Wednesday, 18 January 2012

People from the Past: 4. Audrey Levick 1890-1980

Murray and Audrey Levick returning from Canada in 1939

A noted sportswoman, Audrey Levick was the wife of Surgeon Commander Murray Levick RN, the zoologist and medical officer on Scott's Antarctic expedition of 1910-13.  She played an important role in helping to run the expeditions of what became known as the British Schools Exploring Society which her husband had founded in 1932.  The couple moved in retirement to East Devon, where they settled just outside Budleigh Salterton.

Edith Audrey Mayson Beeton was born on 30 July, 1890. Her grandmother was Isabella Beeton, the compiler of the celebrated book on cookery and household management pictured above.
She was the second daughter of Sir Mayson Beeton (1865-1947), a former Daily Mail journalist and friend of the newspaper proprietors Alfred Harmsworth (later Lord Northcliffe) and Harold Harmsworth (later Lord Rothermere). Mayson Beeton had investigated the sugar bounty question for the newspaper in 1896: the drop in the price of sugar caused by subsidised continental sugar was causing immense hardship for West Indian sugar cane growers. Four years later he crossed the Atlantic to Newfoundland with the Harmsworths to obtain timber concessions and build paper mills, becoming a Director and then President of the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company Limited. The company was set up in 1905 in order to guarantee newsprint supplies for the Harmsworths' newspapers in the event of war with Germany.

It may well have been this link with that part of Canada which led to so many of the BSES expeditions to Newfoundland, including five in the 1930s.

 Roedean School today  Photo credit Tony Corsini

Audrey entered Roedean School, outside Brighton, in September 1905.  She showed talent in art, stage management in school plays, music and dance, captaining her house in the Dancing Competition during her final year at Roedean. A keen pianist and violinist, she gave solo performances at concerts throughout her time at the school including a rendition of the challenging 'Hexentanz' by the American composer Edward MacDowell in her final term. She also made herself useful as a school librarian.

A Roedean hockey team. Audrey Beeton is 3rd left, back row

But it was for her sporting achievements that many of her contemporaries remembered her. Her range was wide. Within a few years of arriving at Roedean she was described as making a "a smart and reliable cover-point" in cricket. She went on to excel in other sports. In her final year she represented her house in fencing and was praised in the school magazine as an exceptionally good Captain of gymnastics, "her team being remarkable for their excellent time and rhythm of movement." 

Judging by that unflinching gaze in team photographs of the time her scathing comments in sports reports about team members who evidently were not pulling their weight come as no surprise.

While noting as Captain of her House lacrosse team that the game had become much faster she made the point in a 1908 school magazine that "sometimes the team seemed to forget how much a really good game depends on the amount of dash and energy put into it."

But that was fairly restrained as criticism compared with the twin-barrelled verbal blasting that she gave the slackers during her final year at Roedean as Captain of the House cricket team.

Certain members of the team had shown enthusiasm and energy all through the term, she conceded. But, "the House as a whole has not realised how much depends on the exertion of each individual," she wrote in the school magazine. "The teams are not smart enough in the field, and its members are too self-satisfied with their own play to feel how much higher a standard might have been attained." Certain members, she felt, did not seem "to have fully grasped the meaning of the word keenness."

Perhaps her successor would have more luck, she wondered. "It is to be hoped that next year the House will redeem itself by taking more interest in the game, and by showing a determined effort to become more proficient."

Audrey Beeton is 1st left, middle row, in this Roedean lacrosse team

As Captain of the House lacrosse team in her final term she was gracious enough to praise its enthusiasm, while remarking that there was room for improvement: "There is not a vast amount of intelligence shown by some of the players, but they could easily remedy this if they only exerted their minds to the same extent as their bodies."

All worthy no-nonsense stuff from someone who would one day partner her naval officer husband in toughening up recruits for the Public Schools Exploring Society's trips into the wilds. It matches Murray Levick's scornful tone referring to a fellow-member of the Northern Party in Antarctica a few years later.

Using a term which described enlisted sailors in the Royal Navy the PSES founder damns Petty Officer Frank Browning as "a gutless swab" for his lack of skiing ability. "I now had a fair example of the uselessness of the average bluejacket in using his feet," reads his diary entry about an excursion that the pair made to Hut Point during their stay at Cape Evans in January 1911.   

It was at Roedean, where she ended her time as a Senior Prefect, that she had developed a passion for lacrosse. Roedean had been one of the first schools to encourage it as a sport for girls, and the Southern Ladies' Lacrosse Club, the first Ladies' Club, had been formed in 1905 by a former Roedean pupil Greta Hindley.

The Southern Ladies Lacrosse team in 1911. Audrey Levick is centre

Audrey Levick left in 1909, having gained a place to study at Oxford University, and in the same year was elected Captain of the Southern Ladies' Lacrosse Club, going on to compete as an England international player.

