but we joined other enthusiasts getting wet inside and out at a tea-stall overlooking the Waterfalls.

Wales gave us one beautiful day so we made for Snowdon and took the little toy train to the top (making mother the excuse for not walking!). The train took an hour but this was due to several stops for a drink and to await downward traffic. There were many people walking who of course we passed, but I understand a man did beat the train this year. On the summit of Snowdon it was surprisingly warm and we could see for miles. Also we looked down on a wonderfully blue lake. There were many sheep grazing on the hillside of Snowdon and were very surprised to find them extremely nervous of the trains. Llanberis at the foot of Snowdon was looking its best and as the clouds were perfect for a photograph, out came the filter. We carried on to Caernarvon, viewing yet another Castle and the shores of Anglesey. Then on to the Menai Bridge and across it into Anglesey — just to say we had been. This really is a magnificent bridge and, I believe, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

‘Phil’s future husband Ifor Hughes, who Paul Hughes says “was a supercharger engineer on Hurricanes and Spitfires during the war.” Here he sits his c.1931 Douglas OHV flat twin, possibly an F.31 sports/racing model. [Hughes Family Archive]
Well, our tour of North Wales Is now over, and we started on the return journey the next day. We had a good start from Ffestiniog but once we were on the dreaded Bala road again Fate took a hand. The motor-bike seemed to be running perfectly but nevertheless I detected a foreign noise. Nothing appeared to have fallen off but suddenly my mother realised that one foot kept slipping. We stopped then and found one of the pillion footrests had slipped and was banging against the chain — hence the noise. It was so bent it had to be taken off, so mother had a 50 mile ride without one footrest. However, now and again I found a foot perched upon my lap… It really was amazing the number of places we tried for a spare, without success, but we were eventually fixed up at Ludlow.

Back a bit, though, for a few words on Lake Vyrney, where the road was very narrow and twisting and not a soul to be seen for miles (let alone a petrol pump!) except numerous livestock darting backwards and forwards across the road. A baby rabbit, which I just missed, rather frightened me as he seemed to pop out from nowhere. Fortunately for me, however, he popped back again. We reached Worcester at last after passing through the fascinating black and white town of Ludlow, and, having done a record mileage of 160 (going 20 miles out of our way) weren’t we glad to find a bed. Before we left Worcester, however, I found some extra energy and climbed the 237 steps to the tower of the Cathedral. The view was magnificent and I took an aerial photograph.

Ifor Hughes had style and a taste for speed: here is his c.1932 Ariel Square Four 4F, with 600cc OHC four-cylinder motor, plus an elegant Launch sidecar he designed himself, and produced in limited numbers, called the Mermaid.  Anybody got one? [Hughes Family Archive]
Oxford was our next port of call — so interesting with its beautiful colleges and the river. Here we thought we would have some relaxation in a punt. 15 minutes passed and we managed to corner one bend without going into the bank, but by the time we got organised it was time to return, and we then met the oncoming traffic. Like everyone else we had ‘L’ plates up but by now we had gained our provisional licences and managed to clock in at the correct time. We had tea on the banks of the river at Pangbourne, still viewing people in boats but we were not tempted. Evening came and found a bed at a place called Lodden Bridge, where Lo! and Behold! there was another punt awaiting our pleasure. This time, however, we had a pilot so we did enjoy a punting session after all. Now we were nearly hone and to end a delightful holiday we picked up some strawberries and mushrooms, which were enjoyed later.

My office pals, I might add, quite expected me to return home in an ambulance, due to the fact that I have only recently recovered from a nasty accident on my motor-bike. The mileage covered was 939, costing £1. 14.81/2d in petrol and oil, doing 104 m.p.g., and our expenses were £13.10.0. each [that’s about $160 each in today’s money – a very inexpensive week’s holiday! – ed.]

Paul Hughes, son of Phil and Ifor Hughes, preparing for the future! Here on a motorcycle carousel on Brighton Pier. [Hughes Family Archive]
Paul Hughes is a professional chef, writer, and photographer.  Check out his website Chef from Hell, and his Instagram here.
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