Tinsley’s Carnegie Library

Part Two

The decision was not arrived at, however, without some slight but determined opposition to the acceptance of any offer from the much-talked-of American millionaire.

The ‘slight but determined opposition’ to the plans for Tinsley Library, as reported by the Sheffield Telegraph on 17 December 1903, came from one man, John Luther Winkley (1872?- 1951?). Local landowner Earl Fitzwilliam had offered a site on Bawtry Road and millionaire Andrew Carnegie had offered £1,500 for building works. But now, at a lively parish meeting on Wednesday 16 December 1903, it looked as if Tinsley might not get its library.

The ‘much-talked-of American millionaire’, Andrew Carnegie (public domain)

According to the 1911 census, J L Winkley was a steelworks clerk, living with his wife and young daughter in Harrowden Road, just around the corner from the proposed site for the library. He was a local activist, serving on the parish council, and as its clerk, and also on the committee of Tinsley and District Working Men’s Club and Institute. His name appeared frequently in the local press. An account in the Sheffield Telegraph of 26 January 1909, long after the battle of the library, shows how strong-minded he seems to have been. He was the clerk to the council and during a meeting he alleged that the chairman, Mr Marriott, had failed in his duty over Sunday trading. Marriott was forced to resign, saying that he hoped his replacement would ‘see that the clerk is kept in his proper position’. The new chairman evidently hoped to lighten the mood, saying ‘smilingly’: ‘lf the clerk has any of his nonsense I shall take him up and drop him on the floor.’ ‘Perhaps he will be a bigger pill than you can swallow,’ retorted Marriott, provoking cries of ‘Order’.

Back in 1903, at the meeting about the library, the then chairman, H C Else, summarised matters:

… the Council had had two offers made to them, one from Earl Fitzwilliam in the shape of a grant of a site for a Free Library, entirely free of cost, and another from Mr Carnegie of £1,500, on the understanding that the library building should be erected for that sum. Before doing that they must adopt the Free Libraries Act. Mr Carnegie further stipulated that Tinsley should spend £100 per year from the rates on the up-keep of the library. … It rested with the ratepayers to decide whether they would accept those two most handsome offers.

Another member of the council, J H Meades, was on hand to remind everyone, a little pompously, of the benefits a library would bring:

…it was time Tinsley had a Free Library. The present handsome offers, he considered, too good to throw away. If they did not avail themselves of this opportunity he thought it would a good many years before they would have such a favourable chance of securing a library. (Applause.) The working class population, he further pointed out, would derive most benefit from such an institution, but the large ratepayers of the district would bear the greatest portion of the burden.

Mr Winkley, however, was not easily reconciled. He had, he made clear, no problem with the library in principle, and was happy with Earl Fitzwilliam’s offer of land. But he did not want money from Andrew Carnegie. He asked how the approach had been made to the American and why local firms had not been invited to contribute. He also wanted an assurance that £1,500 was enough, and to know just how the council proposed to buy books. Most people present thought that the £100 a year to be raised from the rate would be enough for books and perhaps even a caretaker. But Mr Winkley disagreed, saying that ‘there would not be many books bought’.

From 1912, when Tinsley joined Sheffield and the parish council was dissolved. The original caption identifies Mr Meades (front row) and Mr Winkley (back row). Next to him is Mr Burton, Tinsley’s librarian.

Mr Else seemed to feel that the meeting was getting away from him. He:

urged that libraries had been established under similar financial conditions in other parishes which had accepted gifts from Mr. Carnegie. Why should not Tinsley do likewise, he asked?

But this only gave Mr Winkley the chance to be blunt:

for the life of him, he could not see how any self-respecting working man could accept an offer of this description from a man like Mr. Carnegie. …

If [local businesses had not been asked], they ought to have been, before the parish went outside to an American millionaire. He thought these firms would nearly, if not quite, have defrayed the cost of such a building if they had been approached. If the matter were gone about in the right way even now, he thought the necessary for the building could be raised in this way. Other Councils in the country had refused Mr. Carnegie’s offer.

The Telegraph recorded verbatim the discussion that followed, and the tension is evident:

The clerk: How many?

A ratepayer: Lots.

Mr Winkley: ‘If a man made me the offer of a present, which I could not conscientiously accept, I should not have it.’ (Hear, hear.)

The Clerk: Sheffield – Walkley accepted it.

Mr Winkley: That is no reason why we should do.

The Clerk: Not at all, if you don’t want it.

Mr Else said that in his view local firms could not donate ‘in a time of bad trade’.

So far as they knew, Mr Carnegie was a gentleman, and was doing very great good with the money he had compiled.

After more discussion, Mr F Bragg proposed that the offers should be accepted, adding that

a good deal had been said about the way Mr Carnegie had made his money, but he could not see that he differed from the great capitalists of this country.

The vote was a resounding 30 to one in favour of acceptance. Mr Winkley seems to have objected to Andrew Carnegie as a capitalist, and a foreigner at that, riding in style on the backs of working men. Perhaps the fact that his fortune came from steel made in another country was also a sore point in a steel town like Tinsley.[i] But in the end Winkley failed to persuade any other councillor. Tinsley would have its Carnegie library.

