BETSY BEALE was born in an age when women tended to be educated (if at all) to secondary level only, but her achievements were very much of today. Women of her generation had in any case been entirely capable of playing a part in national as well as local affairs, provided they possessed confidence and independence of spirit.
Betsy Beale, known to her family as 'Maman' (as in 'may' and 'man', stressing both syllables equally), was descended through her father from Sir John Slade Bt, one of Wellington's Peninsular campaign generals, and through her mother from the Young baronets of North Dean, Bucks, and had the confidence and spirit to act as Chairman of the Middlesex & London Region Land Army during the War, to champion consumers against the Coal Board after it, and to fight property development in her home village of Wraysbury, in Berkshire, during the 1960s. She also had sufficiently broad interests to write a prize-winning play, exhibit her paintings and fly round Europe with her sister Susan, a pioneer aviatrix killed in the Second World War, in the latter's Puss Moth.
She was born Betsy Slade in 1902 in Hong Kong, where her father, Marcus, was a barrister, and was educated at Queen Ethelburga's, Harrogate, of which school her aunt Evelyn Young was headmistress. Her father's uncle was Dr Warre, headmaster of Eton, so there was a pedagogic tradition on both sides of the family.
She married in 1924 Evelyn Beale, an important pioneer in engineering physics, by whom she had two sons, Martin, a distinguished mathematician, and Julian. She became one of the early leaders of the Women's Institutes, featuring in this capacity in EM Delafield's The Provincial Lady Goes Further. Betsy's aunt Margaret Rose Slade was the Rose of the Provincial Lady books, and her niece - Betsy - is described by Delafield's fictional persona as 'modern' and 'pretty, talented, tremendous social success, amazingly good at games, dancing and - I think - everything else in the world . . .'.
Nor was this mere literary hyperbole. Betsy Beale wrote a play on the life of Dean Swift which won a national drama award organised by the Evening Standard, though the outbreak of the Second World War prevented its being staged. Her paintings were exhibited at leading galleries. She was a ferociously able bridge-player, the Beale family having invented a system of its own devising for that subtlest of games which nobody else has yet mastered. On one spin across Europe in 1938 with Susan the sisters missed their destination, Salzburg, and came down at Berchtesgaden. Hitler was away at the time but his lackeys gave the two English women a conducted tour. By mid-1948, with her sister and Unity Mitford now both dead, Beale could plausibly claim to be the only living English woman who had visited the Fuhrer's bedroom.
During the war she was responsible for selecting and interviewing tens of thousands of the land girls who worked in agriculture to dig for victory. She remained chairman of the organisation's benevolent fund till its closure. From 1951 to 1971 she served as Deputy Chairman, then Chairman, of the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council. In the early 1960s she joined with some neighbours to thwart a property speculator who hoped to build on the local village green. They discovered a law of 1803 which gave villagers of Wraysbury the right to hold an annual fair on the green, the fair was revived and the case of Wylde, Mosley, Beale et al vs Silver won on appeal.
Betsy's husband and children all predeceased her, both sons relatively young. She bore such afflictions, together with increasing money difficulties, cheerfully.
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