Dorothy H

Dorothy H

Dorothy was born on the 26th January 1929 and grew up in Malin Bridge, Sheffield.

Dorothy is being interviewed by Sue Roe.

SR: Did anybody read to you when you were young, when you were a child?

DH: Well, my mother didn’t because she hadn’t got time. There were eight of us.

SR: My goodness!

DH: There were three older brothers, one younger brother who unfortunately has died since and four sisters.

SR: Four sisters! So you were quite a big family. I’m from a big family too.

DH: They went in for it in those days, didn’t they? Nowadays if you’ve got four they say you’ve a big family.

SR: So did any of your brothers or sisters read to you?

DH: No, but we read at school. And I used to go to the Children’s Library at Hillsborough Park. I joined there at the Children’s Library.

SR: What age do you think you were when you started going to the library?

DH: Maybe ten.

SR: And did you read any books from school before you were ten?

DH: We read books in class but I can’t remember exactly what they were.

SR: And did anyone buy you books for Christmas when you were a kid?

DH: No, not when we were children.

SR: And did you read comics?

DH: Oh yes.

SR: And what sort of comics did you read?

DH: Beano and Dandy.

SR: And can you remember any girls’ comics? Girls Crystal?

DH: I can’t remember any girls’ comics at that time. They didn’t come out till a bit later.

SR: And did you get any annuals? Like Beano and Dandy?

DH: No, you mean for Christmas presents? No.

SR: So you started going to the library when you were ten, did you go on your own or did somebody take you?

DH: Oh no, I used to go on my own.

SR: And did you have to cross any roads?

DH: Oh yes, I used to have to cross Middlewood Rd and If I went Wadsley way I went down Wynyard Rd and that was bang opposite where the entrance down  to where the Children’s Library was. Otherwise I came in at the main entrance of the park which was a bit further down Middlewood Rd.

SR: What sort of books did you used to get out of the library when you were ten?

DH: I used to read some books called the Abbey Girls.

SR: What were they about?

DH: And it was about these girls who were at this private school, the Abbey School and they got up to all sorts of adventures.

SR: Do you remember any others that you read, that you got out of the library?

DH: Not exactly. I suppose I had probably have more than them.

SR: Did you read Anne of Green Gables, any like that?

DH: Yes.  I think probably I did.

SR: Any Enid Blyton?

DH: Yes.

SR: Famous Five or any like that?

DH: Yes, Famous Five I think.

SR: And you used to go to the library regularly?

DH: Probably once a week, or once a fortnight. Perhaps. I can’t remember. You were allowed to keep a book for a fortnight. You had to take it back then, but you could renew it for another fortnight.

SR: And did any of your brothers and sisters read as well?

DH: Well my younger sister at that time, she probably read and I don’t know about the boys, because they were growing up a bit and they were called up during the war.

SR: Of course.

DH: My eldest brother … they all went in the navy and my eldest brother became a petty officer and the second brother was on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. He was the only one out of the three that was actually involved in the war. And the other one who was two years older than me he went in the navy as well but he was only … he finished up in officers’ mess as an orderly.

SR: Where did you read your books, upstairs, in bed or in the front room?

DH: Usually downstairs, in the front room. If we were banished into the front room as my dad wanted to listen to classical programme on the radio we were banished into the front room.

SR: What were the first books you read that made you think you were reading grown up,  reading proper adult books rather than children’s books?

DH: I suppose perhaps the Abbey girls because that went through from when they were teenagers right through to when they got married.

SR:  I see, like a saga?

DH: Yes.

SR: Do you remember any other grown up books?

DH: Not that I remember from school.

SR: What school were you at?

DH: I went to Malin Bridge at first, you can see it from the back bedroom and then up to Wisewood, just ordinary secondary school because I wasn’t clever enough to pass the scholarship exam as it was called in those days.

SR: And can you remember, when you went up to Wisewood, do you remember any books that you read while you were there, in school or from the library?

DH: I don’t remember them having a school library. I can’t remember to be quite honest. They might have done. But we had to read in class. We read Shakespeare.

SR: Did you read parts?

DH: Yes, in Midsummer Night’s Dream, I had a dual part in that. I was … the one who was changed into a donkey.

SR: Bottom.

DH: Bottom that was it, so I had two parts in that. Then the Merchant of Venice, I had the main part in that, Shylock. [laughs]

SR: Did you remember any other books in school in your English classes or anything?

DH:  We read a bit of poetry as well. I can’t remember what they were. I mean they would probably be normal things that you would read at school.

SR: Did you have to learn them off by heart?

DH: Well, we did, poetry. Yes, we did.

SR: Did you have to memorise the poems?

DH: Yes we had to memorise those.

SR: And you still got to the library when you were at Wisewood School?

DH: Yes but I can’t remember any particularly.

SR: What kind of books do you like to read now?

DH: Now, I read romantic novels mostly now. I have read Baroness Orczy, Scarlet Pimpernel. In fact I have ticked ‘em off in here.

