Winnie Lincoln

Winnie Lincoln

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

[This interview was conducted in Winnie’s sitting room in the company of her two friends Jean and Joan and Winnie’s daughter, Kathryn.  You can find Joan’s interview here.]

MG: I’m interviewing Winnie Lincoln.  Winnie was born in Upperthorpe and lived in Upperthorpe until the 1950s when she moved to Wadsley, where we are now.

MG: Thank you very much, Winnie, for letting me come.

Winnie: Right.

MG: So first of all Winnie, you’re obviously a very big reader.  I can see that from this room which has got your books all around us.  When do you think your love of reading started?

Winnie:   Er, well.  Really in later life, you know.  I mean when we were; we didn’t have books at home.  Don’t think mother could afford them anyway, only the odd one that were prizes and that, you know.  And er, and we went to the library otherwise.  Erm, in fact I’ve still got one or two of mum’s old books.

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MG: Have you?  What are they?

Winnie: Yeah, from her being ten years old.

MG: Really?

Winnie: Yes.  Jessica’s Prayer, gosh, some more I can’t just think of.  I don’t know whether Catherine’s got any of them.

MG: Was that a Sunday School Prize, Jessica’s Prayer?

Winnie:  I think so, mm, and a Bible, one or two old ones.  Red Dave, that was my husband’s when he was a boy.

MG:  I don’t know that one.

Winnie:   And I still kept it, yeah.  But other than that, you know, it was just library books or books that people passed on to us.

MG: Yes.  So did your parents read those books to you or did you read them mostly yourself?

Winnie:  Well mother didn’t have much time to read to us only she used to sing Salvation Army hymns to us.

MG: Did she?

Winnie:  Yeah she was a Salvationist.  Yeah, she was more familiar with that.  She hadn’t time to sit down and read much.

MG: What about the Bible, did she read from that to you?

Winnie:  No, no she didn’t.  But she was always quoting things from it.  But other than that, as I say it was you know just going to the library.

MG: Which library was that Winnie?

Winnie: Upperthorpe.

MG:  Was that fun?

Winnie:  Yes I used to enjoy that, yes.  And of course when you’re schooling you’re going with your friends, meeting up with your friends and they were passing on word, oh read this, read that.  But it were mostly fairy stories and things like that that you’d go in for when you’re young aren’t they?

MG: Yes.

Winnie: You know.

MG: So what age did you leave school?

Winnie:  Fourteen.

MG:  And did you go on reading after you’d left school?

Winnie: Yes, but not so much really.  Mm, books that came into the house, comics, you know and that.  Me brothers, I were youngest of five, so no, we didn’t have a lot of books.

Dad used to belong to a Red Circle Library, do you remember that?

MG: Well I’m very interested to hear about the Red Circle Library, Winnie, because I think there were two branches and one’s on Snig Hill.

Winnie: This one was on Infirmary Road.

MG:  Infirmary Road?

Winnie: Yes.

MG: And what were they?  Because, what kind of books did they have, Winnie?

Winnie: Just fiction.

MG:  Just fiction, right.

Winnie:  I didn’t see any others.  I used to go and get Dad’s books ‘cos he were interested in sport, or mostly horse … I can’t remember the author that used to ride, er write on horse racing and things like that, and westerns, of course.

MG: Zane Grey, did he read?

Winnie:  I can’t remember.

MG:  Can’t remember but he liked westerns.

Winnie:  Yes.  And anything on horse racing.  He was a bit of a gambler.

MG:  Was this novels about horse racing?

Winnie:  Yes.

MG: Ah, I didn’t know there were any.

Winnie: Yes.  Oh yes.

MG: Can you remember any authors of these horse racing books?

Winnie:  No I can’t, no.

MG: How interesting.

Winnie:  I think they used to pay probably sixpence.  It was not very much.  And it was a lending library.

MG: So for sixpence, you could get quite a few books?

Winnie: No I think you probably only get one.

MG:  That’s interesting.

Winnie:  Might have been less than that, I can’t remember.

MG: So you were sent down to collect them.

Winnie:  Yes, very often.

