Wynne was born in April 1919 and lived in the Ecclesall Rd area all her life.

Wynne is being interviewed by Jan Chatterton with the participation of Wynne’s niece, Diane H, born in 1947, and who lived first just off the Ecclesall Rd and then moved to Handsworth in the early 1950s.

Wynne’s niece, Joan C, was also interviewed by us. Read the summary of Joan’s  interview here.

Jan Chatterton: It is October 18th 2011. I am interviewing Wynne. She was born in Ecclesall in April 1919 and lived in the Ecclesall area of Sheffield between 1945 and 1965 and indeed now today.

Did anyone read to you when you were young? Do you remember?

Wynne: No.

Jan Chatterton: Did you know that they didn’t or can you not remember?

Wynne: I can’t remember anyone reading to me.

JC: OK. Do you remember your first experience of a book? How old you were when you first became aware that there were books?

WW: No, I can’t really.

JC: How old were you when you went to school?

WW: Five.

JC: Five, so did they start to teach you to read, do you imagine?

WW: I think they probably did.

JC: It would be after the First World War, wouldn’t it?

WW: Yes.

JC: In the ‘20s. Do you remember enjoying books at that stage?

WW: I can’t really remember anything about reading myself but we must have read at school.

JC: What was the first time you thought, ‘Oh, I like doing this.’

WW: [laughs]

JC: But you’ve always read.

WW: I’ve read in later years but I can’t remember when I first started to enjoy reading.

JC: Do you remember reading when you were first married?

WW: I think probably only the magazines that used to come through … well, the magazines that seemed to be going around, Woman’s Own, The People’s Friend and all those.

JC: What was that like?

WW: Well, I used to enjoy those. I think probably it might have been a case of enjoying that more because they were short stories, not a full story or book.

JC: Was there a particular magazine you used to like?

WW: I used to enjoy People’s Friend.

JC: Can you remember why, what in particular?

WW: Probably because of the type of story.

JC: Is it still published today?

WW: I think it is, yes.

JC: Was this as a young married woman?

WW: And I’m not quite sure but there might have been stories connected with Scotland. I’m very fond of Scotland and I think that that was one of the reasons …

JC: Had you been to Scotland then, or was it the reading that interested you?

WW: I didn’t go to Scotland until after I was married – 1960-something.

JC: Can you remember owning a book? Can you remember buying a book?

WW: No, I can’t even remember me going to the library but I know I used to take the children to borrow books.

JC: Was that locally?

WW: It was the bottom of Mill Lane, [prompted] Ecclesall. It was a big house they used to have. Well the people who used to have it left so they made it into a library. [Weetwood House became Ecclesall Library]

JC: Was this after the Second World War?

WW: Well, I’ve no idea when it actually opened but I used to take the children.

JC: How old would they be?

WW: Probably when they got to be able to read. Because both Joan and Anne loved reading, wanted to read all the time.

JC: So they both loved books? Did that make you want to read more?

WW: I don’t think I ever thought of it. Really, thinking about it, I probably did read books we got from the library to them, yes, but I can’t remember doing it. [laughs]

JC: And you still love books.

WW: Oh yes. All kinds of books.

JC: When do you read?

WW: When I go to bed.

JC: What kinds of things do you read?

WW: Historical ones. I have even got on to Jeffrey Archer books. I never thought I would read his. [laughs] Sidney Sheldon, yes. So, you know when I was at school and I took the 11+ and I passed in everything, oh, not the 11+, the Merit Certificate you took your last term of school when you were 14 and I passed in every subject apart from for history. And I hated history, but since reading some of these books which are historical so there [is] a bit of truth in a lot [of] them, I have really enjoyed them and enjoyed historical things more.

JC: Is there a particular period you like?

WW: No, no.

JC: Have you read anything about Scottish history?

WW: Some of it comes in some of these books.

JC: Do you think, you mentioned before that your son didn’t particularly want to read like the girls wanted to read. Do you think that there was a difference between the sorts of things that girls read and boys?

WW: I don’t know. I think that Richard was more for enjoying outdoor life, going out with the lads and … I can’t ever remember him picking a book up and reading.

