Adele J

Adele J

Adele was born in 1942 in Ecclesall, Sheffield.

She is being interviewed by Liz Hawkins on the 19th July 2012.

AdeleJagger1959web

L : Adele was born in the Ecclesall area of Sheffield in1942 and has lived in different areas of Sheffield ever since. So between the years of 1945 and 1965 she lived in the Ecclesall area of Sheffield. Is that right, Adele?

A : It is.

L: Right. So if we can just think back to your early days of reading, really. What do you think were the early influences on your reading? I mean, for example, did anyone read to you when you were young?

A: I’ve no recollection of that at all. I can’t remember my father or mother reading to me.

L: Really?

A: No, there were no books in the house.

L: Right, so they weren’t readers themselves?

A: No. I think my father had been but certainly not when he was married, when they had me. I never saw him read a book. I never saw my mother read a book.

L: Right. So there was no sense of reading in your family really?

A: No.

L: That’s interesting, isn’t it?

A: Mm, it is, yes.

L: So when do you think you started to become aware of books in that case?

A: Well, I think probably I was a very good reader from early on. I don’t remember that of course. But I asked for books. I wanted to be bought books. And also I used the library.

L: Right. Which library would you have used?

A: Well, I remember mostly when I was at grammar school getting past Hurlfield Library and going there and then got off the tram and then I walked home because I lived near the bottom of Ecclesall Road.

L : Right.

A: So Hurlfield Library is the one I remember.

L: And so did you mainly use books from libraries when you started to read?

A: I don’t think when I started to read, no. I think that would be books I would be bought for birthdays and Christmas.  And I remember lots of Enid Blyton of course.

L: Yes, so quite a few – I mean, not very many – not numerous books?

A: Not numerous, no. I think I had one bookcase in my bedroom. I can see it now and I can see that the shelves were just full of books eventually. But only that bookcase.

L: I see. And so, do you remember what your parents felt about you reading? If they weren’t readers themselves?

A:I can remember one particular incident. Is it all right to say something about that?

L: Yes, definitely.

A: I was probably a young teenager and reading and Mum would be in the kitchen getting tea ready when Dad came home and he said, “Oh look at her. She’s sitting reading.”  And I can distinctly remember my Mum saying, “Leave her alone. She’s enjoying it.” And I know what I was reading at the time and I was enjoying it as well. It was one of the ‘William’ books by Richmal Compton. And I loved them and even though he was right out of my milieu – as a middle-class boy – [I didn’t really realise this till later of course]. I absolutely adored them.

L: But many of the books – you talk about Enid Blyton – were about middle-class children.

A: Of course. Yes.

L:Of boarding schools and ‘The Famous Five.’

A: Absolutely.

L: Having picnics and tucker and so on.

A: Yes, and the comics we read at the time as well. There was a girls’ comic with three girls at boarding school. I can’t remember what it was now but …

L: I know what you mean. ‘Girl’s Realm’ and things like that.

A: It was a different life, wasn’t it. I never read anything about MY life.

L: No, well, things weren’t written about your life, were they?

A: No, no.

L: So as you moved on then from reading children’s books, Enid Blyton and so on, can you think about the first books you began to read that you’ve got a sense that they were now kind of ‘grown-up’ books?

A: Well, I remember reading the ‘Katy’ books. I don’t know how you’d consider them?

L: Sort of ‘middle’, crossing over.

A: And I loved them. There were three; ‘What Katy Did’, ‘What Katy Did at School’ and ‘What Katy Did Next’. And I could quote from them, really, I think now, ‘cos I read them so much. And really, that was American, wasn’t it? There again, middle class lives.

L: Yes, Anne of Green Gables and stuff.

A: I didn’t read those but I did read the ‘Katy’ books. I remember those and also I read a lot of Agatha Christie, Neville Shute, Hammond Innes, people like that.

L: Yes, and those are now beginning to be adult books, aren’t they?

A: Yes, I suppose so.

L: And so, will you have got these from the library?

A: Yes. I don’t think I was ever bought any books like that.

L: No, there weren’t bookshops so readily available, were there, to buy books?

A: No, there weren’t.

L: How, do you think, you knew what sort of books to read? That’s a hard one, isn’t it?

A: It is, really.  Eventually my father started recommending books to me which was a big surprise to me, having never seen him with a book in his hand. So I assume that he had read a lot when he was living on his own. And he recommended people like PG Wodehouse –‘cos that was always commented on at school:  “How did you come across PG Wodehouse, girl?” “Oh, my father recommended it.” You know. And he recommended Sorrel and Son by Warwick Deeping, which I’ve since come to realise had a very great impression on him, because his mother died when he was very young – and this is what the basis of the story is – and I hadn’t realised that.

