Eva G

Eva G

Eva was born in Pitsmoor on the 24th December 1925 and lived in Pitsmoor, and then the Bramley area of Sheffield between 1945-1965.

Eva is being interviewed by Sue Roe on the 16th May, 2012.

SR: We were just saying about if anybody read to you when you were first… when you first remember, you know, three, four and five?

EG: Well, I don’t remember… probably little books, I can’t remember really, until I learnt to read myself.

SR: And was that when you are at school?

EG: Yes, I learnt to read at school.

SR: Could you read before you went to school, do you know?

EG: No, I couldn’t read before I went to school.

SR: So you learnt at school, and then you started…

EG: To read, yes.

SR: What sort of books did you read?

EG: I always read… I used to like, as I say, Dickens, I read nearly all the Dickens books. I was more interested in those sort than fairy tales and those sorts of books.

SR: When did you start reading Dickens? Can you remember?

EG: Well, I’d have been about seven, I think.

SR: What did you start off with? Can you remember?

EG: Well, I started off with… I read David Copperfield, that was my favourite. And I read… what was the one, you didn’t hear much… it was a smallish one. But I read all of the Dickens, most of them, I read them.

SR: What were the first books that you read that made you feel like you were reading grown up books? Did you feel you were grown up when you were reading those?

EG: Well… yes, yes. Those were the sort I liked. I didn’t read many, you know, fairy books, that sort of thing, mostly those sort of books.

SR: Did you read any other authors?

EG: No, not until I got older, and then I went on to different books.

SR: And these Dickens books, they weren’t the abridged ones?

EG: No, they were the full books.

SR: Where did you get your books from?

EG: I used to get them from the library, mostly. We had got, luckily, at home, we had got here, you know, volumes of them.

SR: And this was at home with your mum and dad?

EG: Yes.

SR: And what sort of books did they have?

EG: What did they read?

SR: Did they have any books in the house?

EG: Well, my father used to like – stop it, Lou! Go and lie down. No, nobody wants to talk to you. Go and lie down. Go and lie down! – he used to be like army books and war books, certainly one that he used to read, I forget what they called him… he used to read all his books when they came out. But no, he didn’t read a lot otherwise.

SR: And did your mum read?

EG: Oh, she used to read love stories, you know…

SR: Mills and Boon?

EG: She did! She used to read… when we came up here she used to do a lot of reading, she liked reading. She used to go to bed in the afternoon…

SR: And read!

EG: Because she was elderly… because she was 38 when she had me, so she was… I used to give her all sorts of books, she used to read them upstairs and then she used to have a little nap and then come down for tea.

SR: Did you get any books from school?

EG: No, I didn’t. To bring home, you mean?

SR: Yes.

EG: No. We had them at school.

SR: Do you remember any that you read at school?

EG: I can’t remember now… they used to read to you at school.

SR: What sort of things?

EG: Different books. They used to read… what they liked, you know. They’d read aloud. You used to have reading lessons, you know, they’d read and you’d read, but that’s how we used to…

SR: Did you like doing that?

EG: Oh, yes, I didn’t mind reading aloud. A lot of people didn’t. And they had a lot of poetry.

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

EG: Poetry we did, yes.

SR: I remember doing that!


SR: Did you get books from relatives?

EG: Yes, but those that we… when I was younger, they were like fairy books, you know, children’s books.

SR: And did you not particularly like them?

EG: Well, I used to read them but I wasn’t really interested so much as grown up books.

SR: Did you read any Enid Blyton?

EG: No… I don’t think when I was younger… she wasn’t there, was she? Not when I was young. Quite young. But no, no – they were too…

SR: They weren’t grown up enough.

EG: No.

SR: What about the library? Which library did you go to?

EG: When I lived at Pitsmoor?

SR: Yes.

EG: Oh, it was handy that, it was only down the road. Burngreave, it was.

SR: Did you go regularly?

EG: I used to go regularly, yes, and pick my books, choose my books.

SR: Did you choose them, or did anybody choose them for you?

EG: Me. They didn’t have… you know like they have now, well they used to when my kids were younger, when they used to have groups, reading groups, didn’t they? They didn’t have anything like that, you know, they were…


SR: Just left to your own devices.

EG: Yes, yes. If there was something that caught your eye, sort of thing. But no, it wasn’t the same at all. To encourage people that couldn’t read, no. So they didn’t read, unfortunately.

SR: Did you ever ask for books as presents, like at Christmas, or anything like that?

EG: No, I didn’t really, no. I was quite satisfied with what I’d got! Mostly, as I say, if you got a book at Christmas – and I had some lovely books that were like… not photographs, but like…

SR: Illustrated.

EG: Illustrated. Lovely.

SR: Beautiful books?

EG: Yes. So I didn’t have any… like Enid Blyton, those sort of things.

SR: Where did you read?

EG: I used to read downstairs. If I started reading, it went over my head when everybody was talking, if I got really interested in a book.

SR: Once you were involved in a book, that was it.

