Cupboard under stairway in Old College conceals donated Edwards sculpture for 80 years


JOSEPH Edwards was a prolific Welsh sculptor and his work is highly praised, which made discovering one of his forgotten busts in a cupboard under the stairs of the Old College all the more surprising.

The bust, of prolific nineteenth century scholar and historian Thomas Stephens of Merthyr Tydfil (1821-1875), is believed to have reached Aberystwyth along with Stephen’s papers which were donated by his family to the National Library of Wales.

At the time, the National Library of Wales was housed in the Old College.

The bust may have been overlooked when the papers were transferred to the new National Library of Wales building in the late 1930’s.

Neil Holland from the School of Art explains it like so:

“A great deal of work has taken place since the 1960’s to recatalogue and re-assemble artifacts and collections donated to the University since 1872, and as far as we can recall we have never come across any accession record for the bust of Thomas Stephens in all that time. So it has been hidden away for at least 40 years.”

There has been no announcement to say if and where the bust will be displayed.

Joseph Edwards’ love of carving was revealed at an early age. Also from Merthyr Tydfil, and the son of a stone cutter, Edwards left for London in 1835 at the age of 21, after two years apprenticed to a memorial mason in Swansea. There, after almost succumbing to starvation, he was taken on as a studio assistant by sculptor William Behnes. Two years later, in 1837, Edwards entered the Royal Academy of Arts, where he won several awards for his work.

In 1860 Edwards’ began assisting Matthew Noble, and upon Noble’s early death in 1876 Edwards was given responsibility for the considerable task of completing his outstanding commissions and selling original plaster models for the benefit of Noble’s widow and children.

Upon completion of this work Edwards found himself in straitened circumstances and in 1881, sponsored by painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts, Edwards’ was awarded a financial award of £50 per annum under the Turner bequest.  He died shortly after receiving the first instalment.

A year after his death The Red Dragon: The National Magazine of Wales wrote, ‘Of Joseph Edwards it may be said that Wales never had a truer or a more gifted son.’