L: No. So he began to open up the world of reading to you then?

A: Yes. He recommended authors – “Have you tried reading …’this, that and the other, you know.

L: And were you still going to the library and looking.

A: Yes.

L: And coming home with books from there. So what sort of books do you think made an impression on you at that stage? Or were you just an avid reader? What were the books that really stand out?

A: Well, I think that being at grammar school also extended your knowledge of books and what there was available to read because you were starting reading the classics, weren’t you? And of course you then would read other books by the same author. So that was a big influence on me. I can remember reading Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I think I was about fifteen.  And I think I read that till four in the morning, because I couldn’t put it down, I was so frightened. And it’s a book I will never, ever forget. I have never read it since but I’ve never forgotten it. And I can remember everything about it. So, you know, that book had a big impression on me.

L: So, something that really stays with you for ever and ever?

A: Absolutely, yes.

L: When you describe it actually, sometimes, reading is not so much something that is pleasurable or an escape but something that you’ve got to do.

A: That’s right. Something gets hold of you, doesn’t it?

L: It is quite a scary book.

A: It is, yes. And also I started to love other. I was an avid reader of very big books.  I read all the Dickens. You know, when I think about my appetite for reading at sixteen, it was just amazing. And you’ve got the time, haven’t you? Well, a lot more time in bed, for a start, as a teenager. So, you know, you just have an appetite and nothing else much to do really.

L: That’s right. But it is interesting that- from what you were saying about the fact that your family wasn’t a bookish family. All of this was something you discovered yourself really.

A: Yes, I think, really, there was encouragement when they saw my keenness and I think that helped it to grow. You can see how hard we had to work when we were at grammar school and the reading, I think, was a relaxation in their eyes. Although, of course, you were reading a lot all the time for school, weren’t you? But it was my mother who always said, “No, she’s reading. Leave her”. And yet she was the least educated of my parents. She’d been in service, but I think she’d seen a different way of life and I think she’d been surrounded by books. This is me surmising. Because she certainly didn’t talk about that.

L: No. Would she have read things like women’s magazines perhaps?

A: She may have done. If she’d had any time. But I think, if you were in service, cooking and looking after children..

L: Absolutely, you wouldn’t have the time. Erm, thinking about your mother’s encouragement to you to read – and maybe some with your father – did they ever make you feel it was a waste of time to read or …?

A: No, never. The only time I felt that my father thought it was a waste for me to carry on with my education. “You’re a girl; you’ll only get married.’ And I said, ‘Well. Dad, I would pass my education on to my children; in that case, it’s not wasted is it.” You know, you always have clever arguments with your parents and he was always the one that said, ‘No, don’t do it.” And I think it’s because he was very cautious by nature, really, to give him the benefit of the doubt. And so it was my mother who said, ‘No. Do it.” Cos I think she wanted to do other things in her life that she hadn’t been able to do. And I think she felt thwarted and that she wasn’t going to let me be thwarted. I’m convinced that was her ‘raison d’être’ really.

L: Yes, but you, after marriage [ ?]… You spoke about teenage years, really, to becoming and adult at that stage. But when you left home you carried on reading, did you?

A: Yes. Well I did study literature at college so it was all reading. We were just encouraged to read anything. So I remember reading DH Lawrence, particularly, for the first time. And I think it was just when it had become legal – ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. Cos I went to college in 1960 and I think that’s when the court case was. So I remember reading that for the first time and then reading other Lawrence as well. And we were exposed to lots of literature that I hadn’t been exposed to before. And encouraged to read.  And so that was a wonderful time for me. I really enjoyed that.

L: So it’s not surprising in a sense that you chose to do a course which enabled you to read.

A: That’s right. That’s what I wanted to do, yes.

L: Fantastic. Do you feel that you were ever made to feel sort of embarrassed? Apart from your story about the Precious Bane thing? Were you made to feel embarrassed about what you were reading and you felt as if you needed to read it in secret or apart? I mean Lady Chatterley’s Lover for instance?

A: No. I think the 60s were the beginning of changes in attitudes in all sorts of ways and I don’t think it mattered what you read. I’ve never ever felt like that about reading actually. I’ve never felt that I need to hide a book away.

L: [Laughs] Under the covers, eh?

A: Even when I’ve read rubbish, I’ve never felt like that. I’m quite confident about reading. You know,  I wouldn’t really care what other people thought.

