On those rare occasions when there is a power cut, we blunder around, doing silly things like trying to switch on lights so we can look for candles and matches. It’s automatic. We are so used to electricity lighting our homes, shops, public buildings and streets. But there was a time, in the late 19th century and early 20th, when electric light was new technology, even a thing of wonder.
They made an occasion of it, and Sheffield’s principal newspapers, the Independent and the Daily Telegraph, carried short reports the next day. On a September evening in 1901, the members of the Council’s Libraries Committee made their way to Brightside Library, on the north of the city, to switch on the lights.[i]
In 1901 there were four branch libraries in the city: Attercliffe, Upperthorpe, Highfield and Brightside. The newspapers didn’t say why Brightside, the first purpose-built library in town, opened in 1872, had been chosen for the high-tech transformation from gas to electric. Perhaps its relatively small size made it suitable for an experiment. From about 1880, thanks to inventors like Joseph Wilson Swan and Thomas Edison, electric lights were slowly becoming more common in both private homes and public buildings. In Sheffield, an electricity supply business was set up in 1892, and taken over by the Council in 1898. Maybe there was an expectation that, as time passed, Council buildings would all enjoy modern lighting.
On the night of 11 September, the switch was thrown in Brightside by Councillor George Taylor, of the Libraries Committee. He was the Liberal councillor for nearby Attercliffe. The Independent said of him in 1902 that he was ‘a round, comfortable councillor’ and a ‘very advanced Radical’ who ‘raps out his opinions “in straight-flung words and few”. If you don’t like them you can lump them.’ ‘He has served Attercliffe well,’ was the newspaper’s conclusion.[ii]
At Brightside, Councillor Taylor ‘made a few remarks in which he set forth the advantages…’, the Independent reported.
For some time there [had] been a desire to provide a better light at the branch libraries…The committee [hoped] to effect considerable saving in the way of bookbinding, as well as benefit to the health of the readers by the purer and cooler atmosphere gained by the exchange from gas. [iii]
Councillor Taylor was right about the advantages.
Only a week before the Brightside ceremony, the Sheffield Weekly Telegraph had included a report by the Society of Arts’ committee on bookbinding. ‘There is a general agreement’, it noted, ’that the use of gas in libraries has most deteriorating effect on the bindings – the electric light being preferable.’[iv]
Six years later, in his book, Public Libraries, the architect Amian L Champneys listed the disadvantages of the various types of gaslight: overpowering smells, soot, unsteady and/or poor illumination, easily broken mantles [the part which lights up when heated] and, worst of all, ‘noxious products, viz., carbonic, sulphuric and sulphurous acids, and the dry heat’ which could be ‘extremely injurious’ to readers, staff and books alike. (pp. 14-15)
Champneys was clear that electricity was by far the better method.
The advantages of the electric light are that it heats the air only to a very slight degree, and vitiates it not at all; while the danger of fire, if a proper sub-fuseboard system [is used], is less than with any other method. The extra cost is to a great extent balanced by the resultant economy in depreciation of leather and cloth bindings, in cleaning, sick-leave, insurance, and redecoration. (p.17)
The Telegraph noted that the Brightside ‘experiment apparently met with general approval’ and expected that the bigger library at Upperthorpe would be next, with Highfield and Attercliffe to follow. The Telegraph’s reporter must have spoken to someone else, for he thought there were no plans yet to tackle all the branches.
It’s interesting that there is no mention anywhere of converting the Central Library. Was it too big and expensive a prospect? Or was the building, dating from 1832, just unsuitable?
This story seems to end here. I can find no other press records of installing electric lighting in libraries in the early years of the 20th century. Were Upperthorpe and the other libraries converted shortly after Brightside? There may be more sources to be checked when COVID-19 restrictions relax but for now, that’s it.
What does seem certain is how innovative the Council was being in fitting electric lighting in Brightside in 1901.
[i] Sheffield Independent and Daily Telegraph on Thursday 12 September 1901.
[ii] Sheffield Independent on Wednesday 13 August 1902.
[iii] Sheffield Independent on Thursday 12 September 1901.
[iv] Sheffield Weekly Telegraph on Saturday 7 September 1901.
In October 2020, I gave a talk to the University Women’s Group about Sheffield readers and the novels of Charles Dickens. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on my own relationship with Dickens. You can find the full talk, with slides, under our Research tab here.
Unlikely as it may seem, in the 1930s intellectuals and academics such as the influential Q D and F R Leavis often dismissed Charles Dickens as an author for the uneducated masses. That assessment was strengthened when popular newspapers, fighting a circulation war, offered their readers relatively inexpensive sets of Dickens in presentation bookcases, making his novels available to a vast number of people. My father, who lectured on English Literature, grew up in the 1930s, in a modest home with one of those – in his case, treasured – sets of Dickens.
In 1934 the Daily Herald got the ball rolling with the first subscription offer: eighteen volumes for eleven shillings, a saving of 69 shillings on the market price. Frank Burgin, who grew up in Mosborough in the Thirties, described the process.
A man came round to the house getting you to buy the Daily Herald. My father said, ‘We’ll never use that newspaper because we don’t agree with those politics’, but eventually, the man must have been good, because he signed up so I got the whole of Dickens’ works with that newspaper.
For all that he remembered acquiring the novels, Frank was no great fan. But many other Reading Sheffield interviewees loved Dickens. Dorothy, for example, who saw poverty as she grew up in working class Sheffield, responded powerfully to the story of Oliver Twist, ‘the way he was treated’. Betty Newman, who in general dismissed novels, thought Dickens ‘was the nearest I got to fiction’ and concluded, ‘I don’t think he really is fiction’. For Dorothy, Betty and others, Dickens dealt in harsh economic realities which they recognised. They learned history from him. ‘It gave you an insight into just how unfortunate some people were and how they lived,’ said Peter Mason.
For others, it was Dickens’ vivid characters, like Mr Micawber and Magwitch, that captured the imagination. The frequent dramatisations and readings on BBC radio programmes of the period reinforced this. In 1930, for example, Bransby Williams, ‘the Famous Portrayer of Dickens Characters’, led a musical extravaganza, ‘A Pickwick Party’, subtitled ‘A Dickens Dream Fantasy’ with a ‘Chorus of Dickens Dogs and Dainty Ducks’.
In time academics like the Leavises changed their minds about Dickens. He was deemed a worthy subject for study, much to my pleasure, as I was brought up surrounded by my father’s Daily Herald copies of the novels. For eighteen years Dickens was a constant physical companion and, in my teens, an imaginative one.
For my father and thousands like him Dickens made reading and rereading, affordable and pleasurable. And it was the pleasures he delivered that enabled many unschooled children to get the reading habit.
I’ve heard some queer stories of earlier days. The then librarian, Smith, when they held a Library Association meeting in Sheffield, I don’t know when, probably just after the war, he closed all the libraries so the Library Association people couldn’t see what they were like.
What’s the story here? What could the chief librarian, Samuel Smith, have been hiding from his professional colleagues? The anecdote comes from a former librarian looking back to the early 20th century, before he even started work in Sheffield.[i] You have to wonder if he was remembering accurately, whether the story gained in the telling and if there is any truth in it at all.
In fact, as a little detective work reveals, it really happened, and it marked an unhappy time for Sheffield’s public library. It was in 1909, before rather than ‘just after the war’, that is, World War One. On Monday 7 June that year, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph noted in a report of ‘interesting items’ discussed at a meeting of the Council:
It is recommended that all branch libraries and reading-rooms close for cleaning, stock-taking, and staff holidays between July 1st and 16th, both dates inclusive. The Central and Reference Library will close from September 20th to 25th.