In our next post on Tinsley Library, we’ll look at the building erected with Andrew Carnegie’s money.

Architect’s drawing of Tinsley Library

[i] Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland, but had emigrated to the USA as a young boy. He lived most of his life there, although he remained close to his Scottish roots. He made a vast fortune – over $350m – from steel.

Looking back on 2018

Here is our Christmas card for 2018, drawing its inspiration from Girls’ Crystal and other comics which our readers loved as children. You can read here about on our activities over the year and learn about what we plan for 2019.

Reading Sheffield Christmas card 2018

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all our readers!

 

Sinterklaas

A post for Christmas from poet Eleanor Brown, about the Dutch nursery rhymes which our reader Julia Banks (b. 1939) learned with her children in The Netherlands in the 1960s. The illustration below is from the wall hanging which Julia made at the time.

Sinterklaas Kapoentje,
gooi wat in m’n schoentje,
gooi wat in m’n laarsje.
Dank u, Sinterklaasje.

Saint Nicholas, little capon,
Throw something in my little shoe
Throw something in my little boot.
Thank you, little Saint Nicholas!

Textile by Julia Banks

A brief but interesting rhyme appropriate for the time of year. It’s tempting to render Sinterklaas as Santa Claus, but that probably takes him a step further away from the 4th century Greek bishop whose feast day on December 6th. That was when Dutch and other European children would traditionally leave their shoes out, in the hope that the kindly saint or his proxies would leave sweets, gingerbread and other goodies in them.

Mama Lisa’s World gives ‘kapoentje’ as ‘you rascal’, and is coy about it: ‘This is a very short song and the word ‘kapoentje’ is a very old word with its origin not necessarily being positive. Over time however, its meaning is believed to be more in the context of a nickname of sorts.’ In fact, if you take off the diminutive ending ‘-tje’ (the thing that in English turns John into [little] Johnny and pig into [little] piggy), you are left with ‘kapoen’, which simply means capon: a castrated cock fowl destined for the cooking pot. Maybe a disrespectful reference to the bishop’s clerical celibacy, but after all, ‘rascal’ was once freighted with much more disapproval than it is now.

Even before listening to the Dutch spoken by a translating tool, my eye was caught by ‘gooi wat’ – literally, ‘throw something’ – for which we have a perfect north-east English dialect equivalent in the verb ‘hoy’. And indeed, the initial sound of ‘gooi’ is soft and aspirated, like a throaty ‘h’. So ‘gooi wat in m’n schoentje’ might better be represented by ‘hoy summat in wor shoesies’.

But I’m a poet, I’m attracted to a lot of stuff that linguists and oral historians would strenuously disagree with or disapprove of – so do feel free to tell me I’m making up false cognates.

Merry Christmas and all the best for 2019!

 

In The Hague There Lives A Count
A, B, C, The Cat Comes With Me

In The Hague There Lives A Count

Here is a second post, by poet Eleanor Brown, about the Dutch nursery rhymes which our reader Julia Banks (b. 1939) learned with her children in The Netherlands in the 1960s. The illustration below is from the wall hanging which Julia made at the time.

Textile by Julia Banks

In Den Haag daar woont een Graaf
En zijn zoon heet Jantje
Als je vraagt ‘Waar woont je Pa?’
Dan wijst hij met zijn Handje
Met vingertje en duim
Op zijn hoed draagt hij een Pluim
Aan zijn arm een Mandje……
Dag mijn lieve Jantje.

Statue in The Hague, by Ivo Coljé, 1976 (source: Steven Lek, Wikimedia Commons)

In The Hague there lives a Count
He has a son named Johnny
If you ask, ‘Where does your Daddy live?’
He points there with his little hand,
His little finger and his thumb.
On his hat he wears a plume,
On his arm a basket.
Good day to you, dear Johnny.

In Den Haag daar woont een graaf is a very well known Dutch nursery rhyme. Jantje – we would say Johnny in English – may be Jan I (John I) who became the Graafschap Holland (Count of the County of Holland) in 1296, when his father, Floris V, was assassinated. Jantje was only 13 years old, and after two years gave up his position to his cousin John II. Jantje died within the month. The Hague was traditionally the Graafschap’s residence, and in 1976, to celebrate its 750th anniversary, the City Council commissioned the statue shown here from sculptor Ivo Coljé.

It is possible that the rhyme is not about Jan I. Jan was a very common Dutch name, and it neatly rhymes with ‘Mandje’ (‘basket’) and ‘Handje’ (‘hand’).

Source: Local Heart, Global Soul

Here is Eleanor’s first nursery rhyme post.

In the Frosty Dawn of December 13th

…I can remember standing on my lawn at home in the middle of the night and we knew Sheffield was being bombed… (Dorothy Norbury, b.1931)

Sheffield Blitz (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blitz_fire.jpg)

Seventy-eight years ago today, the people of Sheffield woke up, if they had slept at all, to find a changed city. The day before, 12 December 1940, was the first night of the Sheffield Blitz, when the Luftwaffe targeted the steel city. In an earlier post, we looked at how our readers, like Dorothy all young at the time, remembered the raids. Here are extracts from The City Libraries of Sheffield 1856-1956 and from the memories of staff about the part Sheffield Libraries played in the aftermath of the Blitz.[i] It was fortunate that the Central Library in Surrey Street, which became the base for public assistance, was not much damaged, despite its location between The Moor and Fitzalan Square, both of which were more or less destroyed.

