Dorothy Norbury

Dorothy Norbury

Dorothy was born 11 January 1934.

Dorothy is being interviewed by Sue Roe.

This is an interview conducted by Susan Roe [R-O-E].  It is the 22nd of September, 19 … 2011. I’m interviewing Dorothy Norbury [N-O-R-B-U-R-Y].  She was born in?

DN:  I was born in the village of Dinnington.

SR:  In Dinnington. On?

DN:  On the 11tthof January, 1934.

SR:  And you’ve been living … You lived in which area of Sheffield between 1945 and 1965?.

SR:  ‘45 and’ 65.

DN:  The years I lived in Dinnington, yeah.

dorothy-norbury-

SR:  In Dinnington, okay.  Now, I’ll just read you through these things.  Did anyone read to you when you were young?  How did they read to you, when, who was it?

DN:  That’s amazing that you should ask that because my parents were always very busy and they never did read to me.  But, I was a very poor reader.  I had a girlfriend that lived next door and we were born four days between each other.  We grew up like sisters and we used to have sleepovers, and one of my greatest joys was to lay in bed with her while she read to me.

SR:  Okay, can I just stop you there just to check that it’s … okay.

DN:  Is that newspaper sounding on there when you turn it over, is it rattling?

[Pause]

SR:  Can I start it again just to be sure?

DN:  Yes.

SR:  This is an interview conducted by Susan Roe [R-O-E] on the 22nd of September, 2011.  I’m interviewing Dorothy Norbury [N-O-R-B-U-R-Y], born in Dinnington on…

DN:  The 11th of January, 1934.

SR:  And lived in Dinnington between 1945 and 1965.  And I’ll just ask you that one again.  Did anyone read to you when you were young?

DN:  Yes, but it wasn’t my parents.  They were always too busy because they had  a newsagents shop. And, I used to have sleepovers with my friend next door.  We were born four days between each other.  And when we had sleepovers, my greatest joy was for her to read to me.

SR:  And what kind of books did she read?

DN:  Um, Enid Blyton mostly, yeah.

SR:  Noddy, that sort?

DN:  No, I didn’t come across Noddy until I had my own children.

SR:  Okay. What were the first books you read that made you feel that you were now reading grown up books, adult books?

DN: I never read books actually.  Being in a newsagent’s, it was always comics.  The comic that I read that made me feel grown up was the Girls Crystal.

SR:  I remember that one, yeah. Any books that you got, where did you get them from? From family, the library or friends?

DN: The books that I got were from family.  My favourite book which is going to be … is Christmas morning, I used to wake up and I used to have a Rupert book in my sack and it was the first thing I went for and I wasn’t bothered about anything else.  I used to take a torch upstairs with me so I could read it in bed.  And I used to read Rupert.

SR: Can you talk of any of the books you read as a young adult that made a particular impression…

DN: I didn’t do a lot of reading, actually, other than, as I say, I was in a newsagents.  I used to read the Woman, Woman’s Own, all the comics. That was my reading.  I didn’t read books until…Oh, when would that be?  Probably when I went to college in 40. That’s when I started reading books.

SR: Yeah, and what did you do at college?

DN: It was, I was just 40 when I went to be, when I went to qualify as an NNEB.  I had been working in school for ten years but I hadn’t got any qualifications.  So I went back to college to get the qualifications.

SR: Is that a nursery nurse?

DN: Yeah, a nursery nurse, yeah.

SR: You know the things like the Woman’s Own…

DN: I should correct myself there.  I did read books when I went to Maltby Grammar School.

SR: Maltby Grammar.

DN:  And we had to, obviously we had to read books for exams and things like that, but I never ever finished them.  I found out in later years that I’m dyslexic. I didn’t know at the time, I mean it was a thing that was unheard of.  But going back to work at school with the children and seeing the people coming in and testing children, and I think, “Oh, that’s me.  I do that and I do that.”  And it made me realise that I was dyslexic, just slightly. Yeah.

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

DN:  What I read now. I’ve read every Catherine Cookson book that there were.  I read, I like to read books that make you realise how lucky you are to be living at this time in life and not at the turn of the century when there was so much hardship.

SR:  Now, did you get any of these books from … Did you buy them or did you go to the library?

DN:  I started going to Dinnington library with that girlfriend of mine, Ena, when I was in my very early teens.  But the books, I never read them because I found it so difficult to keep reading them. And when I came to live in Sheffield and I used to take the children to the library, my children to the library, and I took out … And the books I used to get then were gardening books or cookery books, or anything that was practical. I was not interested in novels then.

SR:  Did you go to … When you went to college, did you get any out of the library then?

DN:  Yes I did, at college.  Obviously we had to read books because they wanted our opinion.  A lot of the books were to do with children and they wanted our opinion on what you got from the books, the stories.

SR:  Did anyone encourage you to read?