[Dorothy gets out the list of prompt titles that Sue has given her previously.]

SR: Yes. You’ve read some of these, what are they, Naomi Jacobs.

DH: Nevil Shute?

SR: Naomi Jacobs.

DH: Yes, but I can’t remember what it was.

SR: Somerset Maugham. Do you remember any of his?

DH: Quartet. And that’s been on the telly as well.

SR: J B Priestley.

DH: Yes, I did remember that. I think it’s him because I went up to North Yorkshire because my sister lived at Scarborough. [pause] I went to stay with my sister, she lives at York and we went up into the Dales and we stayed at Malham and we went all round there and we went to I think where J B Priestley is buried. We went to his grave.

SR: Oh yes?

DH: In a little church

SR: And Nevil Shute do you remember reading him?

DH: He was Australian wasn’t he?

SR: Yes.

DH: I only remember reading one but I can’t remember what it was called …

SR: A Town Like Alice?

DH: No, it wasn’t that.

SR: On the Beach, that was another one. I can’t remember many of his actually. But did you not take to him?

DH: Not really. I think it was a bit beyond me, really.

SR: Howard Spring? Did you read him?

DH: The name seems familiar but I can’t remember any titles.

SR: That’s always the problem isn’t it? The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist.

DH: Now, I read that, fairly recently that. I got it out of a shop where we had the caravan and as far as I know that’s where it is. I left it there.

SR: And what did you think to it?

DH: I don’t know really because he was quite a gentleman supposed to be, wasn’t he, and he was going among these ..

SR: … working class …

DH: … tramps and that.

SR: H G Wells.

DH: I don’t know whether I’ve read any of his books but I have seen it on television, one or two.

SR: And you’ve ticked Georgette Heyer?

DH: Yes, I read some of her.

SR: Baroness Orczy.

DH: Yes, The Scarlet Pimpernel, can’t remember any other titles.

SR: Do you like historical novels? Jean Plaidy?

DH: Yes I’ve read some of hers but I can’t remember what they were.

SR: Do you like historical novels?

DH: Yes, I do actually.

SR: Why do you like them do you think?

DH: Well usually there is a bit of real history in them, not fiction and I do remember a bit of history from …

SR: So you like a bit of fact and fiction.

DH: Yeah.

SR: J Buchan, a sort of adventure story.

DH: John Buchan, he was the one … Thirty Nine Steps, wasn’t he?

SR: Richard Hannay.

DH: I’ve seen the film twice, both versions, the first one and then the second one and I think I’ve actually read it as well.

SR: Because the book is quite different from the film.

DH: Yes. Well, they have to cut a lot of the description out, don’t they?

SR: Do you like that sort of thing, an adventure story?

DH: Yes in a way,

SR: Why? Is that you like the excitement, the chase?

DH: Yes.  [sounds uncertain].

SR: Do you remember reading The Riddle of the Sands?

DH: Now, I think I remember reading that, that title rings a bell. A spy thing isn’t it?

SR: Before the First World War. He didn’t write much else I don’t think. Rider Haggard? You know King Solomon’s Mines?

DH: King Solomon’s Mines, I’ve read that and seen the films on television and as a matter of fact when we went on holiday when my husband had been in hospital, we went to Hastings, to St Leonard’s and where we were staying, it went down a hill and it went underneath Rider Haggard’s house ‘cos it goes across the road.

SR: Did you read any of the others? She?

DH: I think I’ve read She and I’ve seen it on television.

SR: Do you like that sort of thing?

DH: Yes, because they’re a change from a romantic novel.

SR: Is that because of where they’re set, in Africa?

DH: No, I don’t think so, it’s not the setting.

SR: So it’s not the setting it’s the story, it’s a bit more exciting. What about Jack London?

DH: I’ve read one of his, I know, but I can’t remember the title.

SR: White Fang, that was one of his.

DH: That was it.

SR: Because it’s set in Canada I think. And Dennis Wheatley.

DH: Now he was a sort of a spy thing during the war, against the Nazis, because they capture his girlfriend. They keep her to get him because they know he will try and get her out and he does.

SR: So you like that sort of adventure, spy?

DH: Yeah, in a way.

SR: ‘Cos he also wrote, how can I put it, supernatural thing, devil worship and things like. Do you remember that?

DH: I don’t really.

SR: Sort of satanic, because he wrote a variety. Now you ticked Leslie Charteris, the Saint novels.

DH: I read a couple of those novels and watched the television films.

SR: And they are thrillers. Do you like things that keep you on the edge of your seat? And Graham Greene, do you like Graham Greene?

DH: I don’t know whether I’ve actually read anything of Graham Greene but I think I’ve seen something of his on television.

SR: And Anthony Hope, the Prisoner of Zenda?

DH: Yes well, I don’t think whether I actually read that.

SR: And Nicholas Monsarrat.  Didn’t he write The Cruel Sea?