MG: Did you choose them for your dad?

Yes because I knew what he wanted.

MG: Yeah.

Winnie: I’d be in trouble if I brought back what he’d already read! [Laughter].

MG:  So you had to remember what he had read and go and find a new one for him?  That’s hard!  When you were down in that Red Circle Library what did, what was it like?

Winnie: It was quite busy, actually.  Er, it was only just a little shop.

MG:  Right.

Winnie: You know, and no bigger than just one room, one small room.

MG:  Right.

Winnie: But lots of people used to go and use it.  I mean in actual fact, you know, I mean I know books wouldn’t be expensive then, but there was a lot of people, they just couldn’t afford to buy them.

MG: No, that’s right.

Winnie: They couldn’t afford to buy them.

MG: No.  Were the books in the Red Circle Library paperbacks?

Winnie:  Yes.

MG: Right.

Winnie: Yeah.

MG: So were some of them a bit, falling apart?

Winnie: Yeah but they were still passable, you know.

MG: And when you were down there Winnie, did you see any that you would’ve fancied reading?

Winnie:  No.

MG: No!

Winnie: Winnie: No, they weren’t, er, no.

MG:  Right.

Winnie: But then, I, you know, just used to read whatever you could get hold of, sort of thing.

MG: Yes.  So what did you get hold of?

Winnie:  Well, not much.  Other than the library.

MG: So the library was your main source of books.

Winnie: It was, yes.  Till I got, you know, when you get older and anybody reads a book.  Oh you’d like to read this, passed around, as I said before.

MG: Yes.

Winnie: And then of course, erm, after, as you get older, you get more selective in what you want to read.

MG: What became your favourites?

Winnie:  Well, erm, adventure, history, anything really, now, that’s factual.

MG:   So you prefer factual now, do you, Winnie?

Winnie:  Ahem, yes.

MG:  So when you were in your twenties, what did you like?

Winnie:  I didn’t read a lot then.

MG:  You didn’t.

Winnie:  No.

MG: Why do you think that was?

Winnie:  Well I think you were at work and then in your spare time, if you weren’t busy at home, helping mum and things like that.  Er, and then of course, my older siblings were having families so I was pretty much involved with them.  And then it was later on that I started.  I mean I’ve read, I’ve always read.  My husband used to like books on nature, so we always read things like that.  Shooting, nature, whatever.  But since then, I like, more or less, factual books.

MG: Factual books, yes.

Winnie:  Factual books.

MG: Tarka the Otter, did you ever read that one?

Winnie: No.

MG: No.

Winnie: No.

MG: Erm, that was a sort of mixture of nature and, wasn’t it?

Winnie:  It was, it was.

MG: So with your liking of history and fact, Winnie, did historical novels?  Did you enjoy those?

Winnie: Yes.

MG: Anyone stick out in your mind?

Winnie:  Oh, lots really.  Adamnan of lately, Adamnan.  [Editor: A life of Columba by Manus O’Donmell]

MG: Oh yeah.

Winnie:  Yeah.

MG:  I tell you what we could do Winnie.  I see that you’ve got some novels out there.  Could we put them between us on the sofa and you just tell me a bit about them?

Winnie: Oh gosh.

MG: Thank you very much.

[The microphone is knocked over accidentally.]

Winnie: Look at that poor thing!

MG:  Winnie is showing me a book.  What is it Winnie?  That’s a very old book.

Winnie: Well, it is.  I should probably … And these, in actual fact, I think mum used to collect so many coupons out of a paper and she’d send these off and er, I made a mess of that!  And er, send for these books and that goes, these were the only ones we had really.

MG:  It’s a beautiful book actually.  I know it’s old but it’s beautifully printed.

Winnie:  It is old yes, because it covers everything.

MG: So what’s it called, this book?

Winnie:  It’s the Southern Encyclopaedia of Knowledge.  We only got the volume one.

MG: Right, yes.

Winnie:  The front part’s missing.  So this would probably be about, er, early thirties, I should imagine.

MG: Yes, 1920s or 30s.

Winnie: This one might be better.