DN:  No.

SR:  Not at home, no?

DN:  There again, my friend across the road, when she started taking her son to the library, she asked me if I’d like to go with her. And we both went together with the children.  And she was the one that encouraged me.  What would I be then, I must have been in my early 30s then, when I started reading.

SR:  And that’s you started reading Catherine Cookson.  (DN:  Yeah)  Did anyone make you feel that reading was a waste of time?

DN:  Yes, I think so.  My mom was a very practical person, she were always busy doing something.  ‘Cause, as I said, they had a newsagents, and she … they had quite a few different things going at the time. So when my dad wasn’t there, my mom looked  after the shop.  And so, then before the War, it used to stay open until nine o’clock at night. So, she was always, they were always busy doing something. Obviously, when the War came along, I was only very young.  I can vaguely remember it, and they started closing at six o’clock then.

SR: Did the newsagents stock any books?

DN: No, not books, just comics.

SR:  Where and when did you find time to read?

DN: What, now or as a child?

SR:  Both.

DN:  Well, when I was, as I said, when I was a child, the only time I read really was when I was with my friend Ena.  We would read together.  Now, I read when I go to bed. Probably for an hour every night when I go to bed.

SR:  Did anyone ever make you feel embarrassed about reading, like that it was like a guilty pleasure.

DN:  Mm, not a guilty pleasure because I found it difficult to read.  When I was in the junior school, the teacher used to pick out people to stand up and read from a book. And I used to stand and die if you picked me. Absolutely, because I was just … Apart from not being able to read very well, I just lost it, you know, my nerves.  There’s something else I’ll tell you … When I … This is … Somebody should have picked up on this.  When I went from the infant school to the junior school, they sent me up with a book, because I couldn’t read, about Roger the dog.  That’s how bad my reading was.

SR:  And nobody picked it up.

DN:  Nobody picked up on it, no.

SR:  Did you ever read anything because you thought it would improve you, you know, that it was something that you ought to read?

DN:  I don’t know, I like reading about politics in the newspapers but other than that I don’t think so.  As I say, my passion was the garden and cooking, and things like so I bought books like that to improve on.

SR:  Were there any books that you read when you were younger that you wouldn’t read now?  You wouldn’t dream of reading again?

DN:  No, because I didn’t read all that much.

SR:  No, okay.  I don’t know, let me have a look.  Do you read any historical novels, did you, do you read?

DN:  Yes, well you see, Catherine Cookson and all of those, the ones associated with her, are all historical ones, yeah.

SR:  I’m just looking at my list. Any crime, crime fiction?

DN:  Mm, no, I don’t particularly, I like watching crime on the television, but I don’t like reading it, no.

SR:  Any classics, Jane Austen or anything like that?

DN:  No, but then again, you see, I like watching them on the television.  I watch them all on the television.  I did read, when I was at grammar school, I read the Count of Monte Cristo.  Absolutely fascinated me, that did.  I really loved that book.  And that was one of the books that I managed to get through to the end!

SR:  It’s got the story.

[Both laugh]

DN:  It’s got the story, yeah.

SR:  Cause these others like Catherine Cookson:  Pearl Buck, Nevil Shute, I don’t know if you’ve read any of these.

DN:  No.

SR:  Ethel Dell.

DN:  No.

SR:  Margaret Mitchell, she wrote Gone with the Wind.

DN:  No.

SR:  I mean some of these are …

DN:  You see, all those classics, I love the stories, but I haven’t got the patience to read them, even now.  I have to read every word.  I can’t skip read like other people do, you know.  I have to go through it all.  It takes me a while to go through a book.

SR:  Yes, yes.  Do you think that there are any ways that your reading has changed your life at all?

DN:  Obviously, the books … the Catherine Cookson books and there are some other writers that write in the same vein. Yeah, it’s made me appreciate what I’ve got because I’m reading about some of the … Like, I didn’t realise that children used to run about without shoes and socks on.  And they used to go gleaning in the coal, in the slag heaps and things like that. I didn’t realise anything like that until I actually read about it in novels.  And I was just amazed, yeah.

SR:  And that’s had an effect on you?

DN:  Oh yeah, definitely.  It makes you appreciate life.  Yeah.

SR:  Yes. Just a moment.  Did you know of any lending libraries that were in newsagents, or in Sheffield at all?

DN:  I had … mom and dad had friends who we called Auntie and Uncle, and they had a newsagents in Rotherham, and they used to, …

SR:  Lend out?

DN:  I don’t know if they loaned them or sold them, or what, because I was only a very young child.

SR:  Yeah, ’cause of course there was second-hand bookshops as well, like in Castlemarket, or markets in town.

DN:  I never came into Sheffield, it was an hour’s journey on the bus.

SR: Yes

DN: Yeah.

SR:  How did your family come to be in Dinnington?