This seems straightforward. Who would object to a clean and orderly library? But when you realise that the dates for the Central and Reference Libraries did indeed coincide with a visit by the Library Association, for their 32nd national conference no less, you begin to wonder. After all, Sheffield had one of the oldest public libraries in England.[ii] The city was, moreover, responsible for the invitation to the librarians, and it greeted them with delight that September, going to no little trouble and expense on their behalf. You can read here about the glittering, white tie reception hosted by the Lord Mayor at the Town Hall, and there were other festivities. All this suggests considerable municipal pride in the ‘steel city’, reflected in extensive newspaper coverage. Take, for example, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph on Friday 24 September 1909:
Sheffield’s Metropolitan Air. A Librarian’s Impressions
‘Are you satisfied with Sheffield’s welcome?’ Mr H R Tedder, the genial treasurer of the Library Association, was asked yesterday. ‘Satisfied?’ he reiterated, ‘No. that is not the word, but I should have to search the English language very extensively to find the right one. We have visited a good many towns, and one must not be invidious, but I can assure you that nowhere have we had a better reception than in Sheffield.’
He spoke in particularly high appreciation of the handsome scale on which the Lord Mayor’s reception was organised.
‘We have been extremely interested with our visits to manufactories,’ he said. ‘It is extremely educative for persons who have to deal with books to see our great national works, and discover that thought, poetry, philosophy, and everything that is elevating are not confined to books, but that there is plenty of thought, of poetry, of philosophy in business, and that just as noble and lofty qualifications are demanded in great commercial enterprises as in writers of books.’
Mr Tedder was particularly impressed by the character of the municipal life of Sheffield. ‘Londoners who live in a wilderness of bricks and mortar do not realise the great qualities of real municipal enterprise. It is true that London has now a number of boroughs, but it is in places like Sheffield that we really come face to face with municipal life.’
His opinions of the city’s public buildings do not accord with those of some local detractors. He was especially delighted with the Cutlers’ Hall. ‘It is as fine or finer place than any of the halls of the City companies in London. In Sheffield, too, you have quite a Metropolitan air.’
It makes that week-long closure of the Central Library all the more incomprehensible.
Incomprehensible until you know its condition at the time.[iii] Sheffield evidently felt that its pride, on national display, was at risk. The Central Library had been housed since 1856 in the former Mechanics’ Institute on Surrey Street (on the same site as today’s Central Library). The building, dating from 1832, was not designed as a library. Until 1896, when the new Town Hall was opened, the library service had been forced to share its premises with various council offices. At one time the council chamber had been located there, and the Mayor and the chief librarian had even shared an office, with the librarian presumably making himself scarce for important mayoral meetings.
By 1909, the Institute was too small even for its sole tenant, with the lending library particularly cramped. There was talk of rats. The building was in poor repair and dirty. What it housed was no better. The following summary of the review by Leeds’ chief librarian, Thomas Hands, undertaken for the Council some ten years later, gives a good idea of the problems becoming evident in 1909.[iv]
… book stocks were so bad throughout the lending libraries, and the administrative methods had fallen so far behind those which had proved to be necessary in other towns, that the only practical way of reforming the service was to start an entirely new system on modern lines. The recording of issues was archaic and cumbrous; a curious system of fine receipts, called forfeits, involving a considerable waste of staff time, was in operation, and what little money was available was wasted by bibliographical incompetence both in book selection and binding. Thousands of books needed re-binding and many of those which had been bound had been chosen without reference to their condition or their suitability for further service. The buildings were revoltingly dirty, both externally and internally. Outside lamps had not been cleaned for years, and the upper shelves in all the libraries were not merely dusty but in some cases were nearly an inch thick with the accumulated filth of years.
The story was not all bad. Sheffield’s branch libraries – Burngreave, Highfield, Upperthorpe, Attercliffe, Park, Walkley and Hillsborough – were in relatively good order. With the exception of Hillsborough, a converted 18th century house, they were purpose-built, and Walkley, Park and Attercliffe were all less than 15 years old. In the Central Library, the reference and local history sections were thought to have good collections.
The evidence stacks up then. The Libraries Committee – led by Alderman W H Brittain, the President of the Library Association for 1909, assisted by the chief librarian, Samuel Smith – were laying plans as early as June to prevent the nation’s librarians inspecting what lay inside the Surrey Street buildings in September.
We don’t know what the visitors thought about all this. There was a busy programme, with debates about cataloguing and the like held in the University of Sheffield’s Firth Hall and local visits, including to the great house at Wentworth Woodhouse. Mr Tedder, quoted above, didn’t mention libraries.
Perhaps he was being tactful. It was rather an open secret. On Tuesday 6 July, writing about the upcoming conference, the Sheffield Telegraph commented: ‘The city may have nothing to be proud of in the way of municipal libraries….’ By Saturday 28 August, with the conference less than a month away, the Independent noted a rather feeble excuse: ‘It may be mentioned that the Sheffield Central Library will be closed during the conference week, as the staff is to be in attendance at the University.’
A few days later, on 31 August, the Evening Telegraph reported the Council’s application to the Local Government Board to borrow almost £7,000 to buy the Music Hall next to the Central Library in Surrey Street. The plan was to use the hall as a temporary extension to the library and, in time, to build a new central library on the site. This smacks of desperation: the hall, built in 1823, was not remotely suitable, nor was it even very safe. It was just, well, next door. Under the sub-head ‘What Sheffielders Are Not Proud Of’, the Town Clerk, Mr R M Prescott was reported at length:
… the citizens of Sheffield were proud of their many public institutions. There was a strong municipal spirit in the Corporation and in the city, one evidence of which was the magnificent building in which they were then assembled [presumably the Town Hall]. They were proud of their University as a seat of learning. They were proud of their industries which had made the name of the city known all over the world. But when he came to the Central Library, their pride considerably abated, and he thought that Alderman Brittain … would not be particularly anxious to take the [Library Association] over Sheffield’s principal library building, nor would he be particularly proud in making any reference to it. The Central Library was absolutely deficient for library purposes for a great city such as this, and the building was altogether inadequate and inconvenient.
The Library Association then never saw the Central Library in 1909, and Sheffield’s embarrassment was covered, more or less. Over the next few years, the situation worsened. While nationally more books were being borrowed, in Sheffield numbers fell. Criticism in the local press continued. By 1920, the pressure was intolerable. Samuel Smith gave notice and Thomas Hands was invited in, with the conclusions noted above. The Council hired a new chief librarian, Richard Gordon, and in turn he recruited a deputy, Joseph Lamb. Formidable, energetic and filled with the latest ideas, Gordon and Lamb turned Sheffield into one of the best public libraries in the country. One of their greatest achievements, begun by Gordon and finished by Lamb, was the city’s first, to date its only, purpose-built Central Library, opened in 1934.
This is the second of a short series of blogs about the Library Association conference held in Sheffield in 1909. Here is the first. With one exception, the invaluable British Newspaper Archive, the main sources are given in the endnotes below.
[i] The quotation is from James R Kelly’s unpublished MA thesis, Oral History of Sheffield Public Libraries, 1926-1974 (University of Sheffield, April 1983), a copy of which is held in Sheffield Archives. If the copyright holder comes forward, we will happily acknowledge the source.
[ii] The legislation allowing councils to fund libraries was passed in 1850. Sheffield tried almost at once to open a library but there was opposition. Undaunted, campaigners tried again and Sheffield Libraries opened in February 1856, the first public library in Yorkshire and the eleventh in England.
[iii] How the library deteriorated, and why nothing was done for so many years, is a story for another time, although of course money is at the heart of it.
[iv] The quotation is from the official history, The City Libraries of Sheffield 1856-1956 (Sheffield City Council) (p.29). Thomas Hands, the chief librarian of Leeds, undertook a review into Sheffield’s libraries in 1920 at the request of the Council. The decline he chronicled is generally understood to have set in around the turn of the century. A copy of the Hands report is held by Sheffield Archives.
On Monday 20 September 1909, Sheffield Council hosted a
reception in the Town Hall to mark the annual conference of the Library
Association, which was being held in the city for the first time.[i]
For once my interest in library history coincides with my interest in clothes…
Both the Sheffield Independent and the Sheffield Telegraph covered the discussions at the conference in detail. They also found space for some gentle fun at the librarians’ expense, less gentle criticism of Sheffield’s own library service and, in the case of the Town Hall reception, extensive fashion notes.[ii]
The Independent’s feature on the reception is signed ‘By Our
Lady Representative’. This was an anonymous byline frequently used in the newspaper
between about 1895 and 1915, for reports of splendid balls, garden parties and
other society events, meticulously recording the guests, gowns and jewels on display.