L: Coming from the background that you describe, were you ever conscious that you felt you were using reading to improve yourself in any way?

A: No, I don’t think I was conscious of that at all.

L: You done better than perhaps your parents or …

A: No, No, I never felt like that. I don’t think there’s anything of that in our family really or all around me really. I just wasn’t aware of it anyway.

L: You just wanted to read in order to …

A: I loved it because I was an only child and I think that also helps you to read more because if you get really tired of playing with friends or you haven’t got any friends you’ve always got friends in a book and it’s not just an escape … it’s very difficult to describe. It’s partly comfort; it’s partly escape. But it just puts you into other realms, doesn’t it? And you’re not bored; if you’ve got a book, you’ve always got something to do.

L: Yes, it’s interesting to think about why we read, isn’t it. Why, particularly, you read as a young adult, late teenage, a young adult. As you say, some of it is escape – doesn’t quite do it, does it?

A: It doesn’t feel like that because sometimes I would rather read than do anything else. Now I don’t know whether that’s escape. [Laughs]. And I’m still like that.

[Both laugh]

L: “Don’t bother me. I want to read”.

A: That’s right. Yes, to me it’s as important as anything else in life, reading. Mm.

L: And so, therefore, it’s very significant as to what books you choose.

A: Erm, yes, I suppose so. Yes, although I do feel at a loss if I haven’t got anything to read. I’m thinking, “Where’s my book?” You know. But there aren’t many occasions like that. But, well, I suppose, how do you choose books? I don’t know how you choose books. You read about them, don’t you, in the papers? You read criticisms and so on. Or you think, “Well, I haven’t read that author. I ought to.” That’s a kind of self-improvement, I suppose. “I ought to.” Yes.

L: “I need to keep my end up in conversation”

A: That’s right. And I like to read the Booker prizewinners as well. That’s my sort of level of book now, I would say. I wait for the book club offers to come and I buy them all and then read them and think, “Well, I wouldn’t have chosen that as the winner”, you know. [Laughs] It was Julian Barnes last year … er … [Laughs]

L: So if you think about this designation of highbrow, middlebrow, lowbrow.  When you were a young adult do you think that you were aware of those sort of different categories – of good books or just page-turners?

A: It didn’t worry me that I read Ngaio Marsh, Agatha Christie, Hammond Innes and all these adventure stories. I liked them and it didn’t worry me that they weren’t perhaps the best literature because I was getting plenty of that anyway. I was getting that at school; I was getting that at college. And other choice of reading, so …

L: All your Dickens and D H Lawrence..

A: Yes, I was getting all that so, er, in between I think my choice of reading was quite eclectic really [Laughs]. And it didn’t bother me.

L: No,no, that’s fantastic. So, any other authors that you can think of to let us know about?

A: Well, yes, I read John Galsworthy; I read Trollope. I told you I had taste for great big books. North and South I remember particularly. Middlemarch was one of my favourite books – George Eliot – wonderful! I just loved that. I read all the Thomas Hardy as well. I loved those – still do, actually. I think they’ve still got a lot to say. J B Priestley… Little Women – that’s going further back, of course. And books by Malcolm Saville when I was a young teenager.  Now I don’t know whether you’ve heard of him?

L: No.

A: He had a group of children, a bit like Enid Blyton, but I think they were better written books and they were set I think in the Mendips or somewhere. They had adventures and things like that. But that’s going back quite a bit more. And er, Tolstoy, of course, I went to eventually. Anna Karenina I’ll never forget. I read that at a very difficult time of my life. And I particularly remember that.

L: It’s surprising you’ve done anything else, you’ve read so much.

A: Yes, [laughs] It is, really, isn’t it?

L: Are there books that you read with pleasure at the time, do you think, that you’d never dream of going back to read again?

A: I don’t think I’d read the Dickens again. I think I’d have to … I enjoy seeing adaptations and so on but I don’t think I’ve quite got the energy for big books any more. [Both laugh]. And also, when you open the Dickens if you’ve read them in the past you feel that you’re just remembering everything. Perhaps one shouldn’t feel like that. I don’t feel like that about Shakespeare’s plays for instance because there’s always more to unravel, isn’t there?

L: I know what you mean, yes.

A: I don’t think I’d want to read Dickens again. And also I couldn’t read War and Peace again. I couldn’t because I really struggled. I enjoyed the ‘Peace’ bits but, you know, I really struggled with the ‘War’ bits. And I read both volumes and it was quite a big book to read. So anything that was really too big I don’t think I’d read any more.

L: No point, is there? Too many other things to do. So, I mean, are there any other authors that you’ve got there on your list before we..

