In the middle of the 20th century, Sheffield readers got their books from the public library, bookshops and ‘circulating libraries’. These last were private libraries lending books for a small fee or subscription. In Sheffield, they included: Boots the Chemist’s Booklovers’ Library, the local Red Circle and small libraries run out of shops such as newsagents.
Between 1934 and 1935, there was the private Novel Library at 36-38 High Street, on the corner with Mulberry Street and just a few doors away from Walsh’s department store, a Sheffield institution. On a Sunday morning in September 1935, the Novel Library had two unusual visitors. Here is how the Sheffield Daily Independent breathlessly reported the story:
Cattle Amok in City: Windows Shattered: Girls in Terror; havoc in a Sheffield Library.
A bullock and a heifer, which dashed into a library in the centre of Sheffield yesterday, created havoc, smashed large windows, and terrified two girl assistants.
The two beasts – Hector and Harriet – and two other cattle from a farm in Well lane, Sheffield, were being driven down Norfolk street on their way to the Sheffield Abbatoir about 10.30 yesterday morning when, it is understood, the rustling of some paper on the road scared them.
The four beasts made a mad dash, followed by their drover.
Two of them continued straight down Norfolk street, but the others, Hector and Harriet, turned along Mulberry street into High street.
Scattering people on their way to church, they turned up High street, where Harriet noticed the open door of the “Novel” library.
Their entry into the library scared the two young assistants in charge and caused both of them to make a rush for their lives.
One ran out into the street and the other made her escape into the cellar below the shop.
Smashed to Atoms
One of the cattle became wedged between a bookshelf and the plate-glass window and the other – Harriet – suddenly ran wild.
As she turned round, she smashed a side window to atoms. She then dashed into the opposite side of the front window to that in which the bullock was stuck, and kicking about frantically smashed it all along the side and finally took a header through it into the High Street.
Meanwhile the drover, who had recovered his other two beasts, together with the police, and a large number of other people, had arrived on the scene. They caught Harriet, who was still charging about wildly, and then led the bullock docilely out of the window into the street.
A flock of sheep following the four cattle to the abbatoir seemed entirely unperturbed at the wild dash of their four companions.
Miss Kathleen Connolly, of  Windmill street, Sheffield, one of the two assistants who were in the “Novel” library at the time, told a “Daily Independent” reporter of her dash for safety.
“I was seated at the ticket table at the far end of the library facing the open door when I thought I heard a customer enter,” she said. “I looked up and saw in my horror that the bullock was making straight for me.
“It was then only about a yard away. I leapt for the entrance to the basement and ran down the stairs. Then I heard the animals dashing about the library and the smashing of the windows. I thought I should never get out alive.”
Miss H. Vallans, of  Oak street, Sheffield, her colleague, said, “I had just opened the door wide a few minutes before they entered. I was at the counter just by the door and after I saw them dash past me I ran as fast as I could into the street.
“It is a wonder I was not killed by them, for had they come just a few minutes sooner they would have caught me in the window fixing books on the shelves.”
She pointed to the portion of the window that was then just a [mass] of shattered glass. “I was in that window only a short time before they dashed in,” she said.
The bullock was “unwedged” from the window in which he was stuck without causing any damage.
The shop was in complete disorder after the beasts had [got] away. Books lay strewn on all parts of the floor. Neither of the animals was much the worse for its escapade.
We have not been able to find out much about the Novel Library. It does not appear in local trade directories after 1935, so perhaps the ‘bullocks in the bookshop’ episode sent it out of business.
If you have heard of the Novel Library, please let us know.