Doreen Gill

Doreen Gill

Doreen was born in Sheffield on 8th March 1934.

She is being interviewed by Mary Grover on the 18th May 2012.

MG: This is an interview conducted by Mary Grover.  It is, today, the 18th of May 2012 and I’m interviewing Doreen Gill.  Doreen was born, where were you born Doreen?

doreen-gill

DG: Sheffield.

MG:  In Sheffield.  Which bit of Sheffield?

DG: Presumably at Jessops.  I don’t really know.

MG: And she was born, on, did you give me the date?  Oh here we are, the 8th of March 1934 and what area of Sheffield did you live in between …

DG: We lived in Darnall.

MG:  In Darnall.  When did you come to live in Nether Edge?

DG: Twelve and a half years ago.  2000.

MG: Did you move here from Darnall?

DG: No we moved here from, we used to live on Struan Road which is off Carter Knowle Road.  We lived there for 45 years.

MG: Did you?  But you grew up in Darnall.

DG: Yes.  Well.  I’ll say yes.  Until I was nine.  No that’s not true either.  Whenever the Blitz was, 1940-whatever, we were bombed out.   [Typist’s note: 12th & 15th December 1940]  ‘Cos I used to go to Phillimore Road School and that had a bomb through it.  So we moved down to Don Road at Brightside and then I went to Newhall School.  But by the time I was nine, my mother died and all three of us were split up.  I went to Ripon and they went to Diss in Norfolk.  So we never saw each other for three, three and a half years.  So I spent three years in Ripon and then, me dad was in the Army, you see, he was in Africa.  They wouldn’t let him home, even for the funeral.  So when, he came out of the Army he got us all out and got us all together.  In the meantime, just before the war ended, he’d married this lady in Belgium.  And she came, you know, we all lived together at Don Road.

MG:  So who did you live with in Ripon?

DG:  It was a Children’s Home.

MG:  So you had lots of different influences on you.

DG:  Yes.

MG: Yes.

DG:  Yes.

MG: Can you remember your mother reading to you?

DG:   No I can’t.  She had little twins, you know, she wouldn’t have much time to read to me.  There was almost five years difference between us.  By which time I was at school and presumably reading for meself ‘cos I don’t ever remember not reading.  I must’ve not read, but … .

MG: So did you help with the twins?

DG:  Mm, I had a great aunt who lived at Darnall and she was very good.  She used to come and help with them and, we didn’t actually lose touch when me mum died, but she went to live with some relative of hers in Mansfield Woodhouse and I didn’t see her again till, well I didn’t see her again.  I just went to her funeral.  It’s difficult to remember all these things isn’t it?

MG:  Mm. So you didn’t really have books in the house?

DG: Oh we had books in the house.  Me dad was a great reader, yeah.

MG:  Was he?

DG:  Yeah. But not children’s books of course, so consequently I picked everything up, whether it was suitable or whether it wasn’t!

MG:  Can you remember any of the things you picked up before you were nine?

DG:  No.  I used to go to the library at Attercliffe.  I used to go there and just work me way along the shelves. Anything and everything. ‘Cept I’m not too keen on history.  I read anything else but.  [Laughs] I will read if I’m desperate.  I will read history but I’ve got to be desperate.

MG: So when you were in that library, did the librarian suggest anything to you?

DG: No they just left us to it, you know.  You were only allowed two books at a time then so I used to go to the library two or three times a week and change me books.

MG: Did you go on your own?

DG: Yeah.  Well in those days there weren’t cars on the roads like there are now, you know.  You didn’t have to worry about children getting run over or abducted either.

MG:  I wonder what first got you into that library?

DG:  I don’t know.  I couldn’t really tell you.  We used to go past the library going to Grandad’s every time.  Whether it was that or whether it was teachers at school that said, you know, get a book from the library and read it, I don’t know.

MG: Can you remember any of those first books you took out?

DG:  Oh I used to read Milly, Molly Mandy and, I don’t think they have those now ‘cos I tried to get some for me granddaughter and I can’t find them. Ann of Green Gables and all that sort of thing.  Edgar Allen Poe, I used to read!  And, not at five, though.  [Laughs]

MG:  But not history.

DG: Not history if I could avoid it, no.

MG: So when you got to school, did your teachers influence your reading at all?

