Margaret G

Margaret G

Margaret was born on 12th June 1924.

She is being interviewed by Loveday Herridge.

[AUDIO FILE]

Loveday Herridge:  So that you said you do library lists.

Margaret G:  Yes they come every month … people that can’t get to the library and so I gave them a list every month about 16.

LH:  And do you keep copies of those then?

MG:  Yes I’ve got a book down there with lists in.  I don’t put them in a book until I’ve read them and enjoyed them.

LH:  Oh.  [Laughs.]  I must do the formal bit first.

MG:  Yes.

LH:  Which is to say it’s the 31 October um and you … very kindly agreed to be interviewed and it’s Margaret … I think?

MG:  Yes, Margaret.

LH: And when were you born, Margaret, may I ask?

MG:  12 June 1924.

LH:  Right … my name’s Loveday Herridge and erm that’s all we have to say for the formalities … so we’ll just go back to what we were talking about – so the books you read now, mm, you make a list every month.

MG:  Yes.

LH:  About 16 books but you only keep a record of the ones you like.

MG:  Yes.

LH:  Right.  The thing is what were interested in – how is it you’ve got to the point where you can say what you like.  What is it that’s made you interested in the books you read.  So I want to take you right back to when you were little and ask you if you can remember learning to read?

MG:  No, I can’t remember but I can remember my parents read to me every night and my father used to draw us pictures of the stories and … we were always well supplied with books.

LH:  Ah.

MG:  Yes.

LH:  Do you know where those books came from?

MG:  Some were presents and some they bought.

LH:  Mm …  did your parents live in Sheffield?

MG:  Yes.

LH:  And can you tell me where?

MG:  Down at Walkley not far away.

LH:  Right, and what did your mum and dad do? What was their work?

MG:  My mother didn’t work.

LH:  Did she work before she was married?

MG:  Yes, worked before she was married, yes.

LH:  Do you know what she did?

MG:  Yes, Williams down the Moor and she progressed to the fur department.  She was doing that before she got married.

LH:  Was Williams the department store?

MG:  Yes, down the Moor and they all got bombed during the war … yes.

LH:  And your dad – what did he do?

MG:  He was a clerk at the Town Hall.  He did all the salaries for the teachers.  All by hand.  He had a beautiful hand, yes.

LH:  And did they read, your mother and father.  Do you recall them reading?

MG:  I don’t know. I presume so.  They had a newspaper.  Mm, Mother liked reading especially.  She lived till ‘97 so she liked reading and … she liked reading what she called a nice murder.  [Laughter] Oh, we often laughed – my sister and I often laughed.  We’d say, ‘Oh, that was a nice murder.  Mum would have liked that … on television ‘cos they were more gentle then, weren’t they?’

LH:  I suppose they were.

MG:  She liked, er, probably Sherlock Holmes.  I don’t know, I can’t really remember all the ones she liked but she liked books.  My sister used to fetch books for her.

LH:  From?

MG:  The library.

LH:  The library – you used the library, did you?

MG:  Yes.

LH:  Which library branch did you go to?

MG:  She went to – well, I did then before I was married – Walkley.

LH:  Right, right.

MG:  I went to Broomhill after I was married.  Took the children, of course.  Then the bus started coming on here twice a week.

LH:  So to go back to when you were a child, mm, you say you can’t really remember learning to read.

MG:  No, I can’t. [Indignantly]

LH:  Do you think your mother taught you or do you think you learnt at school … ?  Do you … ?  Was your sister older or younger than you?

MG:  Sister’s younger.

LH:  Ah.

MG:  Seven years.

LH:  Right so perhaps you learnt to read at school?

MG:  Probably yes.

LH:  Which school did you go to?

MG:  I went to Bolehill and then I went up to Western Road and then I went to Marlcliffe at Middlewood.

LH:  And how old were you when you left school?

MG:  15, I think. 15, yes.

LH:  So, mm, books – reading.  You said your father read to you.

MG:  Yes, they both read to me.

LH:  They both read to you.  When did they read to you?

MG:  Bedtime.

LH:  Bedtime – could you always expect a story?

MG:  Yes, it was part of going to bed.

LH:  You don’t remember any of those books that were read or read to you?