DH: Yeah, I’ve read that and seen it on television.

SR: Is that your sort of book?

DH: Well, I suppose in a way with the boys being in the navy. But I don’t know if they read them.

SR: And Edgar Wallace?

DH: I’ve only read one of his that I can remember but I can’t remember what it was called. I think it was a sort of crime thing set in America.

SR: Yes, and we’ve had Denis Wheatley.

DH: Dennis Wheatley.

SR: You’ve mentioned him. Do you like those American crime stories, set in America?

DH: Well, some of them, I can’t remember any particular authors.

SR: Raymond Chandler.

DH: I’ve read some of his I think.

SR: Farewell my Lovely.

DH: I’ve seen the film of that. He was in it, wasn’t’ he. Humphrey Bogart?

SR: Have you read any of his, Raymond Chandler?

DH: Not that I know of.

SR: And Dashiell Hammett? He’s the one, I think, who wrote The Maltese falcon.

DH: Well, I’ve seen that but I haven’t read it. Agatha Christie I’ve read.

SR: Do you like British crime fiction, like Agatha Christie?

DH: Er, yes, I mean I’ve seen a lot of that on television and I think that Hercule Poirot with …

SR: John Suchet.

DR: No, not John, the other one, David. Suchet. Did you know that they used to live at the Railway Hotel in Sheffield?

SR: No, I didn’t.

DH: Their parents kept it. [Ed. Suchet’s father was an obstetrician.]

SR: The one on the Wicker?

DH: No, at the station, the old …

SR: Down on the Wicker.

DH: No, the one at station approach.

SR: The Railway?

DH: That’s the one.

SR: There’s a pub called The Railway.  So did you like British crime fiction?

DH: I liked Agatha Christie.

SR: Arthur Conan Doyle

DH: That was Sherlock Holmes. In fact, I’ve got a book upstairs that all different mysteries like.

SR: Do you like Conan Doyle?

DH: Yes, I quite like him.

SR: Did you like him as a character?

DH: Yes, I did. The best one of his about Sherlock Holmes was someone I think he was called, his name was Brett, Jeremy Brett, he was a manic depressive.

SR: Yes, he committed suicide. And you ticked Ngaio Marsh.

DH: Yes, I have read one of his, it’s a woman isn’t it?

SR: And Dorothy L Sayers.

DH: And Dorothy L Sayers.

SR: Lord Peter Wimsey set in the ‘20s or ‘30s sort of thing. Do you like that sort of thing?

DH: Yes, I like some that are set a bit previous to this …

SR: … period. [looking at the list] These are comedy ones, like Saki.

DH: Yes, I’ve got one of Saki’s upstairs now.

SR: Why did you like those?

DH: Well, they’re all different stories aren’t they? And they’re not actually set in this particular period are they? They sort of feel they’re set in the ‘20s.

SR: Yes, probably when they were written.

DH: I wasn’t old enough to read them then because I wasn’t born until 1929. [both laugh]

SR:  Did you read P G Wodehouse, Jeeves and Wooster?

DH: Yes, I liked Wodehouse. I liked the Blandings, the pig.

SR: The Empress of Blandings.

DH: Yes, it was on television but [indignant] they didn’t do enough of it.

SR: No.  Did you read the books?

DH: Yes, I read the books and I thought it was ever so funny about this pig, called the Empress of Blandings.

SR: Yes, ‘cos that is set in an earlier period isn’t it?

DH: Yes, about ‘20s or ‘30s isn’t it? The television thing that was on not long ago, I couldn’t really put it to the actual stories that I had read.

SR: It didn’t fit.

DH: No, I don’t think it was as good enough. I think they sort of set it a bit more modern than it actually was.

SR: It would have been better sticking to the original.

DH: And you never heard about the pig!

SR: Really?

DH: No. It was not in.

SR: So, these are romance ones. Ethel M Dell. Did you read a lot of hers?

DH: Um, I can’t remember which ones she wrote actually.

SR: But you did read some of hers?

DH: Mm.

SR: Did you get them from a library or …?

DH: No, I bought them or got ‘em from the bookshop on the road.

SR: Which bookshop was that?

DH: On South Rd.

SR: On South Rd

DH: There’s a bookshop.

SR: And there’s E M Hull, The Sheik.

DH: Yes, I’ve read that.

SR: Is that an old one?

DH: Yes. Well, I think it is twentieth century but it’s supposed to see a real sheik you see, so it’s set in the desert.

SR: Oh, is that interesting?

DH: I can’t remember actually.

SR: Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell?

DH: Now that, I’ve got upstairs. That was bought for me as a twenty first birthday present.

SR: Aah! Who bought you that?

DH: The sister of the boy I was going out with at the time.

SR: That was very kind of her’

DH: Yes.

SR: Did you read it, then?

DH: Oh yes, I read it and of course when you see the film there is a lot cut out for the action, isn’t there?

SR: Did you enjoy the film?

