The Mystery of Edith Young

On the 22nd July 1919 a Special Meeting of the Board of Directors was called and the directors were gathered in their Board Room in the Athenaeum over-looking the Square.

“The Librarian read a statement complaining of the assistant librarian’s behaviour towards himself. On the retirement of the Librarian the Directors sent for the Assistant. The above complaint was read to her. She denied the accusation brought against her by the Librarian and gave her version of the points at issue. The Assistant then withdrew. The two statements were fully considered and the following resolution was passed unanimously.

‘That in the opinion of the Directors the Librarian had not shown that consideration for his subordinate that the Board would wish to be shown and expected to be shown in future. In the event of the Librarian being unable to comply with this decision The Directors would have to further consider the question, with a view to making other arrangements.’

On hearing the decision, the Librarian intimated his wish to resign at the end of the month. This was not accepted, but the Chairman, with the approval of the Board, gave him the opportunity of quiet consideration and requested him to put his final decision in writing.”

The Old Athenaeum Board Room – this picture was taken during the recent building work in May 2018

Unfortunately, the statement from the Librarian, Mr Haslehurst Greaves, has not survived and we may never know what transpired between him and his assistant, Miss Edith Young. However, what we do know is what happened next.

“A letter addressed to each Director by the Librarian in which he mentioned that he had sent a letter to the Chairman resigning his post as Librarian was discussed. It was unanimously resolved that the resignation of the Librarian be accepted.”

Haslehurst Greaves had only been in the position three years after he was employed to replace Thomas Wainwright who had served as Librarian for 23 years right up to his death in 1916 at the age of 90 in his quarters in the Athenaeum building. Haslehurst Greaves and his family re-located from Ilfracombe to the Librarian’s quarters as was required of him. However, after two winters in the Athenaeum building Greaves wrote to the Directors and asked that he and his family be allowed to move from the building on health grounds. It is not entirely clear when the Greaves family moved out of the building but it must have been sometime between February and September of 1918.

In the March of 1918, a new assistant librarian was appointed, Miss Crosskey, who commenced her duties that Easter. It was not a position she held for very long as a Special Meeting was called on 16th November, a few days after the end of the 1st World War.

“A Special Meeting was held this day to receive the resignation of Miss Crosskey who had been advised by her doctor to give up her post and to appoint another assistant librarian if necessary…”

“The following resolution was passed: – ‘That the Directors much regret the resignation of Miss Crosskey as assistant Librarian and still more the cause which obliged her to take this step. They hope that a complete rest will soon restore her to her usual health. It was resolved to appoint Miss Young as the assistant librarian at a salary of £52.”

Ten days later another Special Meeting was called on the 26th November…

“The Chairman explained that the meeting had been called on account of some unpleasantness which had arisen between Mr. Hambling [both a Director and the Honorary Secretary for the Board] and the Librarian, particulars of which he asked Mr. Hambling to state. Mr. Hambling gave a full statement of what had taken place, whereupon the Chairman was requested to see the Librarian and ask him if he was prepared to offer Mr. Hambling a full apology. If not the Directors would further consider the position.

The Chairman accordingly interviewed the Librarian in the Library shortly returning accompanied by the Librarian who expressed his regret at what had taken place and apologised to Mr. Hambling. The incident then closed.

Arising out of the above, Mr. Hambling suggested that certain alterations in the present system of conducting the work of the library should be made and gave some indication as to what may be done. It was unanimously resolved to leave the details to the Chairman and the Honorary Secretary.”

The suggested amendments as inserted into the minute book

It appears as though Mr Haslehurst Greaves card had been well and truly marked by the time, he had his confrontation with Edith. An altercation with a Director, an assistant who lasted less than seven months in her post before her health forced her to resign, and then eight months afterwards another Special Meeting is convened to discuss the librarian’s behaviour towards Miss Crosskey’s replacement. Whatever may or may not have happened during his time as Librarian we may never know, but this intriguing story is far from over.

A month after Haslehurst Greaves’ resignation the Board received another letter from him asking for compensation for “damage done to his private books by water flooding the room in which they were located…” The Board had no trouble in absolving themselves of “any liability in the matter of the claim especially having regard to the time that has since elapsed since the damage was done. In answer to his anticipation of retaining the post of Librarian for some years. It was pointed out that he resigned the post after full time being given for consideration.” [2nd September 1919] It seems as though the Board’s patience for their former Librarian had run out.

