Yorkshire Chess History
Miss Frideswide Fanny Beechey (Mrs. T. B. Rowland)
(Photo from The Chess Bouquet.)
Frideswide Fanny Beechey was the second daughter of Richard Brydges Beechey and Frideswide Maria Moore Beechey (1819–1885), née Smyth, of Portlick Castle, Westmeath, Ireland. Portlick Castle had been purchased in 1703 by the Rev. Robert Smyth for £885. This Robert had a son Ralph who died apparently without an heir. However, and illegitimate son, Robert, was produced by a local woman and authenticated by a local clergyman, and he duly inherited the castle.
Her Father and his Brothers
Richard Brydges Beechey was born on 17/05/1808, at Harley Street in London according to the 1881 census. He was supposedly one of the eighteen children of the painter Sir William Beechey (1753-1839) and Ann Phyllis Beechey née Jessop.
Richard Brydges Beechey entered the Royal Naval College on 1st March 1821, started his first posting in June 1822 as First Class Volunteer on board the Espiegle, at the age of 14. He had various subsequent postings, stepping up the ranks en route. One posting of especial interest was in March 1825 to the Blossom, which was commanded by his brother Captain Frederick William Beechey “with whom he proceeded on a voyage of discovery to the Pacific and thence to Bering Strait for the purpose of cooperating in the Polar expeditions of Capts Parry and Franklin.” He was invalided out of front-line service in the early 1830s. In 1835 he became involved in the Ordnance Survey of Ireland which took from 1835 to 1846, and following that was made a Commander on 31st March 1846. He ended up with the rank of admiral.
His brother Frederick William Beechey became a famous captain in the Royal Navy.
His brothers Henry William Beechey and George Duncan Beechey, on the other hand, were artist, like their father.
On retirement from the navy, Richard Brydges Beechey in turn took up painting, becoming famous as a painter of naval scenes. His paintings still appear at auction, one recently auctioned being very precisely described as “His Majesty's frigate Fisgard, Captain T. Byam Martin, on a lee shore weathering the rocks off Ushant, at 8.00 a.m. on 16/01/1801, whilst stationed off the French coast as part of Sir John Borlase Warren's fleet.” He earned the letters “HRHA” to put after his name, indicating “Honorary Member, Royal Hibernian Academy”.
Her Non-Chess Life
Richard Brydges Beechey got involved in charting of Lough Ree near Portlick Castle, and so met the castle’s owner’s daughter Frideswide. Richard Brydges Beechey married Frideswide Maria Moore Smyth (born 1819 at Portlick Castle, Westmeath, Ireland) in 1840. The couple had at least the following three children:
Daughter Frideswide’s age in the 1861 census was 15, but in the 1881 census it was only 30, while at death in 1919 she was said to be 75. That means she was born 1845/46, or 1850/51, or 1843/44. Some sources confidently state Frideswide’s date of birth to be specifically 18th April 1843, which is consistent with age at death.
The 1861 census found 52-year-old father Richard B. Beechey and 15-year-old daughter Frideswide Beechey at what looks like 52 “Darnforth” (perhaps Durnford), East Stonehouse, Plymouth, Devon, with two servants. Richard was described as something illegible in the Royal Navy, apparently on half pay. His wife, 47-year-old Frideswide M. Beechey, was at the time of the census visiting 25-year-old Walter Hedger and his wife 20-year-old Charlotte G. Hedger, of Wattling (?) Street, Fulwood, Lancashire. Frideswide was described, apparently, as mother-in-law, and as wife to a captain in the Royal Navy. (Charlotte’s age seems to preclude her being Frideswide’s daughter.)
The family is elusive in the 1871 census.
The1881 census found 72-year-old Richard B. Beechey, now a vice-admiral, his wife 62-year-old wife Frideswide, his unmarried daughters “32”-year-old Limerick-born Annie L. Beechey and “30”-year-old Galway-born Frideswide F. Beechey, and 20-year-old niece Frideswide Smyth, (who like her aunt had been born at Portlick Castle, Westmeath, Ireland), all living at 13 St. James Terrace, Plymouth, about 400 yards from the famous “Hoe”. Thus Richard Bridges Beechey was one of the few men recorded as living under the same roof as three women called Frideswide!
The origin of the name Frideswide is supposedly as follows. One Frithuswith, later rendered “Frideswide”, was born around the middle of the 7th century AD. At a young age she founded a priory. She was ultimately canonised, so becoming St. Frideswide, and was adopted as patron Saint of the city of Oxford. A church dedicated to St Frideswide can be found on the Botley Road going westwards out of Oxford city centre. The more eccentric among the population of Oxford, such as university professors, sometimes give the name “Frideswide” to their daughters. In the case of Frideswide Fanny Beechey, the name had been handed down the generations of the female line from her great-grandmother, Alice Frideswide Moore, who in 1782 married Irishman Thomas Ahmuty.
Our Frideswide must have moved from Plymouth to Ireland, perhaps with the rest of the family, at some time from 1881 to 1883.
