Institute of Astronomy

The Story of Mrs Beech

Published on 29/04/2016 
Women have been employed at the Cambridge Observatory, as
assistants, or as human computers, since Miss Hardy began as a
Computer in 1876.  We know she resigned (probably to get
married) in August 1881, but that's about all we know about
We have very little information about many of these women,
often only a surname, making further biographical enquiries
very difficult.  This was the case with "Mrs. Beech" who we
knew assisted Professor Newall with his study of sunspots in
the 1920's.  "Mrs. Beech" even co-authored a paper in Monthly
Notices with Newall in 1924.
Professor Hugh Frank Newall (1857-1944) Director of SPO 1913-1928
However, in the case of Mrs. Beech we have been able to put
together, something of the story of her life.
Mrs Beech's first names were Anna Nellie and she was born in
Bristol on the 10th July 1889.  Her father was Robert Henry
Scott, a bank cashier, and her mother was Mary Emily Chick.
She was educated at Newnham College, 1908-11 studying physics
and mathematics.  She went to work as a school teacher in
Newcastle where she met her first husband, John Beech, they
married in 1915.  Sadly, Captain John Beech was killed in action
in towards the end of the First World War in 1918.
Mrs Beech, as a widow obtained work at the Solar Physics
Observatory (SPO), which was then based on our site in
Cambridge, and which was one of the organizations which
eventually formed the Institute of Astronomy.  Here she was
employed as a secretary by Professor Hugh Frank Newall (who was
the son of the industrialist R.S. Newall who had commissioned
the 25-inch Newall Telescope).  It was in this position that
Mrs. Beech began work on historical studies of sunspots, which
led to paper published in 1924, MNRAS 84(1924)528.
The Solar Physics Observatory, Cambridge (from the South c.1926)
In Cambridge, Mrs Beech met her second husband Arthur Stanley
Griffith, a distinguished chemist and biophysicist.  As the
custom was in those days she had to leave her work at the SPO
in 1927.  The couple lived at Paradise House in Newnham.  She
took a strong interest in gardening, and became an original
member of the Alpine Garden Society.  She became an expert of
rare plants, particularly alpines, and served on committees of
the Royal Horticultural Society for many years.  In 1955 she
bacame a Fellow of the Linnean Society.
Quite late in life she wrote a successful book, "Collins guide
to Alpines" (1964) which went through at least three editions.
She died in 1974, aged 85, her second husband having
predeceased her in 1941.  She had two sons.
We are grateful to the following for providing information:
Anne Thomson, College Archivist, Newnham College, and to Jenny
Sargent, Cory Library Manager, Cambridge University Botanic
Obituary: Newnham College Roll Letter p.44-45 (1975).  See also
Newnham College Register 1908: p.209.
The Times (10 April 1941) death notice of A.S. Griffith.
The Times (27 April 1972) Obituary of J.S. Griffith.
John Lagnado "From pabulum to prions (via DNA) a tale of two Griffiths" The Biochemist (August 2005) p.33
Commonwealth War Graves Commission database (accessed 21 April 2016)
IoA Library photographs PE32C (portrait of H.F. Newall), CO15A (photograph of SPO c.1926).
Mark Hurn
Departmental Librarian


Page last updated: 29 April 2016 at 14:33