The Board then turned their attention to appointing a new Librarian, but after hearing from two applicants, they decided not to appoint a replacement for the time being instead “It was resolved to increase Miss Young’s salary to 30s per week, commencing from the date of the retirement of the Late Librarian. The Hon Sec having expressed his willingness to help the Assistant Librarian, by keeping the accounts attending to correspondence and general supervision.” [7th October 1919]

Harper Album 7 p15

Come the November Board Meeting “It was resolved that all letters and papers addressed to the late Librarian be refused.” [3rd November 1919] In December the Board had another applicant for the post of Librarian, but again the Board decided not to appoint one. In January 1920 the Board asked their fellow director, Frank Chanter to become the Honorary Librarian and in February was asked to take over as Honorary Secretary “…and the Directors desired to be recorded, their appreciation of Mr. Hambling’s services in that capacity, since Mr Greaves’ resignation.” [3rd February 1920]

How long Frank Chanter remained as Honorary Librarian is unclear, however by 1927 he was in ill health and Mr Hambling was asked to take over as Honorary Secretary again during his illness. No mention was made to the role of Honorary Librarian. Chanter subsequently died in 1931 and Edith Young was listed in the local Kelly’s Directory of Barnstaple as the Librarian. She isn’t mentioned in the minutes as being the Librarian until 1932!

In 1933 Miss Young intimated her desire to retire from her post and in May 1934 she did so, but not for long! Her replacement, Mervyn Palmer, only lasted a matter of months before he resigned and the Directors turned to Edith to help them out until another Librarian could be found. Edith returned to her post in September and remined there until the 2nd of December when Miss Daphne Drake agreed to join the Athenaeum for a minimum of three years.

So, who was Edith Young?

Edith’s tenure as the first female Librarian of the Athenaeum is shrouded in certain amount of mystery, and so it would seem is her life in general. Born 10th October 1869, according to the 1939 Register, in St. Pancras, London where she appears with the rest of her family on the 1871 census. Her father, Joseph, was a cordwainer who was born in Bristol in around 1817 and her mother, Elizabeth, was born in Landkey in around 1830. She also had two siblings, Sydney and Louisa, both of whom were born in Somerset.

It seems things did not go well for the family as by 1881 it appears as though Edith is now in a school run by the St. Pancras Workhouse and the rest of her family has as yet been untraceable. By 1891 however, she was living in Barnstaple and working as a general servant for Mr John Turner a retired dispenser of South Molton. Turner’s housekeeper was a woman named Mary Prideaux who was born in Landkey around 1831. Going back on the census Mary had a sister called Elizabeth who was born in 1830.

Elizabeth Prideaux was in Landkey with her family until at least the time of the 1851 census and was then listed as a visitor in a household in Swansea in the 1861 census. As it happens there was also a widowed cordwainer from Bristol listed as living in Swansea in the 1861 Census by the name of Joseph Young.

In the last quarter of that same year a marriage entry appears on the civil registration index in the district of Clifton, Gloucestershire between an Elizabeth Prideaux and Joseph Young. Could Mary Prideaux the housekeeper have been Edith’s aunt?

The man Mary Prideaux and Edith Young worked for was a widower of 82, who died in November 1892 leaving approximately £18,227, which is roughly equivalent to £2,223,694 in today’s money. On John Turner’s death in 1892 Mary and Edith remained in the house they had both worked in. Mary died in 1900 aged 69 and in the 1901 census Edith was listed as living on her own means along with her sister, Mary Louisa, who was listed as the head of the household. By 1911 Mary Louisa had moved to Cross Street while Edith remained living in the house in Fort Street until her death in May 1952.

Edith went from being a Londoner who was admitted to a Workhouse School to a house maid in Barnstaple to a householder, Assistant Librarian and finally Librarian of the North Devon Athenaeum. As a householder in 1918 when women were given the vote she would have been automatically entitled to vote and her name appears on the 1920 electoral register. When she passed away, Edith made local solicitor, John Henry Latham Brewer her executor. Brewer had been one of the Directors of the Athenaeum during her tenure.

John Henry Latham Brewer

This fascinating incident in the Athenaeum’s past and Edith’s story make for a real mystery we may never be able to truly resolve.


3 Replies to “The Mystery of Edith Young”

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