Saturday, 30 July 2016

60 Benefactor Roger Beck

60 Roger Beck – 30 July 2016 (photos: Singleton portrait, Mansion House, YMCA)

The Bible does not state that money is the root of all evil, but rather it is the “love” of money.  What a benefit it is when wealthy persons – whether their riches be inherited or earned – use that wealth to enrich mankind.  Two such benefactors are named on foundation stones of Swansea’s old Ragged School (later Swansea Gospel Mission) in Pleasant Street, off Orchard Street.  One is Amy Dillwyn, featured in this series on 3rd October, and the other is Roger Beck.

Born near Richmond, Surrey, in 1841, Beck worked in a family business until the deaths of his father and elder brother caused him to change direction.  He came to Swansea aged 31 and with two others formed the Elba Steel Company in Gowerton.  Following an abortive start, the company re-opened in 1878 and managed to successfully produce steel by the Siemens process.  With Beck’s financial expertise the firm expanded, later merging with Richard Thomas and Baldwins, forerunner of British Steel.

A bachelor, Roger Beck lived at The Rhyddings in Southward Lane, Langland, having the same housekeeper for thirty years and the same maidservant for twenty years, which speaks well of his character as an employer.  He responded to an 1897 drowning in Langland Bay by providing a lifebuoy and a lifesaving boat.  Like Graham Vivian of Clyne Castle he did not install a telephone, and furthermore he would travel to Swansea on the Mumbles Railway rather than own a car.

When Swansea’s General and Eye Hospital (now Home Gower) was a voluntary institution he was a major benefactor, from when he endowed a two-bed ward in 1911.

As treasurer of the appeal for a YMCA building on the corner of St Helen’s Road and Page Street, Beck pledged to add 5 per cent to all monies pledged, as did Sir Alfred Mond and a few others.  He laid one of the foundation stones in 1912. 

In 1914 he received public recognition when given the Freedom of the County Borough of Swansea, and he was elected chairman of Swansea Harbour Trust four years later.

When Brooklands in Ffynone came on the market, Beck purchased it for the Swansea Home for Orphan and Friendless Girls, of which he was a trustee.  They needed to move from cramped premises in Northampton Lane, though in the event the new orphanage was established at Killay House, and Brooklands was sold to the Corporation to become The Mansion House.

In February 1918 Beck took part in a Sunday night fund-raising entertainment at the Empire Theatre in Oxford Street.  This was on behalf of the War Prisoner Fund, of which he was a trustee, and for which the Daily Post, forerunner of the Evening Post, was campaigning.  Beck had known Charles Dickens, and that evening, with breaks for solo singing items, he recited without notes “A Christmas Carol” to a full theatre.  The Daily Post commented “Hoary headed, yet he was as upright as a dart at seventy-seven years of age; his ruddy cheery face put everybody in the best of spirits.”

In 1920 he purchased Parc Wern in Sketty, formerly Henry Hussey Vivian’s residence, with its 18-acre estate for £16,500, for a nurses’ training school with a site for a new hospital (though the building did not take place on that site).  When opened by Beck in 1922, its name was changed to Parc Beck.
He died aged eighty-two in 1923 and, after a simple funeral in keeping with his Quaker background, was buried in Oystermouth cemetery.  This philanthropist’s name endures on foundation stones of several buildings, along with Beck Hall in the Uplands, Roger Beck Way in Sketty, and Ffordd Beck in Gowerton, while his portrait hangs in Singleton Hospital’s boardroom.  Gren Neilson has given a fuller account of his many business and benevolent interests: Roger Beck’s wealth was neither hoarded nor used exclusively for himself, but dispersed to benefit others. 

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful man - and yet so little is known about him in Swansea generally. Do you know why his grave faces a different way?