Betty Newman

Betty Newman

Betty was born on the 9th September 1935.

She is being interviewed by Ros Witten.

 

[At Betty’s request, she and Mary Grover have amended a few details in this transcript for clarification.]

Ros Witten: This is an interview conducted by …  can you tell me your name?

Betty Newman: Betty Newman.

RW: Can you spell that please?

BN: B E T T Y N E W M A N

RW: And today’s date is Thursday the 13th October. [2012]

RW: And you were born … ?

BN:  1935.

RW: What was the month?

BN:  September.

RW: September the …

BN:  20th.

RW: And you lived in which area of Sheffield?

BN:  My home was at Norton Lees but I spent an awful lot of time at Darnall.

RW: Right, so between 1945 and ‘65 would it have been Norton Lees?

BN:  Oh, well …

RW: Both?

BN: Both. My mother was always ill. I can never remember my mother not being ill and I spent an awful lot of time during the war particularly at my Grandmother’s because father was away. So that was where I went and I did a lot of my young schooling at Whitby Road School [as well as at Norton Lees]. But then mum died when I was 13. I was at grammar school by then. Mum being ill had a great influence on my life generally.

RW:  Oh I see, right. So did she read to you? Did anyone else read to you?

BN: I can’t remember who taught me to read but I could read a long time before I went to school. I fished this out actually. [Betty shows interviewer a novel called A Peep Behind the Scenes by Mrs Walton published by The Religious Tract Society]. I’m quite amazed but it’s true that I could read that before I went to school.

RW: That’s very impressive isn’t it?

BN: Not that particular copy, but that was my Grandma’s, and I didn’t help to clear her house out so I don’t know what happened to her copy. But I bought that in a junk shop some time afterwards. That was the first book I ever read.

RW: This was a story was it?

BN: It was a story about, a Bible story [inspired by the parable of the Good Shepherd].

BN: My Grandmother’s had been a school prize. It had a bookplate for a school prize in her copy. But that was the first book I ever read.

RW: What kinds of books were you reading?

BN: My Grandma had a lot of bound copies of the Strand magazine. I used to read Sherlock Holmes in those. And when I went to school I could read. I was floundering because I could read. I think if it had been now it would be a bean bag, but then it was a cushion. And when the other children were learning to read I sat on this cushion and read my own book. I can’t remember learning to read. It was something I always could.

RW: Yeah, something early on. So what other kind of books were you reading when you were young?

BN: I’ve written my notes down here actually. The first book, oh no, not the first book, that was A Peep Behind the Scenes and I read it many times. But at school one of the teachers in the infant school had Enid Blyton’s Book of the Year. I don’t know if you know that but it had a chapter or section for each month of the year. A poem, a play, some nature notes for each month. And we used to do the plays at school and I, I suppose I was a bit fortunate that my mum and my then teacher were friends and mum put her name down on a waiting list at a bookshop for one of these books because you had to put your name down and wait. So Enid Blyton’s Book of the Year influenced me a great deal and Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book did. Later it came out in four paperbacks. And that’s how I taught my own children nature.

RW: So this was in primary school?

BN: Oh, yes, infant school.

RW: You were quite young. And then when moving on to when you were a bit older, what were the first books that made you feel like you were reading a grown up adult book?

BN: I always had done you see, because I always read these and I’d always read Sherlock Holmes. I don’t know what, I can’t remember actually. But I like Milly Molly Mandy and I really went back and I like Milly Molly Mandy books.

RW: So I suppose in a way if you were reading the adult books, things like Strand magazine and Sherlock Holmes they were the ones that were adult even though you were young.

BN: Yes, even when I was very tiny I was reading adult books. And somebody gave me a set of Dickens but they were like potted versions of Dickens and I read those when I was young. And then I went on later to read Dickens and I’ve read all the Dickens ever written I think.

RW: So when you were a teenager, when you were at grammar school, maybe 14/15. What were you reading then that made a big impression?

BN: Oh, nothing, not very much.

RW: Nothing you can think of.

BN: I mean we had enough to do, set books, at grammar school.

RW: Yes.

BN: And then we discovered Women’s Own and women’s things and we were reading agony columns and things. And you suddenly go off the reading bits then. And I had comics, I was given comics and we used to swap them. But my mother used to read poetry. She was in a wheelchair most of the time. And you know now you can buy pockets to go over chair arms to put books in? Well she had things like that over the wheelchair and she always had poetry books in there. So I’ve always read a lot of poetry, I still do read a lot of poetry. I can’t remember my father reading very much. I know he did read cowboy books and things but I don’t think he read a great deal. My father was a musician and we always had music and his relaxation was listening to music not reading I think.