EG: That was it, yes.

SR: Can you think of books that you read as a young adult in secondary school that made an impression on you?

EG: Not really… no… only… as I say, [indistinct]  books… mostly, I used to read, otherwise it’d be… you see, when I was at secondary school, we had elocution lessons. They didn’t in most places, but we did. It was just like having proper elocution lessons, so we did a lot of Shakespeare, you know, so you learnt that off by heart, that sort of thing.

SR: Can you remember any?

EG: Shakespeare? Hamlet, Hamlet, Hamlet… to be or not to be, that is… I learnt that off by heart, that speech, but I can’t remember it all now. And one from… what was the other one? There were different ones, you know, the speeches, you know?

SR: Going back to Dickens – obviously he made a great impression on you, because you read all of his books.

EG: Yes.

SR: Why were you so taken with Dickens?

EG: Well, I liked the characters. I mean, they were really interesting characters, weren’t they? True to life, in a way, but funny as well. But they were interesting, you know.

SR: You said David Copperfield was your favourite.

EG: That was my favourite.

SR: Why was that?

EG: I don’t know. I loved David Copperfield. I think he went through a lot. I know Oliver Twist is a similar sort of thing, isn’t it, what happened to them when they were younger, but I liked the characters. I liked Peggotty, and… you know.

SR: A lot happens in it.

EG: Yes. They were long books, weren’t they?

SR: Was that a problem, that they were so long?

EG: No. I’d just go through them.

SR: And the language was quite difficult for a youngster.

EG: I used to like them.

SR: David Copperfield is supposed to be autobiographical.

EG: About his life when he was younger, yes.

SR: Does that make it a bit special as well?

EG: I suppose so, yes. it was true to life then, wasn’t it?

SR: What kind of books did you like as you got older?

EG: Well, besides those, I liked mysteries. I like murder mysteries.

SR: Did you read those as a young person?

EG: As I got older, yes.

SR: Which particular ones did you like?

EG: I forget names…

SR: Agatha Christie?

EG: I used to read her books, yes. But once you’ve read one of her books… I used to like them, but they seemed to be all… when you look at them closely, they all seem to be the same, don’t they?

SR: Was it a particular female author you were thinking of?

EG: Yes…

SR: Dorothy L Sayers?

EG: I read some of her books, I liked her books, yes.

SR: That was Lord Peter Wimsey.

EG: Wimsey, yes. I liked those.

SR: PD James.

EG: Yes, I liked her books. They were really… you really had to get into them. But Dorothy L Sayers, you could skip through… they’re only short… but those are the sort I like.

SR: Why do you think you like mysteries?

EG: I don’t know. They’re what I had an interest in. Especially if it’s a good book, you know, and… I’ve just been reading one now that our Vivian lent me called The Woodcutter [corr], it’s really good.

SR: Who’s that by?

EG: He’s just died, she told me. Died this year. But how he writes, he writes like a journalist, but it’s really a good book – it’s one of those books you can’t put down sort of books. Of course Vivian read it in two days, because she eats books. I don’t know how she manages to! But I can’t read it… now, of course, I only read in bed. If I wake up early I read, I have a little read at night. But I don’t read like I used to do, I don’t read downstairs. And I got into that habit when the girls were young and you couldn’t concentrate, and they were all there, so that’s when I used to read when I went to bed.

SR: Did you read any other sorts of books?

EG: If they were good family books… I like… Irish…

SR: Maeve Binchy?

EG: Yes – I like her books. I mean, her books, they’re more true to life, when you read them. I mean, they’re all different – some are funny and some are not – but I like her books.

SR: And you like the mystery ones? Do you like the plot working out?

EG: Yes. Yes.  And you’ve got it in the end, sometimes.  [laughs]

SR: So that keeps your attention.

EG: Exactly, yes.

SR: As you got older, did you change where you got your books from?

EG: No, I used to go to the library. They had the library up here – it was a nice library, and then they pulled it down. I don’t know what it was. They built it where the old chapel was and they built it there. It wasn’t… it must only have been up about 10 years, and for some reason they pulled it down.

SR: And was that Handsworth Library?

EG: Yes, up here. Handsworth. And then they did it in the old school, they closed that school down, Handsworth School, and they had… in (Irving? 18:39) Library, and then all of a sudden it was going to be moved again, and they never moved it. They didn’t have a library. So they didn’t have a library then, they had to either go down to Darnall, or go up to Manor Top, we often used to go there when the girls were young, we used to catch the bus. Or we used to walk it, and then we’d got the books … well, we got the bus coming back, because it was a nicer library, you know.

SR: Did you ever go to the Central Library?

EG: No, I didn’t.

SR: On Surrey Street?

EG: No, I never went there.

SR: Did you get any books new? Did you buy any, or were they second hand?

EG: Yes, I’ve got tons of books!

SR: When you were younger?

EG: When I was younger… no, I didn’t buy any when I was younger, a lot of them I had bought me, I think.

