John D’s Reading Journey

By Mary Grover

John D was born in 1927 in Darnall and grew up on the north side of Sheffield. He served in the RAF in the Second World War and then trained and worked as a junior school teacher. 

John has never stopped learning and sharing what he has learned. Born in 1927, John had his education interrupted by military service in 1945 but he returned to Teacher Training College at the end of the forties and spent his teaching career in Woodhouse Junior School to the south of the industrial areas of east Sheffield where he grew up.

It was a struggle for his family to put him through the selective Firth Park Secondary School, later a Grammar School. The family, who had not got the tuppence needed to borrow John’s favourite adventure stories from Darnall Red Circle Library, had to find a pound or two for his grammar school text books: a week’s wages for a steel worker such as his grandfather. The seven pence a day for a school dinner also proved difficult to find. His uncles helped fund his delight in the cinema. There were four in Attercliffe. If one of his uncles was courting they would buy him a halfpenny seat. Where the happy couple went, he followed.

The Palace, Attercliffe (Courtesy Picture Sheffield)

John’s main source of entertainment was the municipal library. He found his way to Attercliffe Library on his own. He walked the several miles there and back weekly despite the bitter disappointment of his first expedition. Joining was no problem, nor was choosing a book. He chose the fattest he could find, a Doctor Dolittle book. It looked long but the print was big and every other page an illustration.

I’d read it in an hour of course so I took it back to the library and they told me, ‘Go home, you can’t have any more books, you can only have one borrowing a day, you can’t go back’. I think at that time I only had one ticket anyway so it meant that although I’d walked several miles to the library, there and back, it meant that I was frustrated because I couldn’t borrow a book that I wanted.

Attercliffe Library (Courtesy Picture Sheffield)

He plodded on, walking several miles a week for every book borrowed, Doctor Dolittle and another favourite, Just William.

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

He grew to enjoy detective stories. Edgar Wallace too became a great favourite. His desert island book would be a collection of Wallace’s River stories.

Now they were a cut apart. Edgar Wallace was such a … he had to write fast because he incurred such debts in America, gambling. He needed a book a week to keep him afloat financially. I think he did it in a Dictaphone and then had it typed up. That would be the norm those days I suppose. I can remember in several stories he started off with the hero’s name as being Jones and by the end it had become Smith because he’d gone so fast he remembered it was a common name. So his crime books Four Just Men and things like that were flimflam but his River books, those were different because he’d been a reporter on one of the big London … and he’d been sent to Africa I think, Boer War and such like. From memory, I may be not remembering right, I think he’d gone into Africa, the Congo and that, perhaps as part of the British Colonial process and as a reporter writing, I’m not sure if it was The Times, it was one of the big heavies, the daily heavies in London. So his stories were authentic if you know what I mean. They were stories and they were fiction but the backgrounds and the people were authentic and I enjoyed that.

To supplement his supply John would go down to the centre of town to Boots. If he had had the money he would like to have used the library on the top floor of the store, an elegant environment and a hefty subscription, but he had another option.

Now Boots Bargain Basement was famous because all stuff that had been damaged on the way here, boxes damaged rather than the goods themselves, was downstairs, and similarly with books. When books became well, either unfashionable or even perhaps unreadable or perhaps not in a fit state to loan out, they went down to Bargain Basement and you could pick those up for a penny a time.

A particular treasure was an old Atlas of the World but this, like so many of the books he managed to acquire in the thirties was lost in the Sheffield Blitz of December 1940.Though the Luftwaffe did not manage to destroy Sheffield’s steelworks, they demolished many of the terraces that housed their workers, including the house belonging to John’s grandfather and Attercliffe Council School from where John had sat the scholarship examination in 1938.

That was bombed, it was set on fire on the same raid … in actual fact the wall at the end of our yard was the school yard. We were next to the school so we were both bombed out together, the school and I.

When John left his secondary school do to his military service, his reading stopped. He can remember no opportunities for reading but on one of his jobs he did strike lucky.

(reproduced under fair use)

I do remember we went to this American station to close it down and the things I went for were the records. The Americans at that time had a scheme called V Discs. You’ve never heard of V Discs? All artists like, well Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, all that sort of artist, they went into recording studios and recorded special V Discs for the forces which were then distributed to all the American stations. I think somewhere still in my loft I’ve still got some of these V Discs left and they were not the versions that were on sale to the public, they were especially recorded.

John still smiles at the pleasure that booty gave him. Reflecting on the nature of his reading and musical tastes, John declares himself firmly as lowbrow.