DH: Yes, I did enjoy the film.

SR: Did you enjoy it when you read it? Did you enjoy the book?

DH: Yes, but until you sort of saw the adaptation into the film you don t’ get the same feeling about it when you’ve read the book.

SR: Like the burning of Atlanta. That’s very shocking, isn’t it?

DH: Yeah.

SR: And were you a fan of Clark Gable?

DH: Oh yes. I wasn’t so bothered about …

SR: Vivien Leigh, who played Scarlet and Ashleigh.

DH: But she was sort of … I tell you who she reminds me of, Elizabeth Taylor. I think she would have been good in that part as well. You know the one where she steals Clark Gable, the husband of her sister or somebody.

SR: Yes, you can imagine that.

DH: But I think everybody remembers the end of that when Clark Gable says to her, ‘I don’t care a damn’. [laughs]

SR: And she says  … ‘Tomorrow is another day’.

DH: Yes.

SR: And Mills and Boon?

DH: Oh yes, I had quite a lot of their books from the bookshop on the road.

SR: Did you get them when you were younger, in the ‘40s , ‘50s and ‘60s?

DH: I don’t know, I probably didn’t realise who wrote them, who printed them. We used to read the synopsis of the story and we didn’t really take much notice whether it was a Mills or Boon or not. Though I have read a lot of theirs.

SR: And you’ve read Lady Chatterley’s Lover. These are the ones that were a bit risqué, at the time I suppose.

DH: I’ve read both versions of that. Because it was banned wasn’t’ it? But there was one printed that …

SR: … had bits cut out.

DH: Yes, a lot cut out and then somebody lent me the actual one and it were entirely different, wasn’t it?

SR: What did you think to it? Were you shocked by it?

DH: Well, in a way, you can sort of imagine him being sort of rough and ready and she is so elegant, supposed to be, isn’t she, the lady?

SR: The lady of the house. Yeah.

DH: And of course she is frustrated because she’s not getting anything. [Both laugh]

SR: And he’s the gamekeeper, isn’t he?

DH: And her husband is the Lord of the Manor, isn’t he and he’s paralysed because of the war. First War.

SR: So did you know many of your friends who’d read it?

DH: I don’t know. Somebody lent me so whoever had lent it me, they’d read it.

SR: And did you lend it to anybody else?

DH: No, I handed it back.

SR: Did you keep quiet that you’d read it, or not.

DH: It was my husband that I got it through and it had been in their office. So he brought it home for me.

SR: Were you married at the time?

DH: Oh yes, that’s it.

SR: I was just wondering if he was your husband at the time.

DH: Oh yes, he brought it, I think, but I didn’t get the abridged version that way. I think I probably got it from a bookshop or something like that.

SR: So it was an interesting book then. Did you read this Blue Lagoon?

DH: Yes, I’ve read that twice.

SR: Was that a bit risqué?

DH: Well, it’s about two children that are marooned from a shipwreck and they are only children when they are first … and they are on the island that long that they grow up and get together.

SR: A couple, yes. And was that shocking to you?

DH: No, not really, because I mean you go through from when they were young, say about fourteen or fifteen and then as they get older they realise like, you know.

SR: And how old were you when you read that? Do you remember?

DH: No, probably in my early teens.

SR: Did you get that from the library?

DH: No, I don’t think so, I don’t think so.

SR: Perhaps somebody had lent it to you.

DH: Probably.

SR: Did many of the girls or boys at school read a lot, do you remember?

DH: We didn’t mix with the boys very much really. I mean we had mixed classes when we were up at Wisewood but we didn’t sort of have connections like that. I don’t think we discussed books.

SR: No. Did you discuss books with girls, with any of your mates?

DH: I don’t think we discussed them. We read them together in the class.

SR: Now, the classics, you’ve ticked all of these: Jane Austen.

DH: Yes, I’ve got one of hers. Not Jane Austen it’s one of the Bronte sisters, Anne Bronte. It’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

SR: Did you read any Jane Austen when you were younger?

DH: I probably did, but I can’t remember what but I’ve seen them all on television.

SR: Joseph Conrad. Do you remember him?

DH: Yes, he was a bit of an adventure writer, Lucky Jim.

SR: No, Lord Jim. Lucky Jim was Kingsley Amis.

DH: Lord Jim.

SR: Because I think it’s about distant parts and Heart of Darkness, Nostromo.

DH: I think … Is he the one who wrote about the school boys who …

SR: I think that’s Lord of the Flies.

DH: Lord of the Flies.

SR: Did you read that?

DH: No, I don’t think I read that. I’ve seen it on the television.

SR: The film is quite scary. Dickens? Did you read any Charles Dickens?

DH: Probably. I think we probably read Oliver Twist and one or two of the ones after that, at school probably.

SR: Do you remember what you thought of it?

DH: Well, I enjoyed reading them because they were in Victorian times, weren’t they?

SR: Yes, they were.

