Amgueddfa Blog: Library

My search for Hetty returned to the Museum. Our records showed that Hetty had volunteered with the British Red Cross Society during the Second World War. A number of items donated by Hetty are held at St Fagans including her nursing uniform, British Red Cross Society Badge and certificates. Unfortunately, no formal service records are held by the British Red Cross from that time. However, a chance finding when clearing out an old filing cabinet in the museum’s attic, revealed so much more!  I came across a folder called ‘Talks by Librarians’. As I glanced through it my heart started to race. There at the back was an old typewritten document entitled ‘A Life Amongst Books’. A quick look at the first page confirmed my suspicions: this was the title of a talk given by Hetty to the Barry Twentieth Century Club!

In it, Hetty describes how important books were to her from an early age:

‘In common with all youngsters my first love was the picture book, and especially if the pictures were in colour, however ethereal, gruesome or gory they might be.’
‘On winter evenings during the first World War, we knitted whilst Father stoked the fire and read to us’.

Later, Hetty explains how, having left school undecided on a career, she became a librarian, quite by accident. She spent a summer at the President of the National Library of Wales’ home, where she successfully prepared a card catalogue of his books, mainly to keep herself amused. At that time the National Library of Wales had newly been considered as a training centre for potential librarians in Wales. Hetty was asked to apply and was successful. As a Pupil-assistant, Hetty learnt the art of Librarianship, with ‘practical experience and theoretical training synchronised’.

Hetty completed her training in 1931 and was enjoying ‘resting on my oars’ when she was invited to apply for the position of Librarian at the National Museum, Cardiff. Hetty and another applicant were interviewed by the Museum Council, and on the 26th June 1931, Hetty was duly appointed Librarian. A job which she adored and felt honoured to serve for the next 39 years.

Trawling through the Museum's Annual Reports and Council Minutes, I found references to Hetty's work in the Library. Hetty was frequently called upon to give lectures. At the 21st Annual Conference of Libraries in Wales, June 1954, she addressed the Reference and Special Libraries Section (Western Group) of the Library Association on ‘Museum Libraries and the Library of the National Museum of Wales’:

“The function of a special and research library such as ours is to serve those who have already been converted to an ardent pursuit of knowledge…”

In another talk she gave in the 1950’s Hetty is quite clear on the role of books and libraries:

“I believe that books are very necessary tools and should be readily available where they are needed most.”
“A library thrives on use – proper use we hope. In any case, most librarians would rather run the risk of ‘wrongful’ use rather than that of [dust and] ‘rust’.”

In the 1950's she was frequently heard on the radio on the Welsh Home Service talking about the Museum. In 1958 Hetty appeared in a BBC Television programme, discussing the Schools Service section of the National Museum of Wales Jubilee film.

She was also active on various committees, serving for example, on the editorial board of the Bibliography of Welsh Poetry (1954-55). She was Chairman of the Wales & Monmouth Branch of the Library Association for 1967 and was their representative on the committee responsible for the 1968 Welsh Books Fair. That year she was also invited to serve on the Editorial Committee of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society.

“In museum life we are deeply conscious of the past, but we remember too that today is tomorrow’s yesterday.  As librarians let us face the challenge of the future with confidence.”

At the end of August 1970, Hetty retired from the Museum, having served a very successful and fulfilling 39 years in the role she adored.

The next step in my search for Hetty Edwards, was to contact Minny Street Welsh Congregational Church in Cardiff.  Beth Jones, General Secretary of Minny Street Church, couldn’t have been more helpful.  The church had information about both Gwenfron and Hetty, of which Beth very kindly sent me copies.

The most interesting information came from a personal appreciation written by the Reverend Mair Griffiths which appeared in Yr Aelod, Cylchgrawn Eglwys Minny Street, Rhif 38, Hydref 1992.  According to Reverend Griffiths, Hetty had been working in the National Library of Wales for a number of years before she came to the National Museum as Librarian.  When appointed Hetty was the youngest Specialist Librarian in the land [Great Britain]. 

Hetty’s faith was very important to her.  She became a member of Minny Street Church in 1931, when she moved to Cardiff from Aberystwyth.  She taught in Sunday school and was church secretary from 1945-55 and joint secretary from 1956-9.  Hetty was made Deaconess in 1943 and holds the title of the First Deaconess in the Congregationalist Church.

Reverend Griffiths also wrote that Hetty expected a high standard in everything, both of herself and those who collaborated with her. 

‘Dim ond y gorau oedd yn digon da’, ‘Only the best was good enough’.

Hetty and Gwenfron were very close throughout their lives. Hetty was very grateful to Gwenfron’s family in Coedpoeth who had adopted her when, at the age of nine, Hetty lost her parents. 

Hetty died on the 29th August, 1991.  She was 86 years old.  A thanksgiving service was held at Minny Street Church on the 5th September 1991.  Both Hetty and her sister Gwenfron had been residents at Woodlands Nursing Home, where they had both died peacefully within days of each other.  Their ashes were buried in Coedpoeth Public Cemetery after a thanksgiving service for their life and works.  Why Coedpoeth? Because this was where both Hetty and Gwenfron were born and raised. Together in life and death.