In the frosty dawn of December 13th, thousands of people homeless, bereaved, or threatened with loss of livelihood, turned to the Government and Corporation to find out what to do, and for the first few hours there was no one to tell them. The Public Assistance Department had planned a scheme for just such an emergency, but its headquarters  and many of its prepared centres had been destroyed. The City Librarian was asked by the Emergency Committee to put the Central Library  at the disposal of the eleven local and national departments concerned with post raid needs; by mid-day the officers of the Public Assistance Department had already arrived. The next day the other officials were at work in the newsroom, the Reference Library and the administrative offices, and a Missing Relatives Bureau had been set up by members of the library staff.

For several weeks the library presented an extraordinary spectacle. Crowds of people of all ages thronged the tables where the officials sat dispensing comfort, material help and information; dogs, tea and tobacco smoke were visible in the public rooms for the only time in history; a continual noise made up of chatter, laughter, sometimes argument and occasionally tears, ruffled the usually placid air. Amongst it all the library staff not only catalogued and issued books as usual, but listened to tales of woe, administered refreshment, and made it their business to know something about everything going on in the building.

Remembering the Blitz years later, one member of the library staff said:

The library was closed because there was an unexploded bomb somewhere in the Eyre Street area. Mr Lamb [the City Librarian] was totally tied up with getting the Information Service going, and Mr Hutchings the deputy, was in charge of the library. We found all sorts of stranded people hanging around both in the library and in the street outside. … Mr Lamb said ‘Well, set up a counter in the magazine room – what is now the Business Library – tell them what you can, you can ask the Information Committee for anything you can’t cope with.’ Gradually it grew. All I can remember now is that, all of a sudden, after a week, we were running an information service as if we’d always done it, which in a way we had.

First of all people were coming in and asking where they could get these claim forms for the damage to their houses, then soldiers coming home on compassionate leave, bursting in, wild-eyed, I can’t find my wife and children, and then other relatives came in whose people were absolutely safe and sound and they’d no way of telling them.

One of the Lending Library staff recalled:

People from Lending and myself went to a local grocery store – Tuckwoods it was called, on Fargate – and we bought as many tins of soup as we could manage between us. The Ministry had suspended food rationing because of the Blitz. We took the tins to the staff canteen and as the gas mains had gone we heated the soup in an electric kettle. We took it down to the people who’d gone into the basement of the library because the food kitchens hadn’t arrived by then.

They decided they would keep the Lending Library open … it was considered good for morale if people had books to read, you see. I was in charge of keeping the Lending Library open with about half a dozen staff, while everyone else was working on relief work. … I’d see [Mr Lamb] passing through and organising things, he’d just say ‘Hello, girlie’ and that would be it. He was far too busy to bother with me, he knew I was doing my job and that was it.

It was important to get information out across the city, noted The City Libraries of Sheffield, and the usual channels were generally not available.

Twice a day instructions received from the responsible officers were cast by the Committee into simple messages broadcast from cars by voluntary workers. The more important of these instructions were issued as stencilled or printed bulletins which were distributed daily by trained young cyclists.

Understandably uncertain at first, the library service gradually settled down, new ways of working developed, and plans were laid down.

Between all the officials in the building there grew up a spirit of mutual helpfulness and friendly co-operation. … When the representatives of most departments had left the library by the beginning of February, 1941, the staff of the Public Assistance Department remained, administering the Air Raid Information Bureau for the rest of the war in the library.

The Public Assistance Officer and the City Librarian still worked closely together to prepare for any new emergency which might arise. They devised a system of information posts so arranged that any part of it might come into action independently of the others. …

The City Librarian was appointed BBC Liaison Officer in September, 1941, and attended every meeting of the Invasion Committee from March, 1941. In the case of fighting in the neighbourhood, or a temporary occupation by the enemy, the official source of all information was to be the Central Library, the centre of a complex web of communications with the Civil Defence and military authorities. The aim of the whole organisation was to ensure that the public should know what information was accurate and what put out falsely by the enemy. The scheme, for which most careful preparations and rehearsals were carried out, was suspended in the autumn of 1943, and fortunately did not need to be revived.

After the Blitz of December 1941, Sheffield was not again seriously threatened. One of the librarians said:

We were running at full blast as an information service on practically everything for several months after the raid, then gradually business began to drop off and return to whatever you call normal life in wartime.

And the official City Libraries of Sheffield records:

By June, 1945, the Central Library was again devoted entirely to library purposes.

Sheffield Central Library today

[i] The City Libraries of Sheffield 1856-1956 (Sheffield City Council, 1956, pp. 47-9). The staff memories quoted come from James R Kelly’s unpublished MA thesis, Oral History of Sheffield Public Libraries, 1926-1974 (University of Sheffield, April 1983). If the copyright holders come forward, we will happily acknowledge them.