DG:  Mm, I can’t specifically remember anyone saying to me, you know, read a lot. It was just something we did.  I mean, there was no television, there was no games. You’d got to occupy yourself somehow.  And Sundays we weren’t allowed out to play any rate, so we used to read then.  But I don’t specifically remember anybody saying, “Go to the library”.  It was just something I did.

MG:  Did you do it with friends?

DG: No.

MG:  No?

DG:  No because me friend didn’t live near me, friend from school.  And I was friendly with another girl who lived near us and I don’t think she was very bothered.  They were one of the first to have a television so she didn’t go and read really.

MG: What was your parents’ attitude to your reading?

DG:  Well me dad was fine.  He used to say I liked to read, you know, as long as I was doing homework me mum was all right.  But if I picked a book up to read she’d say, “Put that down and come and help me do so-and-so.  You’re wasting your time and my time”.  You know.  So she’d always find me a job to do.

MG:  So did you find any private places to read?

DG:  I used to go to bed and read until it was really dark.  And me dad used to say, “Switch that light off”.  So I used to stand in front of the window and read as long as I could!  [Laughs].

MG: And then when you went to Ripon, did that affect how you read or what you read at all?

DG:  Well I think perhaps we had a bit more chance to read there.  But I don’t actually remember reading there either.  Mm, I must’ve done, but …  So I went to Ripon Grammar School there and they were very keen on your reading and doing things.  Education.

MG: Did you like school?

DG: I loved school yes.  I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to become a teacher but, you know, there were five of us in our family and just me dad working and they needed the money.  So that was it.

MG: So what secondary school did you go to when you came back to Sheffield?

DG:  I went to the City Grammar.

MG:  Yes. What age did you leave?

DG: Fifteen I think, yeah.

MG: Would you have liked to have stayed on?

DG:  I would’ve loved to have stayed on yeah.  I took me O levels there.  Yeah.

MG:  And that’s when you went to work at Firth Browns was it?

DG:  Yeah.

MG: So when you were in the City Grammar in Sheffield, can you remember what you read there in school?

DG: A lot of Shakespeare! [Laughs]  Yeah.  Poetry.  Which you don’t normally, well, I don’t normally pick up a poetry book unless it’s something I want to know for a crossword.  But, you know, I used to enjoy it, yes.

MG:  Did you learn poetry off by heart?

DG: Yes.

MG: Does anything still stick in your mind?

DG:  Upon Westminster Bridge. ‘When I consider …’.  That’s about as much as I can remember!

MG: So when you left school and went to work, did you continue reading then?

DG: Yes, yes. I used to read during me lunch hour.

MG: Did you?

DG: Very unsociable but I used to do it.

MG: Did you stay at your desk and read then for an hour?

DG:  Er, yes, yes.

MG: So what kind of books were you reading then, do you think?

DG:  Anything and everything.   I used to read a lot of Nevil Shute books and Edgar Allen Poe and Terence Rattigan plays I’ve read.  You name it I’ve read most of them.

MG:  Did you go to the theatre much?

DG:  Mm, The Palace on Attercliffe.

Courtesy Picture Sheffield

The Palace Attercliffe, Sheffield (courtesy of Picture Sheffield).

DG: I don’t know if you remember it. It was open then as a review place but on Saturdays they had things that were suitable for families, you know.  Me dad used to take us there sometimes.  Once or twice I’ve been to The Empire, which is now gone as well. And seen various shows there.  And I once won some tickets to go to The Empire.  And The Gloops Club  that was in The Telegraph, Star, one or the other. They used to do competitions, you know, and I used to do that.

Courtesy Picture Sheffield

The Empire, Sheffield (courtesy of Picture Sheffield).

MG: The Gloops Club?

DG: Yes, it was like a little teddy, fat teddy.  And, I used to belong to it.

MG: Right.  So when you went to the theatre, did you then pick up the books of the plays you’d seen?

DG: Er, not necessarily, no.  Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t.  It was a matter of what they’d got in the library.  By which time I’d gone to the City Library.

MG:  Ah yes. So the City Library must’ve given you a fantastic amount of choice.

DG:  Well they used to have the Children’s down the stairs, you know.  I don’t know if you remember that.  There wasn’t quite as much choice as you might think.  But by the time I was twelve I was going upstairs anyway to the adults’ part, so I’d got as much choice as I wanted up there.