On this occasion Our Lady Representative set the scene, describing
the Town Hall’s reception rooms:
Quite in keeping with their reputation for lavish hospitality was the reception given last night by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress (Ald and Mrs H K Stephenson) in honour of the visit to Sheffield of the Libraries’ Association [sic]. Our spacious civic reception rooms, garlanded with foliage and flowers, evoked much admiration from the visitors, who found much enjoyment in the admirable supper served in the Council Chamber and ante room…
The Telegraph agreed. The ‘stately entertaining rooms at the
Town Hall [had] never been more beautifully decorated’. It went on:
supper was served in the Council Chamber and ante-room from nine o’clock onwards, and there was also a buffet supper in the drawing-room on the grand corridor.
There was superior entertainment for the evening:
… the entertaining programme of songs by Miss Nina Gordon and the sleight of hand exhibitions by Dr Byrd-Page … Miss Nina Gordon is an artiste very much after the style of the famous Margaret Cooper, and the selections from her varied repertoire were keenly appreciated. So too, were the clever tricks of Dr Byrd-Page … The band of the 3rd West Riding Brigade Royal Field Artillery played during the reception. (Independent)
Miss Gordon specialised in humorous songs and sketches and Dr Byrd-Page was a ‘prestidigitateur’ or Illusionist. They both feature often on theatre bills of the period, and claimed royal patronage. By 1912 Dr Byrd-Page declared ‘the honour of appearing before His late Majesty King Edward VII on no less than seventeen occasions; and frequently before His Most Gracious Majesty King George V’.[iii] The Sheffield Telegraph described Miss Gordon as ‘Queen Mary’s Favourite Entertainer’ and an ‘exceedingly versatile artiste’.[iv]
In Sheffield Town Hall, their audience included industrialists,
civic dignitaries and academics from the University of Sheffield. The Lord
Mayor, the Town Clerk, the Bishop of Sheffield, the Master Cutler and the Mayor
and Town Clerk of Rotherham led the way, and notable Sheffield names, such as
Mappin, Vickers, Bingham, Hadfield and Harrison, were all represented. The
Library Association was led by its President for 1909, Sheffield’s own Alderman
William Brittain, who, according to the Telegraph of 21 September, was ‘identified
more than any other gentleman in Sheffield with the development of museums and
libraries’; and by prominent librarians like Stanley Jast, later chief
librarian in Manchester and Croydon, and Sheffield’s own chief librarian,
As might be expected in 1909, all the illustrious guests, including the librarians, were men, but their wives, daughters and sisters were present too. It is here that Our Lady Representative comes into her own. Consider the Lord Mayor’s family:
… the Lady Mayoress wearing her chain of office disposed about the corsage of an artistic evening gown of chartreuse green satin, her jewels including a diamond tiara and a diamond pendant of great beauty. Mrs Blake (mother of the Lady Mayoress), in a handsome black toilette sparkling with jet, brought Miss Blake and Miss Esther Blake, both wearing beautiful frocks of rainbow effect, the former expressed in pale blue chiffon over white satin with broad opalescent embroideries, and the other in mauve tinted chiffon en tunique and weighted down the left side with a band of nacre sequins. Mrs R G Blake’s black satin toilette looked well with a corsage bouquet of La France roses; and Mrs Philip Blake was a pretty young matron in a tunic dress of palest mauve ninon done with a broad Greek key embroidery. (Independent)
The Telegraph, meanwhile, reported that the Mayoress of Rotherham, Mrs Dan Mullins, wore a ‘heliotrope satin gown, enriched with embroideries’. (Judging by the number of times heliotrope and its near relation, mauve, are mentioned in the coverage, they must have been among that season’s colours.)
And there was:
Mrs Brittain, whose gown of pewter grey satin was wrought with embroideries of blister pearls, her jewels being diamonds [and her daughters] Miss Winifred Brittain wearing emerald green chiffon and gold embroideries, and Mrs Hubert Rowlands attired in white satin with pendant earrings of amethysts. (Independent)
… Mrs George Franklin, wearing superb diamonds with a Parma violet toilette … Mrs Wilson Mappin, in grey brocade and diamonds … Mr and Mrs Tom Mappin, the lady in black satin with sleeves of thick black silk embroidery sewn with jet and slit up the outer side of the arms. Only two ladies had adopted the new turban coiffure. Mrs A J Gainsford, who had hers finished with a twist of white tulle, and wore a salmon pink bengaline gown, and Mrs Cyril Lockwood, whose hair was dressed with a plait, her black satin frock being enriched about the corsage with gold embroideries. (Independent)
Mrs H H Bedford chose lemon yellow satin … Miss Frost was in pale blue spotted silk; Miss Armine Sandford had a white satin gown; Mrs J R Wheatley in petunia silk applique, with cream lace motifs, had some lovely diamond ornaments … (Telegraph)
The Library Association was not to be outdone. Women
librarians and the wives of the male librarians, said Our Lady Representative,
‘dispelled the illusion that a close association with books is incompatible
with smart dressing’. (Just how old is the idea that librarians are
uninterested in clothes?)
Miss Frost, of Worthing, who had a princess gown of pale blue satin veiled in a tunic overdress of dewdrop white chiffon fringed with silver. Mrs Wright (Plymouth) was much admired in a yellow evening frock; Mrs Kirkby (Leicester) wore white lace; and Mrs Ashton came in crocus mauve ninon de soie. Mrs Jast (Croydon) in a black toilette sparkling with jet … Mrs Chennell was wearing black chiffon; and Mrs Tickhill’s black lace gown veiled a white taffetas underslip. Mrs Samuel Smith (wife of the Chief Librarian of Sheffield) had a gown of palest pink silk, and her sister, Miss Flint, was in black, the jet bretelles being super-imposed on a fold of palest yellow velvet. Mrs Jones (Runcorn) and Mrs Singleton (Accrington) both appeared in black evening toilettes; Mrs Wilkinson (Rawtenstall) wore white silk; Mrs Bagguley (Swindon) was in sapphire blue poplin; and Mrs Pomfret (Darwen) came in old rose crepe de chine, Mrs Dowbiggin (Lancaster) wearing bright pink silk striped with white dots. (Independent)
Unfortunately, there are very few images of all this splendour. The Telegraph published the photograph shown above of Alderman Brittain with Library Association colleagues, taken during the conference, and we have the line drawings below, all of the men in their white tie and tails, and with their fine Edwardian moustaches and beards. For the women’s colourful toilettes, we have only word pictures. We have to use our imaginations to see the Lady Mayoress:
very dainty in reseda green satin, with loose hanging sleeves of cream Limerick lace, caught with cords of gold’ and wearing a diamond tiara and pendant and her chain of office. (Telegraph).
Perhaps words are enough to convey the fashionable, affluent and confident elite of Sheffield that September evening in 1909. There were certainly problems locally, including poverty, slum accommodation and an over-dependence on a few, linked industries, but there was progress of which to be proud. To the world Sheffield was synonymous with steel, a place of industrial innovation and invention. Its population was growing and its suburbs spreading. It had been granted city status as recently as 1893 and within a few years it would be the fifth city in Great Britain, outstripping its great rival, Leeds. The grand Town Hall of the evening’s festivities had been opened by Queen Victoria in 1897 and in 1905 her son Edward VII had granted the University of Sheffield charter.
We know that within five years war would bring considerable change to Sheffield, with lasting consequences, but in 1909 the city could enjoy the opportunity afforded by events like the Library Association conference to show itself off and to earn the admiration of others.
PS. Although there are no images of the women at the
reception, here are a few fashion plates from the newspapers of the period, to
help conjure the event.
This is the first of several pieces we plan to publish about the 1909 Library Association conference in Sheffield.
[i] The Library Association was founded in 1877 as the professional body for librarians in the UK. It was awarded a Royal Charter in 1898. It exists today as CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals, having merged in 2002 with the Institute of Information Scientists.