DH: You sort of wonder whether they actually lived like that.

SR: How realistic they were.

DH: Yes, because I sort of felt sorry for Oliver Twist, the way he was treated.

SR: It turns out nice in the end but it’s still very horrible, isn’t it?

DH: I think that’s been on telly twice in different productions. I think the best one was where Fagin was played by … I thought he was really realistic, the first on.

SR: Was that Alec Guiness, in the black and white film? And then there was the musical, and that was played by Ron Moody in the musical.

DH: I thought he was good as Fagin.

SR:  Oliver Reid as Bill Sykes. He was quite scary.

DH: He was, wasn’t he? I’ll tell you a little tale about that. You know that dog he had?

SR: Bull’s Eye?

DH: Bull’s Eye, we were in Whitby and I saw this lady with this dog, and this dog was exactly like Bull’s Eye and I said to her, ‘Is he called Bull’s Eye?’ and she was absolutely enraged because I .. [both laugh]

SR: Because it’s an old English – it’s got no ears has it?

DH: It looks more like a pink pig? [indistinct]

SR: I don’t know what they call that particular breed but they’re a bit scary looking. So you read some Dickens but not a lot?

DH: Mmm.

[There follows a discussion in which Dorothy suggests that she hasn’t come across E M Forster but thinks she has read Room With a View.]

SR: Do you like reading about different countries, set in different countries?

DH: Yes, I’ve read a few romantic novels set in Australia and of course, it usually gives you a description of the area and New South Wales, Sydney and places like that , it sounds, there was one a bit further up the coast, Brisbane and they were very descriptive.

SR: Give you a feel of a different place.

DH: Yes.

SR: Did you read any Thomas Hardy?

DH: Thomas Hardy? Yes. Did he write Far from the Madding Crowd? I saw that on television. My husband thought I were mad watching that.

SR: Oh it was good.

DH: Wasn’t’ quite his type. [laughs]

SR: Did you read the book?

DH: No.

SR: Because that’s the one with Gabriel Oak and Sergeant Troy. It’s a good story. But I remember the film really starts with the sheep going over the edge of the cliff and that’s really sad.

DH: Lemmings they call it, don’t they?

SR: James Joyce. Do you remember James Joyce?

DH: I’ve read one of his, what was it called?

SR: Ulysses? Dubliners?

DH: Ulysses.

SR: Did you like that?

DH: No, not particularly.

SR: It’s written in a particular way.

DH: I didn’t quite understand the story, you know.

SR: It is a bit experimental, isn’t it? And there are some others. H E Bates? Do you remember H E Bates, Darling Buds of May?

DH: I can’t remember any of his titles.

SR: Darling Buds of May?

DH: That one, that was on the television.

SR: Was it David Jason?

DH: And that Catherine Zeta Jones.

SR: Yes Catherine Zeta Jones. Did you read that story?

DH: No, I didn’t read it, I only saw it on the television.

SR: And Pearl Buck?

DH: Pearl Buck? I can’t remember what she wrote.

SR: I think she wrote The Good Earth.

DH: Her name seems familiar.

SR: I think they were set in the Far East.

DH: The Far East.

SR: I think she was brought up there. Catherine Cookson?

DH: Oh, I’ve read a lot of hers. In fact I’ve actually been up where she lived, Cookson country.

SR: You must like them. Why do you like them?

DH: Well, it’s only that went on a holiday It was the first holiday I went on after my husband died. Previously I’d  been to my sister on south coast and stayed with them and then the first time I went on my own I went on a coach tour to the Isle of Wight and then I came back and went up to Cumberland which is where she lived, Cumberland. And we stayed in a university, Durham University during the holidays and we had a coach tour all round the area. And we went past Balmoral. On one of the day trip and we went to another town …

SR: Barnard Castle?

DH: We went through there. We went to a place which had been a pit and we got out of the coach and we went to one or two of these little places.

SR: Beamish!

DH: That was it.

SR: A museum with like reconstructed shops.

DH: We didn’t get as far as the shops because it was absolutely teemed down with rain and we were all sat in this little cottage, a coach load of us in this little cottage till it eased off a bit and then we got back on to the coach because we were behind time by that time and we went to Newcastle, and we went to somewhere else, a house, Bowes Museum.

SR: Oh, the Queen Mother?

DH: No, no, no connection.

SR: Not the Bowes-Lyons?

DH: No just called Bowes Museum. I think it was some French people as a matter of act but it was a lovely house and we went round it and when we came downstairs there was a golden swan at the bottom of the staircase and at four o’clock every day it made tea – mechanical like and we all stood around on the staircase watching it. [both laugh] There was also there, they had a vintage car rally. I had a photograph stood at the side of one of them and I took photographs of the garden at the Bowes Museum.

SR: Now, you said that you read a lot of Catherine Cookson. What is it that you like about Catherine Cookson?

DH: I think it’s the characters because they were working people and some of them lived in poverty, you know, and they were made to work in the mills and things like that.

