EDWARDS, AMELIA (1831-1892)
Plaque erected in 2015 by English Heritage at 19 Wharton Street, Clerkenwell, London, WC1X 9PT, London Borough of Islington
Egyptologist and Writer
Archaeology and Ethnography, History and Biography
AMELIA EDWARDS 1831-1892 Egyptologist and Writer lived here
Amelia Edwards was a pioneering Egyptologist, writer, and co-founder of the influential Egypt Exploration Fund. An ‘insatiable traveller’, Edwards first visited Egypt in 1873, travelling up the Nile from Cairo to Abu Simbel. Inspired, her travels and further extensive research on hieroglyphics resulted in the book A Thousand Miles up the Nile (1877), a bestseller which remains in print today.
Appalled by the increasing threat directed towards the ancient monuments and artefacts of Egypt by tourism and modern development, Edwards became a tireless campaigner for both the preservation and research of ancient Egypt. Concluding that extensive excavation and recording work was needed, along with R. S. Poole, the Keeper of Coins and Medals at the British Museum, she founded the Egypt Exploration Fund (now The Egypt Exploration Society) in 1882.
Conceived as having both a ‘protective and exploratory’ function, the organisation helped fund excavations across Egypt, promoting new discoveries and bringing valuable items back to Britain. Edwards served as its Honorary Secretary until her death.
In April 1892, she bequeathed her collection of Egyptian antiquities to University College London, where it formed the basis of the University’s Egyptology Department, and endowed its chair in Egyptology, the first in the UK.
19 Wharton Street
The English Heritage Blue Plaque is at Number 19, Wharton Street in Clerkenwell, in the London Borough of Islington, where Edwards lived with her family in her early years as a writer. It was here that she wrote ‘Hand and Glove’, reckoned the best of her early novels, alongside a concise history of France and short travelogues based on her visits to the continent. A semi-detached house built in a distinctive Greek revival design; the address is a Grade II listed building and lies in the New River Conservation Area.
At the unveiling of the plaque in March 2015 Professor Sir Christopher Frayling, of the English Heritage Blue Plaques Panel, said:
Amelia Edwards was an outstanding figure in the field of Egyptology and paved the way for many of the influential British Egyptologists who would follow, with Flinders Petrie and Howard Carter among her protégés. This blue plaque marks the family home where she came to maturity as a writer, and where she displayed the appetite for knowledge and learning on which her pioneering work on Egyptology was based.
Dr Alice Stevenson, Curator at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London, said:
UCL’s internationally renowned Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology would not be here at all were it not for Amelia Edwards. Her bequest enabled a new generation of archaeologists to study Egyptology in London, including many other influential early female archaeologists such as Margaret Murray and Getrude Caton-Thompson. This blue plaque recognises not just her achievements, but also her continuing role today as an inspirational scholar and campaigner.
Dr Christopher Naunton, Director of the Egypt Exploration Society, said;
Amelia Edwards' legacy to Egyptology is enormous. The Egypt Exploration Fund is today one of the leading institutions for archaeological research in Egypt, and its legacy and continued public funding is testimony to the widespread passion for the country’s heritage which she generated through her writing, lecturing and influential contacts. Egyptology owes her an enormous debt.
Chris Elliott, proposer of the blue plaque, said:
As a writer on, and traveller to Egypt myself, as well as a long-time London resident, I am particularly pleased to see her honoured in this way, and hope that it encourages people to read her classic 'A Thousand Miles Up The Nile', and to support her legacy in the EES, as relevant today as it has ever been.