Both the Telegraph and the Independent covered the reception on Tuesday 21
As we practise social distancing and self-isolation for COVID-19, we may well be reading more. At home we have old favourites worthy of another look, ‘to-be-read’ piles and perhaps library books we had on loan before lockdown. As we roam through online catalogues, bookshops both new and second-hand are valiantly posting orders and e-readers downloading titles. Public libraries may have closed their wooden doors, but their digital portals are open wide for the borrowing of e-books, magazines and newspapers, and research libraries are making their content more widely available.
set me to wondering how the last great national and international emergency, World
War II, affected people’s reading habits. Here’s what happened in Sheffield.
A young woman of 22 had recently joined the public library, said the Telegraph, in its Sheffield Woman’s Diary column, on Wednesday 20 December 1939. She told the library staff that ‘until the outbreak of war she had never read a book since leaving school at the age of 14’. Now she was ‘reading at least two books a week’. The woman was one of 30 to 50 enrolments a day between September and December 1939, reported City Librarian J P Lamb.
People sought out the public library because they wanted to stay safe and to avoid boredom. They were also trying to understand what was happening and why. And it has to be said that there were fewer resources in the home: for many people, one wireless shared by all the family, very few televisions with limited programming and absolutely no internet-enabled smartphones or laptops to divert you.
When war broke out in 1939, everyone expected heavy air raids and public entertainment was curtailed accordingly. (In fact, there was little activity in what became known as the ‘Phoney War’, from September 1939 to April 1940.) The local library offered distraction, comfort and information. Even though opening hours were reduced, from ten to nine hours a day in Sheffield (just imagine!), suburban libraries in particular were seen as safe. The council responded to this, opening by February 1940 a new branch library, in Totley, and twelve part-time ‘library centres’ in areas without branches, like Crosspool.
The city was fortunate that its libraries came through the war relatively undamaged. Even during the Sheffield Blitz raids of December 1940, only one library centre, the Manor, was destroyed, with the loss of 300 books. The rest sustained minor damage. The Central Library, ‘bracketed in lines of flames from the Moor and High Street’ according to the 1939-47 Sheffield Libraries report, escaped too. (More or less. If you look down the next time you walk across the entrance lobby, you will see, running almost the whole width, the crack caused by bomb blast.)
was, J P Lamb noted, a falling off in borrowing in the first week of war –
‘less than two-thirds the normal daily average’ – but this was temporary. Even
as people settled to war, and dances and the like started up again, borrowing
rose. By November 1939, the number of books issued was 59,332, only 417 fewer
than in November 1938, and the trend upwards continued.
What were all these people borrowing?
fiction and non-fiction were popular. The Telegraph said that ‘the war has
caused such a rush on non-fiction books at the Central Library that some stocks
have had to be heavily duplicated’. As books wore out, replacing them was hard
and costly, because of paper shortages and the destruction of publishers’
stocks in London’s air-raids. Sheffield was fortunate that its far-sighted City
Librarian had early on bought a vast amount of fiction – enough for all the new
library centres and a 40,000 reserve – at nominal prices from publishers keen
to empty their warehouses.
Readers continued to probe the causes of the war. ‘Since September, 1938,’ the Telegraph said, ‘there has been a great demand for books on world affairs.’ German, Czech, Polish and Finnish histories were borrowed. First-hand accounts of the rise of Nazism, such as Inside Europe (1936) by John Gunther, Insanity Fair (1938) by Douglas Reed and Reaching for the Stars (1939) by Nora Waln, were also much requested, as was Mein Kampf. (The 1939-47 library report also noted as popular in wartime: One Pair of Feet (1942) by Monica Dickens, Vera Brittain’s Testament of Friendship (1940), Trevelyan’s English Social History (1944) and Madame Curie (1937) by Eve Curie.)
Some readers were already looking ahead. ‘Among readers studying theories for a new and better Europe an exceptional number of requests have been made for Streit’s Union Now.’ Clarence Streit was an American journalist covering the League of Nations. Disturbed by nationalism, he proposed in his 1938 book a federation of the leading democracies and economies, including the USA, Australia and Scandinavian countries. From about 1944, readers’ minds turned to the practical and the future, asking for ‘back to the land’ books like Thomas Firbank’s I Bought a Mountain (1940) and material on, for example, food production.
In 1939, people were thinking about the war effort. The Council approved the borrowing of books from the Reference Libraries.
On National Service it has been necessary to duplicate books dealing with all forms of national service. Books are wanted on the Navy, Army, Air Force, first aid, fire fighting, and balloon barrage work. Men who are training for semi-skilled positions in the armament factories have made requests for books dealing with their subjects.
Young people, it was said, were ‘trying to continue their studies in spite of difficulties’, bringing their reading lists to libraries. Children who were not evacuated, or who returned, were thought safest in the home. Schools were closed and arrangements made for tuition in small groups in private houses, church halls etc. Junior libraries were therefore closed between September 1939 and November 1940. Children’s books were moved into the adult libraries and local education centres, the idea being that parents could borrow for their offspring.
your own entertainment at home was the norm. Readers ‘are asking for and
reserving books from the Books for the Home Front pamphlets’. These guides were
produced by Sheffield Libraries on a variety of subjects from history to
When a check was made recently it was found that out of 47 books on card games only 10 were available. There were five books out of 21 on fireside fun and only 19 on vegetable gardening out of 95. It was also found that only four books on Bridge were available out of a total of 34, three on party games out of 17, two on billiards out of 9, three on chess out of 54, and six on dancing out of 35.
there was escape in the form of fiction. ‘It was recently found that 11 out of
every 12 volumes on the Central Library stock were in the hands of borrowers.’
Classics were popular:
… the libraries’ 10 copies of [Lorna] Doone were all on issue, also the full stock (six copies) of Adam Bede and the eight copies of The Cloister and the Hearth. Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are in great demand. Of the stock of 89 Dickens books 18 were out. Five out of 205 Galsworthy books were out.
The Telegraph says nothing about light fiction, but it must also have been widely available. At this time, public libraries were often wary of the entertaining, leaving it to the commercial tuppenny libraries on many street corners. But, while promoting cultural standards in general, J P Lamb had championed the popular for years, on the grounds that it drew people in. He had the vast, cheaply-acquired stock mentioned above, and we know from one of his staff that he was ‘buying forty copies of the latest Edgar Wallace’ for the Central Lending Library. According to the Sheffield Libraries report for 1939-47, the most popular fiction books over the war were: Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell, 1936), The Stars Look Down (A J Cronin, 1935), How Green Was My Valley (Richard Llewellyn, 1939), The Rains Came (Louis Bromfield, 1937), All This and Heaven Too (Rachel Field, 1938) and War and Peace (Tolstoy, 1869). All, apart from War and Peace, were also popular films of the period.
of the books mentioned above are still read today?
After the war, Lamb concluded in his official report that Sheffield’s ‘reading throughout the war did not differ to any marked extent from that of previous years’.[ix] Fred Hutchings, his deputy in the early war years, took a different view in a paper for the 1952 Library Association annual conference :
… war became a release spring, taking the compression from dull lives and making people think beyond their narrow corners into the world around them.
Whichever view you favour, know that, in 1945-46, Sheffield broke all records, with 3.75 million books issued. What will be the effect of COVID-19 when we look back on 2020, the year Sheffield Libraries had designated their Year of Reading?
Professor Chris Hopkins of Sheffield Hallam University continues his account of Love on the Dole in Sheffield.
