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Rachel Beer, editor of The Sunday Times and The Observer in the late 1800s, who died in Tunbridge Wells, commemorated with plaque

The forgotten grave of the first female editor of a British newspaper, who was "erased from history", has been restored with a plaque to commemorate her achievements.

Rachel Beer, who died in Tunbridge Wells in 1927, presided over The Sunday Times and The Observer in the 1890s, during a time when women were banned from the parliamentary press gallery and could not vote.

Rachel Beer's grave, in Tunbridge Wells, before it was restored and add a plaque was added Picture: Ann Treneman
Rachel Beer's grave, in Tunbridge Wells, before it was restored and add a plaque was added Picture: Ann Treneman

The plaque is the result of a three-year-mission led by The Times columnist Ann Treneman, who became interested in the pioneer after researching her family's grand mausoleum in Highgate for a book, but discovered Rachel was not buried there.

Ms Treneman, who worked for the Kent Messenger in the 1980s, said: "I started looking for her grave. I tramped around her cemetery for days.

"It was pretty anonymous and just said 'daughter of David Sassoon', I thought she deserved better. It really has been a quest and I feel very proud."

Rachel became owner and editor of the Sunday Times in 1893 after it was purchased by her husband, industrialist Frederick Beer.

The Beer family had owned The Observer since 1870s but Rachel became an active editor in the mid-1890s, when her husband's health declined.

The restored grave and a new plaque, commemorating Rachel Beer's achievements, on her grave in Tunbridge Wells Picture: Ann Treneman
The restored grave and a new plaque, commemorating Rachel Beer's achievements, on her grave in Tunbridge Wells Picture: Ann Treneman

Both papers were edited by her until 1901 and she is best known for scoops concerning the Dreyfus affair, a political scandal which gripped the public.

Deeply affected by her husband's death, she was committed for psychiatric treatment and the newspapers were sold.

She later moved to Tunbridge Wells, where she lived for more than 20 years and was buried at the Kent and Sussex Cemetery, in Benhall Mill Road.

'Rachel Beer is a hugely important part of Fleet Street's history...'

Ms Treneman said: "I thought she had been more or less erased from history. She was very much a do-gooder, there were a lot of campaigns to improve people's health. She wrote a 4,000 word comment piece every week, she was very involved."

As a women working in what was then regarded as a 'man's world' Rachel had many "hurdles" to overcome.

"There were many things women couldn't do in those days and I think her husband was very supportive of her, but when he died she no longer had that support.

"I think she fell apart when he died and she was basically declared insane. We would now call that deep grief and depression," Ms Treneman said.

A painting of Rachel Beer, the first female editor of a national newspaper Picture: Guardian News and Media Archive
A painting of Rachel Beer, the first female editor of a national newspaper Picture: Guardian News and Media Archive

The original headstone was cleaned and repaired, and a marble plaque added in February, after permission from Rachel's descendants. However, Ms Trenemen was only able to visit the grave recently because of the pandemic.

The marker was paid for by The Sunday Times and The Observer, and the editors of both papers welcomed the addition.

Emma Tucker, of the Sunday Times, said: "Rachel Beer is a hugely important part of Fleet Street's history and I'm pleased this new grave marker notes her pioneering contribution to journalism."

Paul Webster, of The Observer, said: "The Observer remains proud of this extraordinary woman's accomplishments and is grateful that she now has a fitting memorial."

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