Tuesday 6 July 2021

Catherine Wells (1872 – 1927) - British writer and poet

With thanks to Henry Gott of Blackwells Rare Books in Oxford for suggesting I

research Catherine, to Julie Cauvin who confirmed that the Red Cross WW1

Record card is indeed for Catherine Wells, wife of H.G. Wells, and to David Gray

for additional information

Photograph of Catherine
from her Book

Catherine was born Amy Catherine Robbins in Islington, London, UK on 8th July 1872.   Her parents were Frederick and Maria Catherine Robbins.   Catherine, who was known as Jane, was a student of Herbert George ( H.G.) Wells during his time as a teacher.  They were married in St. Pancras, London in 1895 – she was his second wife.  Jane died on 6th October 1927, in Dunmow, at the age of 55.

After Catherine’s death in 1927, H.G. Wells had her poetry and short story collection published under the title “The Book of Catherine Wells”, which was published by Chatto & Windus in 1928.  Several of her poems relate to WW1:

“Spring 1915”

Spring, dear Spring,

Dear Beauty !

You come with soft feet

Bringing your old, immortal joys

That have given us in all our years

Delight so exquisite.

You spread your loveliness before us –

A tender veil!

As if in kindness you had hung a curtain

Thick fold upon thick fold unstintingly

To stop our hearing how a madman

Raves, in the next room.

It is n o good, dear beauty of the earth !

Tearing great rents athwart you

Come the screams of war.

(page 199)

“June 1916”

Last night I dreamed.

In the void of space

Stood three great Archangels with pitiless eyes

About an armoured monster in their midst;

A brutal shape that spat impotent fire

At their bright immortality.

‘He must be beaten our of life,’ they cried;

‘He is War.’

And as I looked came multitudes

Carrying their all, and heaped upon the brute

Each staggering load, blow after blow, until he lay

Writing beneath a monstrous heap of treasure

And brave bodies of men, and women’s tears

That ran down the heap of pearls.

And still the angels cried, ‘More yet ! more yet !

Not yet is there enough !’ Again

The people toiled with fast diminishing loads

Until they had no more to give.

It seemed enough, until a tiny chink

Showed in the heap.

‘One thing more,’ they cried, ‘and ye have done !’

‘We have no more,’ the people wept.  And then

The angels turned, and each his finger held

Straight aimed at me, and called in unison,

‘Thy son ! ‘

(page 200)

Daily here my body sits, 

My fingers tearing bandage strips,

My drilled eyes watch the pattern fits,

My agile scissor cuts and snips,

But truant Brain leaps out at play

And flies to some pellucid day

And suddenly I seem to hear

A sea maid singing at my ear

And straight am with her on a strand

Of cockle shells and pearly sand.

Where rainbows crown the leaping surf

And green weed wraps the rocks with turf.

We wreathe her yellow hair with weed

And play with coriander seed

And coral beads and horns of pearl -

The while that here my body sits,

My fingers tearing bandage strips.

(From "The Book of Catherine Wells" - short stories and poems - published in 1928 after Catherine's death by Chatto and Windus, London, 1928, pages 199, 200 and 201). Catherine's poem "Red Cross Workroom; 1917" appears to tell us about her contribution to the war effort. 

WW1 Red Cross Record card for Mrs H.G. Wells - From Julie Cauvin:  “Catherine did a Red Cross course: From the Boston Review blog spot ‘...She had gone through a Red Cross course so as to be competent in domestic emergencies. She had a file of shop addresses where things needed could be bought. Her garden was a continually glowing success...’ The Wells family lived at Easton Glebe - Besides his home in London, Wells rented Easton Glebe, Dunmow, Essex, on the Easton Lodge estate, between 1910 and 1928.”  

On the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship Facebook page on 20 June 2021, David Gray says:

“Flicking through a volume written by H. G. Wells from Siegfried Sassoon’s library, I found a small, printed booklet being the Eulogy by Wells for his wife Catherine. I’m guessing Sassoon slipped it into the book after attending the service.”

  Sources:  Find my Past, 


"The Book of Catherine Wells" - short stories and poems - published in 1928 after Catherine's death by Chatto and Windus, London, 1928

British Red Cross WW1 Record card for Mrs H.G. Wells https://vad.redcross.org.uk/Card?sname=wells&page=8&id=221468&forwards=true&fbclid=IwAR2MvZfMovV5XhtROsixFr8WdLWpPQMPGnq8RTXEhFbhCmwMwaK2Pu1a3Oc


Monday 5 July 2021

Matilda Betham-Edwards (1836 – 1919) – British poet, writer, novelist

Matilda was born on 4th March 1836 in Westerfield, Suffolk.  She was the fourth daughter of Edward Edwards, a farmer, (c. 1808–1864) and his wife Barbara (1806–1848), nee Betham, whose father, the Reverend William Betham, was an antiquary and cleric. 

Matilda’s aunt was the artist, poet and novelist Matilda Beetham (1776 – 1852).  Matilda later wrote about her aunt in her book “Six Life Studies of Famous Women” (1880).  Matilda was educated in Ipswich and as a governess-pupil at a school in London.   She studied French and German in France and Germany and went on to write travel books.  After the death of their father, Matilda and her sister managed the family’s farm.   

Matilda was friends with Charles Dickens and with Charles and Mary Lamb, who were friends of her Mother’s.

Catherine W. Reilly tells us that Matilda published a volume of poetry during the First World War – “War Poems” (Arrowsmith, Bristol, 1917) – 24 pages.  According to Reilly, a copy of that collection is held by Manchester Public Libraries.  Matilda also wrote an account of the German occupation of Alsace – “Hearts of Alsace” (1916).

“The Two Mothers” by Matilda Betham-Edwards

‘Poor woman, weeping as they pass,

Yon brave recruits, the nation’s pride,

You mourn some gallant boy, alas!

Like mine who lately fought and died?’

‘Kind stranger, not for soldier son,

Of shame, not grief my heart will break

Three stalwards have I, but not one

Doth risk his life for England’s sake!’

Published in the “Westminster Gazette” on 11th December 1914. 

“War Poems” was the last poetry collection Matilda had published. It was inspired by the events of the First World War and some of the poems focus on theAlsace region of France. Most of the poems in the collection are patriotic and encourage men to join the fight, as shown by this extract from “No Son of Mine”(1915): 

“From over-sea thy brethren hie, 

Great England’s sons, not these home-born, 

Whilst thou by thousands let’st them die 

Thyself, unharmed, the butt of scorn!”. 

Matilda died on 4th January 1919 in Hastings, Sussex. 


Find my Past



Hibberd, Dominic and Onions, John, Editors.- “The Winter of the World Poems of the First World War” (Constable & Robinson, London, 2007)

Reilly, Catherine W. “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, new York, 1978)

There is a Biography of Matilda Betham Edwards written by Professor Joan Rees and published in 2006.  

Booksellers Jonathan Frost Rare Books Ltd. have a copy of Matilda’s WW1 poetry collection listed in their July 2021 Catalogue https://frostrarebooks.com/catalogues/book-catalogues/july-2021-catalogue/