A: I think there probably will be but I mean you’d have to say some to me to remind me, I think. You forget an awful lot in your life, don’t you?

L: Yes, yes. Talking about PG Wodehouse and so on. There’s lists of things here; did you do thrillers – Eric Ambler, things like that?

A: No. I liked a bit of science fiction. I can’t remember many authors, I must admit. I wasn’t that mad about them.

L: The Rider Haggard stuff – I don’t know whether you erm …

A: Oh, She.  Yes. Terrible to read. I have gone back to She and it’s awful, isn’t it, a racist book. Oh, I read a lot of Arnold Bennet – forgotten – ah The Old Wives Tale isn’t it? And HG Wells – I read a lot of HG Wells as well. Yes, those are just two of the names I’ve picked out there. And Neville Shute I read, of course. Alan Sillitoe.

L: Did you read John Steinbeck, thinking about the men up north?

A: I read them when I was older, when I was at college. And I’m not too keen. I find American authors quite difficult to read sometimes.

L: A different sort of style.

A: Yes, absolutely.

L: I just want to finally, then Adele … do you think – you might have already answered this I suppose – but are there any ways in which you think that reading has changed your life?  That your life would have been different without books?

A: It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like without books. I can think of a book that probably changed my life or helped me to change my life. But it does sound a bit pathetic, doesn’t it, to be influenced so much by a book but erm… So there’s that aspect of reading. And I think there’s the confidence that reading gives to you actually. I don’t mean that your head’s stuffed full of information because I don’t think that’s particularly why you read unless you are researching something. I think my life would have been less rich without reading.

L: Yes. Because you talk about novels, actually. You haven’t mentioned any non-fiction, funnily enough. Not your genre at all?

A: No. I mean I had to read non-fiction at school, didn’t I? I read non-fiction with my grandchildren now but I have read poetry as well. I studied poetry as well.

L: But you say about your life being richer for the reading.

A: Absolutely. I think so. And also it’s been all part of my education.  It’s all tied up with going to grammar school and going to teacher training college; and also teaching English. And then growing to love children’s books, of which there are many nowadays, aren’t there? Children are so fortunate today; they have such a choice. My grandchildren’s bookcases are stuffed with books. Which I love; I love to see that. And they love the world; they’re totally immersed in books themselves. And if they’re being naughty, one’s only to sit down and start reading out loud and they’re drawn to you – and I think that’s amazing.

L: So you’re still using books? For other people as well?

A: Still using books, that’s right, yes.

L: And they continue to influence your life?

A: Yes, they do.

L: Thank you very much for that.

A: That’s quite all right.

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On the BBC: ‘The more we read the more we live.’

The more we read the more we live. The better our reading is the better our living is sure to be. Food, clothing and shelter are requisites of life, but reading is necessary for complete living.

This sentiment – authoritative, clear and aspirational – is at the heart of a talk given on the BBC’s first Sheffield station, 6FL, on Thursday 27 January 1927.[i] The speaker was the city librarian, Richard J Gordon (1881-1966), and the broadcast was for a series entitled ‘How Sheffield’s City Departments Work’. As a whole, this sounds worthy, even dull, but Gordon, who had, a colleague said[ii], ‘an innate flair for saying and doing the right thing at the right time,’ is fascinating for what he tells us about the ambition felt for public libraries by the people who ran them in the early twentieth century.

Sheffield was lucky to have Richard Gordon. A ‘dynamic person who believed so passionately in the civilising mission of public libraries’, he ‘added lustre to his profession,’ say his obituaries.[iii] His lifetime contribution was recognised when he was chosen as President of the Library Association in 1947.

The converted music hall on Surrey St, which served as half of the central library in Gordon’s day. It was inconvenient and unsafe.

Gordon arrived in Sheffield in 1921, when the public libraries were stagnating (a strong word but the one used in the official history[iv]). Sheffield had made a good start: in 1856 it was the first city in Yorkshire to adopt the 1850 Public Libraries Act allowing corporations to establish free libraries. For the next half century, things went quite well, with central lending and reference libraries and  branches opening. But then the service declined, to the extent that in 1920 the Council shamefacedly asked the chief librarian of Leeds to assess the problems and recruited, from 60 applicants, the chief librarian of Rochdale, Richard Gordon, to rebuild the service. The challenge is set out in City Libraries of Sheffield 1856-1956:

… the bookstocks were so bad throughout the lending libraries, and the administrative methods had fallen so far behind … What little money was available was wasted by bibliographical incompetence both in book selection and binding… The buildings were revoltingly dirty, both externally and internally… The staff … had been actively discouraged from attempting to qualify in their profession …

A letter to the Sheffield Independent in April 1920 said that the libraries were a ‘disgrace to a city of such importance’ and blamed the ‘Council’s absurd policy of parsimony’.