When her chess column in the Sheffield & Rotherham Independent started on 01/12/1883, although she was not named, the column’s editorial address was given as “Chess Editor, Victoria Terrace, Clontarf, Dublin”
Back in Ireland, 40-year-old Frideswide got married. Thus Frideswide Fanny Beechey of Leinster Lodge, Clontarf, daughter of Robert Brydges Beechey, admiral in the Royal Navy, married Thomas Benjamin Rowland (1850-1926) of Mountain View, Clontarf, gentleman, son of Robert Rowland, gent., on 05/06/1884, at the Church of Ireland parish church, Clontarf. Both were of “full age”, offering no clarification of the brides date of birth.
The occasion of the marriage of the two journalistic promoters of chess caused a number of chess editors and prominent players to club together to present to the couple a set of Staunton pattern ivory chess men with an accompanying congratulatory letter penned by the rev. W. Anderson of Old Romney Vicarage, and dated 30/06/1884. (See Leeds Mercury Weekly Supplement of 12/07/1884 for the text of the letter). The Rev. W. Anderson managed the collection, and procurement and despatch of the chess men and letter. They also received a silver salver from James Crake, the Hull chess journalist.
The couple seemingly had at least the following two children:
Around 1885, Admiral Beechey’s wife, Frideswide, died, and about three years later, on 12/03/1888, at Stoke Bishop, Gloucestershire, Richard Brydges Beechey married Frances Stewart, daughter of the Rev. Annesley Stewart of Trinity College, Dublin. The chess-playing Reverend George Salmon (1819-1904) was connected with Trinity from being a student there, and in 1888 became its Provost. So, Frideswide’s step-mother’s father was a work-colleague of the chess-playing Rev. George Salmon. One wonders if they ever got to play chess together as a result!
Frideswide’s father, Admiral Beechey Richard Brydges, died on 14/03/1895 at Southsea.
The Rowlands’ address quoted in 1899, in Pollock Memories, was 6 Rus-In-Urbe, Kingston, Ireland.
The 1911 Irish census apparently recorded Frideswide as being deaf, an affliction which presumably arose only in later life, along with failing eyesight.
Having two daughters might seem to have put an end to the family specialities of the navy and art, since renowned female naval officers and artists were in those days non-existent or very rare. However, the strategic thinking necessary in naval warfare, the spatial awareness inherent in surveying, and aesthetics of the pictorial artist, traits which must have been exhibited by Richard Brydges Beechey, all re-emerged in his daughter Frideswide, but in a more abstract manifestation, that of chess, especially the composition of chess problems. She also showed artistic ability, winning prizes for pictures of flowers.
In 1882 Frideswide Fanny Beechey was the first women to win a prize in a chess-problem composing competition.
In 1883 her book Chess Blossoms was published. The title, by chance or design, is reminiscent of the name of the ship, Blossom, in which her father and uncle sailed together to the Pacific and the Bering Straits.
In 1883 the First International Problem Tourney for Ladies was run or won (which?) by Frideswide Beechey. (BCM 1981, p.403).
On 01/12/1883, Frideswide Beechey took over the chess column in the Supplement to the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent which had hitherto carried a column by Bird. Her column was probably one published with variations in a number of publications. This column in the Sheffield paper appears to have run through to 10/06/1887. This may be her only tangible connection with Yorkshire chess as such.
Her address at this time was Victoria Terrace, Clontarf, Dublin, Ireland.
After the marriage of Frideswide Fanny Beechey to the Irish chess-player and columnist Thomas Benjamin Rowland, who was a sometime director of Clontarf Chess Club, the two of them ran chess columns in various newspapers and magazines, and produced chess directories etc.
In 1884 her book Chess Fruits, co-authored with her husband, was published. The authors apparently sent a copy to Queen Victoria, as the British Chess Magazine, 1885, page 152, carried the following:
The 1885 BCM apparently carried an advert for “Chess Fruits” (to sell remaining copies held by the authors),but it also carried an unfavourable review to which T. B. Rowland took exception, leading to some acrimonious exchanges between John Watkinson as BCM editor and T. B. Rowland as co-author of the book (see BCM 1885 p.191).
In 1899 Pollock Memories: A collection of Chess Games, Problems, &c., &c., edited by Mrs Frideswide Rowland with added material from her own reminiscences of William Henry Krause Pollock, was published.
Advertisements contained in Pollock Memories indicate Frideswide had other irons in the fire as well as chess. One, with the heading “Graphology” offered “full detail delineations of character” in return for “6d in stamps or 1/- Postal Order” (why the difference?), while another, with the less dubious heading “Typewriting”, offered “the typing of authors’ manuscripts, circulars etc, at very moderate terms”.
Frideswide had played correspondence chess as well as composing and solving chess problems. In her old age she continued playing correspondence chess until failing eyesight precluded it.
Frideswide Fanny Rowland died on 25/02/1919, allegedly aged 75, at Bray, Ireland. According to American Chess Bulletin, 1919, the British Chess Magazine of April, 1919 (unseen) carried a notice of her death. In her lifetime she was a subject of Gittins’s The Chess Bouquet.
Husband Thomas Benjamin Rowland’s death was registered in the third quarter of 1929, at Rathdrum, Ireland, though he probably died, like Frideswide, at Bray. (Rathdrum and Bray are both in modern County Wicklow, Republic of Ireland.)
Copyright © 2012 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information