MG:  Peter Pan, mm, and we did have the Enid Blyton ones – they were little books, weren’t they? Little paper ones.  And, er, I think we had Tiny Tots, … and you sort of progressed then –  and then of course when we went to the library, … we went when we were older, to be able to cross the roads and things. We read the Chalet School stories and things like that, Angela Brazil.

LH:  Do you remember, when you went to the library, did you find your way to the bookshelves yourselves or did the librarians help you?

MG:  There was a children’s section.

LH:  Yes.

MG:  Yes, adults was in one room and the children’s was in a smaller room.

LH:  So how do you think you chose the books when you were a child … in the library?

MG:  I suppose we’d look at them and then choose them from looking at them … yes, same as we do today I suppose.  If we get a good author I tend to go through the lot.  I’ve got all the Dick Francis books up there.

LH:  Have you?

MG:  Yes.  Yes, I could read them again and again … and again.

LH:  So well …

MG:  Yes, if you like a particular writer, then yes.

LH:  So you got your books from the library and you got presents – did you get them for birthdays and Christmas from relatives?

MG:  Yes … lots aunties and uncles.

LH:  What about school?  Did they encourage they you to read at school?

MG:  Now I can’t remember all that, no.  [Firmly]  I presume they did but course [sic] it was different then, you see, wasn’t it?  A long time ago when I was at school in the ‘20s and ‘30s.

LH:  How do you see it as different? Did they … Do you remember having a … Was there a library at school?

MG:  I can’t remember that, no.

LH:  When you got to know there was a subject called English, did they encourage you to read books?

[Both talking at once – inaudible]

MG:  I presume… so I can’t really say.  That would come later probably when I went to Marlcliffe.

LH:  That was a secondary school … at Marlcliffe. Can you remember..?

MG:  …we had all the set subjects there – we went to different classrooms for different teachers.

LH:  Were you encouraged to read there?

MG:  Yes, yes.

LH:  Are there any books that stand out for you when you were a young teenager?

MG:  No, not really, you know.  I s’pose we were still reading … I was young – very young until I was 19.  We weren’t like they are today.  I wasn’t allowed to do things.  I mean the night of the blitz I was going to a dance – no way was I was going to go.  My parents said no and that was it.  You see, they said no.  And then [when] I was 19 it was time for me to get my call-up papers.  They let me go nursing then because they didn’t know where I was – it was the same city.

LH:  So when you left school did you start work?

MG:  Yes, yes, I worked in various jobs.  I worked for the, um, the Sheffield Transport.  I was very happy there.  I made some very good friends there.  In fact, I found a book – I think it’s that blue one down there – and it said from Hilda and someone else.  Now I remember a Hilda but I can’t remember the boy’s name.  I didn’t think it was her husband’s name as he is now.  Mm, it’s funny that as I have disposed of a lot of books because behind there was another row and I’ve taken all the sewing books out and nobody wants the embroidery books – they don’t do it today.  I rang my daughter in Australia and she said, ‘Mum, I haven’t time to embroider.  It doesn’t grab me like sewing does.’  She likes making things.  She used to make things for the children.  And now the youngest girl is about 15 and she wants her mum to make some of the ‘50s dresses – that must be the fashion.

LH:  Yes, I think you must be right.

MG:  Yes.

LH:  So you started out in work and enjoyed that work.

MG:  Yes, and very busy I’m sure as a young person.

LH:  Do you remember reading at all then?  Or on your evenings perhaps you went out?

MG:  I know we had Woman’s Weekly in the house for a long time.  Mother liked that.

LH:  Do you know where she got that from?

MG:  The newsagent.

LH:  From the newsagent.

MG:  It was probably was delivered with the newspapers.  But it was while I was working that I was introduced to … the author of Rogue … Is it Hugh Walpole?  Rogue Herries?  The other lady that rang me said, ‘That was a bit racy for then.’

[Laughter]

LH:  So do you think it was?

MG:  Yes, I had one bought me so I’ve read quite a few.  I think I’ve still got one or two but I’ve not read them recently.

LH:  So when you say you were introduced to them, how would you …

MG:  I was given them as a present.

LH:  By … ?

MG:  A friend … friend at work …  That’s the middle years after leaving school and going nursing.  That would be then … Because when I was nursing there was no time – only for nursing books.

LH:  No, yes, you’re quite right …  We must pin that down … the Hugh Walpole – that would be between the ages of 15 and 19.

MG:  Yes.

LH: … that you were introduced to Hugh Walpole… and was it an older person who gave you that book?