SR: So you could identify? They were people like you and me sort of thing?

DH: Yes. We weren’t far off poverty. I mean when I started work my first wages were ten shillings a week. And my mum gave me two shillings a week spending money.

SR:  And the rest was board.

DH: No, I didn’t pay board.

SR: Did you not?

DH: Not till I were eighteen and that only happened because me and my sister were arguing about who got the most money spent on ‘em and clothes, so me mother said, ‘Right, when you get to eighteen you have to pay your board so I had to pay my board when I was eighteen. Instead of 21.

SR: Now, this is just a list. You may have remembered other books that are not on the list. Did you read any other books? Did you read any saga novels.

DH: Saga?

SR: You know, like Jalna, when you read lots of different books about one family. A bit like P G W and things

DH: Well, Catherine Cooksons are a bit like that. The Mallen Streak.

SR: Did you read any of those set in Cornwal: Poldark was it?

DH: Yes it, was. I have read that one that was set after him. It was his grandson actually.

SR: Oh yes? So do you read any biographies?

DH: I have done some but I can’t remember what.

SR: Would they be entertainers, or politicians? Actors or that sort of thing.

DH: I can’t remember really. If I saw the book in the shop, I’d read the synopsis and if the synopsis attracted me I’d buy it.

SR: Can you think of any of those books that you read when you were young that made an impression on you? Can you think of a book? When you were a young adult that mattered to you?

DH: Not really because there were none of them that were sort of in my situation.

SR: And that was what you needed, someone who was in your situation?

DH: Yes.

SR: And you like, you say, what particular books do you like? Or has that changed over the years?

DH: Well, I read everything,   if there is a synopsis and it catches me interest then I will.

SR: Because you talk about historical novels, romance.

DH: I have read biographies.

SR: So you have read a variety really. Do you think it is a good story really?

DH: Well usually they are, biographies, aren’t they, especially if they go back two or three generations.

SR: Yes. When you are reading where did you get most of your books, was it from a library?

DH: After I’d left school I used to get them from a shop in Hillsborough. I don’t think it was a Red Circle, but it was something like that but I can’t remember the name of it.

SR: Did you ever go to any of the Red Circle Libraries?

DH: No, but I’d heard about it.

SR: Because there was a Boots one as well.

DH: Yes, I think I did, once or twice, but they don’t sell anything like that any more.

SR: No, but they used to have one downstairs.  [Ed: this was the bargain basement, the subscription library was upstairs.]

SR: Did you used to get any from the market?

DH: Yes, I have got some from the market.

SR: You know the old rag and tag, the open air markets?

DH: Yeah.

SR:  My dad used to get some …

DH: … the old one, down Dixon Lane

SR: Yeah, did you sometimes go there?

DH: There’s still a bookshop in the market hall

SR: Is there? Because they are closing that, aren’t they? Moving it.

DH: Yes, I don’t think people from this side of town will go down to the bottom of the Moor. Because I wouln’t.

SR: Because it’s a long way from Walkley.

[They discuss bus routes from Walkley to the Moor]

SR: You know when you went to the library, did the librarian choose your books for you?

DH: Oh no!

SR: Did they ever give you any advice as to which books to choose?

DH: Not really. We chose our own and then we took them up to the desk to have them stamped.

SR: Did you spend a lot of time in the library?

DH: Probably. It were quite a while deciding which book to have, reading a few pages and then putting it back on probably.

SR: Did you go with your friends to the library as you got older?

DH: I think I used to go on my own because my best friend she went to High Storrs [a grammar school on the west edge of Sheffield, two buses from Walkley] so she didn’t leave school at the same time as me. She went on till she was 16 but I was only 14 when I left school. In fact, my birthday’s in January and I was two weeks too young to leave at Christmas so I had to go to school at Easter, and that’s when I left. And my Dad let me have a week’s holiday first before I got a job. He’s got this job lined up for me and he let me have a week’s holiday before I started it. And my first job was in the offices in the abattoir, Wybourn.

SR: Oh yes? Cricket Inn Rd ?

DH: I’ve been there once because it’s a shopping centre now.

SR: Yes, Matalan.

DH: I don’t like their stuff.

SR: ‘Cos we used to live at the top, Wybourn. You know right at the top of White’s Lane? That’s where we lived. Did anyone encourage you to read at all?

DH: Not really.

SR: Not at home?

DH: well, my mum didn’t get time to read. I never saw her reading, maybe The Star, which I used to deliver before I left school.

SR: Did your mother work?

DH: Oh no.

SR: What with eight children, she wouldn’t have time, would she?

DH: She had to register during the war.

SR: Of course.

DH: But because she had children at school she didn’t have to.

SR: Did anyone encourage you to read at school?

DH: Well, we read in class, like I said.

SR: But anything other than that?

DH: Not really because I used to go home from Wisewood. They couldn’t afford to pay for meals for me. And so I used to dash home for me lunch and then dash back.

