Wynne

Wynne 

Wynne was born in April 1919 and lived in the Ecclesall Rd area all her life.

Wynne is being interviewed by Jan Chatterton with the participation of Wynne’s niece, Diane H, born in 1947, and who lived first just off the Ecclesall Rd and then moved to Handsworth in the early 1950s.

Wynne’s niece, Joan C, was also interviewed by us. Read the summary of Joan’s  interview here.

Jan Chatterton: It is October 18th 2011. I am interviewing Wynne. She was born in Ecclesall in April 1919 and lived in the Ecclesall area of Sheffield between 1945 and 1965 and indeed now today.

Did anyone read to you when you were young? Do you remember?

Wynne: No.

Jan Chatterton: Did you know that they didn’t or can you not remember?

Wynne: I can’t remember anyone reading to me.

JC: Okay. Do you remember your first experience of a book? How old you were when you first became aware that there were books?

WW: No, I can’t really.

JC: How old were you when you went to school?

WW: Five.

JC: Five, so did they start to teach you to read, do you imagine?

WW: I think they probably did.

JC: It would be after the First World War, wouldn’t it?

WW: Yes.

JC: In the ‘20s. Do you remember enjoying books at that stage?

WW: I can’t really remember anything about reading myself but we must have read at school.

JC: What was the first time you thought, ‘Oh, I like doing this.’

WW: [laughs]

JC: But you’ve always read.

WW: I’ve read in later years but I can’t remember when I first started to enjoy reading.

JC: Do you remember reading when you were first married?

WW: I think probably only the magazines that used to come through … well, the magazines that seemed to be going around, Woman’s Own, The People’s Friend and all those.

JC: What was that like?

WW: Well, I used to enjoy those. I think probably it might have been a case of enjoying that more because they were short stories, not a full story or book.

JC: Was there a particular magazine you used to like?

WW: I used to enjoy People’s Friend.

JC: Can you remember why, what in particular?

WW: Probably because of the type of story.

JC: Is it still published today?

WW: I think it is, yes.

JC: Was this as a young married woman?

WW: And I’m not quite sure but there might have been stories connected with Scotland. I’m very fond of Scotland and I think that that was one of the reasons …

JC: Had you been to Scotland then, or was it the reading that interested you?

WW: I didn’t go to Scotland until after I was married – 1960-something.

JC: Can you remember owning a book? Can you remember buying a book?

WW: No, I can’t even remember me going to the library but I know I used to take the children to borrow books.

JC: Was that locally?

WW: It was the bottom of Mill Lane, [prompted] Ecclesall. It was a big house they used to have. Well the people who used to have it left so they made it into a library. [Weetwood House became Ecclesall Library.]

JC: Was this after the Second World War?

WW: Well, I’ve no idea when it actually opened but I used to take the children.

JC: How old would they be?

WW: Probably when they got to be able to read. Because both Joan and Anne loved reading, wanted to read all the time.

JC: So they both loved books? Did that make you want to read more?

WW: I don’t think I ever thought of it. Really, thinking about it, I probably did read books we got from the library to them, yes, but I can’t remember doing it. [laughs]

JC: And you still love books.

WW: Oh yes. All kinds of books.

JC: When do you read?

WW: When I go to bed.

JC: What kinds of things do you read?

WW: Historical ones. I have even got on to Jeffrey Archer books. I never thought I would read his. [laughs] Sidney Sheldon, yes. So, you know when I was at school and I took the 11+ and I passed in everything, oh, not the 11+, the Merit Certificate you took your last term of school when you were 14 and I passed in every subject apart from for history. And I hated history, but since reading some of these books which are historical so there [is] a bit of truth in a lot [of] them, I have really enjoyed them and enjoyed historical things more.

JC: Is there a particular period you like?

WW: No, no.

JC: Have you read anything about Scottish history?

WW: Some of it comes in some of these books.

JC: Do you think – you mentioned before that your son didn’t particularly want to read like the girls wanted to read – do you think that there was a difference between the sorts of things that girls read and boys?