JD: I am very lowbrow.
MG: You feel you are lowbrow?
JD: Oh yes.
MG: Do you really?
JD: Very much.
MG: What makes you say that?
JD: Well, because I like lowbrow things! My record collection was dance bands of the 30s and 40s and big bands. So in Britain you’d have Roy Fox, Ambrose, Lew Stone, Roy Fox, no I’ve said that haven’t I? Oh and that sort of thing.
MG: Great. So would the word highbrow for you be a word of criticism or just not your thing?
JD: My motto has always been ‘live and let live’. Let ‘em live with it if they want it, that’s them.

The Five Find-Outers by Enid Blyton

By Sue Roe

I remember as a child, on my visits to Park Library on Duke Street, Sheffield, being captivated by child detectives – Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and the Famous Five and Secret Seven of Enid Blyton (1897-1968). Yet I have yet to meet anyone who remembers the other group of child detectives: the Five Find-Outers and a Dog. They were led initially by Larry but from the third book by ‘Fatty’: Frederick Algernon Trotteville, an only child with very relaxed parents and lots of pocket money for cakes and other treats which he shares with the others in the group. These are: Larry, his sister Daisy, Pip and his younger sister Bets, and Buster, Fatty’s Scottie dog, who eats biscuits with potted meat and nips the ankles of the local plodding policeman, Mr Goon.

All except Bets attend boarding school so the adventures happen in the school holidays. The children hunt for clues (or ‘glues’ as Bets calls them) and talk to witnesses. Fatty specialises in disguises: he has wigs, grease paints, false teeth, cheek pads which he uses to gain information and to outwit Mr Goon. The books very much reflect a particular mid-twentieth century village society with cooks, maids and valets, tramps, gypsies and fairground folk. There is an undercurrent of class difference: Fatty’s mother plays golf and bridge; Mr Goon’s nephew, Ern, who becomes an unofficial member of the group, eats with the cook, not with the other children.

The stories were set in the fictitious village of Peterswood, based on Bourne End, near Marlow in Buckinghamshire. At the start of the series Larry was 13; Fatty, Daisy and  Pip were 12, and Bets was eight. There were 15 adventures in total, published between 1943 and 1961, with titles like The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage (1943), The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat (1944) and The Mystery of the Vanished Prince (1951).

I remember being fascinated by their adventures and especially by Fatty’s exploits – the  disguises and deductions, his ability to ‘throw his voice’ at crucial points in the plot! He makes the series special and, for me, more interesting than Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, whose adventures had the advantage of more exciting venues like Kirrin Island and Smuggler’s Top.

I would be very interested to know if anyone else is familiar with them. Please leave a comment if you remember Fatty and his friends.

 

You can read more of Sue’s reading journey here.

Mais où se trouve la bibliothèque?

Continuing website editor Val Hewson’s reading journey

In the late 1970s, I spent a year in France as part of my university course. I was the English assistant in a school, the Collège Jules Ferry, in the small town of Montluçon.

Montlucon and its château (Creative Commons)

If you look at a map of France, Montluçon is just about in the centre, near Vichy. It is at heart a medieval town, with a castle on the top of the hill, a 12th century church below and narrow streets twisting around. The castle was home to a hurdy-gurdy museum (the only one in the world, they told me). Around the historic centre is the newer town, with some beautiful 19th century houses, modern apartment buildings and, across the River Cher, a Dunlop factory. The school where I worked is based in a former convent near the centre. For a few weeks I lived there, before I moved to a tiny flat on the banks of the Cher.

Narrow streets twisting around (Free Art Licence)

Detail of the old town (Free Art Licence)

I must have taken books to France with me. I would never have gone so far away for so long without cramming as many as I could into my trunk. But I don’t remember titles. Fiction rather than non-fiction, I think, for relaxation. Catch 22 is a possibility, as I read and re-read it then. Loyalty oaths, the soldier in white and Major Major promoted by an IBM machine with a sense of humour. Almost certainly I packed at least one of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond novels, as I was devoted to these long, intricate tales of a 16th century adventurer. Maybe there was a Georgette Heyer – Frederica, at a guess. Filled with good intentions, I might have put in set texts like Madame Bovary and Germinal. No, never Germinal, which I hated.

At all events, these books would not have lasted me long. Clearly I needed to find other sources of reading material. If there was a school library, I never found it. There was a bookshop in town, with lots of Gallimard, Garnier Flammarion and Livre de Poche paperbacks. I used to go to a newsagent, for the local newspaper, La Montagne, and for magazines like L’Express or the occasional Paris Match for celebrity news. I remember a story in Paris Match that the Duke of Edinburgh was mysteriously ill, and a teacher begged me to ask my mother if this was known about ‘chez vous, en Angleterre’. I also used to buy the International Herald Tribune, where I discovered Doonesbury.