A, B, C, The Cat Comes With Me

By Eleanor Brown

Here is the first of an occasional series of posts, by poet Eleanor Brown, about the Dutch nursery rhymes which our reader Julia Banks (b. 1939) learned with her children when they lived in The Netherlands in the 1960s.

Later on, when I was married, I did have a lot of spare time. Because we moved to Holland in ’65 and we didn’t have a television. I spent a lot of time learning Dutch, because I’d got by then two young children who would go into nursery school, and I would need to be able to sing to them, nursery rhymes and so on. So my Dutch is based on nursery rhymes; I can’t discuss anything political, but I can sing you a nursery rhyme! And so a lot of my time there I went to the British Women’s Club Library…

With no YouTube to visit for colourful animations including a friendly ball bouncing along subtitled lyrics in time with the music; with no Babel Fish (RIP) or Google Translate to show texts side by side with their translations; with no smartphone language app encouragingly keeping score of learning tasks completed, Julia had to find her own way into Dutch. She must have had to learn tunes, pronunciation and intonations at toddler groups; perhaps at mother and baby sessions at the library. She must have had to do some guesswork and dictionary work at first, piecing together the meanings of (sometimes more or less nonsensical) texts with clues from the illustrations in books.

As in English, many Dutch early learning songs tell no very rational or sequential tale: bears buttering their sandwiches and snakes hanging out the washing are wonders to be met with in a world where beren rhymes with smeren and slangen rhymes with hangen.

In the absence of a television, Julia made her own visual aid: she coded her own and her children’s learning into a cross-stitch needlework textile wall hanging that illustrates 12 traditional Dutch nursery rhymes. The texts (together with audio and translations) of some of these can be found at Mama Lisa’s World: Children’s Songs and Nursery Rhymes From Around The World but if you make your own translations, you can enjoy finding equivalents for the flavour, rhythm or silliness of the original.

They range from the briefest summary of domestic animal whereabouts:

Textile by Julia Banks

A, B, C,                                           A, B, C,

De Kat gaat me,                          The cat comes with me,

De Hond blijft thuis.                   The dog stops at home.

‘Piep!’ zei de muis                        ‘Eek!’ says the mouse

In ‘t voorhuis.                                In the front of the house.

to a long, earnest account of (Everyboy) Jantje’s moral struggle as he gazes at the ripe plums his father has forbidden him to scrump. They include such recognisable childhood experiences as pulling your friend along in a little wagon, holding tight to mother’s umbrella in the wind and rain, and calling your sister stupid when you drop your cap in the mud.

Tinsley’s Carnegie Library

Part One

…I wasn’t very clever at school but I always read – always. Without reading I don’t know how I would have occupied myself. … When I’ve been fed up, a book has always succeeded in making things seem better. (Pat, born in Tinsley in 1926)

People think of Walkley as Sheffield’s only Carnegie library, but for 75 years there was another. Tinsley’s Carnegie library opened in June 1905, a few months before Walkley’s, and seven years before Tinsley became part of Sheffield. It served as the branch library until 1985 when the service moved to a new building.

This is the story of how a village decided to open a public library. And how an English aristocrat, an American millionaire and two unlikely-sounding architects helped make it possible.    

Tinsley Library 1970 (© SCC. Courtesy of Picture Sheffield)

Here is Tinsley’s Carnegie Library in 1970, sixty-five years after it opened. This image, from Picture Sheffield, shows the library in very good condition, apparently after a recent renovation. It suits its setting, at the end of a terrace of old brick houses. The design is simple – double-fronted, four-square, like a child’s drawing. There are big windows all round, allowing in light for readers. The letters fixed to the wall on the right, spelling out ‘City Library’, are a late addition, found on several of Sheffield’s branch libraries. The building’s Victorian roots are evident, particularly the porch and the little steeple on the roof (called a ‘flèche’ by architects).

Tinsley Carnegie Library 2018

Here is the library building today, now over a hundred years old and looking desolate. Those big windows are all boarded up and the brickwork is shabby. Close-ups show the porch with water damage, more boarded up windows at the back and security railings around the little garden area. The flèche, however, is surprisingly sprightly.

How did Tinsley get its library?

The Act of Parliament allowing councils to open ‘free libraries’ was passed in 1850 and for the next half century, many towns and cities established and expanded their services. Sheffield was a pioneer, the first town in Yorkshire and the 11th in England to open a free library. By 1900, there was the central library in Surrey Street (where today’s library is) and several branches. The newest was Attercliffe:

Attercliffe Library opened in 1894 in answer to local public demand and closed in 1996. As well as lending books, it was one of the first places in Sheffield to display lists of job vacancies.

Tinsley was then an independent township, run by a parish council. Its residents could use Sheffield’s libraries through an informal arrangement, and this probably meant visiting Attercliffe, two miles away. Perhaps the splendid sight of it – ‘neo-Jacobean…in red brick with stone mullions and transoms and three big coped gables’, to quote the Pevsner guide – made the parish council think that their own free library would be an asset to Tinsley.