SR: But as a young adult you didn’t buy second hand books or anything like that?

EG: No, I didn’t, no.

SR: I mean, sometimes there were book clubs like Smiths… were you ever in any of those?

EG: No, not really.

SR: You know, where they sent you a book every now and again.

EG: No.

SR: Where did you work after you left school?

EG: I went to Lenton and Rusby, it used to be in Waingate, opticians.

SR: Oh – so they won’t have a library, will they?


SR: Because it depends where you work, sometimes they used to…

EG: Yes, yes.

SR: Did anybody encourage you to read?

EG: No, I just read. I didn’t really need any encouragement, you know?

SR: As soon as you could read…

EG: I was off, yes.

SR: Was it the other way around? Did anybody ever discourage you?

EG: No, never.

SR: So your parents…

EG: No, no. never.

SR: How did you find time to read?

EG: How did I find time?

SR: Once you were working and you had your family.

EG: This is what I’m saying! When I got a family, this was when I started to read in my bed! You couldn’t concentrate, could you?


SR: And your husband didn’t mind that, presumably.

EG: Oh, he was a reader as well!

SR: That’s a good thing!

EG: I mean, I often used to go to bed early when I was married because I was short-sighted, so it was handy for me. Because I had to have my glasses on, I could lie down in bed… he often used to find me in bed [asleep] with my glasses on, and he used to just take my glasses off!

SR: So you still kept reading.

EG: Yes, but that’s where I used to read.

SR: Were you ever made to feel embarrassed about what you were reading, that it was…

EG: No, no.

SR: Nobody made you feel embarrassed that it was a bit low brow or whatever.

EG: No.

SR: Did you ever read any books because you felt you ought to? Because people were recommending them or thought that they would be good for you?

EG: It was only Vivian, because she’s a big reader… my eldest daughter… no, all of them, were encouraged to read at home, so only where they’ve said, “This is a good book,” you know?

SR: So that’s recommendations, rather than saying you ought to read it because it would improve you if you read it. Do you know what I mean?

EG: No, no.

SR: So nobody suggested that to you?

EG: No.

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

EG: I don’t think so, because I didn’t read books like … as you said, Enid Blyton, and those sorts of things, children’s books. I didn’t read them, you see.

SR: So the books you read then…

EG: I can still read, yes. I often read books that I am very fond of again, it doesn’t bother me. Revise myself on them.

SR: I’m just going to show you some books and let me know if you read it and if you liked it.

EG: Arnold Bennett, like him.

SR: What did you read of his?

EG: Oh, God…

SR: Five Towns…?

EG: Yes, it was… it… what was it called? Hmm. Oh dear.

Why did you like Arnold Bennett?

EG: Particularly that book – The Card [corr]. I just liked the people in it…  it was The Card, wasn’t it?  Somerset Maugham, I read a lot of him.

SR: Why did you like him? Can you remember any books he wrote?

EG: Yes, I’ve got quite a few of his books upstairs.

Can you remember any in particular?

EG: Not so sure I can, I can show ‘em you if you like. [both laugh]

SR: Neville Shute?

EG: Yes.

SR: On The Beach? A Town Like Alice?

EG: A Town Like Alice, yes. I’ve read that.

SR: Set in Australia.

EG: Yes, with the Japanese…

SR: Did you like it?

EG: Yes, I liked it.

SR: Was there anything about it that you particularly liked?

EG: No – it was just a good book. And how they managed to cope with everything that happened to them.

SR: Have you read any HG Wells?

EG: Yes … a bit. I can’t remember the names now. That one… the time one. The Time Machine.

SR: Do you like science fiction?

EG: Not particularly. It could be all right, but…

SR: Why don’t you like that?

EG: They just don’t interest me!

SR: They’re not realistic enough?

EG: No, not really.

SR: Do you read historical novels, like Georgette Heyer?

EG: Oh, yes – I’ve read all hers. Oh, yes – I like Georgette Heyer.

SR: Jean Plaidy?

EG: Yes, I’ve read some of hers, two or three of hers.

SR: Why did you like Georgette Heyer?

EG: I just liked Georgette Heyer, I like how she wrote, and I like the periods.

SR: Yes, because she wrote about the Regency.

EG: Yes, Regency books…

SR: Anya Seton?

EG: Yes, I’ve read… what have I read of hers?

SR: Something called Katherine, which is about Katherine Swynford, wife of John of Gaunt… a medieval story.

EG: Yes, I’ve read… what have I read of hers? Long time since, but I’ve read it lately though but I’ve read John Buchan of course…

SR: Which one of his did you read?

EG: The Thirty-Nine Steps.

SR: Greenmantle? They’re spies I think, aren’t they?

EG: Yes.

SR: Sort of adventure. Did you like them?

EG: Yes, I liked them. Now… I haven’t read the book.

SR: What, Riddle of the Sands?

EG: But I’ve seen the film. I liked that.

SR: What about Rider Haggard, did you read any of his? King Solomon’s Mines.

EG: Of course, I read that. Like everybody else.