MG:  Yes and it’s got beautiful illustrations and it’s beautifully printed.

Winnie: They were, they were very good. ‘35, this.

MG: So did you read encyclopaedias?

Winnie: I used to read these, yes.

MG: And this second book you’ve got here, Winnie, what’s this?  Children’s Golden Treasure Book.  [A third voice says “Oh I had one of them”.  MG: Did you have that Jean?].  ‘Brimful of joy and entertainment! ‘

Winnie:  And it was!  I love ‘brimful’, yes.  [Laughter].

MG: So what’s it brimful of?  [Jean: Things come to you don’t they when other people are speaking.  Winnie: They do Jean.  Jean: Sorry.  Winnie: No.].

MG: Er, I was just looking at this.  Maggie and the Gypsies, by George Elliot.

MG: Now there’s a sort of very famous author.

Winnie: Yes of course he is.

MG: I wonder if it’s taken from, yes.

Winnie: I didn’t know that then!

MG:  Course!  No.

Winnie:   No.

MG: So I think that must be an extract from Mill on the Floss, perhaps.

Winnie: Yeah they were.

MG:  Aha.

Winnie: They’re all extracts.

MG: Yeah.  Do you think you ever read George Elliot, a whole novel?

Winnie:  No, never.  No.  Ewing?  Does that read?  Mrs Moss by Mrs Ewing?

MG:  And Mary Lamb, a poem by Mary Lamb.  So it’s full of good stuff, Winnie.

Winnie:  Yeah but I mean I weren’t aware of that then.

MG:  No. When you’re looking through it now, can you pick out one that you really loved?

Winnie:  Erm, I think probably Surprise for Katy, I think I like that.  That was by Coolidge, Susan Coolidge.

MG:  Ah, from What Katy Did? Lovely book.

Winnie:  It would be, yes.

MG: Yes, yes. So this book.

Winnie: Christina Rossetti?

MG: Wow.

Winnie: Summer.

Jean:  Oh I remember her, Christina Rossetti.

Winnie:  Do you Jean?

Jean: Yes.

Winnie: Yes.

Jean: It’s funny in’t it?

Winnie: Feast of the Moon Goddess.

MG: Lewis Carroll?

Winnie: Oh I mean er, these were treats.

MG: Oh yes.  So how do you think you parents bought that book, would that be with coupons do you think?

Winnie: Yes, yeah they would be.

MG: Can you remember the newspaper, Winnie, that you got those coupons from?

Winnie:   No.

MG:  No.  You don’t know what paper your parents took?

Winnie:  No I don’t.

MG:  No.

Winnie: The Thorny Path?  Ooh!

MG: Winnie’s got a third book now that is very old and it’s called The Thorny Path by Hesba Stretton.

Winnie: She’s the author of Jessica’s First Prayer, too, which I’ve got upstairs, I think.

MG: And you think Jessica’s First Prayer is a Sunday School Prize, didn’t you?

Winnie:  I’m sure it was.  It’s upstairs. Back bedroom.

MG:  That’s a heartbreaking story.  So can you remember anything about this Thorny Path book?

Winnie:  No I can’t really.  They were all tear shakers.

MG: Yes, yes!

Winnie:  Weren’t they.

MG:   Oh dear. Very, very sad pictures.

Winnie:  Very. All the books of that period were, weren’t they?

MG:  Yeah.

Winnie: They were very hard.  Like Jessica’s Prayer, in fact I only found that out a few weeks ago and I thought I’ll read this again.  She’s on her own completely and living in a garret and I think it was the verger at the local church, she’s brought it now.  Yeah, Jessica’s First Prayer.  So she’s all alone in this … Salvation Army Slum Corps.

MG:  Oh brilliant!  There’s an inscription in this, “Salvation Army Slum Corps”.

Winnie: Slum Corps.

MG:  Slum Corps?

Winnie:  Yes it was, and it’s still there.  Salvation Army on Infirmary Road.

MG: Yes.  So what was this Slum Corps?

Winnie: Well, because it was slum area.

MG:  Oh.  And it says, “Presented to Hannah Stacey.”