JC: But the girls did.

WW: Yes.

JC: And did you ever have to consciously encourage them to do that or did they just want to do that.

WW: Oh they wanted to do it, yes.

JC: And do you think that helped them in school, the fact that they were reading at home?

WW: I think it probably did. I suppose it depends on what kind of books they read which I can’t remember what kind they really did enjoy.

JC: Do you remember when you were growing up, anyone saying, ‘You’re wasting your time reading’.

WW: Maybe my sister. Well, of course, she was so clever, you know, and probably I was just an ordinary schoolgirl but no I can’t ever remember her ever saying get cracking and do something.

JC: Did she like reading?

WW: She liked anything connected with school.

JC: Can you remember when you had got the children small after the war, did you find time to read, the magazines?

WW: I think I was reading the magazines even then.

JC: Can you remember when you started to read a book as such?

WW: No.

JC: I was wondering whether books became more available through the library.

WW: I don’t know when I started to read all these. It might have been my daughters who eventually said, ’We’ve been reading a book, you might enjoy it. We’ll give it you and if you like it fair enough and if you don’t, don’t bother’.

JC: Are there particular kinds of books that they pass on to you?

WW: Oh, all these historical ones and all these others. It was my elder daughter who said about the Jeffrey Archer one in the first place. She said, ‘I’ll give it you. You might read it, you might not. You’ll know when you begin it’ …

JC: … whether you like it or not. Were you ever made to feel embarrassed about reading?

WW: No, no.

JC: Did the girls experience that at all?

WW: No. My husband loved reading. Oh yes definitely, he’d get a book, you’d talk to him and he wouldn’t hear you. [laughs]

JC: What sort of books did he read?

WW: Probably about the sea and things like that. I think he liked historical ones as well. Mostly about there was one author I can remember him reading and it was about the sea. Because he originated from Newcastle so he was near the sea.

JC: So it was what he knew. Are there books that you read when you were younger that you wouldn’t dream of reading now? Have your interests changed?

WW: No, I can’t even remember a lot about what kind of books I used to read. It was mostly the magazines.

JC: And were they mainly short stories or was there a serial?

WW: Yes, there was a serial, yes, generally.

JC: What sort of things were there in, were they all romance? Did the People’s Friend feel different from reading Woman’s Own or Woman’s Weekly?

WW: Yes, I thought so. Woman’s Own, those were very interesting and then again there were more adverts.

JC: So, did the People’s Friend feel more like proper stories.

WW: Yes.

JC: That’s really interesting, and do you still read those kinds of stories?

WW: No, I don’t read them now. I used to read the magazines over my meals which was naughty. [laughs]

JC: Was this when the children were little? Was that the time?

WW: Maybe, yes.

JC: So, you’d be busy. With three children. Do any of the classic authors mean anything to you? Can you remember at school at all, ‘We’re going to read Dickens’ or anything like that?

WW: I don’t think I was keen about the classics as the other types. I can’t remember, no I can remember probably the name of them, but I can’t remember reading them: Little Women, Old Curiosity Shop and all those.

JC: Do you know nowadays, you obviously know their names, do you think that’s from the television or do you think you did perhaps learn about them at school?

WW: It might have been that I just wasn’t interested that I perhaps just ignored them.

JC: Yes. But I’m really interested in how your reading interests changed because now you’re reading historical novels.

WW: Yes.

JC: Can you remember when you started doing that. Do you think it might have been when the children were growing up?

JC: No, it was more or less recent.

JC: Can you remember, ten years or …?

WW: Oh no Maybe. I mean time just flies, you forget, don’t you?

JC: Absolutely. Are there, now or then any authors who you think, ‘Oh, I’ll never read them’. [pause] Have you read biographies?

WW: I think I might have read, but I couldn’t recollect who it was.

JC: Can you try to explain to me about the historical novels? Do you remember any of the titles of any of those? Did you read Jean Plaidy, Antonia Fraser?

WW: I think I used to read those, but I’ve not read any of those for a long while. I think maybe I used to read those when I first started reading but I’ve no idea what any of them are about now.

JC: Did it make you want to find out more about that period of history?