This is where we meet the American millionaire and the English aristocrat, in the beautiful inscription on the porch of the library:

The funds for this building were given by Andrew Carnegie Esquire and the site by the Earl Fitzwilliam.

The 7th Earl Fitzwilliam (public domain)

The English aristocrat was William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam (1872 – 1943), who became the 7th Earl Fitzwilliam in 1902. (You can learn more about him, and the scandal about his birth, in Catherine Bailey’s 2007 book, Black Diamonds.) The Fitzwilliams, who lived at nearby Wentworth Woodhouse, owned much of Tinsley and, as the Sheffield Telegraph put it on 17 December 1903, the Earl

…intimated his willingness to give a site on the corner of Bawtry Lane. This is the site originally suggested for a parish hall. His lordship attaches the condition that the site is to be used for the purpose for which it is given only. In the event of it being used otherwise, it is to revert his lordship, or he is to be empowered to make other terms as regards its tenancy. The area of the site is 720 square yards, and its value is approximately £225.

Andrew Carnegie (public domain)

The American millionaire was Andrew Carnegie (1835 – 1919), who was born in Dunfermline, emigrated to the USA at the age of 13 and made a fortune in steel. Carnegie’s ‘dictum’ was that a man should, firstly, get all the education he could, then make as much money as possible and finally donate his riches to worthy causes. He gave away about $350m, about 90 per cent of his fortune, including paying for 3,000 public libraries around the world. His secretary wrote to the Tinsley parish council on 18 November 1903, setting out his offer and (standard) conditions:

Dear Sir

Responding to your communications on behalf of Tinsley. Mr Carnegie will be glad to give £1,500 sterling to erect a Free Public Library building for Tinsley, if the Free Public Libraries’ Act be adopted, and the maximum assessment under it levied, producing £100, as stated by you. A site must also be given for the building, the cost not being burden upon the penny rate. (quoted in the Sheffield Telegraph of 17 December 1903)

So far, so good. The money and the site had been secured. A parish meeting was now held at the National School, to discuss the proposal. It was here that a local resident, Mr J L Winkley, got to his feet and almost caused the plan for the library to be abandoned.

You can find out what happened at the parish meeting in Part Two of Tinsley’s Carnegie Library, to be posted soon. Part Three, to follow, will look at the building of the library, and introduce its architects.

 

Thanks to Picture Sheffield for permission to use the 1970 photograph of Tinsley Library.

Erica Jeremiah’s Reading Journey

By Mary Grover

Erica Jeremiah was born in Totley in 1937, to comfortably-off parents. The family moved to Hathersage, where Erica grew up, coming into Sheffield regularly. She studied German at King’s College London and worked as a teacher. She lived in Mexico for several years, where her husband was working. Erica has children and grandchildren.

Erica

Erica’s father was an unusual man. He took the education of his daughter very seriously but Erica was six before anyone suggested that she learn to read. She had been sent to a progressive school which used the Montessori principles of education. The teachers fostered a child’s connection with the natural world through practical and imaginative play and books were only to be introduced when those connections were established. When the time came Erica learned quickly; she can still remember

the joy of learning to read. I think I remember the first book that I really read and enjoyed because it belonged to the maid we had in the house at the time. She came from Northumberland and brought a book of folk stories down with her which was called ‘Granny’s Wonderful Chair’ or something like that. I’ve got the copy because she gave it to me, … the first book that I read.

Erica still has a great admiration for the way she was taught at the progressive school her parents sent her to:

…remembering it being so stimulating. And we were read The Pilgrims Progress, which I remember, and The Cloister and The Hearth, when we were eight and nine. And they were so exciting and I do think that was formative. … We were read aloud to, yes, we didn’t have to read them ourselves, no we were read aloud to. And they had this system, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it: Narrating Back. At the end of the lesson the class retold the story that they’d heard. And I’m sure it was excellent.

While she was being read texts that many of her age would have found challenging she was also becoming an independent reader. Erica’s father gave her all the encouragement he could. He was a pearl button manufacturer in the centre of Sheffield, his factory just opposite the Central Library. Before he set off home he would collect ‘about eight books’ from the library then drive out to Hathersage in the Peak District to the west of Sheffield where they had moved at the end of the war.

Father brought me, from the library, the popular books, the easy books, the Elinor Brent-Dyer and Josephine Pullein-Thompson, and then there was Arthur Ransome, which was, for a country child, which was a great development really.

As well as these stories of boarding school, pony shows and learning not to be a ‘duffer’ in a boat, Erica found in her grandparents’ house the Angela Brazil series that had belonged to her mother as a child. Her father’s parents had volumes of Walter Scott  ‘which I used to borrow one by one. … I think I was only nine or ten, because there was nothing else.’ She remembers choosing Peveril of the Peak because it was local. Her parents bought few books because times were hard for manufacturing after the war but Erica can remember the secondhand set of the Children’s Encyclopaedia, ‘a bit out-of-date’ but read and reread. The family had moved out of Sheffield after the war. Though the open spaces of the Peak District must have been a welcome relief from the dereliction left by the Blitz, it held social perils. Erica’s father had gone up to Cambridge to study engineering.