Now I have a better idea of Hetty the person, my next challenge is to find out more on her career. Hetty is proving to be a very interesting woman.  What will my search bring next?

Elizabeth Harriet Edwards, known to family and friends as Hetty, was Librarian at the National Museum of Wales from 1931 until her retirement in 1970. She is our longest serving Librarian, racking up a whopping 39 years’ service.

The National Museum’s Annual Report for 1969/70 records the Museum Council thanking her for her work;

‘Miss E H Edwards has served as Librarian for 39 years. During this period the Library has become one of the most important special libraries in Wales, now containing more than 80,000 books.  She has served as Chairman of the Welsh Branch of the Library Association, and is President-elect of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society.’

We knew very little about her. There are just occasional remarks as above in the Museum’s Annual Reports and small pieces of information about lectures she’d given and broadcasts she’d made. I was tasked with discovering more about Hetty; from where did she hail, what sort of person was she and when did she die?

Rummaging through the Museum’s records and other sources of information I discovered that Hetty had lived in 22 Plas y Delyn, Lisvane and was made a Fellow of the Library Association in 1930. She must have had a keen interest in Natural History as she was a member of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society for many years, including standing as vice president during 1973/4.

My search then took me to a donation record at the National Library of Wales. According to the NLW catalogue, The Gwenfron Moss Papers had been donated by Gwenfron Moss and Hettie Edwards, Cardiff, in July 1984. Although the spelling was different, surely this was our Hetty Edwards? Further examination of the records brought me to an entry in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography for Gwenfron Moss;

‘She [Gwenfron Moss] decided to leave Coed-poeth and to live with her adopted sister, Miss Hetty Edwards.’

This was my ‘Eureka!’ moment. Hetty and Gwenfron were sisters! Now I had information about where Gwenfron came from and possibly Hetty, the date when Gwenfron died and the fact that Hetty died a fortnight later. The entry also mentioned that Gwenfron had been a deacon at the Welsh Congregational Church in Minnie Street in Cardiff. This snippet of information gave me an idea of where to look next. Would they be able to help me in my search for Hetty?

From 6 to 10 February there will be a week long colouring-fest happening on social media.

Led by the New York Academy of Medicine Library, who first launched the campaign last year, libraries, archives, and museums around the world are sharing free colouring sheets based on materials in their collections. Users are invited to download and print the sheets and share their filled-in images on social media, using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections (because the campaign launched in America most institutions are using the American spelling of colour!). Last year, more than 210 libraries and cultural institutions participated.

So for this year we have put together a small colouring book based on a few of our favourite rare books from the Willoughby Gardner collection on early natural history.

Download the book here [PDF] –  and let us see your creative skills!

Post images of your coloured pages on social media with the hashtags #lliwioeincasgliadau or #colorourcollections and tag us in @Amgueddfa_Lib

And don’t forget to check out which other institutions around the world are taking part using the #colorourcollections hashtag or visiting the website of the New York Academy of Medicine

Happy colouring!!

We met in the Museum’s car park, not quite knowing what to expect. Our 50+ Group had been asked if we fancied cataloguing more than a thousand books from the library at the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute as part of the re-interpretation of the building and all four of us had been intrigued by the request.

Sioned greeted us with a warm welcome and we were taken to the library in the ‘new’ building to meet Richard, the librarian. And so began five extremely enjoyable Thursdays.

The books had been packed into boxes and our task was to fill the spreadsheets with name, author and publication date. We noted the condition of the book and if it had come from another library or institute (e.g. Nantymoel or Aberkenfig).

Delving into each box, not knowing what we might discover, was like plunging into a box of chocolates. Mining and engineering books were obviously very popular in Lewis Merthyr Library – were they borrowed by young men keen to further their careers? There were many books on mathematics, science and architecture – all well-used according to the date stamps on page three. And then there were novels by popular authors like Jane Austen, Daniel Defoe and Charles Dickens – read and enjoyed in a time before television and computers. A few books, with risqué titles, were obviously well-thumbed and our work stopped as we contemplated why they appeared to be more popular than ‘Advanced Algebra’ or ‘Modern Mechanics’.

It was a fascinating insight into a random selection of books, some dating back to the 1870s, and we are so grateful to the Museum for including us in this work. Richard was on hand to answer questions and solve mysteries – why did so many Welsh preachers write books about themselves? Who bought them? And who decided to write ‘The Life of the White Ant’ (and did anyone ever read it)?

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our five days ‘work’, have learnt new skills, met lovely people and, also, become better acquainted after visiting all of the eateries in the Museum for lunch. If there’s any more volunteering on offer – please put our names on this list.

The re-interpretation of Oakdale Workmen’s Institute is supported by the Armed Forces Community Covenant Grant Scheme.