Livres de Poche

Some books came through the radio. BBC Radio 4 on long wave gave me Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, read by Robert Powell. ‘Midnight Orgy at Number 10!’ and Agatha Runcible saying ‘too, too sick-making’ (a phrase I still use). And I learned the Answer to the Great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

At some point, I realised that Montluçon had a public library. I think I had to pay a small subscription. I embarrassed myself at the registration desk by using the verb ‘joindre’ [‘to attach’] than ‘s’inscrire’ [‘to enrol’], and was glared at by the librarian. In hindsight, ‘attach’ perhaps better describes my feeling about libraries. I suppose I did read some original French novels but mostly I borrowed English and American detective stories in translation. There was one about a woman being told that one of her aunts – she had seven? – had murdered her husband and trying to work out which one. I would love to know the title. Anyone?

Just before Christmas, the grumbling appendix I’d had for some years finally had enough and I ended up in the Centre Hospitalier, having an emergency operation for peritonitis. I spent the next ten days there. (As the first ever English patient, I was a sensation and staff came from all over to see if I was the same as the much more familiar French patient. One nurse looked at my freckles and informed me that I could probably have them surgically removed. Perhaps it was a joke.) Lots of my students, their parents and the teachers visited me. Most brought marrons glacées and the like, which was nice, but someone – one of the English teachers? the headmaster’s wife? – thoughtfully arrived with two books. She had bought, she said, the only English books in the local bookshop. This was, for someone twitchy if there was no book within a foot or so, the best thing she could have done.

The books were by Agatha Christie. There was her autobiography and a Miss Marple story, Sleeping Murder. I remember Fontana paperbacks, with distinctive covers. I rationed them carefully, as I didn’t know where my next book would come from. Christie’s autobiography was, helpfully, very long, although it failed to explain her famous disappearance in 1926.  Sleeping Murder is the rather creepy story of a young woman who, visiting England for the first time, stays in a house she finds she remembers. I’m not a great Christie fan, but both books were wonderful distractions from stitches, glucose drips and the tea served in French hospitals.

Still in France at Christmas, I was farmed out among various kind teachers, until I was strong enough to fly home. Wanting me to enjoy my first Noël, they gave me a hand-printed silk scarf and a book, Joachim a des Ennuis [Joachim in Trouble], by Goscinny and Sempé. I still have both scarf and book, and I still laugh at the story of Nicolas being pursued about the house by his visiting Mémé [grandmother]. ‘Un bisou! Viens encore me faire un bisou!’ [‘Come and give me another kiss!’]

Sue’s reading journey

Here is another reading journey from one of the Reading Sheffield team, Sue Roe. 

Reading has been important to me from my earliest memories (I only remember from the age of about eight or nine). I was always a bookworm, always with my nose in a book, though these were almost invariably library books. I don’t remember many books in the house but my dad was interested in reading and used to buy second-hand ones from the ‘Rag & Tag’ open-air market in town and keep them in a small bookcase. I have distinct memories of a book on the Phoenicians – I can’t recall much about the content – just the glossy pages and the pictures. Aesop’s Fables is another one I remember: a yellow hardback with thick pages and rough edges.

One of my first memories of reading is sitting on a stool behind the door in a neighbour’s kitchen, reading comics like Beano and Dandy.  The neighbours had a wholesale newsagent’s in West Bar and didn’t mind me taking advantage of their spare copies.

Park Library

I progressed to Park Library on Duke Street: I used to nip over the waste ground beyond the ‘rec’ at the end of Boundary Road, Wybourn. This brought me out just above the library (where I also learned to swim: Park Baths was on the same site).

What did I read then?

One favourite when I was young was Borrobil by William Croft Dickinson, with its memorable cover.

It was a fairy story with clearly identifiable ‘goodies and baddies’. I have read it again as an adult and still enjoyed it.

I read the Nancy Drew mysteries, as well as Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and her lesser-known Five Find-Outers stories with Fatty – Frederick Algernon Trotteville – as the leader. Fatty was a ventriloquist and master of disguise! Detective novels are still one of my favourite genres – a way to relax. I love a good detective story!

I also had an unlikely fondness for boarding school novels such as the Malory Towers series. I was attracted by the fun and excitement of this other world, though those who have actually been to boarding school are quick to disabuse me.