Did you like it though?

EG: Yes, I did. I liked that.

SR: Allan Quartermain and She.

EG: And Dennis Wheatley, I’ve read.

SR: Do you like these sort of adventures?

EG: Yes, those sort of books, yes.

SR: Because some of them are set in like, Rider Haggard is set in Africa, and you like that sort of more exotic setting?

EG: Yes. I haven’t read any those sort of books,  I’m not interested really.

SR: And these are thrillers? You said you’d read some Dennis Wheatley.

EG: I did. I’ve read Edgar Wallace.

SR: Do you like those sorts of books?

EG: Yes, I like those sorts of books. Of course I’ve read Prisoner of Zenda.

SR: Did you read that?

EG: Yes. Graham Greene, I’ve got two or three of his. He’s a bit peculiar though, isn’t he? [Chuckles] You know, you read some of his books and think, “Oh, I like them,” and then others … he has two sides to him.

SR: And what side is it that you don’t particularly like?

EG: The ones where he’s… when he goes off on more… not religious… how his mind works…

SR: A bit more spiritual.

EG: Yes, yes.

SR: You’re not so bothered about that.

EG: No.

SR: You know how we talked about crime, do you like American crime fiction like Raymond Chandler?

EG: Oh, I’ve read some of his but I think he’s rubbish!

SR: Why didn’t you like it?

EG: I don’t know. I don’t think he’s… they don’t appeal to me at all. Most of them, anyway.

SR: The American ones?

EG: Yes.

SR: Is that because of the language? The characters?

EG: Probably. Sometimes you’ve read one and you’ve only got to read one, and…

SR: All the others are the same.

EG: Yes.

SR: These are some British crime writers. And we talked about Agatha Christie.

EG: And Arthur Conan Doyle.

SR: Did you read his?

EG: Yes, I read some of his.

SR: Did you like them? Yes, they were all right. Because… I think… Ngaio Marsh, was it Inspector Alleyn ?

EG: Yes, there is one.

SR:  It’s on the telly that.

EG: Yes, yes.

SR:  He, sorry, she’s from New Zealand, she’s not an English writer.

EG: Yes.

SR: About comedy… do you recognise any of these? Cold Comfort Farm?

EG: I’ve read that!

SR: Did you like it?

EG: I read that, yes. I’ve got it actually.

SR: Why did you like it?

EG: I think it’s… I don’t know. I’ve read Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Compton Mackenzie… I like his books.

SR: You quite like comedy books, then?

EG: Yes, yes. Not silly, but funny.

SR: Can you think of any titles by Compton Mackenzie?

EG: Whisky Galore, is it?

SR: PG Woodhouse, Jeeves, and…

EG: Oh, yes – I’ve heard of those. Sometimes. They’re all right, but… I mean, you see, or on the television…

SR: Stephen Fry.

EG: Yes. The things they do!  He’s a dope isn’t he?

SR: Do you find that funny, or do you think it’s a bit silly?

EG: Too much sometimes.

SR: Did you ever read any of these sagas.  Mazo de la Roche?

EG: No… er… no, I don’t think I have. I can’t remember.

SR: Did you read any romance?  Ehtel M Dell.

EG: I’ve read Ruby Ayres, Ethel M Dell and Elinor Glyn.

SR: What are they like?

EG: I’ve read James Hilton, Lost Horizon and Random Harvest. I’ve very fond of him, I like Random Harvest.

SR: Why do you like that one?

EG: I don’t know, I just do! It’s all right, Lost Horizon, but I like Random Harvest.

SR: Do you like romance books?

EG: Well, if they’re good ones. I’ve read that, I’ve got that, The Constant Nymph, I like that, and I like Four Feathers, … Gone With The Wind, I’ve got that, naturally.

SR: Did you read it?

EG: Oh, I’ve read it two or three times. I keep coming back to it, yes.

SR: Is it better than the film?

EG: Yes, I’ve seen the film, but there’s a lot more in the book.

Did you enjoy the film?

EG: Yes, I enjoy the film, but… I like the book, because there’s that much in it, and… you know.

SR: Going back to The Constant Nymph, because that’s not a very common title. Do you remember when you read that?

EG: I can’t remember. I think it’s been since I’ve been married, I don’t think I read it before.

SR: Was it good? Did you enjoy it?

EG: Yes, I enjoyed that.

SR: Any particular reason?

EG: No, I just liked it. And I liked [indistinct]… but… I’m trying to think what the other ones are.

SR: This is just to stimulate their memory really. Some people can’t remember what they’ve read.

EG: Yes, that’s right.

SR: Did you read any Mills and Boon?

EG: No, no. No, they’re rubbish! They’re not my kind of book.

SR: Why don’t you like those?

EG: Well, they’re all the same! Read one, you’ve read them all!

SR: Any westerns?

EG: No, I’m not bothered about Westerns.

SR: Now, these are a list of some books that are quite shocking when they came out. I don’t know if you read any of them. Lady Chatterley’s Lover?