MG:  Not much.  No, she wasn’t much older.  She was a bit older.  She said, ‘I enjoyed this.  You might enjoy it … was, it that kind of …  Yes, she gave it me as a birthday present.

LH:  Yes, and had she bought it new for you?

MG:  Yes, it was a new book.

LH:  And where would you guess she would have bought a book from?

MG:  The booksellers.

LH:  And that would be … Which?  Where?

MG:  I wouldn’t know where in town now.  I mean it was quite an outing when we went to town before we were working.  Different then when we went to work …  And … I remember the night of the blitz; I went to work the next day.  I walked all the way.  Course when you saw the mess, I just walked all the way back because there was nowhere to go to work.  I remember that.

LH:  That must have been an amazing day.

MG:  It was … it’s … that again it’s such a long time ago but when you see it on the television  it brought it  all back you keep seeing various things. I remember my father never talking about the Great War. I think he went with the Yorkshire Lancs from Sheffield and I think it might be called PALS you know they tended to go from each town … groups of them, who either worked together or knew each other but I don’t know any more than that.

LH: What was your father’s name?

MG: Ernest Styring.

LH: Styring ?

MG:  S T Y R I N G

LH: So the blitz in Sheffield was ’44?

MG: I’m not quite sure.

LH: ‘43 or ‘44 so you would be … 20?

MG: 20 then yes but it was before I went nursing so I would have been 19 then when I went nursing.

LH: Right … where did you go for your nursing?

MG:  The Children’s.

LH: Did you … that must have felt extraordinary to be called up to do such important work.

MG: We had candles lit there was a lift and stairs. Every corner on the staircase by the lift there were candles … isn’t it funny what you remember?

LH: You began your training there and as you say your reading then would have been studying.

MG: Studying for nursing yes – because you had to go for your lectures in your free time for that day so you didn’t get any time off for going to lectures but we enjoyed it. My sister was a nurse and we used to have what you called State Enrolled Nurses and they’re missing.

[passage cut at Margaret’s request]

LH: So how long did you stay in nursing?

MG: I did 3 or 4 years and then I went into private nursing … children’s nursing.

LH: Did that mean going into people’s houses and looking after the children?

MG: I went down South first and I think there were three children and they left me at home with the youngest … yes the youngest boy and the doctors came and took his tonsils out at home! And I had to nurse him at home. Now isn’t that taking advantage? And I didn’t get anything more in my pay packet. [Indignant]

LH: That’s dreadful isn’t it? What a responsibility!

MG: Yes it was.

LH: So you did this work with children … ?

MG: Yes I did. I came back to Sheffield and [long pause] I must have gone back to the Children’s because I was looking after a baby on nights and there was only the father that came on his way home from work. The mother couldn’t come because she’d four other children and I think they got whooping cough and they asked me if I’d go and look after the children afterwards and I was with them till I got married.

LH: Which was … which year?

MG: I got married in ’53.

LH: ‘53 so I’m thinking you were very busy between …

MG: Then I read to them.

LH: You read to …?

MG: To the children … you don’t have time in hospital.

LH: And then you married, … and then were busy again I’m sure but here’s an amazing list of books and I’m wondering when it was that you were able to …. develop your affection for these …

MG: I read a lot of Elizabeth Gouge first … perhaps read those first … I’d come onto the Dick Francis later.

LH: Why did you like Elizabeth Gouge do you think?

MG: I love her books – I’ve just been reading them all again … and, … the libraries have managed to get some … I’ve got one or two myself and I got Green Dolphin Country and it’s so long I didn’t remember much and it all came back fresh.

LH: Do you know how you started … how you began with Elizabeth Goudge how did you start with her did somebody recommend her to you?

MG: I read Herb of Grace first.

LH: Did someone recommend her to you?

MG: No idea once I got into her… I liked even the children’s books she wrote.

LH: So were you reading those at the end of your working day?

MG: Probably yes … my husband would probably sit in one place and I’d be in another and we might talk all evening … you know.

LH: I’m very conscious that women are very busy people on the whole.

MG: Once we’d got the children to bed and I mean we’d only two and I used to knit and sew as well.

LH: So here I’m seeing Elizabeth Goudge and Warwick Deeping.

MG: Now I did read those probably when I was at home.

LH: At home? Before you started work?