The only person he recognised as coming from his own part of the world was a miner from Ilkeston with a Yorkshire, er Derbyshire accent. And they became great friends. He was on a mining scholarship, and I think he introduced him to all these views and that was how he became interested in the left.

In the thirties the family bookshelves began to fill with volumes from the Left Book Club. Erica remembers their distinctive yellow covers which caused her mother great embarrassment when they moved to the Hope Valley. The family were the only household in the valley to subscribe to a Liberal newspaper and to distribute Liberal pamphlets. When the family inherited the grandparents’ library, Erica’s mother lined up the respectable books that she had just acquired in front of the left wing titles, to conceal the family’s socialist leanings from their Conservative neighbours.

Erica gained a lot from her father’s intellectual curiosity and openness to new ideas. He was an admirer of Arnold Freeman, a Fabian turned anthroposophist who ran The Little Theatre in the Sheffield suburb of Upperthorpe.

I remember going to a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream very vividly, and Faust I remember going to. I remember it was in the old Settlement but I forget where it was exactly. And it was a fascinating, completely fascinating. And Faust, I do remember. Arnold Freeman was very keen on Faust.

Erica shared this delight in Freeman’s theatrical productions with Winnie Lincoln whose Reading Journey you can find here. Arnold Freeman was the first person to make a survey of what Sheffielders read. His Equipment of the Workers (London: George Allen and Unwin 1919) is an edited version of the survey of the reading over 800 men and women which he organised before the First World War and published 1918.

Erica moved back and forwards from children to adult fiction and back in her teens.

I think as an introduction to adult books it was always Georgette Heyer and Margaret Irwin. Because there wasn’t any teen fiction, was there? You moved straight on from the school stories, Just William. I remember I read all the Biggles books. Perhaps I borrowed them from someone. But I remember particularly enjoying the fantasies; Beverley Nichols wrote some fantasies that I really enjoyed, which I suppose were the same as the fantasies the children enjoy now. And of course Enid Blyton.

Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29925217)

Erica went on to study German at King’s College in London because the family business needed someone with European languages to help with exporting. In fact by the time she had graduated the business had gone and she became a teacher, got married and in the 1970s brought up her two young children in Mexico. There, getting to the library was an adventure.

I [used] the wonderful British Council library, which was in the heart of Mexico City and I actually I don’t know how I had the nerve to drive down there with the children. We used to go to films and borrow books. So The British Council was marvellous. And the library was good! It had everything that I needed.

Erica then became very reliant on a newspaper to keep a connection with home. She always had the Observer sent out.

Whether it arrived or not was a different matter. I remember it didn’t arrive for several weeks and I was getting worried. I said to someone I had to have this. And she said ‘Did you remember Postman’s Day’? And so I said ‘Postman’s Day’? And apparently one should’ve given the postman a tip on Postman’s Day and I hadn’t. So, as soon as that was put right the paper started arriving again!

In 1976 when the family returned to Sheffield, Erica joined what she thinks was one of the first book groups in Sheffield which was started in the Geography Department at Sheffield University. Erica has read a vast range of fiction of every sort and constantly returns to the support her father gave her and her sisters, helping them borrow books and, because of his interest in ideas, inviting all sorts of different kinds of people to their home in Hathersage. Moral Rearmament, Montessori education and Liberal Politics all helped inspire Erica’s interest in current affairs and current debates.

Eva G’s Reading Journey

By Sue Roe

Eva was born on 24 December 1925 and lived first in the Pitsmoor area of Sheffield, moving about ten miles to Bramley in 1962. Her father was an engineer before and during the First World War when he lost a leg. On his return he worked in the offices of Edgar Allen steelworks at Tinsley. Her mother worked in the warehouse of a cutlery firm until she was married and gave it up. Eva passed the 11+ to go to Greystones Intermediate School but her parents were not interested in education for girls:

. . . they didn’t bother with the girls then, you know. Boys could have anything, but …You get married, you don’t need to. That’s the attitude then. So it didn’t get you anywhere.

She started her reading journey at school: she learned to read there. At the age of seven she started to read Dickens, unabridged: ‘I read David Copperfield; that was my favourite.’

Dickens made a great impression on her:

I liked the characters. I mean, they were really interesting characters, weren’t they? True to life,  in a way, but funny as well. I loved David Copperfield. I think he went through a lot. I know Oliver Twist is a similar sort of thing, isn’t it, what happened to them when they were younger, but I liked the characters. I liked Peggotty.

Her parents did have books at home, and both were readers:

I used to get them from the library, mostly. We had got, luckily, at home, we had got here, you know, volumes of them. . . . he [her father] used to be like army books and war books.. and  she [her mum]  used to read love stories, you know . . .

When, much later, her mum lived with Eva in Bramley, she read in bed:

She used to go to bed in the afternoon. … Because she was elderly …  she was 38 when she had me …  I used to give her all sorts of books, she used to read them upstairs and then she used to have a little nap and then come down for tea.

As a child, Eva did not get many books as presents; she went to Burngreave Branch Library which was just down the road though she never got any help with choosing books:

I used to go regularly, yes, and pick my books, choose my books. … I used to read downstairs. If I started reading, it went over my head when everybody was talking, if I got really interested in a book.

