Bob and Carolyn W

Bob and Carolyn W

Carolyn was born on the 3rd February 1944 and Bob on the 3rd February 1940.

They are being interviewed by Trisha Cooper on the 19th February 2012.

TC: Would you object if I asked you for your dates of birth?

CW: 3/2/44.

TC: Okay, Carolyn’s is 3/2/44.  And Bob?

BW: 3/2/40.

TC: 3/2/40.  And may I ask you also where you were both born please?

CW: I was born in Sheffield in Nether Edge Hospital.

TC: Bob?

BW: I was born. [Pauses.] That’s difficult, isn’t it?  Wentworth Street, Sheffield.

TC: Wentworth Street.

BW: It doesn’t exist anymore.

TC: Oh, doesn’t it?  So, is that where you were living, where your parents were living?

BW: No.

TC: Okay.

BW: Parents living at Parson Cross.

TC: Oh, Parson Cross, okay.

CW: This is where your grandparents were?

BW: Grandparents lived at Wentworth Street.

TC: I see.  Where did you live, Carolyn?

CW: I lived in … well, we used to call it Walkley, but it was the lower part of Walkley.

TC: Fine.  And where were you living between 1945 and 1965?  You were at Walkley?

CW: I was at home, yes.  Do you want the address?

TC:  And you Bob?

BW: Parson Cross.

TC: No, no, I don’t need the address.  So Bob was living at Parson Cross and Carolyn was living at Walkley.  Lovely.  So, we’ve got that bit out of the way.

BW:  Well…

CW: We did get married.

BW: We got married in ’64.

TC:  You got married in ’64!

BW: So just going into that period.  And we lived in Dronfield.

CW: We lived in Dronfield for four years.

BW: For the last year.

TC: I see, and now you’re in Greenhill.  Okay, lovely.  Right, so, in terms of the reading, we’ll go back now and we’ll start to talk about your reading.  We’ll start with you, Carolyn, about the reading you did when you were young.  Did you … were you read to when you were young or do you … are your memories more that you started yourself?

CW: I don’t remember being read to, but I probably was because of the books I remember – sort of nursery rhyme books and there were things like that.  But the first books I remember reading myself were Enid Blyton.  Yeah, uh, all the … The Famous Five and all … all Enid Blyton books.  Yeah, but that’s what I remember, what I remember first.

TC: Were they your own books, or did you get them from the library, or were you lent them?

CW: I think probably from the library because I do remember my mum read a lot and we used to go to Walkley Library.  And, you know, I remember the sort of, you know, the children’s library there.  But I also did have a lot of books at home and I think I did have quite a few … When I was younger, I did have quite a few bought because you could get annuals, couldn’t you? that were old stories, not like the annuals are now.  There was … I remember sort of having an Enid Blyton annual and there was just, you know, a big one like the annuals but it was all old stories, not sort of the comic strip things and the quizzy things like they are now anyways.  But then, and I had all those … Later on, I don’t know what age it was, I read all the Little Women and all that sort of stuff.  I don’t know why I read those, but that was some sort of school influence.  I really don’t know.

TC: Which school did you go to?

CW: I went to Walkley County School,, primary.

TC: And then?

CW: And then the 11 Plus thing.  I went to Rowlinson.  Fortunately, the tram went from Meadowood all the way through town and everything, right to Meadowhead, so that was great.  I was there two years, and then of course they combined Greystones and Rowlinson.  The boys all went to Rowlinson’s and the girls went to King Ecgbert [School].  So I went to the third year in King Ecgbert.  And the next sort of group of books I remember reading is Biggles.  And I definitely got those from Walkley library, so that, whether that was the end of primary school or the beginning of secondary school, I don’t know because then you started more or less reading books you were, that you were doing at school, in sort of English Literature.  I don’t know, both … we didn’t get the same teachers.  Some of the teachers came with us to King Ecgbert, but not all of them.  And she didn’t come, the English Literature teacher we had for the first two years.  And she was great, she was.  And I think maybe then that’s when I started reading, as I say, more school sort of books.  I did end up going through all the ones girls were used to read in those days.  Like Jane Austen and Jane Eyre, all that sort of stuff.  And then I don’t remember much apart from the book you were doing that year at school.  I don’t remember reading … whether I started on comics then because I used to have School Friend.  And I think it was probably … it was the School Friend and the Girl’s Crystal, but it was the School Friend one I had every week and occasionally Girl’s Crystal.  And I think it was school books and comics for a while until … And then I think I started on Agatha Christie’s stuff after that.  That was the sort of book Mum read.  She read that and what was that … there was a jockey.  What was he called?

BW: Francis, Dick Francis.