MG: Yes I think my parents read those Warwick Deeping books. And they finished them and said, ’You have a look at this’. Well they may not have done they may have said, ‘I enjoyed that would you like to read it? ‘But you don’t really, you just sort of come to these books I think.

LH: Can you remember any of the Warwick ‘cos he wrote masses didn’t he?

MG: He wrote Sorrell and Son.

LH: You don’t remember a favourite?

MG: No not read any for a long time I also read one or two of J B Priestley’s early on but I’ve not read any of those recently?

LH: Did you like Warwick Deeping?

MG: I must have done to read several.

LH: Do you know why? Again I know it’s such a difficult question.

MG: No no, it’s just the enjoyment I think, as I say, if we found a book at the library. Mm, it’s the same now if the library bring me one and I enjoy it.  I always look at the list – keep a list and then pick them out and there’s an author I can’t remember, his name … he’s written a lot about Sheffield and the outlying districts and they’re all murders but – we, my sister and I, have enjoyed them a lot. I mean what I get I often lend them from the library. She gets a lot of tapes and I say well ‘I’m not going to borrow tapes at my time of life’.

[Laughter]

MG: I can get them from the library.

LH: So you’re great library users?

MG: Yes and always have been.

LH: … and always have been. Did you encourage your children to use the library?

MG: Yes, we all went together. My husband never read anything non-fiction. Yes, he was a physicist, so he was really more into … he did read autobiographies, perhaps, but not many.

LH: He didn’t like novels?

MG: Oh no! No novels!

LH: So I’m seeing on this list … A J Cronin up there on your list. Do you remember anything of his you enjoyed? [Reaches for book]

MG: That’s it, yes. Shannon’s Way this is. Yes, this is the one. It says ‘To Margaret, Happy Christmas from Gladys and Dick’. Also you see, there’s a ‘1950’ in there and there’s ‘a pound’ on it. But I don’t think it’s one I bought. Unless I’ve had it … But I don’t really remember it. I mean these were quite famous, weren’t they, Hatter’s Castle and The Citadel  and Keys of the Kingdom? But I don’t really remember them. I’ve just read this again and quite enjoyed it.

LH: And here’s Mary Stewart as well.

MG: Oh, I like her. I’m reading all those again at the moment. I’ve got some, I’ve got quite a few on there. And my favourite was Touch not the Cat. Yes, I’ve got quite a few of hers there.

LH: And then we’ve got Lilian Harry. Now, I don’t think I know Lilian Harry.

MG: Yes, she’s … I’ve not read an awful lot of hers recently. Who’s the one who wrote about a penny to cross the Mersey? Was it her or someone else?

LH: I don’t know.

MG: She wrote a lot about Liverpool. I think she married again and treated her daughter very badly and I think this is, you know, she’s going back to those days.

LH: And Alistair MacLean.

MG: Oh yes, I like his. We’re always … there’s one or two on there, but we’re always going back to the old ones.

LH: Yes. Jack Higgins.

MG: Yes. Again there.

LH: And Charlotte Bingham.

MG: Yes. I don’t read so many of hers. There’s one, a book I read, I can’t remember what it was called and someone had a parrot in the window. I thought I’ll go through the Charlotte Bingham and see if I can find it, but I haven’t done yet.

LH: And then you’ve got two more here. Patricia Wentworth.

MG: Yes. She’s an older one isn’t she. She wrote mysteries, yes.

LH: And then James Herriot.

MG: Yes. Patricia Wentworth – she wrote The Chinese Shaw, didn’t she?

LH: I think so, yes.

MG: Yes, well, I’m reading a lot of hers again with … not Miss Silver … yes, it is Miss Silver, and it’s Miss Marple. They’re quite funny really. They’re so old fashioned! They’re quite funny, quite simple stories.

LH: Well, it’s interesting you say that. And also you’ve said that you like reading them again. These are obviously favourites to which you’ve returned over and over again. And they’ve been a constant in your life. Do you ever have a go at any contemporary novels?

MG: Not unless they’ve been given a good write up.

LH: And who do you trust for your write ups?

MG: Well, I read the blurb and then decide. I don’t take it … just pick them up. I do like – I read all Alan Titchmarsh, and I read Gervase … the one who was a school inspector. I don’t know if he was down on the list.

He trained as a teacher I think and then he became a school inspector, and his stories are very, very funny – the things the children say. Especially in the Yorkshire area, because they go and talk about sheep and pigs and they know what every animal is, you know, the breeds and everything, and I think he was quite astounded at first, but after that he just listened to all the funny things they said. Have you read them?