Sheffield was unique in having the serialisation of the novel (described in Part One) and the play version of Love on the Dole in the public eye at the same time. The play adaptation (made by Greenwood with Ronald Gow) was as great a success as the novel when produced in 1935. Two separate companies toured simultaneous productions until 1937 and Greenwood said that by 1940 three million people had seen the play (letter to the Manchester Guardian, 26/2/1940). Productions went to almost every city and most towns in Britain. For example, during 1936 alone their venues (normally for a week of performances) included places such as Barrow, Birmingham, Brighton, Brixton, Cambridge, Cardiff, Douglas (Isle of Man), Eastbourne, East Ham, Edinburgh, Finsbury Park, Folkestone, Gateshead, Hackney, Keighley, Leeds, Lewisham, Liverpool, Luton, Manchester, New Cross, Penge, Plymouth, Poplar, Rotherham, Scarborough, Sunderland, Swansea, Walthamstow, and Woolwich.[i]
The play came to the Sheffield Empire in April 1935 and
again in August that year. The Sheffield Daily
Independent noted the ‘coincidence’ that the work was simultaneously on
the stage and page in the city, and saw the two different versions as
reinforcing each other’s impact, while unmistakably advocating the superiority
of the novel version it was serialising:
It is interesting to see these Hanky Park personalities, of whom we are reading each day, come to life on the stage. This tragic picture of unemployment with its leavening of humour is but the outline. The complete canvas is found in the book (23/4/1935, p. 6).
The article then went on to argue that the play’s impact in
London was bound to differ from its impact in Sheffield. For
London audiences, the play had novelty, for while the capital had not been
completely immune to unemployment it had no experience of long-term
worklessness, of ‘the abandonment of hope in a poverty-stricken industrial
area’. In Sheffield the ‘picture is not so unfamiliar’. A review of the production of the
play at the Sheffield Empire published by the Daily Independent on 27 August
1935 also claimed that the city, like others in the north, had an affinity with
the circumstances portrayed: ‘a poignant tragedy of the evils of unemployment,
true to life in many of our large manufacturing towns.’(p. 7). There was a
further production of the play at the Attercliffe Palace in May 1939 by a
touring repertory company, the Charles Denville Players. A review in the Sheffield
Evening Telegraph praised it as a ‘clever performance’ of this ‘pitifully
human’ and ‘popular’ play (9/5/1939, p. 3).
Sheffield took other kinds of notice too of Love on the Dole. On 29 April 1935 the Daily Independent reported that the play (and there is reference to their serialisation too) had formed the basis for a sermon by Canon A J Talbot Easter at St Paul’s church. The Canon argued that the story was the result of ‘bitter experience of life’ and that ‘it did not invite one to draw conclusions but placed certain people before the audience and asked them to understand their point of view’. In fact, he said that the story itself ‘had all the essentials of a sermon’. Thus, the work showed that ‘love on the pictures was not the same as love on the dole’ and the vicar also drew the conclusion that Greenwood implied betting to be ‘a mug’s game’ (p. 7). [ii] The Vicar of St Philip’s in Sheffield (presumably the church formerly on Infirmary Rd / Penistone Rd) hit the national press when the Daily Mirror reported under the headline ‘Vicar defends Love on the Dole’ that the clergyman had criticised the Sheffield County Court Judge Essenhigh for pronouncing that men on the dole should not marry. The vicar, Reverend G E Needham, said that having failed ‘to deprive unemployed men of football and the cinema’, they were now to be deprived of love and marriage (20/2/1939, p. 2). The headline implies that Greenwood’s story is so well-known that its themes need no more introduction: it is part of a public conversation about unemployment in which the Sheffield vicar is taking part. The same can be said of a reference to Greenwood’s work by the Sheffield Central Conservative MP on 19 July 1938, titled: ‘Love on the Dole plea by City MP’ (p. 7). Mr W W Boulton said that there had been some improvements in unemployment benefit schemes, but called for more to be done for young workless men who had married and were struggling to care for their families adequately on current levels of public assistance.
Love on the Dole was also seen nationally as drawing attention to a number of northern cities which were dealing with the consequences of unemployment. While much local press coverage of the serial and play in Sheffield suggests a place split between those with experience of unemployment and those for whom it is news from another world, one article in the Daily Independent on 13 May 1935 picks up a national story which firmly casts Sheffield as a whole city in distress. Again, the story concerns a clergyman inspired directly by (the play of) Love on the Dole, but this time it is the London-based Reverend Pat McCormick, who in an appeal broadcast by BBC radio from St Martins-in-the-Fields, proposed a scheme for southern families to help struggling northern families by ‘adopting’ them. The scheme was to include ‘Sheffield, Newcastle, Hull, York, Carlisle, Oldham, Chesterfield, Darlington, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Manchester, Salford, Gateshead, Warrington, St. Helens, Widnes, and a number of hard-hit areas in South Wales’ (p. 1).
I do not know if the serialisation was the publishing success the Daily Independent’s editors hoped for (I notice Reading Sheffield interviewees did not recall the novel), but Love on the Dole seems to have remained a topic of interest in the city in the next few years, with, as we have seen, further press notice. The city certainly suffered from poverty and unemployment in the mid-thirties, and at least until serious rearmament started in 1936, so it is not surprising to find that Greenwood’s novel and play were of interest. Orwell noted in The Road to Wigan Pier in 1936 that ‘towns like Leeds and Sheffield have scores of thousands of “back-to-back” houses which are all of a condemned type but will remain standing for decades’ (Kindle edition location 698). He also noted that conditions in the city were mixed, partly because of its role in rearmament: ‘Even in Sheffield, which has been doing well for the last year or so, because or wars or rumours of war … the proportion … is one in three workers registered as unemployed’ (location 994). There were significant marches against unemployment and especially the effects of the Means Test in the city in January 1935 and a particularly large demonstration on 6 February of the same year when conflict between the police and a large crowd of up to 100,000 protesters was reported by the Daily Herald (7/2/1935, p. 1). The Sheffield Daily Independent naturally also covered the events of the day under the headline: ‘Police Clash with Workless’ (7/2/1935, p. 1). The paper reported that the demonstration outside the City Hall became violent due to a misunderstanding among the marchers that the City Council had rejected a proposal to seek government approval to reduce benefit cuts in the city. In fact, the Council had just voted to approve this measure and there was a subsequent repayment of some reductions to unemployment benefit in the city on the initiative of the City Council, with the permission of the Ministry of Labour.[iii] Publication of the serial suggests the radical and topical sympathies of this widely-read Sheffield paper, as well perhaps as its eye for commercial advantage in giving relatively cheap and wide access to a current best-seller which could very reasonably be seen as being a popular and entertaining, as well as morally, socially and politically serious, work.
list of venues given here is not exhaustive, but all the evidence can be found
in the issues of The Stage in its ‘On Tour’ feature; information
referred to here is from the 1936 issues for 9/1, 27/2, 5/3, 16/4, 11/5, 25/5,
11/6, 18/6, 16/7, 13/8, 20/8, and 10/9. Accessed via the Entertainment
Industry Magazine Archive (online: ProQuest
<http://www.proquest.com/products-services/eima.html> accessed 15 May
iii] See Stephanie Ward’s book, Unemployment and the State in Britain: the Means Test and Protest in 1930s South Wales and North-Eastern England, Manchester University Press: Manchester, 2013, Kindle edition, locations 4048 and 4230. This account of the protests in Sheffield on 6 February 1935 draws on a booklet published by Sheffield City Libraries in 1985: Bill Moore’s All Out! The Dramatic Story of the Sheffield Demonstration Against Dole Cuts on February 6th 1935. For further detail see also John Stevenson and Chris Cook, The Slump: Britain in the Great Depression (Jonathan Cape 1977; third edition Pearson Education, 2010, Kindle edition Routledge 2013, location 5157).
Professor Chris Hopkins of Sheffield Hallam University looks at how Walter Greenwood’s 1933 novel, Love on the Dole, came to Sheffield.
Love on the Dole is the story of the Hardcastle family and their neighbours in a specific and poor part of Salford known as Hanky Park. Mr Hardcastle is a miner and Mrs Hardcastle a housewife; their son Harry works first at a pawnshop and is then an apprentice engineer, while their daughter Sally works at a textile mill. Neighbours include the helpful Labour activist and qualified engineer Larry Meath, as well as a group of older women who both help and exploit for their own gain the other inhabitants of Hanky Park. Mr Hardcastle and Harry and then Larry all lose their jobs as the slump bites. The characters represent a working-class society and economy that is always fragile, and which is then further fractured by the consequences of the Depression after 1929 and intensified by the coalition National Government’s cuts to unemployment benefits in 1931.