WW: Probably because I didn’t like history and each book was about a different period that made me more interested in all those years.

JC: Did you go on to read any more serious books about history at that stage? Did you want to know, is this right?

WW: [both laugh] I don’t think so.

JC: Did you read any of the fiction about the two princes in the Tower?

WW: Yes, many, many years ago probably.

JC: I know there have been different  …

WW: … versions

JC: … yes, versions of it.

WW: Yes, I think I did once but I can’t remember any of it, quite a while ago

JC: People have made a lot of money wondering, ‘Did Richard III … ?’ [WW laughs] I was just wondering …

WW: I like Robin Hood on television. I am interested in Merlin now.

JC: So you do you think that television has replaced the kind of interest we used to get from books? Has television become the main source of entertainment?

WW: Oh I think so, yes. Yes, it’s television’s all right but it seems to have taken over with the children. Sit them in a chair and put in front of the television. I don’t agree with a lot of that. I mean I know you say, ‘You can’t stop progress,’ but a lot of it’s not for the good.

JC: What do you think reading gives you that television doesn’t?

WW: the only difference is that it sinks more, sinks more in my mind. The only problem is that after a while I forget even it. But I can’t do anything about that. [laughs]

JC: That’s the problem with us getting older – frustrating.

WW: Yes. [laughs]

JC: If we can talk a little bit about where you got books from. You mentioned the library down at the bottom. We’ve got Diane H with us as well who knows a little bit from her mum about the travelling libraries. So first Diane could come a bit nearer and perhaps she can talk to us about what she knows about that.

Diane: Well, I can remember living in Rustlings Rd area when I was a little girl, and that is also in the Ecclesall Rd area and going to a man’s house and I think he was called Mr Smith and in one back room there was a treasure trove of books and I could pick three books as a young child and my mother picked three books and she also picked three books for her husband, my father. And the fascinating thing was – I can’t remember money changing hands but we had a little code written in the front of the books and our code was 33 S, which I learned later was 33 Stainton Rd.  But those three books were so important to me. We could have the books for a fortnight and then when the fortnight was over, obviously, we went back to change the books.

JC: So it wasn’t a free library?

Diane: My mother must have paid but it was really well visited because we sometimes had to stand in a queue before we got to the living room, taking the old books back and pick up the new and sometime there were queues of people outside the front door so it must have been a popular venue and a source of books.

JC: And this was in the 1950s?

DH: Yes, and this would be about 1951 because in 1952 we moved across the city to Handsworth. But the son of this Mr Smith used to come in a little van which I can picture now, and he used to come and open his back doors so we could choose our books again, and we still kept our 33S which I thought was strange. But that obviously took off in our little neighbourhood and my mother’s neighbours used to borrow these books.

JC: If you had the same code, did that mean they were collected in different areas with each other?

DH: I don’t think so. I think it was that you could look inside the book and check very quickly whether you had had it before. Obviously you didn’t have a record of what you had read. So you could look down and if you saw 33S you’d know that you had read it. And he stocked all the Enid Blyton books and things like that. I think that was why it was so popular in the ‘50s so we had that for about ten years so we didn’t go to another library apart from school.

JC: This was existing alongside another library but for some reason your mum felt it was a better option.

DH: Other than going to the Central Library. As soon as I was eight, I was allowed to catch a bus into town and go to the Central Library which I thought was wonderful, just to have a thousand books rather than perhaps fifty to choose from. But I think that it was significant, the Central Library in Sheffield. I know a lot of people went to that rather than a local library.

JC: Thank you Diane. I am just going to have a look down here and mention to you some names about historical novels. Did you read Georgette Heyer? Did you read them?

WW: I have done, but not recently

JC: We mentioned Jean Plaidy that you had. Baroness Orczy? Anya Seton?..

WW: Joan can reel them off like …

JC: Did you ever read or not read any books that you thought were shocking?

WW: I never used to but I’ve come to accept the world as it is today. In my younger days things that happened now were things that were considered shocking. I am not saying that things didn’t happen but they weren’t broadcast.

JC: Do you remember, for instance, the D. H. Lawrence trial when they wanted to publish Lady Chatterley’s Lover?