LH: I haven’t, no. Perhaps I should.

MG: You really want to start at the beginning. And there is another one – Teacher, Teacher. Now I think he’s a fairly new author, and of course those are local, and they’re about – he goes to be a headmaster of a local village school. Do you know it’s … I don’t believe schools were like that but I do remember they took the children away to camp and there were no inhibitions. They could … they just went, they had a wonderful time, and they had all the usual things that they do have in villages. And it started with one book, and then it was ‘Mr Teacher’ and ‘Teacher, Teacher’ and I’ve read … the last one I read, it hadn’t come to a conclusion – they hadn’t got married, and my sister and I were both waiting for them to get married, and something always happened, and I think he’ll have written another one since. But the library are very good – if I ask them if they’ve got it in they’ll send it me. I’ve got three upstairs because I get a leaflet every month with books. Oh, I’ve forgotten the name – I do forget things these days – and they sell books cheaply and these were on offer, quite reasonably so, in paperback. I sent my daughter to read, that’s why her parcel was very expensive. And I’ve got three more for another friend up the road who I think’ll enjoy them. And they’ll go all round her daughters, and they sort of … You know what each other likes, you see, but they are very funny. And then, who’s the latest one I’m reading? I thought about it but it’s gone now. It’ll come later.

LH: Well, on here you do mention Ken Follett.

MG: Ooh yes. I like his. Especially – didn’t he write The Magpies?

LH: I don’t know.

MG: I especially like that. And … that was the wartime. You see, I like a lot of the wartime ones. Yes.

LH: Yes. And Dick Francis you’ve got here as well. You told me already. And Robert Goddard.

MG: Yes, now think that Robert Goddard must be the one who writes locally. He … more or less he lives in the Peak District, he lives … the one who’s writing the stories, and they come into Sheffield and the surrounding districts and the murders are usually out in Derbyshire.

LH: Safely away from Sheffield … And then M C Beaton.

MG: Oh yes, they’re funny.

LH: Death of a …  something, with Hamish Macbeth, you’ve written.

MG: Yes, she writes about Hamish Macbeth. I don’t like some of her others that she’s written, but Hamish is always s… again there’s always a little murder.

LH: So you’re really a bit of a murder mystery fan, aren’t you.

MG: Yes, I like … those are the things I like on television too. I pick and choose and I used to love Morse. Yes.

LH: So, it’s interesting ‘cos you’ve got this group …

MG: Sort of a family aren’t they?

LH: And then a second group.

MG: Those are probably on the second page I put what I read more recently.

LH: And so these are what you’ve read …

MG: … from earlier days. Yes.

LH: So, from in your …

MG: Probably I read some of them in my teens. I may have read …

LH: You said you read Warwick Deeping in your teens.

MG: I think I read Herb of Grace. I think I read some of those early on. I know I used to go around the second hand bookshops when we were away, especially if it was a wet day. I picked one or two books up there.

LH: When you were away … ?

MG: Yes. On holiday. Not here – we used to go to Norfolk a lot, and they tended to be a bit of a mixture the shops and they’d have a collection of second hand books. I picked one or two books up there.

LH: Did you read what I suppose we would call, or did you have to read, improving books? Books that were good for you?

MG: Probably didn’t!

LH: You don’t have any recollection of them! Were there any books you hated? Again it would be about having to read things … ?

MG: I don’t think so. I never read Dickens or Shakespeare and that’s something I’ve never wanted to read. I suppose because I didn’t do it at school.

LH: Why do you think you didn’t want to?

MG: Didn’t consider that I was clever enough. No. I’ve never considered than  … I didn’t consider that I’d get through my exams when I nursed, but I did …

LH: But you did.

[There follows an italicised passage which is not relevant to reading.]

MG: You know, my husband always said well, you put yourself down too much. But you see I’ve always been like that. And probably now I’m more independent I probably can stand up for myself a lot more. I don’t take any nonsense from these … I mean, I get people ringing up and they say well, I came and saw you last year and you’ve always wanted doing then, and I’ve said, I’m very sorry but I don’t want anything doing at all. Well, we’ll give you a quote that will last a year. I said, no thank you. And, you know, sometimes you think you’ll have to put the phone down.