By 1927, when he spoke on the radio, Gordon was revolutionising the libraries. New books were bought and old, worn-out ones removed. The staff were re-organised and new systems designed. Open access shelving was introduced.[v] Information and publicity campaigns were initiated. The central libraries were reformed, five branch libraries attractively renovated, a children’s branch library opened, the school library service expanded and plans laid for a much-needed, new central library building.

Walkley library – where Gordon opened a  children’s library in 1924, which was used by many of our readers.

Highfield Branch Library, renovated and re-opened in 1923.

These achievements are evident in Gordon’s radio talk: ‘Much has been done to make the libraries worthy of their name, but much more remains to be done.’ More importantly, Gordon used the opportunity to make the case for reading and for public libraries. (Although our situation today is very different, his arguments still have merit). Libraries were, he said, ‘community schools where all may increase and supplement their education’, although their contribution to the ‘national educational structure is but, as yet, dimly recognised.’ An experienced local authority man, Gordon pointed out that the libraries were good value (11d – £4.70 today – per head, less than in other northern cities), offering ‘[information] freely placed at the service of the public; competent counsel in the choice of books; [and] where to look for the required information…’ He aimed, he said, to ‘attract and cultivate readers’, including children, and to anticipate and supply people’s needs:

If we have not the book wanted don’t hesitate to say so. If you do not tell us what you want, we are only able to guess at your requirements …

He went on:

Please do not mistake my meaning regarding this, I mean requirements of books of real value, and not merely of recreational interest.

‘Books of real value’ is an important phrase for Gordon and other librarians of the day. Free libraries were part of the great social reforms of the mid-19th century, founded with a view to the improvement, the self-improvement, of the working classes. Reading for pleasure and reading fiction (particularly the cheaper sort) were frowned upon. By the 1920s, librarians had mellowed somewhat, but the focus on education remained, along with the feeling that ratepayers’ money must be spent on the worthwhile, rather than the entertaining. So Gordon said:

[The central library] is not for readers who require only the latest popular novel, unless it should happen to be the work of a novelist of admitted quality. In general the libraries do not provide, as new, the ordinary novel. They do not have the money for the purpose, even supposing the ordinary novel was worth its price.

And:

Too often the public library is only thought and spoken of in connection with the reading of novels, and without detracting in the slightest degree from the value to the people of the library’s service in providing recreational reading, yet I would emphasise the contribution it offers to the raising of the standard of general intelligence which is the library’s greatest value to the city.

Gordon concluded: ‘I believe the libraries have something for everybody … I hope many more will … find pleasure and profit in [them].’ The broadcast was clearly part of a communications strategy, aiming to draw Sheffielders in. There were also updates in the local press and trade papers, public lectures, reading lists, exhibitions and slogans such as ‘The Library exists for Books, Information, and Service’. But it seems likely that Gordon was also talking to his employers, the Council. He emphasised the benefits of the library service, including as a means of profiting local industry, and he talked confidently of growth: ‘…when our library service expands, as it must expand…’ A library, he said, is ‘books made productive’.

1927 was to be Gordon’s last year in Sheffield. Shortly after the broadcast, he started a new job as chief librarian in Leeds. There were press suggestions that Sheffield had itself to blame, as the salary offered was well below that of other northern cities. He stayed in Leeds for the rest of his career, and was much praised for its libraries. In Sheffield, he was succeeded by his equally energetic and insightful deputy, Joseph Lamb, whose work is explored elsewhere on this website.

Gordon presided over an increase in borrowing in Sheffield from 711,000 books in 1921 to over 1.5 million in 1926.  His friend Lamb wrote of him: ‘when he was in charge libraries became marvellously alive’.[vi]

 

[i] The script can be seen in the Sheffield Local History Library.

[ii] Obituary by J P Lamb, Library Association Record, November 1966, p.418.

[iii] Obituaries by E Hargreaves and A E Burbridge respectively, Library Association Record, November 1966, p.420.

[iv] The City Libraries of Sheffield, 1856-1956 (Sheffield, Libraries Galleries and Museums Committee, 1956).

[v] Open access, i.e. shelving accessible to the public, is almost universal today. In the early twentieth century, closed access, where books are chosen from catalogues and brought to borrowers by staff, was the norm.

[vi] From (ii) above.

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