Madeleine Doherty

Madeleine Doherty 

Madeleine was born on the 25th of December 1940 in Sheffield.

She is being interviewed by Trisha Cooper on the 29th October 2011.

TC: This is an interview conducted by Trisha Cooper, and it is the 29th 0ctober 2011 and I am interviewing Madeleine Doherty.

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TC: Can I ask you Madeleine what date you were born on, is that alright for you to give me your date of birth please.

MD: 25/12/40

TC: Christmas Day! 1940, well, well!

MD: Hence my middle name is Christiane.

TC: Ahhh, isn’t that great!  And which area of Sheffield did you live in between 1945 and 1965?

MD: Hunters Bar, well between Hunters Bar and Broomhill, err, opposite Botanical Gardens.

TC: Right and this was Southbourne Road was it?

MD: Southbourne Rd.

TC: Yes we mentioned that before, I see, lovely. So let’s start now to sort of talk about the books and talk about those days. So between 1945 and 65, you say you were born in 1940.

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MD: End of 1940 yes.

TC: So when did you start reading books?

MD: I don’t know. I must have had books to look at although paper was in short supply, erm, I can remember being younger than, I probably … I don’t know how old I was, I can always remember going to mm, I think it was, I don’t know if it was the British Legion or something to do with Prisoners of War, I’m not sure but like a sale or an Autumn Bazaar type thing on Milk Street in town and there was someone that knew my father rather than my mother and she wanted to get me a book and wanted me to choose a book, and I chose, oh no, she wanted to get me a doll, that was it and I chose this Girls Crystal Annual and I couldn’t read at that point I don’t think I was able read at all, but I had seen this book and I wanted this book, so I didn’t get the doll, I  got the book. So that’s my first memory of actually acquiring any books, erm, and I suppose I have an older brother, he’s four years older than me and so he had the boys’ books, the Just William books, erm, so I heard the Just William stories and of course the radio had stories. But I must have started re…, once I learnt to read at school I must have started to read but I can’t remember. I can remember having  Milly Molly Mandy books, strip, long narrow books, erm and the odd comic, and I was very fond of, I didn’t read but I was read at that point, a French book called Les Malheurs de Sophie, in French and that was,  she was a naughty girl it was all the naughty things she used to get up to and everything, er I can remember hearing, that was obviously probably my equivalent of my bedtime stories were in French I suppose at that time ‘cos my Grandma lived with us she was French and my Mother was French, erm,  I can’t remember, oh I used to get Sunny, Sunny Stories every Friday, I think it was Sunny Stories, a small comic thing so I didn’t… I didn’t really get into books I would say until probably about ten or eleven. I suppose I looked at my brother’s things but I don’t think …  I mean we didn’t have much money those days so we didn’t go and buy any books, we used to go to the library … actually that’s not true because we used to go to the library, in fact I don’t know what age I used to go with my brother. I read but I couldn’t tell you the age I was but it was before I was eleven. Now that I think about it the whole series of The Twins books, all the twins from all the different countries, loads and loads of them, and I used to go and get those,  I can remember reading those, mm, what else…?

TC: Which library was it you went to, was it Central Library in Sheffield?

MD: We used to go to the Children’s Library in Sheffield quite a lot and then as I got a bit older I sometimes used to go to Ecclesall Library on the bus, tram, the tram in those days, I used to catch the tram to Ecclesall Library but I never liked that as much as the Central Library, I used to like the one in town. I mean, I presume looking back I probably went with my mother at first and then she used to let my brother take me and we used to go together and we used to go to the film shows at the library,  that they used to show at the Library Theatre. I don’t know if they were every Saturday morning or every month on a Saturday morning  but I know we used to go, I mean I had Treasure Island which I must have read before I was eleven, what else did we have?..  mm, I think we had a book of Hans Christian Anderson stories, not the fairy stories, his other stories, I don’t know whose, whether that was my brother’s book. I always liked books but it’s just hard exactly remembering which ones I read. I mean it was a house full of books, I mean a lot of them were my father’s engineering books, then there’d be my mother’s French books, and then there were my brother’s books and I suppose I acquired some maybe for birthday presents and … The Water Babies! That was my favourite book, it was a big paper one with beautiful coloured pictures in, wasn’t shiny, it was you know matt but that was a beautiful, beautiful book and I’ve seen the film The Water Babies, the current film of The Water babies and the new books of the The Water Babies and they’re not the same as my book of The Water Babies. They had beautiful coloured pictures in so I mean they had already got to the stage of having coloured pages because perhaps during the war maybe they didn’t, I don’t know, I was too young perhaps then to realise but I got my grandma in London sent me that, in Kent, my father’s mother. I never knew her she was much older,  a much older lady because my father was old when I was born but erm, she and, I acquired another one so I actually had two of the same book and gave one away and then when I’d got married I’d left some things in a cupboard that my mother thought I’d gone through everything and she emptied everything that was left in the cupboard and that was one of the things that went by the board you know, came back from my honeymoon and all these things had gone. So odd things you know I’d kept for a long time they’d all gone but I remember that book very distinctly, I must have read it I don’t know how many times,  then we had Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Anderson’s Fairy Tales, Anderson’s stories so either I read them or I had them read to me,  so I suppose I was brought up with books,  and then as I got older as I said there were the Twin’s books and  was it the Chalet, Chalet something, Chalet Girls was it called?

