The Reading Journey of Edna B

By Mary Grover

Edna was born in 1928. When she was a child her family were moved to a new estate, the Flower Estate, built in 1923 on High Wincobank. Billed as ‘dainty villas for well-paid artisans’, the houses had their own toilets and hot water – ‘it was’quite something’.


Edna passed the 11 plus and won a place at the City Grammar in the centre of town. She stayed till she was 16. Though her headmaster wanted her to stay on and encouraged her ambition to go into teaching, her parents could not afford it. She could have got a grant from the old pupils’ association, the Holly Guild, but she would have had to pay it back. When female teachers got married they lost their jobs. It was ‘a deterrent’ to taking on such a large debt.

Edna was conscious of how hard both her parents worked to support the children. On Saturday afternoons her father used to walk her down through the allotments to Firth Park Library. The first book she remembers reading, probably when she was about six, was Little Anne of Canada.

It was illustrated, this book, and this girl must’ve lived in Alaska, probably, and I was fascinated by this story and we seemed to get it out several times ‘cos I liked it.



Edna’s father’s mother couldn’t read and write and he was always conscious of what an education would do.

Well, to even read. I mean, he could read and write, but I don’t think he ever sat down and read books.

Edna’s mother’s family had had both money and educational opportunities. Though her mother was unable to pursue her own education she loved reading and came from a family who talked about politics.

They’d got smatterings of culture I’d say. I remember I went to me father’s mother’s and they read these trashy magazines and me mother said, ‘Don’t be reading those’. Now Woman’s Weekly and Woman’s Illustrated were a little bit more posh.

It was from her mother that Edna developed her taste for the novels of Ethel M Dell – ‘They were all tragedies, weren’t they?’

Yes, and I remember standing at Firth Park bus stop waiting for a bus from school and I was reading this Ethel M Dell stood at the bus stop. He said, “Do you like those?” I said, “Oh, I love them”, but I’d only be about 12 or 13 and he was an elderly man. And when I look back I think well there was a tragedy on every page!



Edna thinks her mother would have been lent these books by a friend. The only books Edna’ parents owned were her father’s Sunday School prizes. Though her mother read, she never had time to go to the library. In the depression Edna’s mother went out cleaning and then in the Second World War she got some office work. Indoors she was always knitting and sewing. ‘She was ever so industrious.’

When I was at Junior school I had a very far-seeing teacher and she had a little library and we used to borrow those books from her bookshelf. We were supposed to write a little commentary about what we thought but I can’t remember doing it. But they’d have Swallows and Amazons, William books and those sorts of books … Anne of Green Gables and the Dimsie books.

When she won a place at the Central Grammar School, Edna became conscious of the opportunities she and her family had not had. Her friend’s father was a policeman.

They seemed to live in luxury compared to us. They got their rent paid and things like that. Her mother had got time to go to the library and things like that. But, I mean, we had standards, and me mother was a bit [pause] she liked us to speak properly and we always said Grace, you know, and we went to Sunday school, and er, she was a believer, but she, we weren’t, well, she hadn’t time, but they did go on High Days and Holidays.

Edna’s grammar school was round the corner from the Central Library at the top of which was the Graves Art Gallery. ‘We took our sandwiches in there! Well, you got away from school, you see.’

Then, when Edna was married, in her twenties, she found herself in the Derbyshire countryside, a mile from the nearest bus-stop so her reading became dependent on the mobile library: James Thurber, books on antiques – ‘I hadn’t a hope of having an antique!’ Then her sister joined a book club and passed on the thrillers she had bought. She immersed herself in whatever she read. One day her husband came home and found her in tears.

And he said “Who’s upset you? Who’s upset you?” I said, “That little dog’s died”. You know I really lived it! I lived it!

One of the books that has remained with her all her life is Thomas Armstrong’s Crowthers of Bankdam set in the wool mills of West Yorkshire.

You can’t call it trashy, but a bit earthy. The boys played rugby. I mean, as opposed to football. They were middle class people, you know. The girls would have a reasonable education and perhaps went to boarding school but they were, hierarchy, and it was a series. You could follow them on.

Though she enjoyed J.B. Priestley and Arnold Bennett in the early fifties, it was in the sixties, when the family returned to Sheffield, that Edna went to Richmond College and developed reading tastes for some of the authors on her A level literature course: Graham Greene, Gorky and Steinbeck – ‘The Grapes of Wrath, I adored that’. Less to her taste was James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist: ‘it was so repressed’. This was the only time in Edna’s life that she regularly bought books for herself. When she was a girl she might buy secondhand books from a stall in Norfolk Market or the Girls’ Crystal from the local newsagent, but apart from her college days Edna relied either on libraries or friends for her books. Her college courses changed more than her book-buying habits. When Edna enrolled for her social science course her mother ‘went mad’.

‘ You’ve had three children and there you are going to college!’ I thought mother, ‘I’m nearly going out of my head here’. It was a life saver going up there.

You can access Edna’s audio and transcript here 

Blue Bird, by Seiko Kinoshita

Enter Sheffield’s Central Library and Graves Art Gallery and, just before the entrance to the Lending Library, stop and look up.  What you see above you is Blue Bird by Japanese-born, Sheffield-based textile artist Seiko Kinoshita.   Made from paper yarn which is hand-dyed and woven, this wonderful work is said to be inspired by Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1908 play, The Blue Bird, about the search for happiness.