Eva went to Burngreave Secondary School which she enjoyed.

I loved school. And our head teacher was Scottish, and she came from Carbrook School. She was always a miss – she never got married.

She was Scottish and tall. She used to have her hair trimmed short, and she used to always wear tweeds and suits. … But she was very interested in music, so we got that drummed into us. I’ll always remember her for that … and speech training, we had speech training. Elocution.

… when I was at secondary school, we had elocution lessons. They didn’t in most places, but we did. It was just like having proper elocution lessons, so we did a lot of Shakespeare, you know, so you learnt that off by heart, that sort of thing …  Hamlet … to be or not to be, that is …  I learnt that off by heart, that speech, but I can’t remember it all now.

Libraries continued to be important for Eva even after she married and had a family. Initially she used Handsworth Library but that was pulled down:

[we] had to either go down to Darnall, or go up to Manor Top. We often used to go there when the girls were young; we used to catch the bus. Or we used to walk it, and then we’d got the books … well, we got the bus coming back, because it was a nicer library, you know.

As she got older she read more widely: ‘I liked mysteries. I like murder mysteries.’

[Agatha Christie] : I used to read her books, yes. But once you’ve read one of her books …  I used to like them, but they seemed to be all … when you look at them closely, they all seem to be the same, don’t they?

Eva enjoyed Dorothy L Sayers and P D James as well as adventure stories like Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines and John Buchan’s Thirty Nine Steps. She also liked comedies: ‘Not silly, but funny.’

Cold Comfort Farm: I read that, yes. I’ve got it actually.

I’ve read Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Compton Mackenzie … I like his books [like] Whisky Galore

Like several of our interviewees, Eva read books which were seen as shocking at the time:

Lady Chatterley’s Lover … I’ve read that, that’s neither here nor there. … I’ve read  Edna O’ Brien – I like Edna O’Brien.

When asked if she was shocked by them, she replied, ‘Not really.’

Eva still reads, though the venue has changed over the years:

Now, of course, I only read in bed. If I wake up early I read, I have a little read at night. But I don’t read like I used to do, I don’t read downstairs. And I got into that habit when the girls were young and you couldn’t concentrate, and they were all there, so that’s when I used to read when I went to bed.

I often used to go to bed early when I was married because I was short-sighted, so it was handy for me. Because I had to have my glasses on, I could lie down in bed… he often used to find me in bed [asleep] with my glasses on, and he used to just take my glasses off!

Her husband didn’t object because he was a reader as well.

Eva enjoys reading well-loved books again.

I often read books that I am very fond of again, it doesn’t bother me. Revise myself on them. … Gone with the Wind, I’ve got that, naturally. Oh, I’ve read it two or three times. I keep coming back to it.

On the Centenary of the Armistice

Privates John Charles Hobson and John Sydney Abey have lain in the soil of northern France for over a hundred years. Of the 5,000 men Sheffield lost in the First World War, they are the only library workers, and their names appear on the Sheffield Libraries Roll of Honour.

John Abey

Before the war John Abey was the junior assistant in the branch library in Highfield, just outside the city centre.

Highfield Branch Library

This was a good job for a young man – white collar, secure and with the prospect of progression – but John would have earned his money. The hours were long: 09.00-13.30 and 17.30-21.00 in the week, with a half-day on Thursday, and all day Saturday, with staff working shifts. The library operated the physically demanding ‘closed access’ system, with books shelved on steep racks behind a counter and staff climbing up ladders to retrieve borrowers’ choices. Highfield was one of Sheffield’s first branch libraries, state of the art when it opened in 1876, in a building designed by a leading local architect, Edward Mitchell Gibbs.[i] But by the war years, the library service was neglected and Highfield was described by one employee as ‘very gloomy’. Before he joined up, John was probably one of two assistants to the branch librarian, and there would have been several boys employed in the evenings to help shelve books. The library may well have been gloomy, but there was also fun. ‘We often used to have a kickabout with a small ball behind the indicator,’ said the same employee, ‘the librarian never bothered.’ (The ‘Cotgreave indicator’ was 19th century technology: a huge wooden screen showing whether books were available or on loan.)

32 Witney Street, Highfield today. The Abey family lived here.

St Barnabas Church, Highfield today. John Abey and his family worshipped here.

The Highfield area seems to have been the centre of John Abey’s life. Not only did he work there but he lived at 32 Witney Street, near the library, with his parents, his elder sister, Ethel, and younger brothers, Arnold and Stanley. The family attended St Barnabas Church next to the library, and John sang in the choir. His mother Margaret is mentioned in newspaper reports as helping at church fetes, and her children joined in:

Oriental Bazaar at Heeley

The successful Oriental bazaar held in conjunction with Wesley Chapel, Heeley, was reopened for the last time yesterday by a band of 45 prettily-attired children of the Sunday School. There was a large and interested audience to witness the ceremony. … (Sheffield Independent, 24 April 1908)

The ‘prettily-attired’ children are all carefully named, including ‘Miss Ethel Mary Abey’ and ‘Master Jack Sydney Abey’.