TC: Might be, it might be, I can’t, it rings a bell.

MD: Was it to do with a bo… a school, I don’t know now whether it was based on a school that one or not. I can’t remember.

TC: When you got to school then were you still reading other books as well as school books?

MD: Oh yes, well I used to go to the library but I can’t, I must admit I can’t remember exactly what I brought home but I, erm … I suppose I liked stories about schools you know but, school girls, boarding school type books I suppose and, like I said, there were The Twins but there was another series and I can’t think what that was, what was it besides The Twins? … Might come to me in a bit, I just can’t …

TC: There was a Mallory Towers boarding school book wasn’t there, a series?

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Madeline : first day at Abbeydale Girls Grammar School age 11

MD:     There was.  I don’t know whether I read those actually, I think my daughter did but I don’t think I did. It doesn’t ring a bell that that was one that I read. And then when I got to Grammar School when I was, what 14, the Head of English was our form teacher and she had a book, a cupboard full of books and we were allowed to borrow anything we wanted and then I really got into reading, I used to stay up reading half the night you know. I’d not turn my light out but I read them too fast and I can’t remember … I know the books there was The Virginians, there was Henry Esmond, there was oh dear, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre I actually got given that by a friend when I was about ten so I read Jane Eyre when I was ten but what was it Virginians, Henry Esmond, mm, oh dear, Cranford, what else did I read? When you’ve gone I shall remember them all, in fact I meant to write down everything before you came but I haven’t done.

TC: So a lot of the classics then? Jane Austin …

MD: Oh yes, Wuthering Heights, David Copperfield. In fact I had a child’s version, a paper version of David Copperfield which didn’t have all of it. It was the bit from when he first came from wherever it was – Canterbury? No he went to Canterbury later didn’t he? But it was a short, very much shortened child’s version of David Copperfield, not the full detailed one. I had that and that had nice pictures in, I can remember having that one at one time but that was just thin paper.

TC: Did you go on to read the rest of Dickens, was that a way in for you or you just read what was there?

MD: At that point I just read what was there. In fact I’ve not read all of Dickens’ books now I don’t think. What else did I read?  Some of C S Forster’s books I read, oh and Ian Forster’s books, I read quite a few of those as well and then we had a curate at church who introduced me to some books that I have never yet found since, and they were not religious ones. They were… not spiritualist either, what’s the word I’m looking for? Words gone out of my mind, I can’t remember what I want to say.

TC: So they weren’t stories, they weren’t fiction, were they fiction?

MD: Yes they were fiction, oh what’s the word I want

TC: Science Fiction? Fantasy?

MD: Not science, oh what’s the word? Well they were fantasy in a way but that is not the word I would use to describe them. Oh dear I can’t think of the word I want.

TC: But they were still novels, it’ll come back to you, don’t worry.

MD: They were novels, by Charles Williams was the author and I’ve looked often when I’ve been out or in a bookshop or somewhere for Charles Williams and I’ve found perhaps a Charles Williams but it wasn’t the ones that I… not spiritual, what’s the word I want?

TC: I’ve got a list of some authors and different sort of genres here, I wonder if Charles Williams… science fiction, classics, sagas, romance, obviously not romance was it?

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MD: It’s not magic either, it’s like magic but I don’t mean magic, I just can’t think of the word to describe, a bit Dracula type things…

TC: Yes, like H G Wells, that kind of thing or…

MD: What would you put Dracula under?

TC: Well, I would almost say horror.

MD: Well I suppose so they were weird, they were weird. Sometimes I used to frighten myself.

TC: Thrillers maybe, were they thrillers?

MD:I suppose so but at the same time it was… I can’t remember any of titles now umm but none of my friends, because I often ask my friends, because we used to go to his flat on a Sunday evening after church for coffee. It was like a youth club type thing really but I was the only one that ever took the books home to read so they don’t even know what I read.  I talk about them sometimes but I can’t remember a title but it’s a bit, perhaps Dracula, not the horror side of it as much but the magic side, I don’t know, I just can’t think of the word to describe them, really weird.

TC:Were they a bit like, I don’t know. Were they a bit like Harry Potter type of magic, that kind of thing?

MD: I’ve not read Harry Potter but probably you’re perhaps right, I don’t know whether is Harry Potter good things or bad things? Or is it a mixture?

TC: Well both actually, a bit of both.

MD: I think basically they were unpleasant things but once I started reading I was hooked, I’d take one back and bring another home and in fact I saw him not so long ago, mind you he’s an old man now obviously, he’s in his 80s now. He came to Christine’s a while back, in fact I took him on a circular tour of Sheffield that time to give her a break because they had been putting him up and I think we took a friend back to the station and then we came round here because I think he lived at Firth Park originally…

TC: So he was a Sheffield author then, Charles Williams, was he?