SR: Did anyone make you feel that reading was a waste of time?

DH: No.

SR: So they may not have encouraged you but they didn’t discourage you?  And as you got older did you find time to read

DH: Well, I used to go to night school. I went to night school as soon as …  I was fourteen when I left school and the following September I went to register at evening classes.  And that was up at Wisewood School and I wanted to take shorthand, typing and book-keeping and you couldn’t take three. You could take shorthand and typing but you couldn’t take the book-keeping. Now I liked the book-keeping so I kept on with the book-keeping and I kept on with the typing for a bit, but I was no good at learning to touch type but I did go to private classes afterwards to teach me to teach me to type and I used it in my own job because I was an office secretary and I did everything, did my own filing, quotations, invoices, statements, and I studied trial balance at night school but I never used it in my job. That was done by the accountant.

SR: So you were you too busy to read when you were working?

DH: At first, I suppose, I played a bit.

SR: Mm.

DH: Because my friend she was at High Storrs [a grammar school]  and she couldn’t leave school and her father paid for her to leave school before she was 16.

SR: Really?

DH: You had to pay for them to come out of school in those days.

SR: I didn’t know that.

DH: Yes.

SR: Didn’t she like it?

DH: She didn’t like the idea of me being able to …

SR: … earn money.

DH: I don’t think she were very keen on it. She would be about maybe 15 when he bought her out.

SR: So, as you got older, when you were at work and when you were courting, did you still read books?

DH: Oh, yes, not so much when I started courting, because I was out courting.

SR: [laughs] Yes!

DH: I didn’t used to see him every night. At first I only used to meet him once a week. We used to meet at the City Hall at the dance, that’s where we met, you see. We used to go the dance, Mondays and Thursdays but not at Saturdays because it were too packed at Saturday, but we used to go Mondays and Thursdays, and we did that till we got married, then when we got married we couldn’t afford to go dancing. [both laugh]

SR: Did you read after you got married?

DH: We did a bit. We’d go to staff dances. Their firm used to have a sports dance and they had a sports dance down at the Cutlers’ Hall about November, something like that, and they had both floors.

SR: That’s good. Did you read when you were first married?

DH: No, I didn’t have time. I used to come home from work, I worked till half past five in town and then I come home and start the dinner and that and in the winter, the first one home got the fire going, didn’t have a gas fire then. It was a coal fire and we had a gas cooker. We were in a right long from the kitchen into here. We didn’t have central heating till after he died and I was out at work though winter and when it came to the second winter I was a bit concerned that the pipes might freeze or something like that so I had central heating put in.

SR: Did anyone make you feel embarrassed about what you read, that  …

DH: I don’t think anyone bothered asking me really

SR: ‘Cos they thought it wasn’t appropriate because it wasn’t highbrow enough?

DH: No.[sounds a bit bewildered by the question]

SR: Did you ever read anything because you thought you ought to because it would improve you, if you know what I mean. Because everyone else was reading it ..

DH: No, not really I just made my own mind up.

SR: Are there any books that you read when you were young that you enjoyed but you wouldn’t read now?

DH: Well, like I said, that one about the Abbey girls. It’s out of print now. I should imagine so I don’t remember discussing that with anybody.

SR: So you didn’t really talk about what you read?

DH: Not really.

SR: What about your husband? Did he read?

DH: Well yes but not what I read.

SR: Did you discuss books?

DH: No, to be quite honest, I don’t think he did read much. He read the paper but I don’t think he read books as such.

SR: Did he go to the library?

DH: I don’t think so. There were four of them in their office and in the morning they would all go for a different morning newspaper and they used to read that over their lunch-time. And, as far as I know, that’s the only reading he ever did.

SR: And, did you still go to the library as you got older?

DH: No.

SR: So, you bought books?

DH: I bought books from the bookshop on South Rd..

SR: And do you go now? To South Rd?

DH: Yes, occasionally.

SR: But you don’t go to the Mobile Library or anything?

DH: Don’t have one round here.

SR: Really?

DH: No.

SR: You’d think they might do, with these hills.

DH: A friend of mine who was in a flat in Heavygate she had the Mobile Library come because she couldn’t get out of the house. And after she died I took the books back to the library.

SR: Did you ever go to the Central Library in town?

DH: Yes, but not to borrow books. I used to go and borrow tapes.

SR: Oh yes, and CDs and things.

DH: Yes, and took them back.

SR: And watch films and TV …

DH: Musical tapes. I could lend them a few now.

SR: Have you got a lot?

DH: Not in here. I’ve got some records in that bottom cupboard and a few EPs in that little cupboard and we could nip in when we go out and could show what I’ve got in the sitting room. I’ve got a lot

SR:  Do you like listening to music?

DH: Oh yes, I’ve always done that.

SR: What sort of music?

DH: Classical music mostly but I like swing. But I don’t like the raunchy stuff they have on Radio One.

