Agnes Alice Beckwith was born at 16b Walcot Place West, Lambeth, London, on 24 August 1861. Her father introduced her into his public swimming entertainments in 1865 and on 1 September, aged fourteen, she swam five miles from London Bridge to Greenwich. By 1877 she was teaching ladies at Lambeth Baths. She competed in a three-match series against Laura Saigeman in 1879 and in May 1880 completed a thirty-hour swim. Agnes married theatrical agent William Taylor on 4 March 1882. She exhibited in North America and Europe during the 1880s, later running a troupe of lady swimmers. On 19 February 1903, she had her only child, William Walter Beckwith Taylor, at 72 Clapham Road, Kennington, Lambeth. Agnes continued to appear and teach until 1911. Agnes eventually died on 10 July 1951 in South Africa. Through her teaching, exhibitions and orchestration of female aquatic troupes, Agnes paved the way for the women who represented Britain in the 1912 Olympics.
Source: Private family archive
For further details see:
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry
Day, D. (2012). ‘“What Girl Will Now Remain Ignorant of Swimming?” Agnes Beckwith, Aquatic Entertainer and Victorian Role Model’. Women’s History Review 21(3), 419-446.