Sometimes we meet a Sheffield reader who has pin-bright memories of particular books, events, people. Jean A, who was born in 1930, is one of those readers. As she talks, we see the individual pictures painted with her words.
When she was very small, in the early 1930s, and lived in rural Lincolnshire, Jean went to a ‘dame school’, run by the wonderfully-named Mrs Storm:
My mother got tired of me sort of fidgeting about so she popped me in a pram and took me round to a kind of dame school. Sat round the table, there were about eight of us, writing, spelling, dancing, arithmetic.
On family visits to Sheffield:
… this was my father’s home town. Used to come up to Sheffield to see his father and all my aunts, and they read to me. They were maiden aunts so they had the time to read to me.
Later, when the family moved to Sheffield, Jean’s schooling at Greystones Infants was disrupted by World War II:
… the roof was damaged so we had to have one or two lessons in the secondary modern school next door for a short time, then we did home service when we used to congregate in other people’s houses. We had some children living in our attic, only a few of them … a family, if they could, they used to provide a room so we didn’t lose out on our teaching. So my mum offered our attic. It was a nice room up there, plenty of light. I think we had about four or five. … There would be different children in each house. … I could stay at home but we also had to go to the fishmonger’s up the road; he had a room to spare and I think Peak’s the Butcher’s had. So we didn’t just stay in my house.
There were Arthur Mee’s Children’s Newspaper and magazines every week:
Every Saturday we used to go to Greystones Rd. On [the] right hand side as you go up there are these fairly new houses. Well before they were built there was a little row of cottages. In one of them Mrs Dabbs, she used to sell papers and comics from a little house. I can remember getting Chick’s Own. Rainbow as well. She was a huge lady. She would sit on the table and it was covered with papers and comics and things. You had to pay for them of course. Oh Mrs Dabbs!
As Jean was growing up, she recalls doing ‘more reading because, the dark nights, you couldn’t go out to play. And no box. We listened a lot to the radio. It was a family thing.’ A case in point was The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy, read when she was about 15:
We went to the Children’s Library in the Central. I can remember going there … It was fine, lovely. I was a great reader. I can remember reading The Forsyte Saga when I was about 15, late at night. I was engrossed in it. … Oh I did [enjoy it]. I didn’t enjoy the latter end of it, the 1920s. I didn’t think it had the same gusto as the Victorian part.
When she left school, Jean wanted to do social work. She worked for a year for Sheffield Council Social Service, visiting families all over the city. Then she did a two-year social sciences course at the University of Sheffield. After qualifying, she worked with older people. In March 1953, Jean joined the Wrens, where she trained as a driver and ‘enjoyed the freedom’. Later, she married, had two children and returned to Sheffield.
You can read and listen to Jean’s full interview here.