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Mrs Tinsley: Administrative Professionals Day 2019

Betty Tinsley (1906 – 1998) was secretary to Henry Moore for thirty years, from 1956 until his death in 1986. 

However, Mrs Tinsley's role working for Henry Moore, and later the Henry Moore Foundation, was not just a secretarial role. Many features of the Henry Moore Archive today have developed from her work. Our huge correspondence and document collection comprises of over 100,000 individual items, many having been created, indexed and filed by Mrs Tinsley.

Before Mrs Tinsley, Moore had employed other secretaries on a part-time basis. One notable person was Tamara (Tam) Miller. Over the six years that Tam worked for Henry Moore she had many happy memories of working in a job that was only intended to last for six months. One of the tasks that she faced was attempting to keep an incredibly busy artist organised. Tam recalled: “he used to keep all his letters in their envelopes in a bottom drawer and it took me about three years to persuade him to have a filing cabinet, which I collected from London in my Morris Minor”, Hoglands: The Home of Henry and Irina Moore, pg.74. Although Tam had made a start, the real organisation of Moore's admin began when Mrs Tinsley took up the post.

Mrs Tinsley was the first port of call for anyone wanting to contact Henry Moore. Whether by letter, phone, or visiting Moore at his family home, Hoglands, they all had to go through her. The position of the office with Hoglands was crucial in this sense. As it was situated at the front of the house with a window looking out on to the road/drive, Mrs Tinsley was able to see anyone arriving from her desk. Her presence in the office was so prominent that even the Moore’s budgerigar was known to call out “Hadham double six” whenever the phone rang – her usual greeting to the caller.

The office was often bustling with activity, emphasised by the fact that it wasn’t a particularly large space. David Mitchinson, former assistant of Moore’s and later former Head of Collections and Exhibitions at the Henry Moore Foundation, began working in the office from 1968 onwards. His role working for Moore involved looking after publications and cataloguing Moore’s graphic works. From this point onwards David and Mrs Tinsley worked side by side, sharing the now even smaller desk space! 

Dealing with Moore’s correspondence was a huge part of Mrs Tinsley’s role. Thousands of letters would be sent to Moore every year from family, friends, acquaintances, dealers, gallery owners and admirers from all over the world. Mrs Tinsley would sort through the letters and then meet with Moore to respond. The usual practice was that Moore would dictate his reply which was then typed Mrs Tinsley on her typewriter. Her letters were brief and precise, never surmounting to more than one side of paper - she didn’t believe a letter was worth sending if it wasn’t able to fit on one sheet.

The volume of the letters was such that, after each year, the letters from the previous year would be removed from the office. David Mitchinson remembered that Irina Moore would lend her empty dress boxes to Mrs Tinsley for the storage of the previous year’s correspondence. Each box would then be put away in a cupboard on the stairs in Hoglands. As the youngest in the office, David was often given the less favourable tasks. On the occasion that an older letter was needed for reference, his job was to crawl into the small cupboard space to retrieve the correspondence in question!

Mrs Tinsley’s role arguably took on even greater importance towards the end of Moore’s life. Her sharp eye was crucial in ensuring that Moore and his work were protected during his final years. This was key in terms of the huge volumes of correspondence received daily. As Roger Berthoud, author of The Life of Henry Moore, wrote: “Mrs Tinsley had long been a kind of human memory bank representing the continuity in Henry’s business life and friendships. His debt to her sense of loyalty, her humour, and common sense was immense. Every famous artist needs someone who can see off the importunate, the opportunists, the phonies, and the bores.” pg.487. 

After Moore’s death in 1986, Mrs Tinsley continued work for the Henry Moore Foundation, continuing to put her extensive knowledge to use. At the age of 83 in 1989, Mrs Tinsley quietly left the Henry Moore Foundation. Never one to make a fuss, she told everyone working in the office that she was going to ‘take some time off to watch Wimbledon’.

On 6 July 2018, staff at the Henry Moore Foundation past and present, as well as many other notable figures in Mrs Tinsley’s life (including her daughter, Joy) gathered to reinstate her memorial plaque. It is situated, rather fittingly, in the grounds outside of the Henry Moore Archive. The Handkerchief Tree, under which her plaque is placed, was chosen due to the fact it was her favourite tree and it stands as a lasting reminder of the love and dedication Betty Tinsley bought to her role.