In April 1912 she founded the Ladies' Lacrosse Association (LLA), becoming its Honorary Secretary and Chairman. "A very busy and responsible post," was how the Roedean School magazine for that year reported the move. "She is helping to establish Lacrosse Clubs all over the country." The following year she was involved in organising the first international matches in the sport between England, Scotland and Wales.   Later, from 1928 to 1931 she was Vice President of the All England Ladies' Lacrosse Association (AELLA) and then its President from 1933 to 1936. 
The marriage certificate for Murray and Audrey Levick

The 1914-18 war saw her joining the Red Cross, where she was part of a team specialising in massage and electrotherapy. In January 1915 she was working at St George's Hospital and that summer her school magzine reported that she and her sister Isabel were taking a course of massage arranged purposely for soldiers temporarily disabled. By 1917 she was a masseuse at the New Zealand Hospital in Weybridge.

Massage was an area of medicine in which she had a shared interest with her future husband Murray Levick, whom she married on 16 November 1918. The wedding took place at Christ Church, Westminster, the 'Antarctic Church,' so called from the fact that Scott, Shackleton, Evans and other Antarctic explorers had been married in it.

Murray Levick in naval officer's uniform a few years before his marriage

Audrey continued after her marriage to share her husband's interests in this area. On his retirement from the Royal Navy at the end of the war he pursued his medical career, specialising in the treatment of disabled people. He was appointed as electrologist - medical officer in charge of the Electrical Department - at St Thomas's Hospital, London. 

He also worked at the Victoria Hospital for Children in Chelsea, pictured above, where Audrey Levick sat for many years on the Ladies' Committee.  The Hospital had been opened in 1866 after a group of local residents raised funds to found a hospital for "poor afflicted children" and its first medical officer was Sir William Jenner, physician to Queen Victoria. New buildings had been added in 1905 and 1922 providing 138 beds.

Audrey Levick in 1932 with two unidentified children

But it was from 1932 that Audrey and Murray Levick found themselves most closely working together with the foundation of the Public Schools' Exploring Society (PSES). 

Audrey had developed a taste for travel in wild parts while still in her teens. Her father's involvement with the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company had prompted her interest in that part of the world. She and her sisters Marjorie and Isabel had spent part of the 1909 summer holidays there, and other trips followed. Roedean's magazine in 1910 noted that she had given a Newfoundland grouse in its winter coat to the School Museum, and in the following year that her sister Marjorie Beeton had given "a most interesting Sunday Lecture at Roedean on her experiences in Newfoundland." In 1913 all three Beeton sisters went on a trip to the Baltic, visiting Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Russia.

Audrey Levick on the 1934 PSES Newfoundland expedition 

Murray Levick's objective in founding the PSES was to foster the spirit of adventure in British schoolboys and teach them how to fend for themselves in wild country, with the aim of encouraging them to develop a longing for physical fitness. Some were as young as 15 on the early expeditions.

Isabella Beeton, aged 26, responsible for the famous Book of Household Management

Murray Levick was still well known as a survivor of Scott's Terra Nova expedition and his wife's family name was almost as well known. In fact it was in 1932 that Sir Mayson Beeton had donated the only image of his mother to the National Portrait Gallery. It was the first photographic submission they ever accepted and when the picture of his mother was presented to the National Portrait Gallery it caused a public stir when it was exhibited on Boxing Day that year: people found it difficult to reconcile the fashionable young girl of the picture with the mature woman that they had imagined as the author of the 1861 cookery book.

Audrey Levick in 1938 with Charles Alexander Carkeet-James at Deer Lake, Newfoundland. A Major in the Royal Regiment of Artillery, he was No 2, 'The Mate', on PSES expeditions before the war

Audrey was elected honorary secretary and a Council member of the PSES from the start. For those closely involved with the organisation she will long be remembered as one with almost as much influence as her husband on the rules and structure of the British Schools' Exploring Society as it exists today.

In the first years of the Schools' Exploring Society, Audrey Levick went out in advance of eleven expeditions with the stores and equipment - to Finland, Newfoundland, Northern Quebec and Northern Norway. She went far into the wilds to select and establish the basic camps, and then maintained communications with the expeditions, often through amateur radio. 

Audrey Levick in 1948

In 1948 she became vice-president of the Society, which by now had become the British Schools Exploring Society. The post of secretary was taken on by Commander Nigel Waymouth, RN who had retired after commanding the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in Hong Kong in the early 1950s.

Audrey Levick showed herself to be a very dedicated and determined woman, especially in the face of what she considered to be unwarranted opposition, giving her husband invaluable support in his work for the BSES. After his death in 1956, when she became its Patron,  she strove to maintain what she considered to be his ideals in the Society's councils.  She maintained an active interest until her retirement from the Council of BSES in 1967, and since then, although physically incapacitated in her last years, kept up her general interest. She died on 23 July 1980, just before her 90th birthday, having given instructions for her ashes to be scattered at sea.

Photos of Audrey Levick kindly provided by Jackie Sullivan, Roedean School Archivist, to whom I am most grateful for information in the School's magazine. Many thanks also for photos provided by Justin Warwick, BSES Expeditions Archivist, and Tom Cruikshanks.

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