MG: So this’ll be 1946?

DG: Yeah.

MG: And when you got up to that adult section, can you remember the first book you took out, that you thought, oh this is an adult book, not a children’s book?

DG: Yeah, I think that Terence Rattigan play opened my eyes a bit. Mm, and I can’t even remember what it was called now, it was a play, and, yeah.  It certainly opens your eyes from children’s books.

MG: So with Nevil Shute, Terence Rattigan, did you like books that were about sort of problems and real life particularly?

DG: Yeah, about real life, yeah.  I used to love Ann of Green Gables, reading about that.

MG:  Did you re-read Ann of Green Gables?

DG:  Yeah, yeah.

MG:  Do you think you had a copy of your own?

DG:  No I didn’t have a copy, no.

MG: So you kept taking it out of the library?

DG: Yeah, yes.

MG: Did the librarians in the City Library ever recommend anything to you?

DG: No, no.

MG:  So you just worked your way along the shelves.

DG:  Yeah, more or less.  I had me favourite authors and I went to those and checked, you know, that there weren’t any new ones out.

MG: Can you remember which those favourite authors were?

DG: Well as I said, Nevil Shute, mm, what do they call that man’s mystery things?

MG: Dennis Wheatley?

DG: That’s it yes.  I used to love his books.

MG: Did you?

DG: Yes.  I wouldn’t bother picking them up now but I used to love them, yeah.

MG:  Cos he wrote two sorts, didn’t he, somebody told me?

DG:  I don’t know.  The ones I read were all [pause] not exactly black magic but that sort of thing.  Yeah, yeah.

MG:  Well in a way, that goes with Edgar Allen Poe, doesn’t it?

DG: Yeah.

MG: So did you read Edgar Allen Poe again and again?

DG:  No, I just read the ones I hadn’t read.

MG: So the Dennis Wheatley, you read them once and then put them aside?

DG:  Yes.

MG: Were there any books like Ann of Green Gables that you went back to, that you wanted to read and re-read?

DG: There always seem to be so many books that I need to read that I don’t tend to read books again.  At the moment, there’s a group of us that pass books around and they’re usually books that we’ve bought at St Luke’s or somewhere like that.  And I tend to work me way down the pile.  There’s two or three history ones in this one!  [Laughs[.  We just read anything and everything really.  Whatever we like, we buy, and then swap around them so you get various, there’s four of us do it, you get various books and things.

MG: Has anything struck you from those books?

DG: Oh, you’d like these. Rebecca Top – Death in the Cotswolds.  They’re all about the Cotswolds and this is the third one I’ve read and there’s been a death in each one and she’s been involved in it. So, yeah, all sorts.  I couldn’t really say that I’ve got a favourite author.  I like Danielle Steel.  I know they’re trashy books but I like reading them.  They’re easy to pick up and easy to put down.  And, what’s that other one, Josephine Cox.  I like her books as well.  Maureen Lee.  They’re all books that are easy to read and easy to pick up and put down.

MG: Do you find that fits in with your life better if you have one that you can just pick up?

DG: Yes, yeah.   I tend to do most of my reading at night, or Sunday afternoons, but I do, if I sit down for a coffee, I pick me book up and read it.

MG: Do you tend to avoid books where you think you might get too gripped by it and it might distract you from your jobs?

DG: Oh no, no!  I just let me job wait! [Laughs].

MG: Has there ever been a book where you’ve started reading and haven’t really wanted to put the light out?

DG:  Oh, lots of times when that happens and I think yeah, I’ve GOT to put the light out.  Cos Frank just goes to sleep, you know, and then he’ll wake up an hour later and say, “Have you still got that light on?”  [Laughs]

MG: Going back to those years, 1940, when you were really galloping through these library books,  can you remember any one that really opened your eyes to something new, a new world, or a new way of looking at things?  A bit like the Terence Rattigan play.

DG:  I can’t even remember what that was about!   Mm, well, Ann of Green Gables is a, in one way, I mean, you realise that there’s more than you orphaned; she was orphaned, and how good this lady was to her, you know, and how things work out.

MG:  Did you read Ann of Green Gables before your mother died or after?