MD: No, no I don’t think so. But last time I saw the, well I said he was a curate to me as it was his first job in the church but he ended up as some big bod at York Minster in the end, my Curate, not the author, and as I said when I saw him last time I meant to ask him about these books because I know I can’t get hold of them and it would be quite interesting to try and get hold of one. I’ve not actually been to the library but I’ve looked in catalogues and things of authors and I just can’t find the author at all.

TC: Charles Williams.

MD: I mean, I’m sure that’s right because that’s really quite firm in my mind.

TC: Can you remember any titles?

MD: No. We are back to the fact that I read too many, too fast. That was it. I would bring one and I would stay up, I can remember one night I woke. I was reading in bed and there was this spider and I’m terrified of spiders. I had been so absorbed reading this book, it was probably two in the morning or whatever and I thought, “I’ll have to stop, shut me book, there’s a spider hanging straight in front of me”. It absolutely terrified me. I just couldn’t put them down. So there was something about them but I just cannot for the life of me…what’s the other one besides Dracula?

TC: Frankenstein?

MD: It’s not Frankenstein.

TC: Is it sort of Gothic? Is that the word? Gothic, horror, something like that?

MD: Not really. I don’t know I just can’t even relate one of the stories really at all. All I know is that I was absolutely hooked on those books. So how old would I be?   17 or 18, something like that. I just read them one after the other. I probably had one a week, something like that. I don’t know how many he wrote. You know, they’d have ghostly things in or they’d go to castles or houses and…I think there was a religious theme in it as well, kind of thing, in the background probably. That’s the only way I can describe it and the after that I don’t think I read so much really. I think I seem to have, after I had been, started me teaching, me books sort of more or less went out the window. I didn’t sort of have time I suppose, to sit and read as much. Now my daughters, they will read, but I find it much harder to sit and…I mean she sends me some sloppy ones now. I don’t even read those, you know. She often comes and she says, “I’ll take them home”. She has just brought me a set of three that I haven’t started. She says, “Have you read ‘em yet?” I said, “No.”

TC: No!

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MD: What are they? I have got them here somewhere. I read loads but I tell you ones that I do like are Joanne Harris. I read all Joanne Harris’s books.

TC: Oh yes, yes.

MD: I think they are good they are. I really like them.

TC: Yes. She’s lovely. Like Chocolat and um…

MD: I’ve got The Lollipop Shoes. As far as I know I have read them all that except for the last one. I think I might have got it but I haven’t read it.

TC: Oh this new one? Blue Eyes or something it’s called isn’t it?

MD: I’ve not read the latest one I don’t think.

TC: So sort of in the sixties when you started teaching, it kind of fell off, ‘cus you had read all the classics, you’d read all these whatever they were Gothic horrors or whatever. Did you read any romance or historical fiction?

MD: Well the G A Henty ones, they were historical ones about Saxons and about various ones. They were my brother’s so they were ones…I like history. I suppose that was something I was interested in. But you see these are the sort actually I will enjoy reading when I get round to sitting down and reading them but my daughter’s just sent me these. I don’t know if you’ve seen these? Jennifer Worth.

TC: No. I’ve not seen that one. That looks interesting.

MD: The true story of the East End.

TC: Call the Midwife.

MD: Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End.

TC: I’ve not read any of those, no.

MD: That’s a trilogy.

TC: I’m reading a ghost story at the moment [laughs].

MD: I’m just looking at the date. They are quite recent I think.
TC: They look new.

MD: Well she’s read them.

TC: But back then though, you’ve told me that you got most of your books from the library and your brother’s and your mum and dad’s books. Were you reading French books as well as English books? Were you bilingual?

MD: No, because … I never spoke French because my father used to tell me I was saying it wrong. You see, I understood it totally so in that respect I was bilingual because I knew French. I could understand wherever. Now when I go, my son’s got a house in France and we go to France or whatever, I’ve no problem whatsoever but at home my father had the most appalling French accent ever. I could tell if he ever said anything, you know. My mother used to speak English to him but when he did speak French it was dreadful his accent. So as a child being told I did it wrong when I knew he wasn’t right either, maybe I was wrong but nor was he right, so I stopped trying to speak French. But you see I had my grandma living with me all the time until she died in 1955. My grandma was always with us because she was a widow. She’d come to England and that was it. She always lived with us. Until I, I don’t know, as a young child when we first came to Sheffield, I think that was ’42 because we lived near Morecambe during the war. We came to Sheffield I think it was 1942 and I went to the Children’s Hospital not long after and they had to get a nurse that understood French because I could only speak French at that point because of course my father was away working most of the week and so all I heard was French. So I spoke French and would ask for things in French but gradually that obviously went away. When I was in the Infant School, strangely enough at Hunter’s Bar, a French boy came to school. He was a bit older than me. I think I was in the reception class and he had to spend the day with me in reception because I was the only person that could understand him and translate when he wanted anything. So it was the thing in reverse almost, you know, at that point.

TC: And did you read French books then? Or were you attracted to French literature?