Anne of Green Gables was a favourite of mine, along with another, less well-known book, A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter, set in the Limberlost Swamp, in Indiana.

I identified with both books, and especially the latter – its heroine, Elnora, was an awkward outsider, poor and finding it hard to fit in. That’s how I felt, especially when I changed schools at the age of ten, when we moved from Wybourn to Abbeydale Road. I was from a family of eight girls and we were not well-off! This feeling was even more pronounced when I passed the 11+ and went to grammar school.

When we moved, I also changed libraries. I now caught the bus to Highfields – a wonderful library with the children’s section upstairs. How I longed to be flicking through the tickets, stamping the books and filling the shelves. What with homework and reading for pleasure, my mum would often have to shout me downstairs to help with housework.

Highfield Branch Library

I read to escape into another world, a different, more exciting world. I read books set in the nineteenth century, in America: What Katy Did, What Katy Did Next, What Katy Did At School and, obviously, Little Women.

Little Women, the story of four sisters, appealed to me, the fifth of eight girls. Jo was always my favourite – she was a tomboy like Katy, but I couldn’t understand why she didn’t accept Laurie’s proposal or why she married the Professor!

I enjoyed stories from nineteenth century Britain too: I read and probably cried over Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.

Books as prizes

When I moved house at the age of ten, my new friend, Janet, was a Methodist. Every Sunday I went for tea at her house and then to church for the evening service. I also went to Sunday School and took the Scripture exam. To me, learning Bible stories for the exam was just like history, one of my favourite subjects at school. I remember getting 92 per cent and a prize: Mary Jones and Her Bible by Mary Carter.

At grammar school, the prizes given to top pupils for end-of-year exams were books chosen by pupils. I managed a prize twice, in Year 2 when I asked for the Bible and in the sixth form when I chose T S Eliot’s Collected Poems. My tastes had clearly evolved.

Set books

At grammar school, books were read as part of the English syllabus. I have clear memories of Dotheboys Hall, an abridgement of Nicholas Nickleby, which introduced the unforgettable character of Squeers. I cheered along with the boys when he got his thrashing.

Another book we read in class was one set in the South Seas. I had to research on the internet to re-discover this one. It was A Pattern of Islands by Arthur Grimble, set in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. I wanted to be a missionary for a while after reading it!

The Otterbury Incident, by Cecil Day-Lewis, was another set text but I can’t remember much of the plot. I do recall the drawings, by Edward Ardizzone, whom I encountered again when looking for picture books for my children.

Teenage books

As I got older, I did read some of the classics, often choosing to read several titles by authors like Thomas Hardy or Charles Dickens. Far From the Madding Crowd and A Christmas Carol stick in my mind.

I enjoyed different genres, though I would not have used that word. There was science fiction: I particularly remember John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids, set in a post-apocalyptic world where any type of mutant is killed or banished and telepathy is common. The front cover shows a key moment when a child steps in wet sand and leaves an imprint of a six-toed foot – a clear indication of a mutant!

My father was a big fan of Rider Haggard and would often mention King Solomon’s Mines, both as the book and a film. The 1936 version had Paul Robeson as Umbopa, and Robeson was one of my father’s singing heroes. Unsurprisingly, I read that book, as well as others by Haggard, including She and Allan Quatermain.

I didn’t really discuss my reading with my close friends. An exception was the Molesworth books. I still find them funny and can recall the memorable lines we used to quote to one another: ‘As any fule kno’ (a phrase which regularly pops up in some newspapers), ‘Hello clouds, hello sky’ and of course, with reference to the Head Boy, Grabber Ma, ‘head of the skool captane of everything and winer of the mrs joyful prize for rafia work’. Strange that three girls could enjoy tales of Nigel Molesworth, the ‘curse of St Custard’s’, a boys’ boarding school, but some things are universal: the boredom of (some) lessons, the bullying, the fear of teachers!

I was, and am still, a lover of history, so I did enjoy historical novels. Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels with their period detail especially appealed to me. Anya Seton’s novels were also historical fiction and Katharine was my favourite. The intricacies of royal family trees which emerge in this novel were to appear again when I taught A level History, especially the Wars of the Roses.

Looking back, I can see how crucial public libraries were for me: not just somewhere to do school work, to revise for exams but a doorway to explore other worlds, past and present. This passion has never left me and informed my choice of degree and career. Even after 38 years of history teaching, I still love a good historical novel!

 

By Sue Roe

Without libraries what have we?*

Writing up our own reading journeys has long been the plan for the Reading Sheffield team (here is our web designer Lizz’s reading journey). The threat to libraries across the country brought the task into sharp focus for me.  Libraries have been, and are, my regular staging posts along the road.  It saddens me that so many of them are closing and so many of us will thus find the way harder.