WW: I never remember anything about it but I remembered it was talked about.

JC: Did that make you want to read it or not want to read it?

WW: Never bothered me. [laughs]

JC: Did you ever read any books set in America or Europe? Were they mainly set in England?

WW: Australia. I had relatives in Australia.

JC: Right.

WW: Yes, and I know that Joan got these books, a series, so many books, and it was  about Australia when they used to ship the people from England if they had done any wrong. Where was the place? I was quite interested in that series because my auntie lived in Sydney where …

JC: Botany Bay?

WW: That’s not the name I’m thinking of. What did they call the people they sent?

JC: Early days it was convicts, wasn’t it?

WW: I knew they used to send them to a place quite near where my auntie used to live.

JC: So were they set in the towns in Australia or the outback?

WW: In the towns where they lived.

JC: Were the books set in the towns?

WW: Yes, you heard a bit about the area where they lived.

JC: And were they set at the same time that the convicts were sent there?

WW:  I’ve no idea. I think they were just books that told you what actually happened at that time.

JC: And Joan had read them and passed them on to you. So do you feel that your daughters have influenced your reading?

WW: Oh yes, certainly Joan because Joan’s generally the one who’s had books. She brought a pile last week and passed them round. We pass them round you know.  They are all piled up in the little bedroom and Joan comes: ‘We’ve read that Mum,’ and ‘We’ve read that, Mum.’

JC: Do you have more than one book on the go?

WW: No, I just stick to one.

JC: You stick to one. Have there been books that you not finished?

WW: Yes, one that Joan says, ‘Well, try and pick it up, Mum’ but at the moment it’s upstairs.

JC: Can you remember what it’s called?

WW: No, I can’t, but funnily enough at the moment I am reading an unusual one about the children in the workhouse, when they were younger, you know and it was terrible really how they were treated in this workhouse. I think there must be some truth in this story.

JC:  … and is that set in Sheffield or somewhere else?

WW: No, I’ve forgotten, but there were workhouses all over weren’t there?

JC: Yes, unfortunately. Is there anything else that you want to say?

WW: No, I don’t think so except that I can help because I think it’s good that … It’s like when I was telling you, I don’t know whether you want to now this. We got a little pamphlet, only a small book, telling about Ecclesall, and the person who was doing it lived in Knowle Lane and he put at the bottom of it, ‘Could anyone who knew anything interesting to give him a ring’ and I ummed and ahhed a bit and then thought. ‘Well if I ring he can come to see me’, and he did and he was quite interested really. I could tell him that I lived in the cottage opposite the old Wheatsheaf and I could remember when this new building, which was added, was just a little tin hut when they were building the new one.  And the fun thing about it was I did mention, when they were building this place, my brother who was three years older than me used to go with lads down there and he said, ‘No, you can’t. There are rats there.’ And I didn’t want to go where there were rats and he put it in the book. [laughs]

JC: So your story is in print.  How did that feel?

WW: Well, I wasn’t bothered.

JC: But interesting that people have got to create their own books about an area.

WW: Yes. He also said she was born in this area and she’s not gone very far – she’s gone into the road.

JC: So anyone who wants to find out about Ecclesall …

WW: Yes.

JC: Where’s the nearest library to you now?

WW: It’s just at Ecclesall Terminus.

JC: Do you go down there now?

WW: No, no.

JC: Do you ever ask them to buy particular novels for you?

WW: No, I always ask my daughter to do that. She always picks my Christmas list and birthday list and it’s passed round.

JC: She sorts it for you and she’s obviously got similar tastes to you?

WW: Yes.

JC: And does your daughter Anne have different tastes?

WW: No, more or less we have the same, apart from Anne, I can’t think of the author, there’s one book and she says, ‘I don’t read hers’ but Joan and I love them and Anne says, ‘Oh, I can’t read hers,’ and I can’t think of who it is.

JC: And that is a historical writer, a writer of historical fiction?

WW: I have a feeling it is about an area near where Joan lives.

JC: So they mean something to her?

WW: I think there are about fifteen or sixteen books in fact I ‘m not sure whether there isn’t one coming out so she’s got one on her Christmas list.