EG: I’ve read that, that’s neither here nor there, I’ve read  Edna O’ Brian,, I like Edna O’Brien…

SR: Were you shocked by them, when you read them? The Country Girls?

EG: Not really. And there’s another one that she wrote… Girl with Green Eyes. I like that.

SR: And they’re set in Ireland. Did you like that aspect of it?

EG: Yes, I do… because I like the humour, you know…

SR: The Irish.

EG: Yes.

SR: You said you read Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Did you think it was shocking when you read it?

EG: Not really. I didn’t think it was shocking! I did think what all the fuss was about!

SR: Did you read it because it was in the news?

EG: No – I don’t know why I read it. But that sort of thing, I’m not interested in.

SR: The sex thing.

EG: No, I’m not.

SR: Not at all.

EG: No.

SR: So we talked about the classics like Dickens. What about Jane Austen?

EG: I’ve read them all!

SR: I assume you like them?

EG: Yes…

SR: Have you got a favourite?

EG: I like… which ones do I like best…

SR: Emma, Persuasion, Mansfield Park?

EG: I like Mansfield Park. I like Pride and Prejudice, of course.

SR: Persuasion?

EG: That’s one of my favourites.

What’s different about her? She’s very different from Dickens and quite a particular class of society.

EG: Well, it’s just the class that she’s in, isn’t it? I mean, most of her books are Regency books, aren’t they? I’ve read them all.

SR: Because she writes about a particular group/class of people.

EG: Yes.

SR: They don’t work as such.

EG: Oh, no – they don’t work! There’s some that brought themselves up…

SR: It’s about people and characters.

EG: Characters, yes.

SR: And do you enjoy her insights?

EG: To people, yes.

SR: Behaviour.

EG: Yes.

SR: Because sometimes they go off the rails, don’t they?

EG: Oh, yes! They lose their money or get into debt… [indistinct] gets about a bit, yes.

SR: But you enjoyed those?

EG: Yes.

SR: Conrad, Hardy?

EG: Thomas Hardy. I’m not fond of him, I don’t know why. When our Vivian was reading, at school, I read that one, Mayor of Casterbridge… fancy selling your wife!

SR: So you read some but you’re not a big fan.

EG: No.

SR: Here are some of the other titles that Mary suggested.

EG: Yes, I’ve read Pearl Buck.

SR: Are they set in the Far East?

EG: Yes, it was. It’s a long time since I read it, but I know I’ve read it. I liked that particular one. I don’t like Catherine Cookson.

SR: Why is that?

EG: I don’t know, her books don’t appeal to me, never have done.

SR: They’re like sagas.

EG: I like the… one of her first ones, I think, with the little girl in it, she was only young… I forget what it’s called, but that’s the only one I really liked of hers. It was a girl’s name, one of her early books.

SR: Any of these strike a chord?

EG: No. I think I read Evelyn Waugh.

SR: Brideshead Revisited?

EG: Yes, I think I read that, that was on the telly.

SR: It was filmed in Castle Howard.

EG: Yes, I’ve been there.

SR: And did you like those books?

EG: I liked that one. There was another one I liked, but…

SR: Did you ever read any Ernest Hemingway, American writers?

EG: No – I didn’t particularly like him either. He was good, but… it just didn’t appeal to me, his books.

SR: And sci-fi is a bit far-fetched?

EG: Yes.

SR: What’s your favourite sort of book now? Did you taste change as you got older?

EG: I don’t know… I still like nice murder mystery books that keep you on edge, sort of thing. Family books, a nice story, you know…

SR: Some people go through phases.

EG: I’ve done that with the Irish one.

SR: Maeve Binchy?

EG: Yes, I like all her books, because they’re not all the same but they’re true to life in their ways.

SR: So you don’t like the sameness of Agatha Christie.

EG: No.

SR: And you revisit books.

EG: Yes, I do.

SR: What books have you re-read?

EG: All that I’ve kept!

SR: Is that Dickens?

EG: Yes, and some modern ones. I like to read Maeve Binchy’s again. I’m trying to think of the others. Her name is not on the list. She’s English.

SR: Iris Murdoch? Margaret Drabble, … an older writer?

EG: Well, she is now, yes.

SR: Thrillers?

EG: Thrillers, yes. Just a minute. It’ll be preying on my mind if I don’t. There was one that I was very fond of but she’s dead…


[Eva goes to get a few books from upstairs.]


EG: Here we are! You know her, don’t you?

SR: Yes, Rosamunde Pilcher. Okay.

EG: I like her books. There’s three there.

SR: So we’re just looking at Rosamunde Pilcher… An omnibus: September/Another View/The Empty House. Have you re-read those?

EG: Oh, yes.

SR: When did she write?

EG: Those are what she’s… 68… The Empty House is 73…

SR: What is it you like about them?

EG: I just like how she writes. They’re all different, sort of… you know, I mean, they’re not all the same sort of thing, but they all… most of them are about families, different things about…

SR: What families have experienced?