Even before libraries, there were my parents.  My father paused his reading about Newcastle Utd in the Evening Chronicle (well, the news was often bad) to help me spell out letters, then words, from the headlines.  ‘Goal’ was probably one of my first words.  My mother, keen to give me the education she missed, taught me the alphabet – in upper case, which later irritated my teachers.  She helped me grasp narrative early on by telling me stories.  One was about how much she enjoyed ‘reading time’ at school, with Anne of Green Gables and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm her favourite books.

There was a scheme allowing very young children – I was about two years old – to borrow picture books from the local library.  For us this was the Redheugh Branch in Gateshead, an Art Deco building with pale yellow doors, now a recording studio.  We went there as often as I could persuade my mother.  I remember a low table-cum-box, divided into four compartments for the picture books and known apparently as a ‘kinderbox’, with three-legged stools around it.  Table and stools were painted yellow and red.

Redheugh Library

Redheugh Library

Inside Redheugh Library

Inside Redheugh Library

A kinderbox

When I was four, we moved.  It was around then that I started school, and found shelves of books in most classrooms.  The Council was keen on school libraries.  There were Ladybird books, Janet and John and two books which, perhaps because they were the first ‘proper’ stories I ever read, stay with me.  First was Neighbours in the Park, about a girl who lived with her parents in a double-decker bus and made friends with a park-keeper’s daughter.  The park, bus and girls were shown on the green, black and white cover.  Then came The Bittern, which had a pale green or brown cover with, I think, a drawing of a rather mournful, long-haired girl.  I have no idea what The Bittern was about, or who wrote either book, but between them they caught me, and I was never free again.  (If anyone knows these books, I would love to hear of them.)

The nearest library was now Gateshead Central, a Carnegie library.  I had no fear of it, or sense that time reading was time wasted.  It was the first place I was allowed to go to by myself.  In holidays I would go at least every other day and, in term time, on Saturdays and a couple of weekday evenings.  Often my father was persuaded to give me a lift.  ‘You won’t be long now, will you?’

Gateshead Central Library

Gateshead Central Library

To join, I had to read a passage aloud to the children’s librarian, stern in brown tweed suit and knitted jumper.  Her hair was corrugated cardboard.  But, frightening as she was, she had the power to make me free of the books on her shelves, so it was a worthwhile ordeal.  The library was a large room, with high shelves and big, oak reading tables and chairs.  It was perhaps not very child-friendly, though this never struck me then.  It was just the library, where the books were, and I wanted to be.

anne_of_green_gables_-_cover

Here I found Anne of Green Gables and loved it as much as my mother had.  How I adored Gilbert Blythe, in common with Anne and many other readers.  Anne herself was important because we both loved stories and hated geometry, and we shared red hair and the name Anne, although mine lacked the important final ‘e’.  There were also Jo, Meg, Amy, Beth (how I cried!), Katy Carr, Rebecca and Pollyanna, who was too glad to be endured for long.  And I found adventurous children like Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, the Dana Girls and the Hardy Boys.  My Reading Sheffield colleague Mary Grover points out that these are all from across the Atlantic, and wonders if the library had any American connection.  Not that I know of.

School and ballet stories were important too.  My favourites, which were plentiful in the library, were Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School series – I can still name all of Joey Maynard’s eleven children – and Lorna Hill’s Sadler’s Wells books.  I begged for ballet lessons, to no avail, and was reduced to copying the ballet-trained glide of a luckier classmate.  I didn’t read about horses, the other staple for young girls.  A teacher had read Black Beauty aloud, and I was haunted by the cruelty.

What other books stay in my mind?

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, with its brilliant opening, where Lucy meets Mr Tumnus under the lamp-post in the snow.  But I found Aslan disturbing and never managed the other Narnia books.

Any book by E Nesbit.  ‘You’re so funny!’ said the psammead. ‘Have your parents tried boiling you?’

The Changeling of Monte Lucio and other old-fashioned, Ruritanian novels by Violet Needham.  Quests, rebellions, secret societies, castles, mountains – what more could anyone want?

A non-fiction series called The Young …, about the early lives of the famous.  My favourite was The Young Mary Queen of Scots, by Jean Plaidy.  Mary, with Marys Beaton, Seton, Fleming and Livingston, escaped from Scotland to France, where she married the Dauphin.  The book ended with her returning to Scotland, aged about 16 and wearing white mourning for her young husband.