MD: I’d got the Malheurs de Sophie. That was the only book at that point that we had in French in the house, I think. My mother had got the big Larousse Dictionaries, well encyclopaedias. In fact I’ve got them. They must be on the bookcase there. I used to love looking at them so I would probably read some of the French as well, you know, because obviously they were the French dictionaries. But I can’t remember when the French bit really stopped. I heard French of course until my grandma died, on a regular basis at home but, as I said, I never spoke it because I wasn’t one to be told off all the time when I didn’t think I was in the wrong. So I just didn’t speak French. It’s a shame but that was what happened to me. I never read anything in French I don’t think, not that I can recall. Other than…

TC: Malheurs de Sophie

MD: Well I don’t think I actually read that. I perhaps did towards the end, initially it was read to me rather than me reading it.

TC: What about when you started to do your maths? You went to, did you go to university?

MD: No, I did it at Notts County Teacher Training College in Retford. Eaton Hall it was.

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Madeline (third from left back row) at Teacher Training College with fellow students and lecturer.

TC: Were you reading then or were you reading more textbooks at that stage?

MD: I was still reading but what was I reading? That was probably when I was still reading me Charles Williams books ‘cus I used to come back home at weekends quite often and collect some more books to read [chuckles], ummm, although I did have a lot of work to do as well I suppose so I probably didn’t read so much then. Then when I came home, back to Sheffield, I can’t really….there seem to be gaps….I certainly read when I was at home. Since I’ve been married I didn’t read so much I don’t think. I don’t think my husband read. He had perhaps theoretical-type books, you know, but he wasn’t one that read novels anymore, kind of thing. So I suppose we did things and we didn’t sit and read and when I went to bed that was it whereas when I was at home before that, I used to always read when I went to bed. I mean I started recently trying to do that. They were, like I said, the books that my daughter sent me but then I either fall asleep with the lights on all night or I am too weary to read! I think I have had rather a stressful last couple of years, my husband’s got dementia, so the last few years have been a bit of a nightmare really. I’ve not really done anything that, I’ve been too wearied or I couldn’t sit and read, you know, one or the other. I sort of have got out of the habit of doing things that I perhaps were doing before.

TC: Did you ever read any comedy books? Were you interested in reading comedy like P G Wodehouse or Compton Mackenzie, anything like them?

MD: That just … did he write …?

TC: Even Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons, authors like that?

MD: No, I’ve not read those. I’ve read Animal Farm and Brave New World and there was another one wasn’t there?

TC: 1984?

MD: 1984. I’ve read those, I can remember reading those. Like I said, it’s just remembering what I’ve read int’it.

TC: George Orwell.

MD: Yes I read all those. When, you see, when we were talking about Dickens, you see, for my prizes at school, I had a little set, you can see some of the blue ones there, A tTale of Two Cities. I don’t know which they are to tell you the truth … [moves away from microphone] … Black Tulip, Tales from Shakespeare, Hard Times.

TC: Who is Black Tulip by?

MD: That’s Alexander Dumas that one.

TC: Oh yeah. French author.

MD: Yeah, a bit of that again you see!… What’s that one, Treasure Island, that’s a very old book that one. I’ve brought a whole load down for the children now as well, my grandchildren, so there’s all sorts here now.          Enid Blyton, I read loads of those, Enid Blyton, I never mentioned her did I?

TC: No.

MD: Enid Blyton. That’s the other one when I was talking about the twins. It was Enid Blyton was the other one. So all the different various series that she did, I think I must have read all of those. Almost all of those. I certainly was an Enid Blyton fan.

TC: And did you read Black Beauty and things like that?

MD: Yes. Jane Eyre, Black Beauty. They were all in an order but then when I couldn’t fit some together I’ve ended up with them all over the place.

TC: You’ve got a nice bookshelf certainly.

MD: There’s some in the loft as well. There’s books all over.

TC: Did you like adventure books then?

MD: I suppose I did. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, I read.

TC: Hardy. Did you read a lot of Hardy?

MD: Quite a few of Hardy’s books, yes, I have done, yeah. It’s just remembering!

TC: I suppose they’re kind of romance, adventure, all…

MD: Combined.

TC: Taking you away from real life, from your own experience?

MD: But then when I watch them on television sometimes it spoils it because they don’t always portray them the same as what your memories are of the actual…well they play around with them, don’t they, as well sometimes. I watch it and I think, “That’s not what I read”. I realise that they are not quite the same. They are different. I am trying to refresh me memory if there is anything else here. There is some in the loft, I think, as well.

TC: You have obviously got a lot. Did you read any Howard Spring or Neville Shute?

MD: Oh Nevil Shute!

TC: A Town Like Alice?

MD: I’ve read them all! His autobiographies, Slide Rule isn’t it? His autobiography. On the Beach? Not the Beach, something beach … that was the atom bomb. I read all of those Nevil Shute books, yeah. It’s funny int’it. I can’t remember all the titles now. I can remember the On the Beach, that was the atom bomb. Slide Rule was his autobiography, oh and Reach for the Sky, I’ve read, Dam Busters.