Blue Bird 1


Blue Bird 3


Here is Seiko Kinoshita’s website, where you can read about what inspires her and how she works.

Blue Bird 4

Peter Mason’s Reading Journey

Peter Mason was born on the 29th September, 1929 and grew up in Handsworth, on the east side of Sheffield.  He spent his adult life as an educational administrator. He went to High Storrs Grammar School and Sheffield University where he studied politics and administration. He did two years National Service between 1947 and 1949. His father was a mining engineer who had worked in India in the early 1920s.

Peter’s reading was, from the very beginning, a family affair:

My brother used to encourage me to read because he was six years older than I was so the books he finished he passed to me, but my parents were avid readers … and my uncle and aunt. … Later on in life as my uncle was blind and my aunt used to have Braille books that she read to him. I was encouraged to read to him; I would read the newspaper to him or something like that.

Once he got going, Peter quickly graduated from Enid Blyton, Just William and Biggles to C.S. Forester’s naval adventures and Rider Haggard’s African fantasies.

During the Blitz, in 1941, many of Sheffield’s schools were closed for a time and pupils were sent to a teacher’s home to learn. Pupils were given books to take away and read on their own. Though this only lasted a few months it helped Peter become a confident and independent reader.

During the war, while Peter was at High Storrs Grammar School, he was using the school library as well as the Central Library intown. He studied Joseph Conrad and G. B. Shaw at school, read most of Charles Dickens and particularly enjoyed Thomas Hardy. His aunt supplied some of the twentieth century bestsellers, including James Hilton’s Lost Horizon and A.E.W. Mason’s cautionary tale about manliness The Four Feathers.

As a teenager Peter read partly to understand his place in the world: first, books about Yorkshire in particular, followed by histories of the United Kingdom then, encouraged by his uncle, books connected with the International Labour Party, frowned on by his parents. In his teens his interest in the current political situation was obviously fuelled by the fact that his country was at war. Peter still seeks to understand the world through reading histories, biographies and political autobiographies.

Many of the volumes in Peter’s extensive library were given to him as presents. During his two years in the forces, he was sent books and magazines, chosen to distract him from rather than engage him with the present. No doubt the ‘rather blue’ novels that circulated in the NAAFI served the same purpose. While Peter was on his military service in his late teens, he found many of his fellow conscripts could neither read nor write. One young man had been faced with a choice of prison or military service; Peter helped him write letters home and read the replies. Peter was full of praise for the military education service.

The forces not only introduced Peter to men for whom books were unavailable; it also introduced him to a new kind of recreational fiction: American genre fiction by Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Eric Williams’ The Wooden Horse was a great favourite with his fellow soldiers. After the war he admired The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat. He links the satisfaction such stories give him, the sense that good will triumph over evil, to his religious faith. However, Peter’s curiosity compels him to keep looking for a book that will overturn his expectations: ‘I’ve always been waiting to read a really good book where evil triumphs over good but I’ve not got that far yet.’

He is sensitive to the unsettling qualities he perceives in Jane Austen’s novels:

I thought she was great, but to me there was always a darkness about Jane Austen. In a way, I was being drawn into her world, which was fair enough and what she should do as an author, but I wasn’t happy about it if you know what I mean. There was a bit of misery attached to her work but, don’t get me wrong, she was a great author.

But Peter’s first choice has always been fact rather than fiction. Both his father and his uncle urged him to read newspapers, which he still ‘devours’ and which offer him models for his own writing.  Reading is what he does to relax: on holiday, in bed and while his wife watched television he would move to another room to concentrate on his book (sometimes one of his wife’s Georgette Heyers that he ‘sneaked’ a look at).

Peter’s reading has made him ‘an inveterate letter writer’. ‘The only way you can write correctly is if you are expressing your feelings.’ It has also made him an inveterate book buyer: Penguin books ‘by the bucket-load’ from W.H. Smith, a few from newsagents

I did like to go around antiquarian bookshops and see what they’d got. Old books used to fascinate me; if nothing else the writing used to get me but I never kept any of those I must admit, I used to part with them.

 Though Peter describes himself ‘disappearing into a book’, whether it be detective novels or P. G. Wodehouse’s comedies about that ‘lovable idiot’, it is clear that he also reads to connect with others (his grandchildren for example) and with new developments in the world (computer technology being a recent interest). ‘I like to read about the new things that are coming on the block’.

I like to read about life in general because I think it’s important that I know how the other half live, whether it’s the other half that are extremely wealthy or the other which are extremely poor, because I think it’s part of my duty to know exactly where they are.

Though Peter usually reads for a purpose he is adamant that he never reads a book because someone tells him that he should.

I’m not led. I’m not led by convention. I read what I want to read. If somebody tells me I’ve got to read it then my instant attitude is, ‘No, I don’t want to read it’. I want to read because I want to read and I choose what I want to read. I don’t now read anything because I consider that it’s not my views because I feel that I should embrace everybody’s views so I know what they’re thinking as well as what I’m thinking.

You can read and listen to Peter’s interview in full here.