LH: But you don’t want to be rude …

MG: We weren’t brought up that way, you see. And that’s still with you, the way you were brought up. I mean, Mother brought us up to help people. You still do, you know, to the limits of your ability, don’t you. I mean, I’ve a lot of friends of my own age, and I mean, there’s one, I can only keep in touch with her by phone or by letter, and she’s got an awfully hard life with her husband. He’s an Altzheimer’s; she can’t see and she has arthritis, and she doesn’t seem to get any help. And when you get these charities writing and they say they do this and they do the other, I wrote to her and sent the leaflet, and said approach them and see if you can get any help. Help the Aged and WVS, and no, nothing’s been forthcoming. But I think with the occupational therapist been going to her husband she’s got more help through her, and I think it was one of the people who come to shower him and she said she’d approach somebody to see if she could have someone to take her out for two hours. Now, she’s got somebody to take her out for two hours once a fortnight and that’s when Bill’s at… you know, they come and take him. But you see, they don’t come till 11 and he’s back at half past three. She’s no time. And you know, like here, he’d be able to go in somewhere for respite, and there’s nothing like that. They live near Edinburgh and it’s in North Berwick, but you see it’s just a little seaside place, and I suppose they haven’t got …

LH: I suppose they haven’t got the same resources.

MG: And she’s hoping she could get him in somewhere for a week but she’d have to pay for him. You’ve got to fill all these long forms in, and so she can’t see to do it, so a neighbour, a very good neighbour who helps her, she says I won’t take any payment, I’ll start now by telling you no, so she filled the form in as far as she could then asked her questions and filled the rest in. It’s very difficult when you can’t see properly. And so she was waiting the results of that. You see, they had money invested hoping to use that money for their retirement, of course; they get virtually nothing now you see for that. They’ve always been very good about being quite careful. It’s very difficult.

LH: Well, I’m sure your phone calls have been very helpful …

MG: Well, this is it. It’s the only way to keep in touch with some people. I’ve a friend who lives up the road, she comes with the books. She says, I see you’re still alive … ! She brings me a few cakes. She’s just had her knee done. It’s given her a new lease of life. She’s gone back to baking again. And her family descend on her when it’s holidays.

MG: But you remain reading all the time!

MG: Oh, no I don’t have much time to read. I read mostly when I go to bed, and in the morning. Make my cup of tea in the morning and I read in bed. I’ve had to cut down one of my magazines ‘cos I can’t read them. I don’t get time to read them. It sounds so stupid doesn’t it? And I’ve only just started to … watching in the afternoon. I watch Titchmarsh, 3 to 4 in the afternoon, and that’s the only daytime television I watch. And if there’s nothing I want to watch at night I don’t put it on. Perhaps I’ll do some ironing at night, or I might read then.]

But I try and save my library books for bed. Try and read them … I read magazines. I have People’s Friend – that’s a very gentle book, very gentle tales. So I read that. But they all get passed on. I pass all my magazines on. I pass my People’s Friend on to my lady that comes to clean.

LH: Have you read People’s Friend for as long as you can remember?

MG: Sometimes it tells you – I know that sometimes these people write in and say that they’ve been reading it, because they’re perhaps in their 90s, and their daughters write in and say their mothers have had it from the beginning and they pick it up. But I haven’t … Mother didn’t have People’s Frien’. It’s Scottish isn’t it? A lot of the articles are from Scotland and the stories.

LH: You’ve also mentioned your cookery books and your craft books.

MG: Yes, I …

LH: When did you start reading those, Mrs Gomer?

MG: I suppose I’ve always had an interest in cookery, ‘cos Mother’s always encouraged us in the kitchen, we always helped.

LH: Did she use recipe books?

MG: It was Delia’s I think. I’ve got quite a lot of hers.

LH: What books did your mother use to cook with, or did she have her own recipes and pass those down to you?

MG: I presume that she … now you see she was one of nine and she was the last one to go. They all lived to their 90s.

[There follows an italicised passage which is not relevant to reading.]

LH: So when you say she helped you learn to cook…

MG: She included me in the kitchen when she was doing things. I mean she let us bake things. I mean I did the same with the children.

LH: Yes, but when were you using recipes …?