TC: So the war novels?

MD: Yeah, yeah.

TC: Why do you think you were attracted to them? Was it because of films or because you were a war baby or…?

MD: I’ve no idea whether I saw the film first and then read the book. Was it Paul Brickhill, The Dam Busters? Am I right? Was it Brickhill?

TC: I don’t know who wrote The Dam Busters I am afraid. Let me have a look. It might be on my list.

MD: I don’t know whether I saw the film first because usually once you have seen the film you find it harder to read the book. I think I probably read the book first actually, at a guess, then saw the film. Like Reach For The Sky, I don’t think I ever read, was there a book of it or was there just a film?

TC: I don’t know.  I am just wondering that really.

MD: I think that was probably just a film, Reach for the Sky. I don’t think that was a book.

TC: Yes, sometimes it was a way in, wasn’t it? Like for instance, you know, Lost Horizon and Gone with the Wind. Did you read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind?

MD: I’ve not read it all. I packed up part way through, I think, if I remember rightly. I had it but I don’t think I read it all from cover to cover that one. But yet I ploughed through The Virginians which is a really long book, that, but that was before I read…oh Vanity Fair I read.

TC: Thackeray?

MD: Hmmm. I think I read anything that I could put me hands on. At one time in me life I was very avid reader and I would read anything that was there I suppose really. You know, I…

TC: Did you read any John Galsworthy, The Forsyte Saga?

MD: I’ve only read one. What was it? Because that was my mother had that. That was before it was on television of course or anything. I have forgotten which one it was. I can’t remember which it was but I can remember where it was on the bookcase at my mother’s, when I was home, when I was a child. I can remember. I didn’t read it until I was older but certainly it was before it came on television or anything. I did read that one. I think I just picked up anything, in a way, that was there. I like history, history novels. Now my brother had all, like I said, those G. A. Henty books and I used to like those. I mean they weren’t targeted for girls I don’t think. I think they were more targeted at a boys’market.

TC:  G A Henty?

MD: Henty. H-e-n-t-y.

TC: I have never heard of him. Who is he?

MD: Well he wrote all these, there is one about the Saxons, one about Vikings, there was loads of them. History-based but all war, the war type I suppose. I know they were my brother’s, you know, he had a whole lot on the shelves and I did read all those. I can remember reading all those because it painted a picture of what England was like in that age, or that age kind of thing. I suppose I have always like history so anything that involved a bit of history I was quite interested. Like you said, like Tale of Two Cities, a lot of those Dickens ones were history based as well. Anything else?

TC: Some of the Georgette Heyer were sort of historical. Did you ever read those?

MD:  Now strangely enough I don’t think I ever … have you got a name of one there?

TC: No. I’ve only got…I’ve got some Georgette Heyer on my bookcase and I am just trying to remember some titles. I don’t know. What about people like Du Maurier and Agatha Christie? Did you read any of them?

MD: I don’t think I did. Sometimes it is hard to remember whether you’ve read them or you’ve seen them on television or listened to them on the radio ‘cus of course I used to listen to things on the radio as well. I think I read Quatermass or some of Quatermass. I can remember having something to do with something that was to do with Quatermass besides what was on telly. I mean we didn’t have a television until, well, I was 21 I think, when we acquired a television. We really got it for me father ‘cus he was an old man by then. It was something for him to do, to sit and watch television. So I had never had a television. If I wanted to watch television I used to have to go to friend’s houses to watch television. So I didn’t see things on television but I can always remember seeing some of Quatermass once at my school friend’s house. I actually was interested in that. If I remember rightly I got the book that was involved with Quatermass. I don’t know if it was called Quatermass. I don’t know.

TC: Is it the Quatermass Experiment or the Quatermass…something?

MD: I don’t know. I can’t remember a great deal about it but I know ‘cus I’d seen something on television and I’d thought, ‘’Oh I want to read that.” I did get that one.

TC: What about people like Somerset Maugham, did you read any of his books?

MD: Now strangely enough, no. I have got loads…they are not here, I think they are upstairs somewhere, I’ve got quite a few and I’ve still not read them strangely enough. I have got them and acquired them over a period of time. I think some were my daughter’s and that and some I think were probably my mother’s, going back donkey’s years. As far as I know I don’t think I have ever read one.

TC: So why is it that we are attracted to some and then others just leave us cold?

MD: I’ve no idea. I must have probably opened them to read them but then thought, “No” and not bothered. I’ve not got stuck into them. I’ve still got books, I can’t think of any now but that I haven’t read that I keep promising myself one day I will read. They are either upstairs or down here and I think, “Well I still haven’t read that book”.

TC: Can you think what they are?

MD: Ummm, what’s that one about the First World War. You just mentioned…was that one you just said or not? That big long one about the First World War. Oh dear!

TC: Did I just say it?

MD: I thought you did. All’s Quiet on the Western Front.

TC: Oh yes.

MD: Now I’ve never got stuck into that but I keep thinking that one day I will read it. Obviously the way it is written is not one that I find easy to read probably, maybe.