WW: I don’t know. I think that Richard was more for enjoying outdoor life, going out with the lads and … I can’t ever remember him picking a book up and reading.

JC: But the girls did.

WW: Yes.

JC: And did you ever have to consciously encourage them to do that or did they just want to do that.

WW: Oh they wanted to do it, yes.

JC: And do you think that helped them in school, the fact that they were reading at home?

WW: I think it probably did. I suppose it depends on what kind of books they read which I can’t remember what kind they really did enjoy.

JC: Do you remember when you were growing up, anyone saying, ‘You’re wasting your time reading’.

WW: Maybe my sister. Well, of course, she was so clever, you know, and probably I was just an ordinary schoolgirl but no I can’t ever remember her ever saying get cracking and do something.

JC: Did she like reading?

WW: She liked anything connected with school.

JC: Can you remember when you had got the children small after the war, did you find time to read, the magazines?

WW: I think I was reading the magazines even then.

JC: Can you remember when you started to read a book as such?

WW: No.

JC: I was wondering whether books became more available through the library.

WW: I don’t know when I started to read all these. It might have been my daughters who eventually said, ’We’ve been reading a book, you might enjoy it. We’ll give it you and if you like it fair enough and if you don’t, don’t bother’.

JC: Are there particular kinds of books that they pass on to you?

WW: Oh, all these historical ones and all these others. It was my elder daughter who said about the Jeffrey Archer one in the first place. She said, ‘I’ll give it you. You might read it, you might not. You’ll know when you begin it’ …

JC: … whether you like it or not. Were you ever made to feel embarrassed about reading?

WW: No, no.

JC: Did the girls experience that at all?

WW: No. My husband loved reading. Oh yes definitely, he’d get a book, you’d talk to him and he wouldn’t hear you [laughs].

JC: What sort of books did he read?

WW: Probably about the sea and things like that. I think he liked historical ones as well. Mostly about – there was one author I can remember him reading and it was about the sea. Because he originated from Newcastle so he was near the sea.

JC: So it was what he knew. Are there books that you read when you were younger that you wouldn’t dream of reading now? Have your interests changed?

WW: No, I can’t even remember a lot about what kind of books I used to read. It was mostly the magazines.

JC: And were they mainly short stories or was there a serial?

WW: Yes, there was a serial, yes, generally.

JC: What sort of things were there in, were they all romance? Did the People’s Friend feel different from reading Woman’s Own or Woman’s Weekly?

WW: Yes, I thought so. Woman’s Own: those were very interesting and then again there were more adverts.

JC: So, did the People’s Friend feel more like proper stories?

WW: Yes.

JC: That’s really interesting, and do you still read those kinds of stories?

WW: No, I don’t read them now. I used to read the magazines over my meals which was naughty. [laughs]

JC: Was this when the children were little? Was that the time?

WW: Maybe, yes.

JC: So, you’d be busy. With three children. Do any of the classic authors mean anything to you? Can you remember at school at all, ‘We’re going to read Dickens’ or anything like that?

WW: I don’t think I was keen about the classics as the other types. I can’t remember, no I can remember probably the name of them, but I can’t remember reading them: Little Women, Old Curiosity Shop and all those.

JC: Do you know nowadays, you obviously know their names, do you think that’s from the television or do you think you did perhaps learn about them at school?

WW: It might have been that I just wasn’t interested that I perhaps just ignored them.

JC: Yes. But I’m really interested in how your reading interests changed because now you’re reading historical novels.

WW: Yes.

JC: Can you remember when you started doing that. Do you think it might have been when the children were growing up?

JC: No, it was more or less recent.

JC: Can you remember, ten years or …?

WW: Oh no Maybe. I mean time just flies, you forget, don’t you?

JC: Absolutely. Are there, now or then any authors who you think, ‘Oh, I’ll never read them’. [pause] Have you read biographies?

WW: I think I might have read, but I couldn’t recollect who it was.

JC: Can you try to explain to me about the historical novels? Do you remember any of the titles of any of those? Did you read Jean Plaidy, Antonia Fraser?

WW: I think I used to read those, but I’ve not read any of those for a long while. I think maybe I used to read those when I first started reading but I’ve no idea what any of them are about now.

