Joan T

Joan T

Joan was born on the 5th November 1924.

She is being interviewed by Mary Grover on the 8th May 2012.

Joan was part of the group of Wadsley Friends whose joint interview you will find under Wadsley Friends. However she spoke separately to Mary and this is the transcript of that separate interview conducted in the presence of her friends. Joan passed her 11+ and went to the secondary School of Art in Surrey St opposite the Central Library.

MG: Joan was born on the 5th of November 1924 and lived in Wisewood and was then in the forces, and then came back after 1948 to Wisewood. [Editor: Joan moved to Sheffield from Bradford when she was about four.]

MG: Thank you very much, Joan.  So, you’re obviously a keen reader.  Do you know when you started to love books?

JT: No idea.  I just loved books.  I couldn’t have been able to read, but I just loved books.  So when I started reading, I’ve no idea.

MG: Did your parents love books?

JG: Yes they must’ve done. Most of them. I don’t know if it was me parents or me grandparents.  Walls of books, you know.

MG: Were there?

JT: Yes, I don’t know what they all were ‘cos I couldn’t read them all when I was a toddler, so.  But I just loved the books, you know. Some of ‘em were all right.  I could read through something.

MG: So do you think your parents and your grandparents bought their books or went to the library, or both?

JT: Well it’s probably both but a lot of them were rentals as well from university and all those books kept me quiet later on.   You know, so that was useful.

MG: So you acquired all those books?

JT: I did, not all of them, but quite a lot of the books were passed round.

MG: Were there any you were particularly glad to have?

JT: This is a time I’m talking about before I could read, so, but I still did, yes.  There were some, yes.

MG: So, where did you go to school, Joan?

JT: At Wisewood and the College of Art.

MG: At Psalter Lane?  Was it at Psalter Lane, College of Art?

JT: Oh no it was before that.  It was at the end of Surrey Street.  Oh yes, yes.  Junior it was then.

MG: And when you were at school, did you enjoy reading?

JT: Oh yes.  By then, yes.  I did then, yes.  From twelve onwards I suppose, yes.  I had books out of the library, the school library, as well as other kinds, so it was alright.  I didn’t. er, I read a lot of theirs and library books then.  More than the ones we had at home.

MG: Did anyone help you choose those books?

JT: No actually, the ones at school we were just given those.  You know, suitable ones I suppose.  There were all kinds of books, you know.

MG:So they were chosen for you?

JT: Well yes because it was a – we had to write about them when we’d finished reading them, you know.  So that was to make sure we’d read them I suppose.

MG: Were there any that you loved?

JT: Well I can’t really remember any of those.  I think quite a lot were fictional but I can’t remember them much.

MG: Right.  So do you find you don’t remember fiction as much as other books?

JT:  Er, I don’t remember any of them actually!  Possibly so, yes.  There’s certain ones you read over again, you know.

MG: Yes.  Which ones were they that you read over and over again?

JT:  Those at that time, none.  Later on I did though, the ones I had at home, I read them over and over again.  Don’t think the others I did.  Just get them out once and read them.

MG:So going forward in your life, when you were an adult, which books did you read over and over again?

JT:  I don’t think I did.  Cos I didn’t read that many fiction books after that.

MG: Didn’t you?

JT:  No.  Only the ones that were still at home, you know.  They were old ones and not very trusted, perhaps, you know.  I can remember them but they’re not very interesting (laughs).  A bit, er, a bit heavy going I suppose for that age, I don’t know.  Possibly.

MG:  Did you read them because you felt you should read them?

JT:  Not because I should, but I had to read every book.  It didn’t matter what it was.  A book was a book!

MG:Right, yes.

JT: You know, I couldn’t resist.  If I did go to the library I’d have to pick anything that looked a decent book.  Providing it wasn’t fiction.  And I’d read it, whatever it was.  But I don’t remember those stories.

MG:So you sort of galloped through them.

JT: Well no, it depends, no, no, I’d read it.

MG:  Yes.  But you must’ve read quite quickly to have read so many.

JT: No, not necessarily quickly, no.  I don’t think so.

MG:  No.  When did you find time to read when you were at school?

JT:  At school.  Apart from the school books no we didn’t have a lot of time, you know.

MG: No.

JT:  Well with work and things you don’t have time to do much reading.

MG: No.

JT:  Apart from for school.  Them reference book things for work, for working at school, you know.

MG: So when you left school and you hadn’t got the school library, where did you find your books to read?

JT:  Er, well, I couldn’t afford any then.  So it’d have to be library at that time.  There wasn’t a lot of time really.

MG: Was that Hillsborough Library?

JT:   Er, yes.  It didn’t go on very long because the war was on then and so I did other things.

MG: Yeah.  And you were in the forces until 1948, and did you have any access to leisure reading then?

JT: None.

MG: None?

JT:  No time at all.