TC: What about J.B. Priestley? That was round about that time?

MD: No, I don’t think I ever read any of those at all. I have seen some of his plays and things but I’ve never read a book.

TC: Hemingway?

MD: I don’t think I have ever read any of Hemingway…Oh! That’s Farewell to Arms.

TC: Yes, yes.

MD: Is there two or three of those.

TC: There’s Farewell to Arms and there’s something else Arms.

MD: There’s one before it.

TC: Yes.

MD: What was the one before? I don’t know whether I’ve read them now or whether I’ve seen the films. [Both laugh] Sometimes it’s hard to remember int’it.

TC: So there were books that you started and then you didn’t quite manage to get through and then you say…but some authors like Charles Williams, you liked straight away, couldn’t get enough of.

MD: And Neville Shute, I adored Neville Shute’s books.  And I liked Dickens’ books. I don’t think I have read them all but I have read quite a few. I like those as well.

 

TC: Well I have got a few more names on my list that might, that might sort of prompt you. There are the historical ones we have sort of done those really and the classic ones, haven’t we. H.G. Wells? Did you read any of his – The Time Machine and that kind of thing?

Did you read any Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim and that kind of book?

MD: No. I’ve not read those. I’ve actually got, although I think I have taken a whole lot to the charity shop which I perhaps shouldn’t have done really. I used to get those condensed books or not just condensed books but ones where you’d get some of several books in one book which was tempting you to read them, weren’t they. Sometimes I would start reading them and think, “No that’s not for me.” I got quite a few of those from a book club once and I think I took them all away and give them to a charity shop. I mean I’ve kept the books here that I really like I suppose. I mean I like poetry, umm, I’ve not got a lot but I mean I’ve got, what have I got? I can’t remember what it is called now.

[Moves away from microphone]

Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain, I’ve read that one.

TC: Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain

MD: Penguin Book of English Verse.

TC: Ahh, did you sort of latch on to a particular poet or did you…that’s an anthology.

MD: I like the war poets.

TC: The war poets.

MD: Siegfried Sassoon, was it.

TC: Siegfried Sassoon.

MD: Umm, oh dear.

TC: Wilfred Owen maybe?

MD: Yeah. I’ve got a book, a hard backed book to write in, that at one point I’d copied lots of poems into, years and years and years ago.

TC: Did you learn them off by heart?

MD: Some of them I did, yeah. I can’t remember ‘em now! The war ones I did like, I’ve got a selection of those.

TC: Graves? Robert Graves.

MD: Yeah, that’s right, yeah. That’s not here that though. It must be upstairs. I know I’ve still got it because I had it down not so long ago, with all my neat writing in. I had copied them all down.

T.S.Eliot, err, I’ve got some of his.

TC: Bawden?

MD: Wordsworth. I do like poetry actually. I must admit I quite like poetry.

TC: Did you ever write any yourself?

MD: No. Useless I am. Or I used to be useless and I’ve never thought of doing it ever since so I don’t know. I like Merlin at the minute. Where has that come from, Merlin?

TC: Merlin? I still think that is maybe a bit of fantasy really, isn’t it?

MD: I’m back to the same.

TC: That’s a bit of a theme, isn’t it?

MD: A lot of the books I’ve read, yeah.

TC: Taking you into a new world.

MD: Away from things.

TC: Away from reality.

MD: Probably, yeah. It is like all the twins books that I used to read. They took you away, didn’t they, to foreign countries to see how children lived everywhere else. I can’t think of anything else. I probably will when you’ve gone! Always the same!

TC: That’s fine. That’s not a problem at all. So, I have got on my list of classics, you’ve read nearly everything. You’ve mentioned Jane Austen , Dickens, E.M. Forster, Thomas Hardy. Have you read any James Joyce?

MD: The Horse’s Mouth? Is it The Horse’s Mouth?

TC: James Joyce, Ulysses, Dubliners. Did he write The Horse’s Mouth? I don’t know whether he did.

MD: Or is that Carey? Was there a Joyce Carey?

TC: Oh I don’t know. Could be. I’m not sure. What about D H Lawrence?

MD: Yeah, I have read some of D H Lawrence. In fact I have read quite a few. I think I saw some of the films but then I’ve also read the books. What have I read? Sons and Lovers, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. There’s another one I’ve read….errr…I can’t think. I have read another one and I can’t think what that is. I have said E.M. Forster haven’t I? Did I?

TC: Yes you said E.M. Forster. What about Edna O’Brien?

MD: No. That doesn’t ring a bell.

TC: The Irish writer.

MD: No.

TC: Country Girls?

MD: No. What was the other one I was going to say, oh C S Forrester.

TC: Yes.

MD: Yeah. Done them as well.

TC: Virginia Woolf?

MD: I’ve read something of Virginia Woolf’s but I can’t think which.

TC: Lighthouse?

MD: No. What was it? I can’t remember which it was. I know I have read one. I have only read one as far as I can remember but I can’t remember what it was.

TC: Well you’ve read a nice selection of different books haven’t you really. You’ve kindly told me that you got them from the library, from your brother’s collection, from your parent’s collection and then the teacher and then your church. We know that you like classics.