DN:  How did they come to be in Dinnington? Now then.  My mother’s father went to Dinnington when the pit opened, to work in the pit, and the brothers as well.  And they came to live in Dinnington in that way.  Now my father, his parents lived at Eckington and his father used to walk from Eckington to Dinnington to work down the mines.  And that’s … And they met, of course, eventually they moved into the village and that’s … I think, I think mum met my dad because they had the newsagent’s shop and he used to go around collecting paper money and he used to call at their house.  And that’s how they met, yeah.

SR:  And you lived in Dinnington since childhood until you got married.

DN:  Yeah, until … I lived in the same house until I got married.  And then we lived there until … Malcolm joined the police force and we had to move to Sheffield.  I wouldn’t have come voluntarily, but we had to move.

SR:  Did you like living in Dinnington?

DN: I loved Dinnington, yes.

SR: When World War II came, you said you were quite small.  How did it affect your family?

DN: Um, the things I remember about the war, was the very first time that they bombed Sheffield, I didn’t know this at the time, my dad told me later.  My dad picked me up and carried me around to me aunt’s house because she had a cellar, and we went down the cellar.  And as he was carrying me around, I could see all these beautiful lights in the sky.  And I said to him, “Dad, dad, stop.  I want to look at those pretty lights.”  And he said, “Another time.”  [Laughs]  And then another thing I remember about it was, in the winter time, when it was dark, my dad … he had just one bulb that hung over the counter, and he had this black shade around it so when the door opened, no light went outside.  Those are the two things that stick in my mind about it.

SR:  Was your dad in the war?

DN:  No, he’d got a bad heart.  He went to … They sent for him and they turned him down because he had a bad heart.  That’s how he found out he’d got one, actually.

SR: And your mum, was she drafted into anything or did she … ?

DN:  No, because she … they’d got the business, so you see …

SR: And young children.

DN:  Yeah, we were young children.  I think I was about five, four or five, something like that.

SR:  Which school did you go to?

DN:  I went to the Dinnington Infant and Junior and then I went to Maltby Grammar School.

SR:  Did you pass the eleven plus?

DN:  Well, I sat … when I sat for it, it was at ten.  And I sat for it at ten and failed, so I sat for the paid for and I failed that.  Fortunately for me, they made it eleven plus that year, and so I sat it at eleven plus and I managed to get through.

SR:  And how long were you at Maltby Grammar?

DN:  I was at Maltby Grammar School until the fifth form. I sat my, I sat my trials for the school certificate and I got through that. I failed in French,  that was the only thing I failed in.  You were only allowed to fail in one subject then.  We took nine subjects and I failed in that one, so I got through me trials, but when it came to going for the finals, my mum had to go in hospital.  She had a hysterectomy, and I’d got a sister who was only four.  She had her after the war.  She was only four, so I had to leave school to look after the shop and my sister.  So I never did take my finals.

SR:  No. And you say you, we talked about further education, you went to be a nursery nurse.

DN:  Yes, I applied for a job at Ballifield … Not Ballifield, StradbrokeSchool, at Stradbroke School as the unqualified … well, as the CCA, Child Care Assistant, and I got that job and I was there for ten years.  And they started to come down … there would only, they would only employ people with qualifications, not that anybody said anything to me, but I decided to go back to college and get my qualifications.

SR: And did you, did you work before that?

DN: Only for my parents.

SR: Yeah.

DN: I was in the shop.

SR: Yes.  Did you work for them after you got married?

DN: Yes, and even when I got children.  If the newspapers were late, my dad used to come fetch me to help him.  I was only … wait a minute … I was only thirteen the first time my father got me up to help him pack newspapers.  When I was seventeen, my mum and dad had never had a holiday on their own together, so when I was seventeen and they asked me if I could look after the shop, and I did do.  I got up at five o’clock in the morning, packed the papers, looked after the shop until six o’clock at night.  Yeah.

SR:  Long day.

DN:  It was a long day.  I had some good help though, I was courting him at the time. [Both laugh]

SR:  And what, if you don’t mind me asking, what date was it that you got married?

DN:  What date?  Uh, 16th of October, 1954.  I was twenty, yeah, that’s right, 1954.

SR:  And what is … is Norbury your married name?

DN:  Norbury is my married name, yeah.  My name was Bagshaw.

SR:  Bagshaw, was that a local family in Dinnington or Eckington?

DN:  Well, I suppose so.  My father was one of seven or eight and my mother was one of five, I think. So, yeah.

SR:  And you’ve got some children?

DN:  I’ve got three children, yeah.  They all live abroad, unfortunately.

SR:  Oh dear. A long way away?

DN:  Yes, two in Canada and one in America.  Vancouver, the two in Canada live in Vancouver and the daughter in America lives in Houston.

SR:  I think that’s about it.  Let’s see if I can stop it.

 

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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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