John – Jack – was killed, seven months before the Armistice, on 15 April 1918. His regiment was the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (1/4th Battalion, a volunteer contingent) and he had the exposed job of signaller, responsible for unit communications. Between 13 and 15 April 1918, the battalion took part in the Battle of Bailleul, and its war diary notes intense shelling and the Germans managing to penetrate the frontline on occasion. The battalion was relieved and sent to rest on 15 April, but this came too late for Signaller Abey. On 20 April the Sheffield Independent reported that he had ‘died in hospital at Boulogne, having been wounded the same morning’. His war gratuity of £10 11s 11d was paid to his father, Herbert, and his record notes the usual award of the British War and Victory Medals. Jack is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery (VIII. I. 196). He was 19 years old.

John Hobson

Percy, John and Horace Hobson

John Hobson grins out at the camera, his cap at a cheeky angle. His younger brothers, Percy on the left and Horace on the right, look more guarded. We don’t know when this photo was taken, or by whom, but it was printed in the Sheffield Telegraph on 24 July 1916.

Three weeks earlier, Percy had been killed, one of 19,000 to die on 1 July, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, for three square miles of territory. His body was never recovered, and his name is incised on the Thiepval Memorial along with 72,000 others with no known grave. John and Horace were both ‘severely wounded’, says the newspaper. Within the year, John too would be dead. Horace alone survived the war.

Before the war, John Hobson had worked at Hillsborough Branch Library, in a job similar to John Abey’s on the other side of the city.[ii] Hillsborough was a large and busy suburb, and the branch library seems to have been well used. It opened in 1906, in a converted, 18th century gentleman’s residence, which must have brought problems as well as charms.

Hillsborough Library

John was born in 1892, between Hillsborough and Upperthorpe, the eldest of three brothers and a sister. His father, John Henry, was a greengrocer and then a ‘car conductor’ on the city trams. John’s middle name, Charles, probably came from his paternal grandfather, Charles Hobson (1845-1923), a prominent union leader. Charles was elected to the town council, and prospered until 1903 when he was convicted of corruption. He served three months in prison. Despite this, he remained popular and influential, making speeches and writing for the papers.

It was perhaps inevitable that John and his brothers would volunteer as their grandfather was a member of the Territorial Force Council. He said in 1909:

I am essentially a man of peace. At the same time I disagree with those who preach ‘Peace at any price.’ I would never provoke a fight, and would suffer wrong rather than resort to extreme measures. Nevertheless, circumstances might arise when to remain passive, or inactive, would prove one either imbecile, coward, or void of all manly instincts. (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 13 February 1909)

The three brothers joined the Sheffield City Battalion, the 12th battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment. Its men were ‘pals’ – brothers, friends, workmates, schoolfellows etc who enlisted together, to stay together and to fight together. This gave the soldiers loyalty and fellow-feeling, but meant that in a major engagement a village, say, might lose most of its young men all at once. This happened to the Sheffield Pals at the Somme on 1 July 1916, when half the battalion were cut down by relentless machine gun fire and 250 men, including Percy Hobson, died.

John and Horace were invalided back to England, to recover from their wounds, and John was well enough to return to France in January 1917. He was wounded again and died at a casualty clearing station at Bethune on 19 April 1917. He is buried in Bethune Town Cemetery (VI. D. 39), about 50 miles from where John Abey lies. His war gratuity of £8 10s was paid to his wife, Mary, whom he had married in 1915.

A letter home from John’s brother, Percy, was published in the Sheffield Telegraph when he died in July 1916. It perhaps speaks not just for Percy but for his brothers too:

We are having a fairly good time here considering everything … Tons of work; in fact, more work out of the trenches than we get in – though sometimes this does not hold good. All the chaps are in excellent spirits. In the hearts of our men lurks the feeling that with foresight this war could have been prevented. We try not to look at the dull side of things. We are in one of the finest battalions in the present army, and I am proud to be a member of it. I should like to tell you many things about the battalion, but we are not allowed to. I had another fortunate escape on my birthday night. I was the only survivor of a small company. The trench was levelled to the ground—but it was Hobson’s choice—they would not kill me.

——

Sheffield Libraries Roll of Honour

The Libraries Roll, bright with flags, bells and laurel leaves, marks the service of 20 men who survived as well as John Abey and John Hobson. At least seven of them returned to libraries in Sheffield after the war: Benjamin Belch, Arthur Cressey, James Gomersall (Park Branch), H Valentine (Highfield Branch), F Broadhurst (Walkley Branch), F Kellington (Highfield Branch) and H W Marr (Central Library).

John Abey and John Hobson are also remembered, along with 140 other librarians, on the national Library Association Great War Memorial, now mounted in the staff entrance at the British Library in London.

Library Association memorial at the British Library

 

If anyone reading this is related to anyone listed on the Roll of Honour, we would like to hear from you. Please leave a comment below. 

 

[i]  Highfield is still a library, run by the City Council. The building is Grade II-listed, which the Pevsner Architectural Guide for Sheffield (Yale University Press, 2004) describes as ‘Florentine Renaissance’.

[ii]  Like Highfield, Hillsborough remains a Council-run branch library.