Irene was born in Grimesthorpe, Sheffield in 1921; she grew up there and later lived in Birley Edge. After school she worked in an office at Firth Brown’s steelworks and in 1943 married a draughtsman who also worked there. She and her husband left the company and set up a nursery business in Barnsley.
Irene grew up in a home where reading wasn’t regarded as important,
I could read quite early. I was never stopped from reading but my mother didn’t read and my father read a paper and that was it……I sometimes got shouted at because I should have been doing something else.
Occasionally her mother would read a Playbox comic to her on a Saturday morning but otherwise her earliest memory of being read to dates from when she first went to school at the age of five and the teacher read ‘How the Elephant got his Trunk’ from Kipling’s Just So Stories to the class.
She got books from quite a range of sources. At about ten or eleven she benefited from this special offer,
A man came to the door getting you to buy the Daily Herald…..my father signed up and so I got the whole of Dickens’ works with that newspaper.
She occasionally bought sixpenny novelettes from the newsagent at the bottom of their street. She was given books by aunts and by her paternal grandmother; when older she would sometimes ask for a specific book as a birthday or Christmas present.
She used Firth Park Library and later on the Central Library. As well as the municipal libraries, she sometimes used the Red Circle Library on Snig Hill.
From secondary school (Southey Green) she remembers reading Kidnapped and The Black Arrow by R. L. Stevenson and also potted biographies of famous people.
Irene’s parents had an account with Weston’s, a wholesale stationers in Change Alley; this meant that sometimes she could get books at a discount. She also read magazines and bought Woman almost from the start.
During the 40s she belonged to a national book club and recalls getting novels by Howard Spring and Anya Seton from there.She also bought books from bookshops such as Smith’s and bookstalls, both new and secondhand. She used the bookstalls in the Norfolk Market Hall on Haymarket and, later on when working in Barnsley, in Barnsley market. Her husband used to buy westerns from a market stall: if you took them back, you got money off the next one. Irene didn’t like westerns particularly but would sometimes read one,
Well, it was just something to read. If there was nothing to read, I would read anything.
The mark of a true reader. The war and marriage reduced her time for reading, ‘I was working and running a house but I still always found a bit of time.’
Irene doesn’t remember other people recommending books nor did she tend to read novels because people were talking about them or because they might be improving in some way. She has a special fondness for historical fiction and biographies of historical characters; she likes them to have proper research behind them. She mentions Georgette Heyer, Jean Plaidy and Baroness Orczy. She sometimes read crime fiction and liked Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy Sayers, though found Agatha Christie ‘a bit obvious’. She read romantic fiction too, such as Ruby M. Ayres, Ethel M. Dell and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Among later writers, she read Catherine Cookson: ‘Somebody always has to be illegitimate’.
Irene couldn’t identify any way in which reading had changed her life but she was always a reader: ‘No real encouragement, I just enjoyed it’. She still reads, getting her books now from Hillsborough Library, Waterstones and sometimes Amazon.