JC: Did it make you want to find out more about that period of history?

WW: Probably because I didn’t like history and each book was about a different period that made me more interested in all those years.

JC: Did you go on to read any more serious books about history at that stage? Did you want to know, is this right?

WW: [both laugh] I don’t think so.

JC: Did you read any of the fiction about the two princes in the Tower?

WW: Yes, many, many years ago probably.

JC: I know there have been different  …

WW: … versions

JC: … yes, versions of it.

WW: Yes, I think I did once but I can’t remember any of it, quite a while ago

JC: People have made a lot of money wondering, ‘Did Richard III … ?’ [WW laughs] I was just wondering …

WW: I like Robin Hood on television. I am interested in Merlin now.

JC: So you do you think that television has replaced the kind of interest we used to get from books? Has television become the main source of entertainment?

WW: Oh I think so, yes. Yes, it’s television’s all right but it seems to have taken over with the children. Sit them in a chair and put in front of the television. I don’t agree with a lot of that. I mean I know you say, ‘You can’t stop progress,’ but a lot of it’s not for the good.

JC: What do you think reading gives you that television doesn’t?

WW: the only difference is that it sinks more, sinks more in my mind. The only problem is that after a while I forget even it. But I can’t do anything about that. [laughs]

JC: That’s the problem with us getting older – frustrating.

WW: Yes. [laughs]

JC: If we can talk a little bit about where you got books from. You mentioned the library down at the bottom. We’ve got Diane H with us as well who knows a little bit from her mum about the travelling libraries. So first Diane could come a bit nearer and perhaps she can talk to us about what she knows about that.

Diane: Well, I can remember living in Rustlings Rd area when I was a little girl, and that is also in the Ecclesall Rd area and going to a man’s house and I think he was called Mr Smith and in one back room there was a treasure trove of books and I could pick three books as a young child and my mother picked three books and she also picked three books for her husband, my father. And the fascinating thing was – I can’t remember money changing hands but we had a little code written in the front of the books and our code was 33 S, which I learned later was 33 Stainton Rd.  But those three books were so important to me. We could have the books for a fortnight and then when the fortnight was over, obviously, we went back to change the books.

JC: So it wasn’t a free library?

Diane: My mother must have paid but it was really well visited because we sometimes had to stand in a queue before we got to the living room, taking the old books back and pick up the new and sometime there were queues of people outside the front door so it must have been a popular venue and a source of books.

JC: And this was in the 1950s?

DH: Yes, and this would be about 1951 because in 1952 we moved across the city to Handsworth. But the son of this Mr Smith used to come in a little van which I can picture now, and he used to come and open his back doors so we could choose our books again, and we still kept our 33S which I thought was strange. But that obviously took off in our little neighbourhood and my mother’s neighbours used to borrow these books.

JC: If you had the same code, did that mean they were collected in different areas with each other?

DH: I don’t think so. I think it was that you could look inside the book and check very quickly whether you had had it before. Obviously you didn’t have a record of what you had read. So you could look down and if you saw 33S you’d know that you had read it. And he stocked all the Enid Blyton books and things like that. I think that was why it was so popular in the ‘50s so we had that for about ten years so we didn’t go to another library apart from school.

JC: This was existing alongside another library but for some reason your mum felt it was a better option.

DH: Other than going to the Central Library. As soon as I was eight, I was allowed to catch a bus into town and go to the Central Library which I thought was wonderful, just to have a thousand books rather than perhaps fifty to choose from. But I think that it was significant, the Central Library in Sheffield. I know a lot of people went to that rather than a local library.

JC: Thank you Diane. I am just going to have a look down here and mention to you some names about historical novels. Did you read Georgette Heyer? Did you read them?

WW: I have done, but not recently

JC: We mentioned Jean Plaidy that you had. Baroness Orczy? Anya Seton?..

WW: Joan can reel them off like …

JC: Did you ever read or not read any books that you thought were shocking?

WW: I never used to but I’ve come to accept the world as it is today. In my younger days things that happened now were things that were considered shocking. I am not saying that things didn’t happen but they weren’t broadcast.