DG: After, yeah.

MG: What about Jane Eyre, did you ever read that?

DG:  I don’t think I did.  Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier, I used to read hers.  I probably thought they were too highbrow for me. [Chuckles].

MG: Did you get a sense that some books were highbrow?

DG: Yeah.

MG: Did you?

DG: Yes.

MG:  And that would put you off, would it?

DG:  Mm, it wouldn’t put me off now, but yes it did then, yes.

MG:  Why do you think it would’ve put you off if you thought it was highbrow?

DG: I should think it was probably too difficult to understand.  It’s like Shakespeare, you’ve got to have somebody telling you what it means really, isn’t it?

MG: Yeah.  Would you ever have been embarrassed to read a book because it was too lowbrow?

DG: No, I sometimes start reading it then think, “Why am I reading this rubbish”?  But once I’ve started a book, I finish it and that’s it.

MG:  So it’s about your own feelings about the book.  Not because you’ve ever been embarrassed?

DG: No.

MG:  No.

DG: I’m sometimes embarrassed to pass some of them on that I’ve had passed on to me, but,  I just put them in the bin then!

MG: So when you were at Firth Browns, was that where you worked when you first left school?

DG: Yes.

MG: Was there anybody that you talked to – yes?

DG:  Sorry, I worked in a shop first, ‘cos when, when I left school, me mum took me to Belgium for six weeks.  And when I came back, all the jobs that I thought I wanted were gone.  So I worked at Banners at Fir Vale for, it must’ve been about six months …  And then I got this job at Firth Brown Tools.

MG: Did you like working in the shop?

DG:  [Pause] I was Cashier, so I didn’t see much of the customers. They used to have these things that they pulled along, you know, put the change in.  But I worked in a shop afterwards and I loved working in a shop, yeah.

MG:  But in Firth Brown’s you were in the Wages,

DG: Yes,

MG: And what about your other office staff who worked with you?  Did you talk about books to them at all?

DG:  Not really, but, mm, there was only another lady in the office with me and there was about four or five men, and a couple of ladies in the next office. ‘Cos I was working on a Borough Sensormatic Machine.  I don’t know whether you’ve heard of one of those?   Well I suppose it must’ve been like an early computer.  You just used to put the hours in and the wages in and it used to come out printed on this wages sheet.

MG:  So it was demanding work?

DG:   Mm, I suppose so, yes.

MG:  And how long were you there?

DG:  I was there ‘til just before I had my eldest, ‘til I was 22.  So I must’ve been there about six years, six and a half years, yeah.

MG: And when you had your children, did you keep reading?

DG: Yes, Yes, I used to read to them.  I used to read all sorts. [Laughs]

MG:  And did you have books in the house or did you use the library mostly?

DG:  Oh we’ve always had books in the house but I’ve always gone to the library.  This is the first time I haven’t got to the library and it’s only because we pass these books round between us, you know.  I never have time to go to the library now.  And it’s, you know, a case of going up town really.

MG:  Yes. There’s not one that near, is there?

DG: There’s the one at Ecclesall but it’s not easy to get to from here. It means I have to get a bus down to Hunters Bar and then get another bus up there.  I may as well get on a bus to town and go there.

MG: Yes.  So this book, this group you’re in, has it been really helpful in getting you …

DG: Yes, yes.

MG: With your children, have they become readers?

DG:  Me daughter’s a reader.  Me oldest reads railway books and our Chris, I don’t know that he’s time to read at all.  He’s up to his eyes in church work and goodness knows what.  He’s, he’s an accountant.

MG: Well, what sort of accountant is he?

DG:  It’s not proper accountant, it’s some other accountant.  He does books for church, you know, their accountancy books and everything.

MG: We recruited you Doreen, through your church, you saw the leaflet there.

DG: Yes.

MG:  And was your father a church goer?

DG: Yes.

MG: Right.  Which church did he go to?

DG: He used to go to, latterly any rate, to the one at Shortbrook.  It’s an Ecumenical one.

MG: So you went to church from your very earliest days?

DG: Yes I did, yes.  We weren’t taken to church, we were sent to church.

MG: Oh were you?

DG:  My father was a Unitarian originally and me mother from Belgium was Catholic.  She never forced us to go with her, you know, so we used to go to Attercliffe Methodist Church.  We used to go twice, sometimes three times on a Sunday, depending what was going on. Yeah, so.