MD: That’s right, yeah. That took me up to 1965.

TC: And that was ’65 and that was it!

MD: And then since, once I was married and I got children I think and I was working as well, it just … I hadn’t time to read any more. Then of course television arrived didn’t it.

TC: Yes.

MD: You see, I didn’t have a television at home when I was growing up. We had the radio and I was never really … there was odd things I used to listen to on the radio but I wasn’t a real radio person, I don’t think. I‘d just sit and read I suppose. But then when we were married, you see, I got my mother and father a television when we – I was first married, err, when I first started work. When I first came home from college they hadn’t got a television and my father had got dementia as well, so eventually got a television that kept him occupied for a least a while. Before that I used to watch Coronation Street and Emergency  Ward 10 and I used to go to one of me mother’s friends ‘cus they‘d got a television so I could watch television there. So I mean, so a television, actually spoilt people’s reading. I still believe it now. I watch things and that’s giving you a picture how somebody else portrays whatever is and it might not be what you would have thought had you read it yourself. So I think it’s nice to be able to watch television but I think it’s destroyed, well for me, ‘cos I mean me husband didn’t really read. He was an engineer teacher but he was into theoretical things. He very rarely read at all, ordinary books so he would always have the television on. So once you got television your books go by the board. As I have said, since he has not been here, I have gone back to reading more but they are just more or less books that my daughter keeps sending my way. Various different authors and everything.

madeline-docherty-and-daughter-

TC: Did you ever read any biographies? Were you ever interested in reading biographies and autobiographies?

MD: I have done. I’ve read more autobiographies probably. I am trying to think, Hannah’s, the lady that lived on the farm near Huddersfield somewhere in the Pennines, her autobiography.         She lived on her own right up in the middle of nowhere. In fact I think I have just sent that off to the charity shop. I enjoyed reading that one. Oh dear what else? Oh dear.

TC: You said you were interested in history? Did you read any historical biographies, you know, Henry VIII, Elizabeth or Anne Boleyn?

MD: Tell you what, was it W H Davis? Have I got the right name? Wrote Supertramp?

TC: Oh I don’t know.

MD: W H Davis. I don’t know whether that was autobiographical or not. Was it called something, Autobiography of a Supertramp and I think he crossed the USA on trains but I think it was what happened. Int’it funny how you can’t remember. Unless I am confusing two books. I am not sure now. Autobiography of a Supertramp W.H. Davis? I shall have to look it up in one of me encyclopaedias and see what he did. That’s strange that, I can remember the title, I know it was W.H. Davis and I am sure that was autobiographical. Well there’s Stevenson’s isn’t there? The one with a donkey. Robert Louis Stevenson. In France was it? Something with a donkey. Oh dear! I can’t remember the title. Surely know you have got me thinking you see. I mean I must be very widely read, or I used to be very widely read because I am not any more. Oh dear! Not passages with, something with a donkey? He crossed an area of France, presumably just with a donkey and was camping out and everything. Oh dear, Robert Louis Stevenson.

TC: I don’t know. I am not sure, I don’t know, I don’t know.

MD: That I think was autobiographical. It must have been a period in his life when he must have made this journey or something because I don’t think it was a novel. I am sure it was actually an actual factual story that one. I just can’t, I mean I like looking at encyclopaedias! [Laughing]

TC: Getting all that. Well look, you have been very kind, thank you Madeleine. I am going to stop there.

MD: Have you got enough there?

TC: I have got loads, yes, yes, yes.

madeline-docherty-2015

Madeline November 2015

Access Madeleine’s reading journey here.

 

 

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On the BBC: ‘The more we read the more we live.’

The more we read the more we live. The better our reading is the better our living is sure to be. Food, clothing and shelter are requisites of life, but reading is necessary for complete living.

This sentiment – authoritative, clear and aspirational – is at the heart of a talk given on the BBC’s first Sheffield station, 6FL, on Thursday 27 January 1927.[i] The speaker was the city librarian, Richard J Gordon (1881-1966), and the broadcast was for a series entitled ‘How Sheffield’s City Departments Work’. As a whole, this sounds worthy, even dull, but Gordon, who had, a colleague said[ii], ‘an innate flair for saying and doing the right thing at the right time,’ is fascinating for what he tells us about the ambition felt for public libraries by the people who ran them in the early twentieth century.

Sheffield was lucky to have Richard Gordon. A ‘dynamic person who believed so passionately in the civilising mission of public libraries’, he ‘added lustre to his profession,’ say his obituaries.[iii] His lifetime contribution was recognised when he was chosen as President of the Library Association in 1947.

The converted music hall on Surrey St, which served as half of the central library in Gordon’s day. It was inconvenient and unsafe.