JC: Do you remember, for instance, the D H Lawrence trial when they wanted to publish Lady Chatterley’s Lover?

WW: I never remember anything about it but I remembered it was talked about.

JC: Did that make you want to read it or not want to read it?

WW: Never bothered me. [laughs]

JC: Did you ever read any books set in America or Europe? Were they mainly set in England?

WW: Australia. I had relatives in Australia.

JC: Right.

WW: Yes, and I know that Joan got these books, a series, so many books, and it was about Australia when they used to ship the people from England if they had done any wrong. Where was the place? I was quite interested in that series because my auntie lived in Sydney where …

JC: Botany Bay?

WW: That’s not the name I’m thinking of. What did they call the people they sent?

JC: Early days it was convicts, wasn’t it?

WW: I knew they used to send them to a place quite near where my auntie used to live.

JC: So were they set in the towns in Australia or the outback?

WW: In the towns where they lived.

JC: Were the books set in the towns?

WW: Yes, you heard a bit about the area where they lived.

JC: And were they set at the same time that the convicts were sent there?

WW:  I’ve no idea. I think they were just books that told you what actually happened at that time.

JC: And Joan had read them and passed them on to you. So do you feel that your daughters have influenced your reading?

WW: Oh yes, certainly Joan because Joan’s generally the one who’s had books. She brought a pile last week and passed them round. We pass them round you know.  They are all piled up in the little bedroom and Joan comes: ‘We’ve read that Mum,’ and ‘We’ve read that, Mum.’

JC: Do you have more than one book on the go?

WW: No, I just stick to one.

JC: You stick to one. Have there been books that you not finished?

WW: Yes, one that Joan says, ‘Well, try and pick it up, Mum’ but at the moment it’s upstairs.

JC: Can you remember what it’s called?

WW: No, I can’t, but funnily enough at the moment I am reading an unusual one about the children in the workhouse, when they were younger, you know and it was terrible really how they were treated in this workhouse. I think there must be some truth in this story.

JC:  … and is that set in Sheffield or somewhere else?

WW: No, I’ve forgotten, but there were workhouses all over weren’t there?

JC: Yes, unfortunately. Is there anything else that you want to say?

WW: No, I don’t think so except that I can help because I think it’s good that … It’s like when I was telling you, I don’t know whether you want to now this. We got a little pamphlet, only a small book, telling about Ecclesall, and the person who was doing it lived in Knowle Lane and he put at the bottom of it, ‘Could anyone who knew anything interesting to give him a ring’ and I ummed and ahhed a bit and then thought. ‘Well if I ring he can come to see me’, and he did and he was quite interested really. I could tell him that I lived in the cottage opposite the old Wheatsheaf and I could remember when this new building, which was added, was just a little tin hut when they were building the new one.  And the fun thing about it was I did mention, when they were building this place, my brother who was three years older than me used to go with lads down there and he said, ‘No, you can’t. There are rats there.’ And I didn’t want to go where there were rats and he put it in the book. [laughs]

JC: So your story is in print. How did that feel?

WW: Well, I wasn’t bothered.

JC: But interesting that people have got to create their own books about an area.

WW: Yes. He also said she was born in this area and she’s not gone very far – she’s gone into the road.

JC: So anyone who wants to find out about Ecclesall …

WW: Yes.

JC: Where’s the nearest library to you now?

WW: It’s just at Ecclesall Terminus.

JC: Do you go down there now?

WW: No, no.

JC: Do you ever ask them to buy particular novels for you?

WW: No, I always ask my daughter to do that. She always picks my Christmas list and birthday list and it’s passed round.

JC: She sorts it for you and she’s obviously got similar tastes to you?

WW: Yes.

JC: And does your daughter Anne have different tastes?

WW: No, more or less we have the same, apart from Anne, I can’t think of the author, there’s one book and she says, ‘I don’t read hers’ but Joan and I love them and Anne says, ‘Oh, I can’t read hers,’ and I can’t think of who it is.

JC: And that is a historical writer, a writer of historical fiction?

