img001 (800x637)Beatrice Janie Whitby was born in Ottery Saint Mary, Devon where her father Charles was in medical practice. The family numbered three daughters and five sons, the oldest of whom, a professional soldier, was killed in the Afghan war of 1880, almost at the same time as Dr Whitby moved to Leamington Spa, where he continued to develop his practice at 7, Parade.

Beatrice, the second oldest daughter, spent her life surrounded by high achievers: her father and husband both excelled in medicine; prior to his death in Afghanistan her older brother had an illustrious military career, and a younger brother Hugh, was a record-breaking cricketer, an Oxford Blue and Warwickshire player. Not very surprising then that Beatrice carved out a career for herself rather than follow her older sister’s path into marriage in her twenties.

img001 (2) (485x800)She became a novelist of note in her lifetime and rather surprisingly for that time continue to publish under her maiden name of Whitby even after her marriage to Dr Philip Hicks in November 1894. Beatrice was then thirty eight but went on to produce Beatrice Mary and Brigadier Philip HW (‘Pip’) Hicks CBE, one of the foremost military men of the twentieth century. [Brigadier Hicks was twice mentioned in despatches, awarded the Military Cross in 1918 and a DSO and Bar. In WW2, he won a second DSO at Dunkirk.]

Beatrice published a long list of novels on both sides of the Atlantic for about 20 years from the late 1880s onwards, all of them advertised in The Times of London and New York, and the New York Tribune. Always alive to the possibilities of widening her readership at home, Beatrice also published short stories in weekly instalments in the Leamington Courier. She was so well known locally that the newspaper advertised the sale of her portrait by Edwin Long R.A., exhibited at Notcutt’s Gallery in Bath Street in 1892. In a lecture in Leamington four years after her death, Dr Barry of the Historical Association ranked Beatrice alongside other “Leamington Ladies of Literary Fame”, – Miss Mary Dormer Harris, Miss Browne, and Miss Beatrice Harraden, sister of the composer Ethel.

Although her literary output slowed when she had a family and later, an elderly parent to care for, Beatrice continued to fulfil her readers’ expectations long after marriage in an age when those women who had a career, gave it up on their wedding day. Either Beatrice was a formidably determined woman, or Dr Hicks was a man well ahead of his time regarding the emancipation of women, – or perhaps it was a combination of both. Philip Hicks, active in local medicine to the end, died at the age of 55, having lived just long enough to see his daughter married, his son achieve the highest commendations in WW1, and his wife’s novels achieve success on three continents. Beatrice outlived him by a decade, dying in January 1931. She is buried alongside him in Milverton Cemetery.


Margaret Rushton