‘Career novels’ like Margaret Becomes a Doctor, in which girls trained for a career but always met a nice young man and gave up their hard-won jobs.  Linked with these for me were two series – American, again – about nurses Cherry Ames and Sue Barton, who had both adventures and principles.  Cherry was unique in never settling for domesticity.

Five Children and It

The Psammead: Five Children and It by E Nesbit

violet-needham

When I was around 13, I’d outgrown the children’s library but was too young for the adult.  Ingeniously, I bullied my parents into joining and then used their tickets, always ready if challenged to say I was just collecting their books.  But no-one ever asked.

Today I belong to Sheffield Library, and Newcastle and Leeds have also known me over the years.  Libraries and I have been together for over 50 years, and we see no reason to split up now.

* The answer?  ‘We have no past and no future.’  So said Ray Bradbury.

Anne’s Reading Journey

Anne was born in the north of Sheffield on 5 August 1944. Her parents owned a bakery in Hillsborough. Anne has been a keen reader from an early age and has remained so.  She trained as a Religious Education (RE) teacher at college in Leeds and was also involved in the Girl Guide movement for many years, as both a Guide and a Guider.  She has two daughters and grandchildren.

Here Anne remembers how she encountered that most notorious book, Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Licenced by Twospoonfuls under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence

Licenced by Twospoonfuls under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence

Anne read well from an early age: ‘I was away ahead,’ she says. At first it was fairy stories and nursery rhymes, and then books familiar to most people growing up in the mid-20th century.

I was well into Enid Blyton at a fairly young age and then as I got older I sort of went more on to the classics. I remember reading The Children of the New Forest when I was about 13 and that became one of my top favourites. … The Chalet books in my early teens were my passion and I owned practically every single one at some point. I’ve still got a lot of them up in the loft.

Of the classics, David Copperfield and Jane Eyre were the ones Anne liked best, but although she tried, Jane Austen wasn’t for her. ‘I just couldn’t stick it,’ she says.

Membership of the public library and her school and college studies kept Anne reading, although she doesn’t sound as if she needed much persuasion (‘I just read anything I could get my hands on’). She belonged to Sheffield Libraries from an early age, walking there alone and choosing her books without any help from the librarians.  When, at the age of 15, she transferred to the City Grammar in the centre of Sheffield, she joined the Central Library, encouraged by a friend, Kath.  Kath ‘was doing literature and so was very much more into proper books, adult books’.  Anne dates her transition to ‘grown-up novels’ from her friendship with Kath.  In those days Anne usually looked for books which had some relevance to her history and RE courses, such as Jean Plaidy’s books on the Tudors and novels like Lloyd C Douglas’ The Robe.

No-one ever made Anne feel that reading was a waste of time. Both parents were busy with their business, but were happy for their daughter to read:

…Oh no, I mean [my mother] was an intelligent person, she knew the value of reading, she just didn’t do it.

Then our interviewer asked if Anne was ever made to feel embarrassed or guilty about reading.  Only when she came across D H Lawrence, Anne replied.  And the story came out.

I found my dad reading surreptitiously, which was totally…I mean it was when it was all in the papers about the …[laughing] I remember he pushed it under the pile of newspapers in the cupboard and I found it one day and I started doing the same thing and reading it surreptitiously. There was always a half hour part of the day, when I got in from school before they came back from work,  that I’d got to myself and I used to read it. I worked my way through it. That was the only time and I knew I shouldn’t be doing it so I never let on. I don’t think my mother knows today that I ever read it.

Perhaps your father didn’t think he ought to be doing it either, suggests our interviewer. Probably not, Anne agrees, saying ‘he probably kept it out of sight from me’.

This happened around 1960, when Anne was a teenager. This was the time of the famous trial under the Obscene Publications Act, when Penguin Books re-published Lawrence’s novel (for the first time since its initial publication in 1928) and challenged the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute.  The book was a huge success, with copies selling out as soon as they arrived in bookshops.

The trial, that was why everybody read it! Everybody knew about it. I did some more D H Lawrence as well.

Anne, however, did not particularly like the Lawrence novels she read. ‘ I read them but I wouldn’t say I’d want to read them again.’ She was shocked by Lady Chatterley, she says, because she was ‘totally innocent in those days’.  But she

didn’t know what the fuss was about for most of it.

Here is Anne’s full interview.

