Dorothy Norbury

Dorothy Norbury

Dorothy was born 11 January 1934.

Dorothy is being interviewed by Sue Roe.

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?

Doeothy Norbury:  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 newsagent’s 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:  Mm, 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 newsagent’s.  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 [when she was 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 newsagent’s, 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 newsagen’ts 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: Mm, 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?  …, 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.

 

Recent Posts

‘Books. This will be good.’

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

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

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

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

Edith Sitwell, by Rex Whistler (1929)

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

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

Walkley Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upperthorpe Branch Library

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

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

You can read the letter in full here.

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

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

  1. The Magic Story Book (1949 and 1950) 2 Replies
  2. Peter B’s Reading Journey Leave a reply
  3. Barbara Green’s Reading Journey Leave a reply
  4. Librarians’ Voices: When the library came calling… Leave a reply
  5. The Toolhouse Club: a gift for Christmas Leave a reply
  6. Remembering the Sheffield Blitz Leave a reply
  7. The Reading Journey of Joan C Leave a reply
  8. The Lord Mayor visits In Praise of Libraries Leave a reply
  9. Special View In Praise of Libraries 1 Reply