MG: Not till I was older, and then when my mother-in-law died, we’d only been married a year, I found a cookbook and I kept that. And my daughter rang and she said, have you still got that recipe for Granny Gomer’s … I’ve forgotten the name. Well, I had to hunt for it but I found the nearest one I could. I went through loads of cookbooks. And she said, oh, yes, I managed, ‘cos Granny Gomer’s was half an egg, ‘cos it was a wartime one you see. I said to Elizabeth, I don’t know how you managed with half an egg! But she’s a great cook. She’s more or less a vegetarian. And the children are, I mean they wrote and asked her for various recipes. Simon, he’s at uni; he cooked for himself. And Holly does, I don’t think Amelia does ‘cos she’s still at school. But they’ve a Down’s Syndrome boy, and she cooks her own bread. And I said, have you got a machine, bread making? And she says, no, I’m the baker here. And she makes her own bread, and her own stuff for pizzas an she encourages the little boy. Well, he’s not so little now. I’ve got some photographs they sent of him starting decorating it, and the picture of his face when he’d finished! He was so pleased with himself. It was lovely. And Robin’s always … Robin cooks every night for the family. He finishes work, he goes swimming, he goes to Waitrose, and it’s ever so funny, some time ago these elderly people, you don’t want to buy those, pay full price, I can show you where they’ve cut the price down, they do it every night you see. And of course as things are now it’s been a great boon to him.

LH: Is that your son?

MG: Yes. They’re in London. Now, I don’t think any of their two have done any. He always cooks breakfast on Sunday, and I can see both of them now standing on chairs stirring the scrambled egg. And of course, the embroidery, I’ve always done embroidery. I can remember I was making a christening dress, embroidering, on the night of the Blitz. I’ve always done embroidery.

LH: And were you using your own stitches or again were you using a book?

MG: Yes, that’s right and I’ve made dresses of course, things for Elizabeth.

LH: Where did you get patterns?

MG: I used to buy transfers, I’ve got boxes upstairs. I try and get rid of things but it’s very difficult.]

And then I’ve got books … there are book clubs you see, and so I’ve joined a lot of book clubs.

LH: What book club did you join? What age were you when you joined a book club?

MG: Oh, it was after I was married and when I was I was wanting to do different things in embroidery.

LH: Was it a subscription club?

MG: Yes, and they send you a booklet and you choose which ones, and you have to buy one a month, something like that. You get so many free at first.

LH: So this would be when you were in your 20s.

MG: Oh no, it was after I was married, so I was 29 when I got married, so I was in my 30s.

[There follows an italicised passage which is not relevant to reading.]

[And then when the children, you see, it would be later still. They were born in the 50s. So but then I made most of Elizabeth’s, and knitted as well. You used to do more things like that. You don’t do things like that today. My daughter-in-law does; she’s made this. But you see, it’s standing her in good stead. My son works in property, and then if they want curtains or blinds making, she can do them. And then she’s got a friend who’s got a baby shop in London, nursery, and she can sell any amount of, with the names on, various things. It’s a different world down there, things are a different price.]

 LH: So you’ve got these two lists and I’ve got a very good picture of the things you like to read.

MG: Most of what I read when I was younger were family books, like I should say, the family. Like, who wrote Horseman Riding By, was it Deldefield?

LH: I’ll have to look that up. When you say family books do you mean there were series …

MG: Yes, there were families … several … that’s what Elizabeth Goudge wrote about, families. And a lot of people would say it was fantasy but it makes good reading, and I’m finding now I’m reading properly, I’m not skipping anything. I probably did that in my younger days. I wanted to get on to see what the ending was, but I’m finding now that I’m reading more or less every word.

LH: That’s interesting isn’t it?

MG: Yes, it is. And the … Elizabeth Goudge … who’s the one … I’ve forgotten her name now, yes, Elizabeth Goudge wrote The Herb of Grace and she also wrote Dean’s Watch. That is fantasy really, because it’s about a town, a small town, and everything circulates around the cathedral and the Dean and various things, and I suppose a lot of it is. But some of them write so descriptive you can feel you’re there. And that’s what I’ve found lately.

LH: But when you say, some people would call it was fantasy, do you mean they would be critical of it because it was fantasy?

MG:  Yes, they would go, well I don’t want to read that. A lot of people do that.

[Bell rings.  Interview ends.]

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‘Books. This will be good.’

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

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

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

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

Edith Sitwell, by Rex Whistler (1929)

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

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

Walkley Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upperthorpe Branch Library

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

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

You can read the letter in full here.

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

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

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