SR:  Do you like Glen Miller and those sort of swing bands.

DH: Oh yes.

SR: And what sort of classical music do you like?

DH: All sorts. Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven, all sorts.

SR: When did you start listening to classical music?

DH: After I was married. My husband played the organ, in fact I’ve still got it in the front room and he used to play swing and he used to play the piano and when he was in the army he used to play the piano and they had a chap who played the drums and somebody else who played the clarinet and that was the camp dance-band and so he didn’t read music so he played by ear as they see. And I’ve got a little notebook in the piano, organ stool and it’s full of the names of songs that he played.

SR: Do you think that there are any ways reading changed your life at all?

DH: No, not really. I’ve always read for years now, and I used to belong to a group of, … classical record club and in fact I ended up being the secretary there. Horrible being secretary. And in fact we had to close it down because the Chairman died and there was no one who could take his position. I couldn’t. There wasn’t anything he didn’t know about classical music.

SR: And you didn’t feel you could take it over.

DH: No, I couldn’t. And the person who was the vice-chairman, he didn’t want to take it on either because he was deaf. And we called an extraordinary general meeting and we decided to close it down. Because there was only about a dozen of us left in the club. A lot of people, quite a few of them had died. We weren’t young.

SR: I am going to ask you a few biographical details if that’s OK, just to get a picture of you so that if anyone comes to analyse it they can make comparisons, male to women that sort of thing. You were born …

DH: 26th January 1929.

SR: And where were you born?

DH: Malin Bridge.

SR: And you were born at home, not in a hospital?

DH: No.

SR: Now, how did your family come to be in Malin Bridge?

DH: Well, my father was a butcher.  And he got a shop in Hillsborough and so they moved from St Stephen’s Rd which was somewhere round the Royal Infirmary, somewhere round that way, I don’t know where it is exactly and so he managed to get this house to rent and it wasn’t far for him to go to work, you see.

SR: And how did your parents’ families come to be in Sheffield?

DH: My father lived in Hadfield St which is just past the church down the road and my  mother came from Duncan St which is about two streets further on so they both came from Walkley and I knew Walkley because I had relatives who lived up on the estate then. My uncle lived up there.

SR: So you lived at Malin Bridge till you were a child.

DH: Till I came to live up here, when I was 24.

SR: And when did you get married?

DH: 1953.

SR: And how old were you then?

DH: 24.

[Sue clarifies this. Dorothy and her husband had been married 5months before they moved into her present house, which was new when they moved in.  The war affected her little. She didn’t experience bombing directly.  Her second job, also got by her father,  was at a shop at Shirecliffe, a grocer’s and butcher’s shop and Dorothy had to weigh up the rations. Describes her brother’s experience in the Pacific. Makes the comment that because they were a big family they weren’t that affected by rationing ‘because what one didn’t like, the other one did’.

Goes over her primary school experience, being segregated at 7 at Junior School. Left school at 1943.

Only in abattoir 6 months before she went to Shirecliffe, stayed there 6 months and then she got her own jobs after that: at Roberts’ on the Moor till she was 16, and other shops including a paint shop. She worked in the offices. DIdn’t like working at Newton Chambers because she was just a filing clerk. By that time she was skilled book-keeping and she was bored.. Finished up being the office secretary 1960 at a small roofing contractors . She was there 40 years. Dec 6th 1960 till 2000.  The firm expanded and she finished working from home for the last ten years helping with Donald Fox Joinery.

Her mother used to work on shirt factory on West St.

Her father’s father was a little mester, making pen-knife blades. His sons worked for him but they weren’t paid so they left.

Describes meeting her husband at a Thursday night in the middle of September at the City Hall. Describes walking back home with him.

Her husband was a clerk in the transport office of Sheffield Forge and Rolling Mills. Engaged two years.  No family. Didn’t want children. Had enough looking after her younger siblings. Her husband was one of nine so also wasn’t bothered. Fred, her husband was nine years older than her.  The reason they had a long engagement was because they were waiting for the house next door to come on the market.

Didn’t feel she had much time for reading because working full-time and running the home. Her big laundry was done by a paid help. Dorothy did her clothes by hand.

During the two years engaged joined a club, putting 5/- a week away till an item was paid for and then put down on another:  towels, dinner set etc. She and Fred paid for the wedding. Had to be careful. His sister, husband and daughter and his father.  Her younger brother was ‘in the Suez do’. The Blitz didn’t affect her because it ‘was down town’ but a couple of stray bombs dropped near her.]

DH: I’ve just finished a romantic novel actually. So I’ll have to go down the road to the bookshop.

SR: So you’re reading now, still.

DH:  Oh yes, more than ever to be quite honest because I actually have a person come in to do the cleaning for me, once a fortnight.

So, since your husband died do you think you are reading more?

SR: Oh definitely. In fact I didn’t even have central heating before he ided. But I’ve had it put in because I was afraid that in the winter the water would …

[Sue draws interview to a close.]



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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.


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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