EG: Yes.

SR: And different family members, different characters.

EG: Yes. And they’re entirely different. Some are set in Scotland, some in Cornwall…

SR: And you like that?

EG: Yes, yes. They are nice books. So I’ve read all those.

SR: Do you like books that are set overseas? Like Pearl Buck or Rider Haggard set in  Africa?

SR: So that’s not why you like them?

EG: No.

SR: Are there any ways in which reading has changed your life?

EG: I would have been a bit drab, I think! Especially if you’re just reading romance books.

SR: Mills and Boon.

EG: Oh, dear!  No, no!

SR: Do you think it’s changed any directions for you in your life?  It doesn’t have to be dramatic.

EG: No… it just, you know… I like history books, you know, that’s… but I’ll be reading one of those… she’s been on the television.

SR: Philippa Gregory?

EG: I’ve been reading about The Constant Princess. Now, I got through it, but I didn’t enjoy it, if you know what I mean. There was something about it. I thought, “Well, I’m sticking to it…”

SR: Is that what you normally do, you’ll plough through a book even if you don’t like it?

EG: Yes. Just reading it. There’s some that I’ve put down, that I couldn’t read, but I was a bit disappointed in it really – I was looking forward to reading that, but it wasn’t… just something about it.

SR: And when you are in the library when you are looking for a new title or a new author, what is it that grabs you?

EG: I don’t know.


SR: If you read this, you know, the flyleaf?

EG: Yes, I look through those and see what it says about it, and sometimes you think, “Oh, that’ll be nice,” and then you’re disappointed.

SR: If it’s okay I’m going to ask you a few biographical details as well. You were born December 24, 1925?

EG: Yes.

SR: And where were you born?

EG: At home.

SR: In Pitsmoor? Whereabouts in Pitsmoor did you live?

EG: Burngreave, it was… well, at the top of… Burngreave  Road, and we lived at the top, Andover Street, it used to be… it’s a long street, it starts in Spital Hill and it goes right up, and then it goes down, and then it goes up again to the school I used to go to when I was little.

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

EG: Well, it’s a long story. My mother, when she got married, she lived at High Fields, and for some reason, (there was no need for him to go off in the war, but he didd. Volunteered. And she’d just got… my brothers in, he was only a baby, she wouldn’t stop on her own, she was one of those sorts of people, she wouldn’t stop in the house on her own, she came back to her mother’s.

SR: In Burngreave.

EG: Pitsmoor. Gave her house up and came home. So I never went back to that side of the town. When he came out, he was wounded in the war, he had his leg off up to there, there were three of them, because he was in the engineers, there were three… there was a captain and a sergeant and him, and they both got killed and he was left in a shell hole, all night, til they got him out the next day, so he got gangrene in his leg, so he had to have his leg off. Up to there, his leg off.

SR: Which battle was that?

EG: It wasn’t a battle, but he went out to put the wires… they were engineers, you see. They went out at night to put the wires, and they got attacked. It was in France, that. They was in Italy, because they moved about, you see, the engineers, but that was in France. It was… it was about 1917. And then he was brought to England and they was up in Scotland. He was in Glasgow Hospital for quite a while before he came home, and of course with him being… it’s a wonder he lived as long as he did, because they were wooden legs then, they weren’t… and it was that that killed him – that and smoking. Don’t mention me smoking my husband would say.

SR: Did he have shell shock, do you think?

EG: No, he didn’t have shell shock at all. Some did, they did, I mean, they got shot for it, didn’t they, in the First World War, because they didn’t understand what it was. But no, he wasn’t like that.

SR: Did he talk much about what happened?

EG: No. The only time he… he didn’t talk about it, but during the Blitz where we were  at Pitsmoor… of course there were a lot of incendiaries dropped around there, you know, they lost a lot of houses, and we were in the cellar. We had one of those Nissan huts [SR: Anderson] ones in the garden, but when it was raining and wet it was horrible, so we used to go down the cellar! Honestly, I don’t know why we went down there. Because our cellar, we had two cellars, and one, it went like a little… so you could sit in there, but I thought, not this is not right,  because everything , it was behind sort of steps, you know, and… that was the only time that he could tell, that he knew what it was, you know, and it brought back memories.

SR: What did your dad do?

EG: Before he went in, he was a turner, he was an engineer, and of course he couldn’t do that job, he was in the offices at Edgar Allen’s up at Tinsley, he was in the offices there.

SR: So your mum and dad were at Highfields, moved back during the war and stayed there. Did they get their own house eventually?

EG: No, they stayed with my… well, my grandfather was dead when he was little, you know, it was my mother was the, there were twelve in the in the family, she was the youngest, my mum. So all my cousins were all married with children and grown up, and the children were grown up and married.

SR: Did she work?

EG: Not after she got married.

SR: What did she do before that?

EG: She worked at… she was in the warehouse at the cutlery firm…

SR: Viners?  Richardsons? Swans?

EG: No… she was in the warehouse.