RW: And the books that you had, were there books in the house?

BN: Oh yes, we always had books in the house. Oh, at junior school I had the potted versions of Dickens, and I had the Water Babies and Peter Pan. Somebody gave me, which I have still got, a first edition of Peter Pan. And it’s nothing like Peter Pan that you get on pantomimes, the original. So I read those at junior school, and then I say at grammar school I don’t remember reading very much independently. Except a book called Continuity Girl, and I can remember that. And I got it out of the school library and it was about a continuity girl in the film industry. And that was my short term ambition, I was going to be that. But then I say we had Woman, Woman’s Own, magazines. But those are the only two I can ever remember reading. It was all about make-up and agony columns and  … oh dear me!

RW: The books that you got hold of did you get them from the library or buy them second hand, or get them from friends or as presents?

BN: They were presents mostly, so a lot of them were second hand because during the war you couldn’t get books.

RW: What about the library? Did you go to the library?

BN: Oh yes, I was always in the library, but I can’t remember.

RW: You can’t remember much about what you borrowed. Would that be Darnall library then?

BN: Mm, no it was Attercliffe; there wasn’t a Darnall library.

RW: Oh no, Attercliffe, there wasn’t a Darnall, Darnall’s new.

BN: We used to go to the baths, it was the same trip, the baths and the library. Grandma had a neighbour who used to give me books but I can’t remember much about them.

RW: So you got a lot of encouragement at home to read, your grandparents and your mother.

BN: Yeah, and I always read a lot of poetry. My mum I think knew by heart every word of Tennyson.

RW: So nobody in your family would have made you feel reading was a waste of time?

BN: No, except strangely enough, father would never let us read in bed, because when I eventually got married, I said to my husband, “I want you to promise me two things, that I can read in bed and that I don’t have to eat cabbage”. [laughs] I do nearly all my reading in bed now.

RW: So that’s the main place you read at the moment. And when did you find time to read? You weren’t allowed to read in bed so would it have been after you’d done your homework?

BN: Yes, yeah, I used to read on the bus as well. I’ve always read on buses.

RW: And if your father wasn’t reading but listened to music would you be sitting listening to music and reading as well?

BN: Yes, it was always things we did together.

RW: He was listening to the radio and the gramophone.

BN: The gramophone mostly, well we did have a radio but it was the gramophone mostly.

RW: He bought his own records?

BN: He bought records. I used to be sent, every Saturday I used to go to Wilson Peck’s  to buy a record. Dad had all the catalogues.

RW: Were they expensive then? They must have been affordable.

BN: They were affordable. We weren’t rich but we weren’t on the breadline.

RW: Yeah, so you could afford a little treat.

BN: They used to be about 3/ 6 or something like that.

RW: Which didn’t seem too much?

BN: Well, we could afford them. And we had a new record nearly every week. Dad used to pick them out of the catalogue and let me go to buy them.

RW: That’s brilliant. Was that classical music?

BN: Oh mostly, yes. Purely was really. I remember being enamoured with Donald Peers singing ‘By a shady nook, By a babbling brook’. Father called it caterwauling [laughs]. I can remember. Imagine what he would say now to some of the stuff that goes on.

RW: So did you read the books that you had, you were talking about the magazines, would you say you were slightly guilty about reading those because they weren’t quite …

BN: Oh no I wasn’t guilty at the time. It was just a part of growing up. The agony columns must have been absolutely bland but they were … you know …

RW: They were quite interesting stuff when you’re young.

BN: Interesting stuff when you’re 14.

RW: Interesting when you’re trying to find out about stuff.

BN: They wouldn’t be interesting to 14 years now!

RW: Any books you read then that you think ‘oh I wouldn’t want to read that again’?

BN: Oh there’s one or two books, mm, I can’t really remember. When I was at school I was so busy reading everything else. Always history things, anything history I was reading. I went on to do history [laughs].

RW: Would you say, when you had to read a lot of texts they were a bit highbrow?

BN: Oh no!

RW: You liked them? You enjoyed them?

BN: Oh yes. The only thing I didn’t like at school, but I think it was the way it was taught, was Shakespeare. I do like it now. I have read most of the plays now. Not over and over but I have read them. And I was also busy reading the Bible, because I thought one should read the Bible. And I did read that in my teens. It’s like the Forth Bridge, I read it over and over again. I get to the end and start again. I read one chapter every night. [laughs]

RW: Would you have read any historical novels or anything like that?

BN: Oh no, I’ve never liked novels very much.

RW: Oh you’re not really a novel reader? Right.

BN: It had to be something, like this Continuity Girl. It had to be something that was tangible. I loved that book. I can see it now. I got that out of the school library. Something this is tangible, that is credible.

