Sylvia Beamon - the life of Royston academic, archaeologist and activist

Royston cave academic Sylvia Beamon has passed away

Sylvia Beamon, pictured with her research on Underground Mythology - and in news clippings in the Crow (left) - has passed away age 85. - Credit: Ivor Beamon/Royston Crow

Royston has lost one of it's most impactful and remarkable characters - after the passing of academic, archaeologist and activist Sylvia Beamon.

Sylvia was born 85 years ago in the City of London Hospital. She spent her childhood in the Mill Hill/Edgware area of Middlesex until moving to Royston with her husband, Alan Beamon, in 1961.  Sadly, Alan passed away in May this year. 

The couple had four children: Kevin, Ivor, Murray and Stacey. Sylvia was grandmother to 13 and had four great-grandchildren.

Son Ivor said: "She was from humble beginnings, but she didn't let that stop her achieving what she did.

"She had a kind and tenacious character, and it rubbed off on us. If you think something is wrong you don't shy away from trying to disprove it. She went with her instincts and didn't go along with the crowd - both in making social change and in her research.

"She gained an MA from Cambridge, was an archaeologist, historian, author, widely published article writer, an activist through the years, a mentor to those that asked and friend to many."

In her young adult years Sylvia marched with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament against nuclear weapons and was an active member of the Royston branch of the Labour Party, joining in the late sixties until 1980.

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In 1965, she  protested with others along Royston High Street motivated by the dangerous situation for pedestrians on the narrow footpaths which then were open to vehicular traffic.

Royston High Street protest 1965.

Royston High Street protest 1965. - Credit: Royston Crow

At around the same time they set up their own Playgroup known as ‘The Retreat Parent & Social Group’. The organisation later become the Royston Community Association and led to the building of the Coombes Community Centre. 

Sylvia tried to address the insufficient help for young pre-natal mums in Royston, becoming a teacher for the National Childbirth Trust at the same time, and started the Stork Club for mothers.

Most notably in the community, she changed the way we now see Royston Cave.

Ivor continued: "A trip down Royston Cave in 1967/68 was a seminal turning point in mum's life. She didn’t believe the existing theory that the scribed figures on the walls were of Medieval origin but instead related to the earlier Knights Templar period."

This research was the foundation of her detailed thesis on the cave which led to Sylvia winning a scholarship as a mature student to Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, graduating with an honours degree in archaeology and anthropology in 1977. An MA followed two years later. 

Ivor said: "I don't know if it was because she was a woman or because of her humble start in life, but she fought to be heard.

"At the time women studying while raising a family was seen as unconventional. Our dad gave her his whole hearted support to follow her vocation."

Sylvia Beamon in the Crow -  December 20, 1996

Sylvia Beamon in the Crow - December 20, 1996 - Credit: Royston Crow

The Cave continued to play a massive part of her life, leading her to write a number of books under the name Sylvia P Beamon on the subject - ‘The Royston Cave: Used by Saints and Sinners (2009)’, Exploring Royston Cave a: simplified guide and ‘Underground Mythology (2002)’.

Underground structures became her passion and major interest during her academic life. It was an area of archaeology that was not well researched.

Ivor continued: "In true Sylvia fashion she founded a specific society to be known as ‘Subterranea Britannica’.  It is now an international body and world authority on the subject. Mum was not only the founder but chairperson from 1977-84.


Sylvia Beamon in 2002

Sylvia Beamon in 2002 with her work, Underground Mythology. Underground structures became her passion and major interest during her academic life. - Credit: Courtesy of Ivor Beamon

"From this fascination of underground structures evolved another research publication.  In 1990, as co-author a gazetteer of Ice Houses in Britain was compiled. 

"Regarding the Royston Gas incident in March 1991, Sylvia gathered statements from households and published her findings. Catastrophe was only just avoided when a pressure surge knocked out boilers all over the town. The lack of investigation incensed mum in case a similar situation was to occur. Her study from what I can recall is the only reference document regarding the matter.

Sylvia P. Beamon's book The Royston Gas Incident. 

Sylvia P. Beamon's book The Royston Gas Incident. - Credit: Sylvia P. Beamon

"She had an insatiable appetite for learning. Offering her knowledge or assistance was something she did willingly, giving talks and presentations to various societies and groups.

"She was however, frustrated by somewhat of a lack of establishment action to support projects that she felt would benefit the townspeople.

"She thought Royston should mark the coming of the new century with something unique such as a maze, but that did not happen.

"Mum also worked hard with the newly opened museum. Her spirited approach led to setting up a group for young people interested in history, known as Time Trackers."

After 49 years her community commitment was recognised in 2009 with the Royston Town Mayor's Community Service Award.

Ivor said her other associations and commendations include: Cambridge Association for Local History Dedicated Service Award (2007) , Committee for Homeless Families, Cochrane Library Research organisation – A review of Speleotherapy for asthma, school governor for many years, and she wrote on the Royston Justice and Peace Group in 1996 and for the British Lung Foundation & Breathe Easy in 2002. 

We at the Crow want to pay tribute to Sylvia P. Beamon - who has graced our pages many, many times due to her activism and achievements. A true Royston character who leaves behind a legacy - and what a legacy it is.