MG: So you must’ve read a lot of the Bible?

DG: Well yeah, I suppose in between, yeah.

MG:  And which book of the Bible do you think you loved the best?

DG: Ruth.

MG: Ruth?

DG: Yeah.

MG: Yes.  Why?

DG:  It’s homely and it’s like, well, our life really, isn’t it?

MG: Yes, yes.  And when you were sent to church, were you sent to Sunday School?

DG:  Yes, yes. And Girls Brigade.

MG:  Did you win any prizes?

DG:  I did win a book once at Sunday School but I don’t know, don’t think I’ve still got it actually.  Probably fallen to pieces.

MG:  Can you remember what it was?

DG: No.

MG:  So you must’ve heard so much poetry and so many stories just through going to church?

DG:  Yeah.

MG: So your step mother from Belgium, did she speak French?

DG: No Flemish.

MG: Flemish?  Right.  Did you learn any Flemish?

DG: Yeah.

MG: You did?

DG: Yeah.

MG: Can you still speak it?

DG:  I’ve a step brother in Belgium and we speak to each other most weeks on the phone and so it keeps it going, you know.

MG:  Did you read anything in Flemish?  Newspapers or books?

DG:  Only magazine stuff, you know.  I never read a Flemish book, no.

MG: And was your step mother a reader?

DG:  No she wasn’t, no.  A prayer book, that was about her limit, you know.

MG:  What was her attitude to your love of reading?

DG:  She didn’t like it.  She didn’t like me reading.  It was a waste of time.

MG:  So you went upstairs and read upstairs, yes?

DG:  I went to bed and that was it!

MG: Yes. Is there anything else you want to tell me about?  What you like reading and why?

DG:  There’s not much I don’t like reading apart from History, which I will read if it’s desperate.  And there’s a book on there that’s Frank’s, er Bill Bryson is it?  And I’ve been going to read that for the last year and I keep finding something else that I like better.  But I will read it.  I’ve made me mind up I will read it.

MG: But it’s fiction that you really love.

DG: Oh yes.

MG: Why do you think it matters to you?

DG:  Well to be honest, I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t see to read.  That would just about finish me off altogether I think.  Erm, I don’t know.  I like reading about other people’s lives and what’s happened and things like that, you know.

MG:  Do you think it’s helped you to understand people?  Real people?

DG:  Well, yeah, some of it, yes.  Some of it if I read it for evermore, I’ll still not understand.

MG: Well thank you very much, Doreen.

doreen-gill-and-husband-

DG:  You’re very welcome.

MG:  Very interesting.  Is there, before I end, is there one book on your shelves there that you would pull out and say oh that’s my treasured book?  I wouldn’t ever want to part with that.

DG:  I’ve got, er, several books up there that I won’t part with.  Gervase Phinn, I’ve got four of his and I can pick those up and read them when I’ve nothing else to read and read them again.  I love his books, they’re so funny.  Have you read any?

MG:  Yes.

DG: Thank you very much.

MG:   You’re welcome.

Access Doreen’s reading journey here.

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Ken’s reading journey

By Mary Grover

Husband and wife Ken and Kath were interviewed together for Reading Sheffield. Their marriage includes a strong ‘reading partnership’, based on their shared political and local interests. We will post Kath’s reading journey after this.   

Ken was born on 27 April 1924. For the first 20 years of his life he lived in Fir Vale, Sheffield, in a house where he was surrounded by ‘tons of books’. ‘Everybody in the family read.’ Ken got books as presents and his older sister handed down her favourites – some of them novels his mother and father would not have approved, ‘Istanbul Train and all those stories’.

And of course I read all the boys’ books that you would have. You know, tuppenny bloods and all that sort of thing, school stories and that, which were really funny. By today’s standards rather silly, I expect, but I used to think they were marvellous.

Though Ken didn’t think much of the radio programmes in the Thirties, he did enjoy the books read on Children’s Hour, like Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, and all are still with him. Down at Fir Vale shops was a tuppenny library, a rich source of popular books, Ken’s favourites being humorous books and The Saint books by Leslie Charteris.