WW: I have a feeling it is about an area near where Joan lives.

JC: So they mean something to her?

WW: I think there are about fifteen or sixteen books in fact I ‘m not sure whether there isn’t one coming out so she’s got one on her Christmas list.

JC: Where does she live?

WW: Wetherby.

JC: It might be set there.

WW: Yes.

JC: Do you ever read crime thrillers?

WW: Yes. I don’t know but I started to read them. I think I was more interested in the love stories at one time.

JC: Did you ever read Agatha Christie?

WW: I don’t think I’ve ever read her, no. I used to watch it on telly.

JC: When you dabbled with crime fiction was it modern authors?

WW: I’m no good at the authors.

JC: Is there anything else you want to say about what part reading plays and has played in your or your daughters’ lives?

WW: Oh I always say I’d hate to go blind and can’t read.

JC: Thank you, thank you.

[end of first stage of interview]

JC: Resuming interview, just to ask you, Wynne, what you have just been talking to me about China.

WW: I can’t remember the years when it happened but when I read it , I said, ‘but this was in my life time and I don’t remember a thing about that happening – this book just astounded me.

JC: And this was the Wild Swans?

WW: Yes.

JC: So it was about Chairman Mao?

WW: Is that the Chinese communist? I still think about it, that book.

JC: And about India?

WW: Yes, I enjoyed reading about other countries, how they live and what their situations are and everything.

JC: And you were saying before that, perhaps things changed when perhaps people were travelling in the sixties?

WW: It could have been. You get more vision when you’ve heard about things and where people have been. I mean, such a lot has happened in my life time.

JC: You were saying you were going to reread the books about India.

WW: Yes, I am going to ask Anne not to pass them back to Joan.

JC: Several books.

WW: Yes, there are quite a lot.

JC: Was that about the British Raj in India, that period?

WW: It must have been something like but it is quite a long time since I read them; that is why I would like to reread them because I remember they were very interesting.

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Mary Robertson’s Reading Journey

Off to Brid in 1927

Mary was born in 1923. She has lived all her life in the suburbs to the west of Sheffield, far from the smoke of the factories in the east side of the city where her father worked as an industrial chemist. There were books in the house and it was her sister who read them to her before she could read herself.

Mother seemed to be too busy. Father would read after Sunday lunch until he fell asleep but my sister was the one who read to me. She was two and half years older and she would always read to me when I was little.

And this was despite being taunted by the tiny Mary when she was reading. ‘Reader reader!’ was the insult hurled to drag her sister back into her world to pay her some attention. She left her brother alone with his Beanos. Though reading was encouraged, the chores came first. Then the girls could retreat to their bedroom where Mary’s sister read to her.

Mary and her sister on Bridlington sands in 1927. Mary on the right.

Bedtime was reading-time for ‘the children’s books of the day’. First there were nursery rhyme books followed by Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan and the stories of Mabel Lucie Attwell. As a school girl she treasured What Katy Did and the Girl’s Own annuals she was given at Christmas. None of these books was borrowed. All came into the house as gifts because the children were not taken to the library and were certainly not allowed to go on their own: ‘we weren’t allowed out of the end of the road you know’. But the family nevertheless encouraged reading. ‘Oh yes that was our main means of entertainment. Going to the cinema and reading’.

On Sunday we always had the roast lunch, Sunday lunch time and the fire would be [lit] … they were biggish houses down on Westwood Road. And we always read after Sunday lunch. We had lots of armchairs and that is where we always read. Mother, my sister and I – I don’t think my brother did.

One Christmas Mary’s father bought his two daughters the complete Encyclopaedia Britannica, about 12 volumes.’That was our greatest source of delight. We learnt everything we knew.’ When Mary took her first independent steps to find books, it was on behalf of her mother. In 1939, having just left school, Mary was living at home and waiting to be called up.

So I used to go to the library for mother and she liked Mary Burchell, Ethel M Dell. And I used to go to the local Red Circle library … and I’d get some books for her when you paid tuppence a time to join and I would read very light romances. I always felt guilty because, you know, you didn’t read those kind of things then.