JC: Where does she live?

WW: Wetherby.

JC: It might be set there.

WW: Yes.

JC: Do you ever read crime thrillers?

WW: Yes. I don’t know but I started to read them. I think I was more interested in the love stories at one time.

JC: Did you ever read Agatha Christie?

WW: I don’t think I’ve ever read her, no. I used to watch it on telly.

JC: When you dabbled with crime fiction was it modern authors?

WW: I’m no good at the authors.

JC: Is there anything else you want to say about what part reading plays and has played in your or your daughters’ lives?

WW: Oh I always say I’d hate to go blind and can’t read.

JC: Thank you, thank you.

[end of first stage of interview]

JC: Resuming interview, just to ask you, Wynne, what you have just been talking to me about China.

WW: I can’t remember the years when it happened but when I read it , I said, ‘but this was in my life time and I don’t remember a thing about that happening – this book just astounded me.

JC: And this was the Wild Swans?

WW: Yes.

JC: So it was about Chairman Mao?

WW: Is that the Chinese communist? I still think about it, that book.

JC: And about India?

WW: Yes, I enjoyed reading about other countries, how they live and what their situations are and everything.

JC: And you were saying before that, perhaps things changed when perhaps people were travelling in the sixties?

WW: It could have been. You get more vision when you’ve heard about things and where people have been. I mean, such a lot has happened in my life time.

JC: You were saying you were going to reread the books about India.

WW: Yes, I am going to ask Anne not to pass them back to Joan.

JC: Several books.

WW: Yes, there are quite a lot.

JC: Was that about the British Raj in India, that period?

WW: It must have been something like but it is quite a long time since I read them; that is why I would like to reread them because I remember they were very interesting.

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‘Books. This will be good.’

Kath Kay told us here about a Christmas play put on for the children of Walkley and Woodhouse Libraries in 1949 and 1950. Now she shares further memories of libraries in Sheffield, Kent and London. Kath was born at home in Crookes, a suburb of Sheffield in 1931.

It’s been an interesting career. I’ve worked as a school, public, government and university librarian. Working in libraries all my life has given me great curiosity to find things out. Now I’m constantly using my iPad. It’s all part of the information process.

Kath Kay in a school play (Kath, wearing a hat, is in the third row, second from the right)

Kath Hunt, as she was then, left Notre Dame High School in 1947. She was 16 and had no clear idea of what she wanted to do. Stay on at school? Or go to the Commercial College? Then she got a job in the first-floor book department at Boots on Fargate in the centre of Sheffield. The staff ‘had to pencil a very small letter B, near the spine, on page 17 of every book’, Kath says, the idea being that it would help track books if they were stolen.

Edith Sitwell, by Rex Whistler (1929)

One of the bookshop customers was Dame Edith Sitwell, whose family home, Renishaw, is near Sheffield. In the Renishaw museum, there are memories from Boots staff: ‘I was fascinated by a one inch square ring she wore. I wondered how she could wear a glove over it.’ And another said, ‘…she would shake hands with us and we all bobbed a tiny curtsey. … A wonderful fairy-tale experience.’ Kath has her memory too. ‘Long red nails, long hands, lots of rings, very grand,’ she says instantly, nearly 70 years later.

The job in Boots set the course of Kath’s life. ‘Books. This will be good,’ she thought. ‘Perhaps I’d like to work in a library.’

Walkley Library

At first, there were no vacancies in Sheffield Libraries, but then Jack Walker, the Deputy City Librarian, said, ‘You can start next week.’ On 2 January 1948, Kath joined the staff at Walkley Library, a Carnegie library and one of the busiest branches in the city. By coincidence, the young woman who lived next door to Kath started the same day. In the fashion of the time, she wore her hair in a ‘peekaboo’ (that is, falling over one eye). When the formidable City Librarian, J P Lamb, came on a visit, he greeted her by saying ‘Ah, I see we have Veronica Lake with us today.’ (For younger readers, Veronica Lake was a Hollywood star famous for the peekaboo. It was so popular that, during World War II, the US government asked Lake to change her hair, as the impractical style was thought to cause accidents in factories.)