SR: So your dad was from an engineering background, and then…

EG: And then he went in… yes.

SR: And your mum was in the warehouse. And since your childhood, you lived first in Pitsmoor, in Andover Street…

EG: Yes.

SR: And you moved up here?

EG: In 1962.

SR: When did you get married?

EG: 1949.

SR: Did you live in Pitsmoor first?

EG: Yes, with my mother and father and my grandma, she was 88 when she died.

SR: I think it was more common then, to have generations living together.

EG: Yes.

SR: How did WW2 affect your family, with your dad going off to fight?

EG: That was the First World War, that was.

SR: Yes. And what about the Second World War?

EG: Well, Eric was in the… well, he volunteered, he was only 18 when he went, he was in the Royal Marines, not in thingumabobs… he was on the ships.

SR: Were you courting then?

EG: Yes, I started going out with him when I was about 17, he went to the same church. And he volunteered. He had a good war, not like some poor people. It finished in 19… he went in when he was 18,  he volunteered went into the marines so he had about four years…

SR: Was he on ships?

EG: He was on the battleship – he was that way inclined, it was Hanson [?], one of the big ones.

SR: But he was never injured.

EG: But I mean, he had a lovely time, because he went out to Australia, he went to Japan, all around there. So he wasn’t interested in travelling when he came back, because he had been everywhere!

SR: Did it affect your family, the war?

EG: Only through the  Blitz, you know… well, Blitz, it wasn’t really a blitz, was it? It was… because, you see, when they came with the incendiary bombs, they were after steelworks, but they got on the wrong place, didn’t they? Instead of following it where the steelworks were, they went on the canal side, so they missed a lot.

SR: How did the war affect you?

EG: I was on war work. I was an optical glazer.  I used to glaze for the war work… during the war we had a lot of war work, we had all… gas masks what soldiers had, it was special glass, for if they had to wear a gas mask. Tons and tons of them. I used to work overtime then, we used to work Sunday mornings, and then we used to work Saturday afternoons… we had a lot of… we all worked… all sorts of stuff.

SR: And what about your mum? She didn’t do any war work?

EG: Oh, no – she was too old.

SR: What about your brothers and sisters, did they do war work?

EG: My brother worked for corporation, he was an engineer as well, and during the war they had to – we didn’t have a lot of gas – so if there was a siren went  so many of them had to go to work and stay there, they couldn’t come out. His wife was expecting a baby. He’s dead, poor old lad, but… and so he knew that she was on her own, because they lived at Abbeydale, opposite Abbeydale Picture Palace was. And he climbed out and went home because she was on her own. Her mother and father lived at Pearl st at the bottom of Moor, and she was on her own, expecting the baby any time, so he didn’t want to live her on her own. And we were at the other end of town. So of course he went to her, and… he went because she was moved to Loughborough, all those that were expecting, they were all moved from Sheffield, unless they were right on the day, sort of thing. They all moved, and she was at Loughborough. He was born there, at Loughborough, and so he was there, and then he was at home, and then at our house in between sort of thing.

SR: Were you affected by rationing?

EG: Rationing, yes. I mean, when I first got married it was still rationing, you know… but that was all it was. You just got on with it. We only had… not lamb, you didn’t get lamb, you only got mutton, and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s mutton! And my father… he was gassed in the war, of course, like a lot of them were, and he’d no smell, you know, and no taste …

SR: How horrible!

EG: And we used to have all this mutton …  He used to say, ‘You can have it’, it was wasted on him!

SR: Did you enjoy bits of the war?

EG: I enjoyed war… because we moved… we got bombed in Waingate, opticians. Roy had to move. Of course it was a… so he had a place up at Elm Lane, he had a factory there, I don’t know what he did up there because it was empty when we went, and there was just long like, they had glass roofs, concrete floors, and it weren’t half cold, it were frozen in winter… heating on, and you can imagine if they were big, long aisles when we first went up there we had to get home the best way we could, because there were no trams, the trams were stopped.

SR: So you had to walk home?

EG: I remember the first night, we came home in a coal lorry! And then we got trams , so it wasn’t so bad.

SR: Was it mainly women who did that work?

EG: Oh, there were men there as well, they were all on war work.

SR: So they were reserved occupation.

EG: Yes.

SR: Which primary school did you attend?

EG: That was  Pye Bank that’s when I went to… and then I went to Burngreave Secondary. I could have gone to intermediate, but…

SR: Which one was that?

EG: Greystones, it was intermediate.

SR: Marcliffe?

EG: Marcliffe was an intermediate… the big one there. And the other one… which was the other one? There were three anyway, but they didn’t bother with the girls then, you know. Boys could have anything, but…

SR: Is this your parents?

EG: Yes, well… there was only me and my sister. We could have gone, but no, “You get married, you don’t need to.” That’s the attitude then. So it didn’t get you anywhere.

SR: Did you enjoy school?

EG: I enjoyed school, yes. I loved school. And our head teacher was Scottish, and she came from Carbrook School, she came up to take… yes.