Walter Greenwood’s novel was a phenomenon when published by Jonathan Cape in 1933: it immediately became a best-seller and was praised by newspapers across the political spectrum for the way in which it drew attention to the worsening situation of the unemployed in already impoverished communities. It sold 46,000 copies by 1940, as well as being much borrowed from public libraries.[i] The West Riding County Council’s 11th Annual Library Report named Greenwood’s novel as one of the most borrowed fiction works in the region, as the Sheffield Daily Independent reported on 28/10/1935. Sheffield’s influential City Librarian, J P Lamb, also named Greenwood in a report on the value of fiction (‘classical’ and the more contemporary fiction which he called ‘semi-standard and popular’) in the city’s libraries report in 1936-37:
the semi-standard group includes … scores of modern writers of considerable gifts – Vera Brittain, Ethel Mannin, Russell Green, P. Bottome, E. Boileau and W. Greenwood – for example … they give mental refreshment to highly intelligent and well-read library-borrowers, they are ‘introductory readers’ to those newly finding an interest in reading … they widen vocabulary, extend horizons, stimulate ideas, and often add factual knowledge.[ii]
But in one respect Sheffield was unique in its reception of Love on the Dole. It was the only city in the UK where the entire novel was serialised in a newspaper, nearly two years after its first publication. Between 15 April and 21 June 1935, an episode from the novel was published daily by the Sheffield Daily Independent, with an introduction to the whole serial the week before. The daily publication took place over sixty-seven days and was clearly a substantial commitment of column space and resources – the paper must have paid a considerable fee to the publisher (and/or author) for this best-seller, suggesting confidence that Sheffield readers would want to read every episode (and be more motivated than usual to buy the paper everyday?).
The paper’s readers were warmed up for the forthcoming serialisation every day for five days (9 to 13 April 1935) by short pieces stressing the authenticity, daring and entertainment value of the novel. The first was headlined ‘Realism of Love on the Dole’ and made the grand claim that the novel was likely to prove ‘one of the most impressive and enthralling serialisations ever published in the pages of a newspaper’ (p. 7). The piece then argued that the story’s power came from both the real-life experience of Greenwood and the way in which this compelled him to become an author:
The story is not a figment of the imagination of a writer who has seen good copy in unemployment, but real life as it has been experienced by the author himself, and has so moved him that it compelled him to enter a new realm – the realm of authorship – so that he could reveal to the world the tragedy of existence now being faced by thousands of men and women who, like himself, are “on the dole”.
The (unsigned) article then promised that readers will be ‘held’ and ‘enthralled’ by the novel, but warns them that they may also be shocked: if the ‘colours are vivid, the outlines are true’ (the same article was republished on 10 April by the paper). The next introduction was headed ‘Why You Must Read Love on the Dole’ and suggested that responses from Sheffield readers would depend on their own experiences: ‘to many readers this book will come as a startling revelation – others will realise how true it all is’ (11/4/1935, p. 4). On Friday 12 April came another reminder that this was an unusual novel which had ‘won fame in a day’ for its ‘unknown author’: ‘you cannot afford to miss any portion of this sensational serial, so if you have not yet ordered the Daily Independent to be delivered to you each morning, do so at once’. Finally, on Saturday 13 April readers were reminded that this ‘outspoken novel’ would begin on Monday: ‘one of the most outspoken and sensational documents that has ever appeared as a serial in a newspaper’ (p. 8). The paper was clearly very keen to collect an audience for its investment and/or to promote public awareness of the profound and long-lasting effects of worklessness and poverty (though, as we shall see, this was not unknown territory for the city).
The following week the opening chapters indeed appeared, starting on 15 April 1935 (on p. 11). Slightly oddly, an introduction to each of the main characters, pretty much in the same form as a cast list for a play only appeared on 20, 22 and 24 April (perhaps so anyone who had missed the first chapters could catch up?). Some of the interpretations here are of interest in using descriptions which do not occur in the text of the novel. I think these are the interpretations of an editor or sub-editor of the paper, giving a sense of how one Sheffield reader at least envisaged the characters. Sally is described as ‘a full-lipped belle of the slums’, Mrs Hardcastle as a ‘dour mother of two’, Ned Narkey as the ‘giant, rough and rude libertine of the back alleys’, Harry as one ‘to whom weariness of a drab little life has been realised too soon’, while Larry Meath is said to be a ‘quiet intelligent artisan, with the instincts of a Labour leader’. Finally, what were often referred to in reviews as the ‘chorus’ of older women (Mrs Nattle, Mrs Doorbell and Mrs Jike) are described as ‘part of the human flotsam and jetsam of the district’. The two individual female characters are seen stereotypically and oddly (and more negatively than in many reviews, which see both as mainly heroic), while the older women are seen as more helpless than they are in the novel (they are more properly seen as having a curious if small privilege from drawing pensions and running small and semi-legal private ‘enterprises’). More typically of other reviews of the novel, Ned is seen as an obviously undesirable, sexually unrestrained and brutal type of working-man, Harry as a youth whom the current system has betrayed, and Larry as the best sort of ‘respectable’, self-taught, working-class intellectual. The text of the novel was identical to that of the published novel, except that sometimes daily titles for each instalment were added, as well as numerous sub-titles, again presumably by a Sheffield sub-editor. These seem to be added a little inconsistently, and perhaps depended partly on space / type-setting considerations. Some titles are the same as the novel’s original chapter titles, but others, including all the sub-titles, are new additions. So Sheffield Daily Independent readers received the novel via captions such as: ‘Puzzled and Cheated’, ‘His World Upset’, ‘A Million Mysteries’, ‘Paradise Lost’, ‘Travesty of Love’, ‘Where Lovers Meet’, ‘Things is Bad’, ‘Wives Who Go Out to Work’, ‘Beauty in the Slums’, and ‘When a Girl is Moody’. Though the novel already sought to entertain as well as enlighten, these sub-titles do perhaps present the story as even more like popular newspaper or magazine fiction than the original novel, with their quite frequent invitations to engage with mystery, romance and melodrama.
Richard Overy, The
Morbid Age: Britain and the Crisis of Civilization 1919–1939 (Harmondsworth:
Penguin, 2010; first published by Allen Lane, 2009), p. 71. The sales figures
come from the University of Reading Special Collection, Jonathan Cape Archive,
Mss 2446 (endnote 80 to Overy’s Chapter 2).
The 80th Annual
Sheffield City Libraries Report (1936–37), ‘The Reading of Fiction’, was
located and drawn to my attention by Val Hewson – the full report can be read
on the Reading Sheffield website: <https://www.readingsheffield.co.uk/the-reading-of-fiction-sheffield-citylibraries-80th-annual-report-1936–37/>,
accessed 4 January 2018.
Opening ceremony of Tinsley Carnegie Library, by T.Wilkinson, on 8 June 1905 (Reproduced by permission of Sheffield City Archives)
The tone was set by Thomas Wilkinson, the managing director of William Cooke and Co, as he opened the library on Thursday 8 June 1905. The Sheffield Independent reported the next day:
[In his boyhood] there were no beautiful structures of that kind ready for the working man to use. He very much rejoiced that they had in the parish so excellent a building to which they could come in search of recreation of a rational character, or of the knowledge which was to be obtained from the scientific and engineering works he had observed on the shelves.
The Sheffield Independent noted the lending library’s capacity for ‘several thousand volumes’ and there was also a reference library to stock. But for now there were just ‘434 volumes’, ‘well and substantially bound in leather’. Mr H C Else, who chaired the council, said that they hoped to expand in time and that for now people
would probably think that the library looked bare … they only got the last half of the books on Tuesday of this week.