RW: Something realistic. But usually not fiction?

BN: Not fiction. I suppose Dickens was the nearest I got to fiction.

RW: Quite realistic fiction.

BN: I don’t think he really is fiction. [laughs]

RW: No, he was trying to fictionalise what was happening in the world.

BN: I went Tuesday night to see Claire Tomalin … I was a bit disappointed with it actually.

RW: Oh. And would you say that reading has changed your life in any way?

BN: Oh no.

RW: Just part of your life?

BN: Just part of my life. It’s always been part. At one time I worked in the university library. But I don’t think we read very much then. One thing, we had copies of Lady Chatterley before it was released. We all read that. [laughs] We read it when no one else had it.

RW: So was that like a guilty thing?

BN: No, it was just, you know, I was in my 20s – it was just the thing to do. Lady Chatterley was down in the stacks so we read it. I don’t think we knew it was there, really until all the court case, the hoohaa came up about it. But we all read that. And then when it was released, on general release, I went to buy it and they asked me if I was old enough. [laughs] I was a married lady by then, but they asked if I was old enough.

RW: What about if, mm, you said you read some of the Shakespeare plays, but would you say films influenced your reading much?

BN: No, I never liked films much; I’ve only ever really gone if someone else, I’ve never gone of my own volition, only if someone else has said let’s go. Or you know going out with lads, they always wanted to the cinema. But I don’t think I’ve ever been under my own steam. I think I’ve only seen about two films in the last 20 years. I’ve got a friend who goes two or three times a week and she used to say to me,”Oh let’s go and see that”. But then she says, “I’m not bringing you again because you either fall asleep or you wriggle”. Which I do, I sit and wriggle.

RW: Not something you’re interested in particularly. So is there anything else you want to tell me Betty? I mean we’ve covered quite a lot.

BN:  Well how far do you want to go up?

RW: Well you just come up with some things you want to say.

BN: When I was 22 I bought Thomas Armstrong’s The Crowthers of Bankdam. It really is fiction, but I bought it to read on a long journey. I’ve used up and spoilt, worn out some many copies. It’s my comfort read.

RW: Oh that’s your comfort read, that’s interesting. What was it called again?

BN: The Crowthers of Bankdam. It’s about a Yorkshire mill family with …

RW: What’s the author?

BN: Thomas Armstrong. And I’ve worn out so many copies, and I’m worrying now because the last two or three I’ve had have been from charity shops.

RW: Have the library got a copy do you know?

BN: Oh no, it’s one of the ones they throw away. It’s broken into about five pieces now, which is easier to read in bed actually because I can pick a section up.

RW: It’s in sections now.

BN: But I don’t read very much fiction at all. That is my one. That was from being 22. I read and have re-read Delderfield and I read his fiction as well.

RW: So that’s family saga type thing isn’t it.

BN: But I don’t read his historical novels, I read his other novels but I can’t be doing with them. Mostly I read biographies. I’ve at least three by the bed, or on the bed, and I read whichever one I’m in the mood for.

RW: It’s nice to have more than one going at the same time.

BN: Oh I’ve always got at least three books.

RW: Are you a library member now? Is that where you get your books from? And charity shops you mentioned.

BN: Yes I am. I also buy my books from a firm by the name ‘Postscript’. Some come from charity shops.

RW: And do you swap books with friends?

BN: No, no I don’t swap. I very rarely, I’ve only got one friend I lend to as well. My husband lent one of my books to somebody and I never got it back. I’ve only one friend I lend to. My very best friend lives in Blackburn, and if she comes over here, we never take books but we always start one and there’s one by the side of my spare bed now waiting for her to take back with her. I just read biographies.

RW: And you’ve got your history group, so you’re reading history with your history group perhaps?

BN: No, no.

RW: Oh, it’s an active history group?

BN: It’s a local history group, Newfield Green. And just generally do local history, not so much what’s under the ground there.

RW: Not the archaeology.

BN: No, in fact one of our members is an archaeologist.

RW: But more the social history?

BN: Yes, generally, what people do. And we do have speakers but we can’t afford speakers all the time so we take it in turns to do a …

RW:  … presentation yourselves?

BN: I tend to use a book that’s called Sheffield Rebels.

RW: Oh yes, it’s a newish one, I know the chap who wrote it actually; he would probably come and give you a talk actually.

BN: Who’s that?

RW: He’s written the book, about the rebels. David someone. He’s written the books about the rebels. He does walks around Sheffield.

BN: David Price.

RW: That’s it, David Price. He’s done some talks in the library for Off the Shelf. The Trouble Makers, that’s it. He has organised walks as well.

 

 

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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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