SR: She was a Miss?

EG: Oh, she would be. She was always a miss, she never got married.

SR: You had to give up teaching if you got married.

EG: Not during the war… before the war, yes. She was Scottish and tall. She used to have her hair trimmed short, and she used to always wear tweeds and suits. But she was very interested in music, so we got that drummed into us. I’ll always remember her for that, because she… and speech training, we had speech training. Elocution.

SR: When you say music, classical?

EG: Yes. I remember we once decided – because we used to have the wireless then, you know, there wasn’t any television, of course – they had these talks, and we had… thingybobs on… well, she had it on, she happened to come in just as the teacher was turning it off, and she said, “Oh, no.” Have it on again! Oh, we had it on about three or four times. She used to pick things out of it, you know, but she really got you interested in it.

SR: And that got you into classical music, because you had it on when I came in.

EG: Yes.

SR: When did you leave school?

EG: I should have left when I was 15, but during the war it was all stopped then, so I left at 14.

SR: In 1939?

EG: Yes.

SR: Why? Because they wanted you to…?

EG: Yes, everything was just left as it was.

SR: And everything geared up to the war.

EG: Yes.

SR: And your first job was at the opticians.

EG: Yes – I was an optical glazer.

SR: How long did you do that?

EG: I never did anything else! That was my job for 12 years. Different things in it, you know?

SR: Did you have any training or further education after you left school?

EG: No, I didn’t do any, because you see… it was all altering. My sister used to go to night school, and she got a bonus because she worked at Edgar Allens, where my father worked, because they used to have a bonus, but we just had our money. But of course, when I had overtime, that was mine.

SR: Ah, that was your own money.

EG: That was my money.

SR: Did you have to give your money to your parents?

EG: Oh, yes. We didn’t pay any board until we were 21, but of course, my overtime, that was mine.

SR: So you gave your wages to your mum.

EG: Yes, and she fitted us up with that.

SR: So did you stop work when you got married?

EG: After I got married. Until I had my eldest daughter. And I should have stopped on longer than I did but I had high blood pressure so I had to stop work earlier than I should have done – I was about 7 months.

SR: Did you get married when your husband was demobbed?

EG: Yes. We were both 23 when we got married.

SR: How many children do you have?

EG: Three girls.

SR: And you moved up to here, this is Bramley, in 1962. Why did you choose here?

EG: Well, now, in a way… my sister lived up here, you see, she came up here… when her houses were built … brand new when she went in.

SR: Where was that?

EG: Just …

SR: Handsworth.

EG: Yes, he used to be where the nurseries were … he took their land. Well, he sold it, and they built this little estate and they went to live there, But they went to live there and then that’s when I… my mother used to come dancing up here, her friend used to come dancing to St Joseph’s school, church, so she knew Houndsworth. And we were coming to visit my sister and decided to come as well, so that’s why you came here.

SR: So you got married in ‘49 and you moved here in ‘62.

EG: Yes. We lived at Pitsmoor with my parents and grandma.

SR: What about your father’s parents? They didn’t live there as well, did they?

EG: My father’s parents, I never knew them. I never knew my father’s family. I knew my grandma, she lived at Highfields, and we used to go across and see her, until she was ill. Well, she died there, but… they were… my grandfather, apparently, he was a stonemason, but he was a manager. This is my father’s father. But he was a big … and he used to… I know she’s got all these lovely dresses what they used to have done, and she had a lovely white feathered thing, that she used to go to all these big dos. A cape. She had a [indistinct] yes.

SR: And this was your father’s dad.

EG: Yes, he had a good job, and he worked… he was one of the managers at the stonemasons.

SR: What did your husband do when he came out of the army?

EG: He went back to English Steel, that’s where he worked. He was on the research, when he came out of the army he was on the research, and then he went into the works because he wanted to… he was what was called a steel maker, and what he used to do, they had all these big castings, and he told them what to put in them.

SR: The proportions.

EG: Yes.

SR: That’s a good job.

EG: And he worked there, at English Steel  and of course it was sold to… it belonged to… after that, he came out  and it was at Osbornes what do you call them… sun… what do they call them… but anyway, that was his work, you know, all the time.

SR: What was your maiden name?

I EG:  was a Kelley. Nearly all Kelly’s were K-E-L-L-Y but I was K-E-L-L-E-Y. And all them, if you’d noticed –  but all Americans went there… they were going to Kelley’s with an EY.

SR: Is it a Sheffield family?

EG: I don’t know anything about my father’s family, no. As I say, he was a stonemason. My grandma was a tailoress. Her family were all tailoresses. On her side, you know.

SR: Were they all Sheffield families?

EG: They were a Sheffield family. I think… of course he was, my grandfather, they had been there a long time. If they came from Ireland, I don’t know. But it was… their family had been there a long time. So… that’s how they were!

SR: Is there anything else?

EG: About what?

SR: About reading and books and everything?

EG: I don’t think so.

SR: Thanks very much.

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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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