Gordon arrived in Sheffield in 1921, when the public libraries were stagnating (a strong word but the one used in the official history[iv]). Sheffield had made a good start: in 1856 it was the first city in Yorkshire to adopt the 1850 Public Libraries Act allowing corporations to establish free libraries. For the next half century, things went quite well, with central lending and reference libraries and  branches opening. But then the service declined, to the extent that in 1920 the Council shamefacedly asked the chief librarian of Leeds to assess the problems and recruited, from 60 applicants, the chief librarian of Rochdale, Richard Gordon, to rebuild the service. The challenge is set out in City Libraries of Sheffield 1856-1956:

… the bookstocks were so bad throughout the lending libraries, and the administrative methods had fallen so far behind … What little money was available was wasted by bibliographical incompetence both in book selection and binding… The buildings were revoltingly dirty, both externally and internally… The staff … had been actively discouraged from attempting to qualify in their profession …

A letter to the Sheffield Independent in April 1920 said that the libraries were a ‘disgrace to a city of such importance’ and blamed the ‘Council’s absurd policy of parsimony’.

By 1927, when he spoke on the radio, Gordon was revolutionising the libraries. New books were bought and old, worn-out ones removed. The staff were re-organised and new systems designed. Open access shelving was introduced.[v] Information and publicity campaigns were initiated. The central libraries were reformed, five branch libraries attractively renovated, a children’s branch library opened, the school library service expanded and plans laid for a much-needed, new central library building.

Walkley library – where Gordon opened a  children’s library in 1924, which was used by many of our readers.

Highfield Branch Library, renovated and re-opened in 1923.

These achievements are evident in Gordon’s radio talk: ‘Much has been done to make the libraries worthy of their name, but much more remains to be done.’ More importantly, Gordon used the opportunity to make the case for reading and for public libraries. (Although our situation today is very different, his arguments still have merit). Libraries were, he said, ‘community schools where all may increase and supplement their education’, although their contribution to the ‘national educational structure is but, as yet, dimly recognised.’ An experienced local authority man, Gordon pointed out that the libraries were good value (11d – £4.70 today – per head, less than in other northern cities), offering ‘[information] freely placed at the service of the public; competent counsel in the choice of books; [and] where to look for the required information…’ He aimed, he said, to ‘attract and cultivate readers’, including children, and to anticipate and supply people’s needs:

If we have not the book wanted don’t hesitate to say so. If you do not tell us what you want, we are only able to guess at your requirements …

He went on:

Please do not mistake my meaning regarding this, I mean requirements of books of real value, and not merely of recreational interest.

‘Books of real value’ is an important phrase for Gordon and other librarians of the day. Free libraries were part of the great social reforms of the mid-19th century, founded with a view to the improvement, the self-improvement, of the working classes. Reading for pleasure and reading fiction (particularly the cheaper sort) were frowned upon. By the 1920s, librarians had mellowed somewhat, but the focus on education remained, along with the feeling that ratepayers’ money must be spent on the worthwhile, rather than the entertaining. So Gordon said:

[The central library] is not for readers who require only the latest popular novel, unless it should happen to be the work of a novelist of admitted quality. In general the libraries do not provide, as new, the ordinary novel. They do not have the money for the purpose, even supposing the ordinary novel was worth its price.

And:

Too often the public library is only thought and spoken of in connection with the reading of novels, and without detracting in the slightest degree from the value to the people of the library’s service in providing recreational reading, yet I would emphasise the contribution it offers to the raising of the standard of general intelligence which is the library’s greatest value to the city.

Gordon concluded: ‘I believe the libraries have something for everybody … I hope many more will … find pleasure and profit in [them].’ The broadcast was clearly part of a communications strategy, aiming to draw Sheffielders in. There were also updates in the local press and trade papers, public lectures, reading lists, exhibitions and slogans such as ‘The Library exists for Books, Information, and Service’. But it seems likely that Gordon was also talking to his employers, the Council. He emphasised the benefits of the library service, including as a means of profiting local industry, and he talked confidently of growth: ‘…when our library service expands, as it must expand…’ A library, he said, is ‘books made productive’.

1927 was to be Gordon’s last year in Sheffield. Shortly after the broadcast, he started a new job as chief librarian in Leeds. There were press suggestions that Sheffield had itself to blame, as the salary offered was well below that of other northern cities. He stayed in Leeds for the rest of his career, and was much praised for its libraries. In Sheffield, he was succeeded by his equally energetic and insightful deputy, Joseph Lamb, whose work is explored elsewhere on this website.

Gordon presided over an increase in borrowing in Sheffield from 711,000 books in 1921 to over 1.5 million in 1926.  His friend Lamb wrote of him: ‘when he was in charge libraries became marvellously alive’.[vi]

 

[i] The script can be seen in the Sheffield Local History Library.

[ii] Obituary by J P Lamb, Library Association Record, November 1966, p.418.

[iii] Obituaries by E Hargreaves and A E Burbridge respectively, Library Association Record, November 1966, p.420.

[iv] The City Libraries of Sheffield, 1856-1956 (Sheffield, Libraries Galleries and Museums Committee, 1956).

[v] Open access, i.e. shelving accessible to the public, is almost universal today. In the early twentieth century, closed access, where books are chosen from catalogues and brought to borrowers by staff, was the norm.

[vi] From (ii) above.

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