Ted L’s Reading Journey

Ted L, born in 1919, was one of our oldest interviewees.  He lived in the Norfolk Park area of Sheffield most of his life, apart from his war service as a fitter and machinist in the Ordnance Corps.  He took part in the retreat from Dunkirk (he and three others were stranded for six days, with only a pot of marmalade and some cubed beetroot to eat) and then was stationed in East Africa for two and a half years.  In peacetime, he worked in engineering, and the ‘only one romance [he] was ever interested in’ was with his wife, Nellie, whom he met at work and married in 1948.

All sorts of pictures in there, not just ordinary paintings, some of them extraordinary … We went to look at Leonardo … it was only dull light and there was two whacking great pictures, best paintings I have ever seen.

This was Ted, talking about a visit to the National Gallery.  For him, books meant art rather than anything else.  His flat was full of books, and they were mostly about art, noted the interviewer, although he also enjoyed history, architecture and music.  His neighbour Gillian, who sat in on the interview, described how Ted ‘devour[ed]’ all the book she lent him, and Ted himself said:

Oh yes, I used to go to the library and get books out, not reading books, technical books.  I don’t read fiction books.  Never have done … I have always been interested in a subject … I can learn something.

There were books in his childhood, with Ted’s mother going to the library every week to borrow, among other, P G Wodehouse, and his father (‘He wasn’t educated.  He was a working class man, he was a plumber’) enjoying detective stories.  And Ted himself did read fiction as a boy – ‘ripping yarns’ from authors like John Buchan and Rider Haggard, who were so popular in his youth.  He remembers studying Buchan’s Prester John at Duchess Road School and also reading Blanket of the Dark, She, The Thirty-Nine Steps and King Solomon’s Mines:

… that’s a brilliant thing, that. They made a film of it. I read a lot of them … I don’t think I would ever have imagined I would have been in Africa when I read a Rider Haggard book.

At school, Ted was a clever boy, particularly interested in history and once coming ‘top in English’:

Always in the top of form.  I wasn’t an idiot like some of them. … We had a good teacher called Mr Cross.  He was a Londoner with a broad accent.  I didn’t know what a Londoner was in those days.  He had posters all over the place, Cunard Liners stuck round [and brought in books].  He was the best teacher we ever had, Mr Cross.  He didn’t spare you, I liked him for all that.

As with many boys of his background, Ted’s formal education ended at the age of 14 when he became an engineering apprentice.  But by then it had opened that important door to art, as for two days a week he used to go to the art school in the centre of the city.

This art school was close to the site of the new Central Library and Graves Art Gallery which opened in 1934.  Ted had a ringside seat at the building:

Thursday and Friday I used to go to an art school.  And when we used to go out in the afternoon we used to watch them building the new library. … Then when I was at the art school and we used to watch the cranes, the big stones. Very interesting that was.  I was with that library right from the beginning.

 

Ted, who liked architecture as well as art, was interested in the new library, which he describes as a ‘fine building’.

Well, I think, [the old library] was an old music hall and there was a little chapel next to it … and then the other side was the art school. … The old one was cramped. There were smaller rooms and these lines of shelves up all close together. Quite a lot of people all mugged up sort of thing. When this new one opened everything was beautiful and spacious, art gallery upstairs, and I think they’ve got a theatre underneath though I’ve never been in it.

Now, when he went to the public library, ‘I didn’t get reading [fiction] books. I used to get out books about art. ‘ He also enjoyed visiting the Graves:

I like the art gallery. I have been up there for all sorts of things. In fact there was a programme the other day about Lowry, the painter. Well he came there once, after it was built.  I went one day and up in one of the galleries, there were lots of rows of little seats. There was a restaurant there and it was right next to that. … and I said to this girl, ‘What’s all this for?‘ She said, ‘It’s Mr Lowry coming to give a lecture for the children’. ‘Well I never stopped for that ‘cos I never knew when it was going to be, next morning I think. But that gallery next to it was full of his pictures. That was when I first got to know about Lowry, you know. I admired his work. There were these funny little characters in it. I think they’re fantastic. I’ve got one up there now.  That’s Lowry up there [on the wall of his flat].

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

Lizz’s recollections of reading 1950-65

My dad was an agronomist and when I was very young we lived in farms and agricultural colleges.  My first recollections of a book as an object were pictures in a board book of farmyard animals, which I still have.

favourite-animals-

Every Christmas I received a book from my Aunty Mary.  She was the Principal of Leicester Teacher Training College so I expect that the books she chose were to be educational as well enjoyable.  My dad read to me every night before I went to sleep, and Aunty Mary’s books formed the core of my book collection.  This is a period when books were chosen for me – for example, John Masefield (The Box of Delights), Hugh Lofting (the Dr Dolittle series) Grimms’ Fairy Tales, C S Lewis (the Narnia series), T H White (The Sword in the Stone), Andrew Lang’s Blue and Green Fairy Books, Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden), Rosemary Sutcliff (The Eagle of the Ninth), A Wonder Book by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  My favourites?  Dr Dolittle, The Magician’s Nephew, The Box of Delights and The Secret Garden.