When an Ethel M Dell got a little ‘spicy’, Mary would read it hidden under the bedclothes by the light of her torch. Later on Forever Amber and Gone with the Wind would also be read by torchlight.

Mary went to a fee-paying convent school. The nuns were interested in poetry, ‘gentle things’. ‘Poetry was the great thing. Poetry, singing, music.’ So like the children at Sheffield’s elementary schools, Mary and her contemporaries learned a lot of poetry off by heart. But not much else. ‘They were the happiest years of my life but I didn’t learn much! But that’s me, a lot of them did’ so The Red Circle Library on the Moor was the institution from which she ‘graduated’ –  to the Central Library which was to become her ‘greatest delight’. Until she couldn’t walk, Mary went there every fortnight: ‘I loved it’.

Mary looks back in amusement at the thrills she and her mother got from the romantic novels of Ethel M Dell and E M Hull. ‘They got as far as the bedroom door, “and then the door closed”, and that was it.’ She also enjoyed the cowboy books of Zane Grey. ‘It was war days, very dull days and you escaped, as you do now. You escape into another world when you read.’

But her choices from the Central Library were more serious and ‘gritty’: Nevil Shute, Alan Sillitoe, A J Cronin, Howard Spring, H E Bates and John Braine. The novel by H E Bates she remembers is The Purple Plain, describing the survival of three men in Japanese-occupied Burma. Though Bates is more usually associated with his rural novels about the rollicking Larkin family, Mary preferred the ‘stronger’ war novel to the more ‘frivoty’ Darling Buds of May. She also became a serious reader of historical novels. She and her sister shared a taste for Anya Seton. ‘I realised that I liked history far more than I ever did when I was at school.’ When Sue, the history teacher who was interviewing Mary, commented that this didn’t say much for the teachers who taught her, Mary acknowledged this but defends them.

Nuns, you know – bless ‘em, they were lovely, it was a lovely school but I don’t think I learnt a lot. As I say, the war was coming up and it was a very bad time. I left in 1939 as the war started and it broke into anything you were going to do.

Mary was called to serve in the NAAFI shop in a detention camp ‘for the fliers who had flipped their tops a bit with their terrible job. And they were sent to us for three weeks and they used to pile into my shop. Quite an exciting time’, so there was not much reading.

When Mary became a mother, she was on her own with her first baby because her husband was away a lot. It was difficult to travel down to the Central Library with the baby so, in the early 1950s, Mary returned to using a twopenny library in a newsagent’s shop at the bottom of her road. Both this and another she used were simply a couple of shelves full of novels but the stock must have changed regularly because she always found something to read in the evenings when she had ‘got the baby down’.

She was quite discriminating about the degrees of seriousness she would go for. She was absorbed by Jack London’s White Fang and The Call of the Wild but was never attracted to adventure books. Though John Braine was depressing ,his books were well written. She never developed a taste for ‘Galsworthy – the heavier ones’. She definitely ruled out ‘these great novels where it starts with, “She’s the kitchen maid, terrible hard life…” You know very well she is going to marry the Lord of the Manor!’

While Mary is enthusiastic about the authors she loves, like P G Wodehouse, she is absolute in her condemnations too.

I did not [with emphasis] like American books. I still don’t. I think it is the language. . . .  It’s not so much the swearing, it’s the style.

Mary shared a love of reading with her husband but when the children were small, it was the cinema that was the greatest treat. It was a pleasure they shared but not in each other’s company.

Well when we lived down Carter Knowle Road, I mustn’t keep you but when Andrew was a baby I would get him washed or whatever and then run all the way to the Abbeydale and watch the first house and run all the way back and then David would have got Andrew to bed and then he would go to the second house.

File:Abbeydale Cinema - Abbeydale Road 26-03-06.jpg

Mary is clearly open to any suggestion about what she might read. She described the taste that her husband had for Dickens and asked Sue whether or not we had found that Dickens is more of a man’s book.

Sue: I do like Dickens. He is my favourite.

Mary: Do you really? I should have given him a go, shouldn’t I? Given him a go. I think it is a bit too late now.

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