And then, when he was about ten, a new municipal library opened in Firth Park. Ken’s main aim on his first visit was to get the thickest book possible because you were, in 1934, only able to borrow one book a week. So his first choice was The Great Aeroplane Mystery by Percy F Westerman[i]. ‘Absolute rubbish, of course,’ but thick.

The old Firth Park Library building today

It was when Ken gained a place at the Catholic grammar school, De La Salle, that his reading tastes expanded to include a whole range of authors that were new to him.

An English master who was a brilliant man put me onto all sorts of good books. And he was a very opinionated bloke. He used to think that all the best writers were people like Lytton Strachey and all that lot. You know – the Bloomsbury outfit and all those people.

We used to have an English room and there used to be favourite things pinned up on the wall. You know, things like The Land and all those famous poems. Things I’ve never forgotten. I mean all those dreadful poems you had to memorise like The Ancient Mariner and ‘Young Lochinvar has come out of the west / Through all the wide borders his steed was the best’. You know, that sort of stuff and all the classic things – Sohrab and Rustum and all those sorts of things. But it stamps what you’re going to do if you listen. And he was a very unusual person. I used to hang on his every word really, I expect. He never failed to be right in what he’d said. Well, I think so. I thought he was bang on the nail with everything.

During his school days Ken became a socialist, reading ‘loads and loads of pamphlets, political pamphlets. They were all the rage then’.

The outbreak of war led to the closure of Ken’s grammar school and the end to his formal schooling. At 15, he left school to go into ‘the works’, first as an apprentice and then as a draughtsman. But the war meant an increase in Ken’s reading.

During the war that was all you could do, read books, with very little other entertainment. Certainly nothing like the radio or TV as there is now so you were thrown onto books and written material, newspapers.

Towards the end of the war, just turned 20, Ken was lucky enough to marry Kath who shared his taste in books and politics. Kath introduced Ken to Sholokhov’s books, ‘Quiet Flows the Don and all those Russian novels’. ‘And Chinese books, famous Chinese novels,’ adds Kath. These books opened the couple’s eyes to the suffering in ‘Old Russia’ before the Revolution. Ken describes himself ‘ploughing his way through’ Das Kapital. He and Kath became communists and during the Cold War, they took their children to a children’s camp in East Germany. Their experience left them with a deep scepticism about the way East Germany was represented in Western spy stories.

A lot of them are a whole load of rubbish, you know. Weren’t they, Kath? Absolutely. We used to know this girl – East German girl who was a teacher there – and she used to go across the border every night to go and be entertained in West Berlin. They were supposed to be at daggers drawn and everything but it wasn’t like that a bit when we were there, was it? Not a bit. And it makes you wonder just how the news and everything has been manipulated in the past, you know? Shocking, shocking.

However, despite his firm political convictions, Ken describes his reading tastes as catholic: Quiller Couch, P G Wodehouse, Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen, Just William, Ken has read and enjoyed them all. Indeed, when asked to pick out a favourite book, he chooses one written by the journalist and novelist, Philip Gibbs, who was no socialist.

It was called European Journey. It was set in the 1920s just after the First World War. He’s an artist and a crowd of about six of them toured through France and Germany by car – typical better-off officer-class people. You’ve got to forget all that part of it – because he was a brilliant writer and he writes about Paris and all – really great – just how France is. I love France. He writes about France with real feeling. But it was when he was a comparatively young man. That’s a book I got by sheer chance, just by picking it up. It was old, of course; I’ve still got it upstairs. It’s a lovely book to dip into and just, er, read all these bits and pieces now and again.

As Ken puts it, ‘We never were tied up to one set of things’.

You can find Ken’s full interview here.

 

[i] Although Percy F Westerman wrote over 150 books, none has the title The Great Aeroplane Mystery. He wrote The Secret Battleplane (1916) and Airship Golden Hind (1920). His son, John F C Westerman, also wrote adventure stories for boys, including A Mystery of the Air (1931). Another adventure writer, Captain Brereton, wrote The Great Aeroplane (1911) and The Great Airship (1914), John Westerman’s book seems the closest in title and date, but there is no way of knowing for certain which book Ken borrowed. The Westermans are discussed here.

 

 

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  9. ‘The most important tool of industry’ (J P Lamb, Yorkshire Post – Monday 26 September 1932) 1 Reply