Harry Mead looks at a new book which reflects on life in Bedale and its famous characters.

STILL considered one of motorcycling’s toughest challenges, Swaledale’s annual Scott Trial has seldom taken place in more demanding conditions than in 1927.

Battling against mud, rain and swollen streams, only 73 of the 145 starters completed the course. But among them, steering her machine home despite its loss of brakes, was a rare female rider – 21-year-old Eva Askquith.

Her achievement earned her an award – and set her on the road to biking fame. She became a noted trialist and speedway rider, who thrilled crowds throughout Britain and abroad. Popularly known as Whirlwind Eva, she was also billed as The Speedway Queen and The Yorkshire Rose.

For Eva was from Bedale, the daughter of a local butcher and his wife. Auburn-haired and blue-eyed, her girlish passion for horses gave way to a love of motorbikes – and speed – when a haulage man allowed her to ride his 350cc Matchless at the back of Bedale cricket field. Her first outing on her own machine – actually bought and shared with a friend, Elsie Clarkson – could hardly have been more spectacular. The bike burst into flames.

Undeterred, Eva became a fearless rider. She was especially renowned for her trademark one-wheel finishes on steep hill climbs. Her speedway career took her to Spain, South Africa and, of course, Wembley.

Still well-remembered 24 years after her death, Eva features prominently in Reflections of Bedale, a fascinating look at life in the North Riding market town, captured largely in photographs over the past 150 or so years. Eva’s story is completed by a photo of her holding a cup that she won pursuing a very different interest after she gave up biking – horticulture.

In 1958 she collected 21 first prizes at Ripon Show.

The handsome culmination of five years’ work by a heritage group, the book spans past and present. a watercolour shows a post-war queue at Carrick’s fish stall, an early venture of a still-thriving local business. Its story is brought bang up to date with an advert for its recently opened Fine Food shop at nearby Snape.

But it is Old Bedale that chiefly steals the scene. Though his trade survives, chimney sweeps no longer resemble Sweepy Willy, a familiar figure before the Second World War.

He slept rough in the stable block at the Royal Oak Hotel.

A little earlier, the supplanting of horse-drawn traffic by the motor car is mirrored in a striking photo of Bedale on a bustling market day. And hey, could that motorbike propped up on the cobbles in the near foreground be Eva Askquith’s?

■ Reflections of Bedale edited by Mike Scanlan (Friends of Bedale Heritage Book, £20). Available at Maynews, Bedale; by post from 20, Firby Road, Bedale, DL8 2AS, or email at bedalebook@hotmail.

co.uk. Add £4.41 for postage.