There were twelve shelves of novels, including:
Dickens, Dumas, George Eliot, Victor Hugo, Lord Lytton, Kingsley, Wilkie Collins, Hall Caine, Captain Marryat, R S Merriman, Scott, Mrs Henry Wood, E J Worboise, Stanley Weyman, Charles Reade. [i]
This range of mostly contemporary or recent novels was likely to appeal to both men and women. Some of the names, like Eliot, we rever today and others, like Wilkie Collins, are less well regarded but in print and read with pleasure by many. Still others are almost completely forgotten. Hall Caine and E J Worboise? Anyone? Sir Thomas Henry Hall Caine (1853-1931) wrote ‘novels of wide popularity’, says the Oxford Companion to English Literature. His Wikipedia entry lists his subjects as: ‘adultery, divorce, domestic violence, illegitimacy, infanticide, religious bigotry and women’s rights’, and describes him as the ‘most highly paid novelist of his day’. Emma Jane Worboise (1825–1887) wrote strongly Christian novels.
At this point the Independent’s journalist unexpectedly indulged in literary criticism of his own:
The ubiquitous Marie Corelli was unrepresented. Resenting this absence, the lady of Stratford-on-Avon will probably supply the deficiency by forwarding a complete set of immortal works at the earliest opportunity.
Marie Corelli (1854-1924) was relished by the public for her exotic novels involving high society, ancient Egypt, debauchery, paganism, spiritualism and much else. Predictably, she was despised by the critics. Evidently there was no place for her in Tinsley.
Exotic author Marie Corelli (1909) (public domain)
It is interesting that fiction of any kind found a place in Tinsley’s public library. Libraries had been founded, in true Victorian fashion, with a view to improving the working man. To many minds the novel hardly suited this noble purpose. In addition, some ratepayers resented wasting public – or rather, their – money on providing the frivolous to the undeserving. In 1879, J Taylor Kay, the librarian of Owen’s College Manchester, called novels ‘the most dangerous literature of the age’.[ii] When he opened the nearby Walkley Carnegie Library, in December 1905, the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Colonel Hughes
impressed upon the young people that it was not by reading three-volume novels that literary or other success was achieved, but by digesting the finest writers on subjects that would be of use afterwards. (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 15 December 1905)
At all events, in Tinsley, in 1905, the council chose fiction that would both entertain and inform.[iii]
What then of ‘books of information’, in a phrase of the time?
The more serious books in the library included Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a small selection dealing with the coal and iron industries, half a dozen volumes of Ruskin, a dozen of the English Men of Letters series, and a fine set of over 30 volumes dealing with national heroes. The poets at present seem to be confined to Longfellow, Scott, Shakespeare, and Tennyson.
This is another solid and conventional selection on literature, history and art. The ‘fine set … dealing with national heroes’ has a confident, even imperial, ring to it, and the English Men of Letters series included luminaries like Samuel Johnson, Keats, Wordsworth and Chaucer (there were no women of letters). John Ruskin had local connections, with his Guild of St George and St George’s Museum for Sheffield’s working men. There was apparently little science or technology, apart from the ‘small selection dealing with the coal and iron industries’ reflecting the local economy and also vocational improvement.
John Ruskin (1879) (public domain)
There seem to have been no books for children, although older children might well have enjoyed, for example, Captain Marryat. Junior public libraries were few and far between in this period, even in bigger cities. Had the idea occurred in Tinsley, there was in any case little money. There were perhaps books in local schools and Sunday Schools.
Early libraries were intended as a source of news and information and so there were newspapers and magazines in the reading room and the ladies’ reading room. The main reading room was well-equipped with ‘six newspaper desks, and three large oak tables, on which will be laid current magazines’.
Tinsley’s new librarian, Mr J O’Donnell, was named by the Independent. There is no other information about him, but it may be assumed that he advised the council on its book purchases. At all events, he did not stay long, for by 1912 the librarian was Mr A Burton, who also served on the council.
Underpinning Tinsley’s achievement was local financial support. Andrew Carnegie’s £1,500 was a donation strictly for construction, and councils could raise a rate of only 1d in the pound for libraries. In Tinsley this meant £110 a year. Money for books was always going to be hard to find, but the council, in a move as enterprising as its applying for Carnegie money,
went to several of the large works in the parish and asked them to give assistance. … which mounted in all to £50. That would not buy many books, and so they were obliged to put another £50 to it in order to make some show at the outset. … but before they could extend it much they would need to obtain either more money or more books from some one.
The businesses which contributed were carefully listed by the Independent: Hadfield’s Steel Foundry Co, William Cooke and Co, Edgar Allen and Co, the Tinsley Rolling Mills Co, and T Gray and Sons. With the exception of the last (the company which had built the library), these were internationally important businesses.
The Sheffield Independent evidently admired Tinsley’s efforts to secure its building and books:
The handsome little library … was formally opened yesterday evening, in the presence of an interested gathering of spectators. Neither architects nor builders have attempted anything to which the word pretentious could be applied, but the building is pleasing in appearance, and admirably planned for the purposes to which it will be put. … The surrounding grounds are nicely laid out and planted with shrubs.
An artist’s impression of Tinsley Carnegie Library from the Sheffield Independent (9 June 1905)
Read more about the building of Tinsley Carnegie Library (Parts One, Two and Three).
[i] R S Merriman is presumably a misprint for H S (Henry Seton) Merriman (1862-1903), another popular novelist of exciting-sounding books: Slave of the Lamp (1894), The Vultures (1902) and The Last Hope (1904).
[ii] Quoted by Thomas Kelly in A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain, 1845-1975 (London, Library Association, 1977).
At the end of Bawtry Lane stands the building designed as Tinsley’s first public library. We’ve already told how Tinsley wanted its own library and in 1903 successfully petitioned the American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, for a grant of £1,500. The money almost had to be returned because of an unhappy resident (‘If a man made me the offer of a present, which I could not conscientiously accept, I should not have it’), but after much discussion the parish council approved the proposal and construction started in 1904.
Opening ceremony of Tinsley Carnegie Library (Reproduced by kind permission of Sheffield City Archives)
At the opening of the Carnegie Library on 8 June 1905, the Sheffield Telegraph said:
The brick structure is effective in appearance, and, surrounded by grounds nicely laid out and planted with shrubs, the institution, which was opened last night by Mr Thomas Wilkinson, managing director of William Cooke [sic] and Company, besides being of educational value to Tinsley, is an adornment to the village. A large gathering of inhabitants assembled at the entrance to witness the opening ceremony, and to take early possession of the commodious rooms inside. …’
The ‘adornment’ was designed by the unlikely firm of Holmes and Watson. Tempting though it is to imagine the Baker Street duo disguising themselves as architects for a case, in fact they were Edward, not Sherlock, Holmes and Adam Francis, not John, Watson. They were respected Sheffield architects and surveyors, in partnership between 1893 and 1906.
Holmes and Watson’s drawing of the front of the library
Holmes and Watson’s drawing of the back of the library
The Carnegie Library is not usually mentioned in the catalogue of their work, and it must have been a relatively small commission. That they had already worked locally, on Tinsley Park School and the offices of Wm Cook & Co, perhaps helped them win this contract. Their work included industrial, commercial and public buildings in Sheffield:
a ‘twelve-hold melting furnace for Spear and Jackson in Gravestock Street’
schools like Pomona Street, Western Road and Carter Knowle Road (all still in use today)
the ornate Midland Bank branch on the High Street.
Midland Bank, Sheffield High Street, designed by Holmes and Watson (now part of Lloyds Bank)
For Tinsley’s library, Holmes and Watson kept things relatively simple, with only slight changes between the drawings and the finished building. Brick is the main material, and the building is double-fronted, with a central porch and a charming steeple or ‘fleche’ on the roof. The windows are large, letting in as much light as possible for readers. The porch bears a fine inscription thanking the donors, Andrew Carnegie and Earl Fitzwilliam. Inside the fittings were mahoghany – where it showed, like the fine entrance doors – and stained pine – where it did not. The building is in keeping with the surrounding houses, with good proportions, and the small corner site is used effectively. The job was well managed too, with the budget being exceeded by only 9s 10d. It says something about Holmes, Watson and the builders, Gray and Sons of Tinsley, that, over 100 years later, the building is still standing, and although there appears to be some water damage, the whole looks stable.