MG: No time.  Where were you in the forces, Joan, where?

JT:  Where?    Bedfordshire.

MG:  Right.  So that really meant your reading stopped until 1948?

JT:  Yes it did yes.

MG: And when you came out of the forces you were 24, and what did you do then?

JT: Er, I went into an office.  I did try nursing but the men went mad, [typist’s note, I listened to this many times, but this is what it sounded like to me.  It may have been me mam went mad] so I went into an office.  I still went reading some things, you know.

MG: Yes.

JT:  But not quite as much, perhaps.

MG: No.  Where did you find your books when you were 24?

JT:  Well they would be library books, yes.

MG: Yes.  Yes.  Can you remember any book that you read and you thought, “Oo this is a really adult book, you know, I’m not reading children’s stuff anymore.  This is an adult book.

JT:   I don’t really remember reading children’s books!

MG: Really?

JT:  Well, I don’t remember any.

MG: No.

JT: At all.

MG: No.

JT: Erm, I don’t know really, I can’t think oh, Yorkshire, what do they call her?

MG: Winifred Holtby?

JT:  Pardon?

MG:  Winifred Holtby, you didn’t read…..

JT: No, no.  Can’t remember.  Sorry.

MG: So when you got your parents’ books and your uncles’ books and some of your grandparents’ books,

JT:  I did read technical books in between these things.

MG: Oh did you?

JT:  You see, that took up time.

MG: Yes.

JT:  I think I’ve still got a book on aeronautical engineering.  I thought of going into that,

MG: Really.

JT:  but when I got there I decided it was a bit out of date by then!

MG: So was that what you worked on in the war, aeronautical?

JT:  No.

MG: No.

JT:  No.

MG:But you liked reading.

JT:  Oh yes.

MG: Engineering books.

JT:  Anything yes!

MG: Did you?

JT: Yes!  But you don’t remember all of it, do you?


JT:  But I remember quite a bit of it, a good bit of that.

MG:Yes, so you’ve still got your aeronautical……

JT:  I remember those but I don’t remember the fiction ones at all.

MG: Ah, that’s interesting.  So you remember the non-fiction more than the fiction.

JT: Yes.  Well, ‘cause you use them as reference books you do remember them.  It’s something you’re learning isn’t it?

MG: Yeah.  Yes, yes.  So fiction was something you just did for a bit of pleasure and then forgot about it.

JT: Oh yes, yes.

MG: That’s interesting!  So there’s no novel that really you re-read?  Or have re-read as an adult because you particularly like it?

JT: I think I’ve read a few but I can’t just recall what they are.  Not important enough to remember.  I’ve not got a very good memory anyway.

MG: Well Jean said she enjoyed Dickens very much, was he a favourite?  Not at all?

JT: That’s not my cup of tea at all.   No I’m afraid.  I mean, it just doesn’t interest me.

MG: I think there was an author who was involved in aeronautical engineering called Nevil Shute.  JT:Oh yes.

MG: Did you read any of his?

JT: Yes, yes I did.   I remember those, yes.  He was in the Air Force.  Yes, yes.

MG:Thank you very much.  Bringing it right up to date actually Joan, which books are you enjoying at the moment?

JT: Erm, I read very little, actually. A lot of the books I have are reference books for anything I want to do, you know. Those of course get read over and over again but, er, the other ones I possibly I might read in bed, paperback ones.  As a sort of, I’m just trying to think, popular things.  Not, they’re fiction, yes, but er I only like certain ones.

MG: Yes So with your parents’ books and your grandparents’ books, were they mostly factual or fiction?  Both.

MG: Both?  Right.

JT: Yes.

MG: That’s very interesting.  Thank you very much Joan.

Tyas 2 [Joan wanted to add something at the end of our interview so this is where I caught up with her.]

JT: …in my life at five (laughs).

MG: Put you off?

JT:It put me off school

MG: Oh, no.

JT: so I didn’t bother any more with anything.   I’ve used my imagination as to where I am and so you know the rest.  Well I didn’t think if the rest of the teaching was a bit like that, I didn’t want to know.  Very stupid child!  [laughs]

MG: So school didn’t excite you?

JT: No it didn’t I’m afraid, until I got to the 11+ year for some reason.  Other than that I was always sent out from classes.

Were you?  Were you naughty?

JT: No.  I remember them always getting sent out when it was sewing time but actually I think there was a point in that.  I’m not very ambidextrous with my fingers and it was always a bit of a problem.  Which is all right if you want to draw and paint, ‘cause you’re any good at it, but it’s not much good for sewing.  I used to lose, I always did when I was a kid, lose needles and that.  I don’t see the point and anyway we weren’t doing anything special.  It wasn’t anything, you know, just doing, I think they did sampler things and things of that sort.  And I thought, “That’s a waste of time”.  But I used to get sent out.  I much preferred it outside!  [laughs].

MG: Thank you.

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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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