Winnie:  Stacey.

MG: For regular attendance, February the 2nd 1899.  So do you know who Hannah Stacey was?

Winnie: My mum.

MG: Your mum?

Winnie: She’d be ten years old then.

MG: Right.  Yes.  Jessica’s First Prayer, the book you were describing to me, with this poor little girl in the garret, so what did she pray for, I wonder?

Winnie: Oh he was a coffee stall keeper and he also looked after the local church.  Must’ve been like a verger or something there.  Yes.  And he took her under his wing and gave her shelter and ted her and took her into church and she’d never been in church before.  It’s very – a real tear jerker.

MG:  Yes, with lovely illustrations.

Winnie:  Yeah, yeah.

MG:  Yes yes.  So these Sunday School Salvation Army books of your mother’s you’ve treasured yourself.

Winnie: Oh yeah.

MG:  Yes.  Did you ever get any prizes?

Winnie:  Ooh no!  (Laughter).  Never!  Never!  I never went long enough!  No, no!

MG: And I don’t think they gave out prizes in the 20th Century like they did in the 19th.

Winnie: No, as I said, I used to go to the Salvation Army and St Phillip’s Church.

MG:  Oh yes!

Winnie: And St Bartholomew’s at Upperthorpe, no, not St Barts, Tabernacle.  Yeah, yeah.

MG: Ah yes, now St Phillip’s church, a very famous man worked there, Arnold Freeman.

Winnie:  Oh, I knew him!

MG: You knew Arnold Freeman?

Winnie:  I went, Arnold Freeman had the little theatre on Shipton Street, just below The Oxford at Upperthorpe.

MG:  Yes.

Winnie:  Right, and he used to put on little plays.

MG: Yes.

Winnie: We used to go there.

MG: Did you?

Winnie:  And they were just wooden forms, it were only a little place.

MG: Yes.  Can you remember any of those plays?

Winnie:  No I can’t.  But we used to go there.  I remember him.

MG: What was he like?

Winnie:  Erm, not a tall man, quite slim, as you would expect, quite studious, he used to walk, sort of walk about in a study.  But it was nice, we used to go, because I mean, probably, I can’t remember even what we paid.  We probably got in for free. ‘Cos I was always hanging round t’door!

MG: And what else did The Settlement have at St Phillip’s?

Winnie:  I can’t remember.  Did that belong to St Phillip’s?

MG:  Yes it was connected with St Phillip’s [Winnie: was it?] but I’ve forgotten when it became independent.  They moved up to the Merlin Theatre after the war.

Winnie: Did they?

MG: Yeah, and it’s him that the Freeman College is named after.

Winnie:  Yes, yes?

MG: So he was a very amazing …

Winnie: I learned more about him since than I knew then.  Right, yes.

MG:  There wasn’t a library there, Winnie, was there?

Winnie: No, not that I know of.

MG:  No, right.

Winnie:  Just above there on Shipton Street there was Oxford Street, it was joining on.  And there used to be the nurses’ home, just above there, to the Infirmary.  Oh, right, yeah.

MG: So when you, going back to when you left school, Winnie, erm, did you live in Sheffield?

Winnie:  Yes.

MG: And that’s when you didn’t have much time to read is that right?

Winnie:  No I didn’t, no.

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MG: So when do you think you got back into reading?

Winnie:  Only in later years, really. Well since I’ve been married.

MG:  Hm.

Winnie: As I said we read more books on nature and wildlife and, that sort of thing.  And then I got more into local history and history in general, archaeology, anything like that I’ll enjoy and read.

MG:  So would you agree with Joan who said that really she remembers more factual than novels.

Winnie:  Yes.

MG: Ah, that’s interesting.  So we’re going to close this interview down and open up the next one for all three of you.  Cause there’s so many overlaps.  Thank you very much Winnie for that.  That’s fascinating, all three of you really, because in a way it’s coming through that fiction really wasn’t what you treasured.

Winnie: No, no.

MG: You know, looking at these encyclopaedia books, mm, it’s really factual books and poetry for you.  Okay we’re going to stop this one.

 

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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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