The fleche or steeple
Dedication on the porch to Earl Fitzwilliam and Andrew Carnegie
Entrance to Tinsley Library (from the plans by Holmes and Watson)
The interior is as simple as the exterior.
On the ground floor will be a porch, a well-proportioned entrance hall and staircase, a large reading-room, 30 feet by 18 feet, where there will be a stock of newspapers and magazines, a lending library, 15ft. 6in. by 15ft., and hall for applicants for books. first floor will provided with a ladies’ reading-room, reference library, and a spare room for stores, etc. In the basement there will be a hot water apparatus for heating the building, and on the ground and first floors there will be lavatory and other accommodation for the visitors. All the rooms will be thoroughly well-lighted and ventilated. The building is in the Renaissance style, and although simple in treatment, will be very effective appearance. It will faced with local pressed bricks, and Grenoside stone dressing. The surrounding grounds will nicely laid out, and planted with shrubs, that when completed, the whole will make a pleasing addition to Tinsley. The internal fittings, seats, book cases, etc., will of the most modern description. (Sheffield Telegraph, 11 July 1904)
On the ground floor is a porch and an entrance hall, with a large reading-room on one side, and the lending department on the other. On the floor above is a ladies’ room, a reference department and a committee room. (Sheffield Telegraph, 9 June, 1905)
The ground floor plan
The first floor plan
News and reading rooms were the norm then, and men and women forbidden to read in the same room. The lending library would have looked unfamiliar to us: the books – there were 434, costing £100, with half donated by local businesses. The parish council hoped to buy more shortly – were kept behind a counter and ferried by staff to borrowers, who chose from catalogues. There was no children’s library, although there might have been some suitable books for their parents to borrow. In time, the ‘closed access’ lending library and the reading rooms were done away with, and the space converted to ‘open access’ lending, and a separate children’s library. On the whole, though, Holmes and Watson’s original design seems to have worked well.
Closed access: screen in the lending library, behind which the books were kept
In The Sheffield Society of Architects, 1887-1987, Roger Harper comments that Holmes and Watson had a ‘reputation beyond actual productivity’. It is difficult, he says, to attribute their commissions, including the library, individually. But we know that Watson’s interest was architecture, while Holmes did a lot of surveying and civil engineering work, so Watson’s may be the responsibility for the design.
Adam Francis Watson
Edward Holmes (1859-1921) and Adam Francis Watson (1859-1932) were well established, individually and as a partnership, in Sheffield. Watson was born in Northants, but lived in Sheffield for most of his life, working first as assistant to the leading architect, Matthew Ellison Hadfield. Holmes was a Sheffield boy, the son of Samuel Furness Holmes, the town’s first Borough Surveyor. They were both keen supporters of the Sheffield Society of Architects and Surveyors, founded in 1887, with Holmes becoming President in 1905-06 and Watson from 1913 to 1920. They advocated professional training for young colleagues, and were members of professional organisations like the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Royal Institute of British Architects. They were also civic-minded and socially active: Holmes served as a Justice of the Peace and on the board of the Botanical Gardens; Watson was a member of the University of Sheffield Court, a sidesman at St John’s Ranmoor and an officer in the West Riding Artillery Volunteers. Both were Freemasons. Holmes was described in the Sheffield Independent in August 1902 as:
A broad-minded, sympathetic man…a true Sheffielder, considerate for the dignity and welfare of the city.
When the foundation stone for the library was laid on Saturday 9 July 1904 (with a capsule containing local newspapers beneath it), by Sir William Holland MP, the Sheffield Telegraph said:
… Tinsley is just one of those places most deserving of Mr. Carnegie’s help. It is the village boy, as much as the city lad, that the great millionaire wants to encourage to read and think…’
A year later, at the grand opening, Mr Wilkinson
rejoiced that Tinsley was to possess so beautiful an institution, where the inhabitants might increase their knowledge and find rational amusement.
The building served Tinsley well for about 90 years – the image above shows the library looking splendid, after cleaning in 1970. There was the occasional scare along the way: for example, the library service was almost closed in 1918.
Councillor Appleyard said there had been a very serious depletion in staff. Seventeen were serving with the colours, two had been killed, and three discharged. It was quite impossible carry on as in the past. The recommendation was that, two of the least important should be closed for a period, and that decision was only arrived at after very mature consideration. Councillor Tummon proposed and Councillor Holmshaw seconded an amendment that so much the minutes as referred to the closing of the Park and Tinsley Branch Libraries be not confirmed, and this amendment was carried by a large majority. (Sheffield Evening Telegraph, 12 June 1918)
Tinsley’s own librarian at the time, Mr Burton, was one of those ‘serving with the colours’:
Among the wounded is Sergeant A. Burton, of 98, Greasborough Road, Tinsley. He is in the KOYLI, and writes from Chichester Hospital that he is doing well. Prior to the war he was the librarian at Tinsley Branch Library. (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 13 July 1916)
From 1912. Tinsley’s librarian, Mr Burton, is third from right, back row. In the centre of the back row is John Luther Winkley, who almost lost Tinsley its Carnegie money.
In 1984 the Carnegie library was finally closed and the service moved to two shop units in the nearby precinct. Since 2016, because of cuts, the library has been run, as a volunteer service, from Tinsley Forum. After the books moved out, the Carnegie building was converted for the early years ‘Roundabout Centre’, but this too was closed.
Since then, Holmes and Watson’s graceful building has stood empty, much to local regret.
Tinsley Carnegie Library 2018
Sheffield City Archives and Sheffield Libraries
Roger Harper: The Sheffield Society of Architects, 1887-1987; Centenary: The First Hundred Years of the Sheffield Society of Architects; and Timeline of Sheffield Architects 1800-1965
Julian Holder: ‘A race of native architects’, the architects of Sheffield and S Yorkshire, 1880-1940 (thesis, University of Sheffield, 2005)
Stephen Welsh: Biographical notes and a list of principal works of a firm of architects and surveyors founded by Samuel Furness Holmes in 1845 until the death of his grandson Edward Marshall Holmes in 1929.
All the plans, books and notes mentioned may be consulted in the Sheffield Local Studies Library.
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. The Sheffield Independent later reported that:
It was stated by some that he had made his money by sweating his employees. (9 June 1905)
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, and it seems unlikely that Andrew Carnegie was ever aware of the opposition to him.
That John Luther Winkley objected to Carnegie the capitalist seems born out by two newspaper reports. First the Sheffield Independent of 11 July 1904, reporting on the laying of the foundation stone by Sir William Holland MP, recorded Sir William’s speech:
[The library] would not have been possible had it not been for the splendid generosity of Mr. Andrew Carnegie. (Cheers.) Mr. Carnegie was a very rich man, as they knew, but he was also a man who recognised the responsibility which wealth carried with it, and the wealth that he had he had put, as they were all prepared to testify, to nobler uses than if it were spent on selfish pleasure or on enervating luxury or pompous display and show. … The work carried on in that particular neighbourhood must be one which would naturally appeal to Mr. Carnegie, because it was out of the iron and steel trade he himself had made his vast fortune, and he (Sir William) imagined that with Mr Carnegie’s intimate knowledge of that trade hardly anybody would know better than he how delightful a recreation reading would be to a man who had spent an arduous day amid the dust and din of the foundry and forge. (Hear, hear.)
(One feels that Mr Winkley perhaps had a better understanding of the effect of a day spent working in a foundry than Sir William.)
The second article is the Sheffield Telegraph’s about the official opening of the library in June 1905. As he opened the door with a special silver key, Thomas Wilkinson, the managing director of Wm Cook & Co, said:
Scornful words had been said about Mr Carnegie. He did not believe that Mr Carnegie had got his money by ‘sweating’ working men. He felt certain that as a working lad he had derived great value from reading books and, knowing that they were the best friends a man could have, he was giving out of his wealth such institutions as the one in which they were interested, for the benefit of others…(Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 9 June 1905)
This must be a dig or even a rebuke to Mr Winkley, and there is an irony in the next words of the Telegraph:
On the motion of Mr Winkley, seconded by Mr J Marriott, a vote of thanks was given to Mr Wilkinson.
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.