A-wonder-book-

dr-dolittle-

One of Aunty Mary’s last Christmas present books was The Hobbit, but I did not read Lord of the Rings until I was at university.

I became horse-mad around the age of six, and from then until about the age of ten  horses dominated my reading.  I had a huge volume called Horses, Horses, Horses that I read over and over again.  Books by the three Pullein-Thompson sisters ring a bell; Black Beauty of course; a series about Romney Marsh; plus books on anatomy, riding, drawing and breeds of horses.  As a family we often used the library at Impington Village College, where my dad ran a film club.  I used to design and make the posters for the film screenings.  My parents still directed my reading to some extent – for example, I was not allowed to read ‘trashy comics’.  I got round this by devouring huge piles of the Beano and the Dandy. They were stored in a cupboard with gas masks and a tin helmet at a friend’s house.  We also did not have a television, because it might interfere with our reading.  Sounds crazy now.

The telly arrived when I was 11, and I increasingly selected my own reading.  I was indirectly influenced because my parents just left their books about and I would pick them up.  Women authors dominated my mum’s reading.  She was a great fan of Jane Austen, and Emily and Charlotte Bronte.  I had to read Pride and Prejudice for ‘O’ level English Lit but never really got on with Jane Austen.  But I did enjoy Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.  The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier was one of mum’s favourites.  Among the authors that I read due to her influence were: Edna O’Brien; Anita Brookner; Winifred Holtby; Rebecca West; A S Byatt; Katherine Whitehorn; Doris Lessing; Muriel Spark; Iris Murdoch.

My dad in contrast read contemporary fiction.  Through him I read: John Updike; Salinger; John Braine; J P Donleavy; Thomas Pynchon; D H Lawrence; Hermann Hesse; and Kerouac.

Other authors I remember reading between 11 and 17 were: H G Wells; John Masters; John Wyndham; Lynne Reid Banks (The L Shaped Room); Jean Rhys; Malcolm Lowry (Under the Volcano); Patrick White; Saul Bellow; Zola; William Golding.  I waded through The Herries Chronicles (Hugh Walpole) and attempted to read Lorna Doone but found the dialect tedious.  However I quite liked Chaucer which, along with Shakespeare and a considerable amount of poetry (largely forgotten), was on the school syllabus.

Then there were the forbidden books – The Story of O by Pauline Réage, and the Kama Sutra.  (Titles were passed pupil to pupil.)

I had six large factual books that I looked at repeatedly and which, looking back, have influenced the science and art that I did later.

  • Lionel Wendt’s Ceylon.  My mum was a nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment during WW2 and was stationed in Trincomalee.  This was one of her books.  It’s full of large black and white photographs.
  • The Sculptures of Michelangelo – again a book of large black and white photographs, which most likely belonged to my dad.  I can remember being especially impressed by the slaves freeing themselves from the rock.
  • The World’s Greatest Paintings: Selected Masterpieces of Famous Art Galleries edited by T Leman Hare.  Three muddy brown volumes probably inherited from my grandfather and a collection of coloured plates of what were then considered significant paintings from famous western galleries.  It’s purely visual, with no information other than title and artist.

The large black and white photographs of Ceylon and the sculptures of Michelangelo have directly influenced my own photography and, although The World’s Greatest Paintings ends at the Pre-Raphaelites, it introduced me to Art History.

  • And lastly The Science of Life by H G Wells, Julian Huxley and G P Wells.

My version of The Science of Life was published by Cassell & Company in 1931 and included some dubious and speculative science.  My favourite picture remains that of the medium ‘Margery’ extruding ‘teleplasm’ from her nose and mouth.

ectoplasm--copy

And here is an example of more conventional, but equally fascinating, science.

science-of-life--copy

Lizz Tuckerman is a freelance multimedia artist based in Sheffield.  She was previously a research scientist working in genetics and reproduction.  Lizz designed this website and has produced artworks inspired by the Reading Sheffield interviews.  She was born near Ironbridge in Shropshire and her early childhood was spent in Penrith and Kilve (Somerset). When her father began work at The National Institute of Agricultural Botany, the family moved to first to Histon, a small village in Cambridgeshire and then to the market town of Saffron Walden in Essex. Lizz has lived in Sheffield for 26 years.