Veronica Lake, with her trademark hairstyle, and Joel McCrea in Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

Kath liked Walkley and her job. She remembers with affection the librarian, Mr Broadhurst, known to his staff as ‘Broady’, who used to throw Christmas parties at his home in nearby Northfield Road. There was also her friend, Olive Phillips, the Children’s Librarian, with whom Kath wrote and produced the play, The Magic Story Book, in 1949. ‘We loved it. We were young. We just did it.’ By 1950 Kath had been posted to Woodhouse Library, where she put the play on again, and was chronicled in the local newspaper. After Woodhouse came a job in the children’s library at Hillsborough. Kath remembers that staff were often transferred without warning from one branch to another and that all her professional training took place on the job.

Kath left the library service in 1952 when she got married.

I didn’t have to leave but my parents had opened a general store and I went to help out. We lived with my parents.

By 1954, Kath and her husband were established enough to sign the contract for a house. Kath returned to Sheffield Libraries, but

the only job was in Central Lending, and meant sometimes sitting on the enquiry desk which wasn’t a good experience. I’ve never been so frightened in my life.

She asked for a transfer and was sent as a Senior Assistant at Attercliffe Library, which turned out to be much better.

Tommy Osborne was the librarian. He had a tied cottage at Chatsworth, and told us that in the awful winter of 1947 he couldn’t get to work for eight weeks. But he used to invite us out there in the summer.

Tommy Osborne, his wife and some of the staff from Attercliffe Library at Chatsworth (photo by Kath Kay)

Some of the Attercliffe Library staff, at Tommy Osborne’s cottage at Chatsworth (photo by Kath Kay)

At Christmas 1958, ‘the Attercliffe children’s librarian made a model of Sputnik’, the satellite the Russians had put into space the year before, and suspended it from the library ceiling.

There was one ritual Kath recalls which applied no matter the library. Every Friday afternoon, someone from each branch made the journey, long or short, to the ‘Bin Room’, as it was called, at the Central Library. The purpose was to ‘collect the cleaners’ wages and clean tea towels’, but the occasion turned into an informal staff meeting, where you ‘met and chatted with everyone from the other libraries’.

In 1958 Kath became pregnant with her son, Chris, and left the library again. A couple of years later, the family moved to London, where Kath’s husband, a Customs & Excise official, had been posted. Kath got a job, mostly part-time, in a school in Kent for about eight years, where in the few hours a week she worked, she had to:

devise a system for a library of 20,000 books and choose new books with the teachers. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was there for years. It was convenient for looking after my own children. The library was on the top floor of a new 6th Form block.

In time this job led to another – library assistant in the science and engineering library at the Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster). ‘I got the job,’ Kath says, ‘because I had worked with 6th formers.’ Kath also looked after quite a few graduates doing a year’s work experience before doing their Masters course in Librarianship.

Upperthorpe Branch Library

In 1987, after 27 years in the south, Kath returned to Sheffield. She worked in the Health and Safety Executive library for a year and, in 1989, returned to Sheffield Libraries for the third and last time. Her job was at Upperthorpe, a grand Victorian building and the oldest branch library in the network. Someone had the idea of running some classes and said: ‘You’re interested in sewing and things. You could pass on some skills.’ The classes didn’t quite materialise, but a discussion group, the Tuesday Club. did. One member wrote:

I found [the Tuesday Club] filled a need in my life that until then I hadn’t realised I had. To meet new people who were not already sharing my hobbies and pursuits. … I had not realised how diffident I had become over the years, I didn’t want to meet new people and avoided even casual conversations on the bus or in the shops, in fact I had built a nice comfortable shell around my life and resented any intrusions. … I can’t say the Tuesday Club has changed me into a different person, but it has certainly broadened my outlook and made me friendlier, and I have found a lot of the confidence I had lost over the years.

You can read the letter in full here.

Kath retired in 1992, at the age of 61, but she was on the standby list until she was 65, working when she was needed, at Stannington and Walkley, where she had started all those years before. And librarianship remains a family profession. Kath’s daughter became a university librarian. And Kath enjoys her retirement.

The Secret Garden is still one of my favourite books to read, and I have a first edition now.

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