CW: Dick Francis.  Mum used to read that sort of book.  So, I think that I did start on those sort of things then.  And it’s more or less carried on the same type, I think, but you just sort of change to different authors, you know.  As you say, when you come across one.  What made us try Alexander McCall [Smith] and stuff like that?

BW: Accident. You just pick a book out of the library and think, “Oh, that’s good.”  You probably read about it in the newspaper.

CW: As I seem to do, there just seem to be two or three authors who you just always went for those, and not very adventurous, I suppose.

TC: ‘Cos you obviously read … I mean you’ve got the Telegraph here, Arts and Books.  You read reviews, don’t you? or you get recommended by friends.  You say, “This is new out.”

CW: Yes, it’s not very often.  I mean, I’ve never even tried any of the Mills and Boon type stuff before.  I do read the reviews and things, of things like, I don’t know, Julie [sic – Jilly] Cooper and things like that, but I don’t, never want to read it.

TC: Just go back to when you were a bit younger and you said you tried the Agatha Christie because your mum was reading that.  I just wonder what were the first books that you read that made you feel that you were now reading grown-up ones, you were now reading adult ones.  Was that the Agatha Christie?

CW: I suppose it was, I suppose it was, yeah, because that’s what Mum read to me and she used to … She was getting on quite a bit when she went back to work, you see.  Of course, she didn’t work, because mums that didn’t have to … Well, she didn’t have to.  And she did, she went to help a friend out, so she did start work and she perhaps read it a little less.  But it was sort of probably the books mum read.  And I did read the serials in … Mum had Woman’s Weekly and they were never quite as, I don’t know, ‘Mills and Boon-y’ as other magazines, the serials in that.  I did read those as well.

TC: So you liked proper writing. You liked good literature.

CW: I did, yeah.

TC: You could tell the difference between, you know, the more popular side and the more quality writing, couldn’t you?

CW:  Well, I don’t know.  I suppose … I read them and I had no idea of the quality of the writing that was in those books.  I just never liked the ‘romance-y’ sort of stuff.  I did see … did read some … don’t remember the author’s name, but there was one sort of series, I think I read that my friend next door, she used to read a lot.  It was some sort of … It was an historical romance, but it wasn’t sort of raunchy or anything like that.  But I did … I can’t remember any authors or anything.

BW: You used to tell me your favourite was Nevil Shute.

TC: Oh!

CW: But that was because of Mum as well, you see.

TC: Nevil Shute, A Town Like Alice.

CW: Yes!  I did read those things that Christian … Yeah, there are some things that are similar to that, but those are more recently, isn’t it?

TC: So, your main influence was your mum, in terms of reading, it seems to me.  She encouraged you and she read to you, you read her books and she was the one who encouraged you, it seems.

CW: Yeah, we used to go to … Oh, I don’t know how long it’s been closed.  The bookshop in town, Andrews – it used to be in town.  We used to go there on a regular basis, all three of us.  Mum, Dad and I.  And they always, you know, they always used to … anything that you sort of, you know, that you wanted, we went there and got it.  And that was the other thing.  My dad was always into sort of encyclopaedias and things like that.  It’s not in here, it’s next door, isn’t it?

TC: And did you buy books, rather than …?

CW: They used to have books for presents, and when I was at school, if I needed a book for school at home, you know, because there would be some books where there weren’t enough for everybody to have one.  So that I could have it, they’d always buy me one so I could have it at home.  Yeah, and …

TC: So it was a treat, having a book.

CW:  Yes, yes, it was a treat!  And we were … We sometimes used to go into town just to go to Andrews, yeah, yeah.

TC: That was the main bookshop that you used to go to.  Did you go elsewhere?  Did you get books from newsagents or anything like that?

CW: No, no, it was always Andrews.  Yeah.

TC: Whereabouts was Andrews in town?

CW: It was … What’s there now..?

BW: It’s behind the City Hall, it was.

CW: It was at the back of City Hall.

BW: Between West Street and City Hall.

CW: You know the back entrance, the back entrance [TC: I do, I do.] of City Hall where [TC:  Where the stage door is.] the stage door is, yes, and just across there’s a very narrow road, isn’t there?

TC: By Leopold, there, just as you’re going to Leopold Street, or going to West Street.

BW: West Street.

CW: Going to West Street, so to the back of the City Hall.

TC: Yes!

[All three speaking simultaneously.]

CW: And just across there, just up … the City Hall’s here, isn’t it?

TC: Mmhmm.

CW: And just across there is a car park, isn’t there?

BW: It was there until the ’70s.

CW: And there’s a very narrow road there.  I have no idea what it is now.

BW: As a children’s bookshop, everybody went.

TC: And it was there, right in the city centre.  Andrews.  How interesting.

BW: All your textbooks you got from there.

CW: Was it textbooks on the bottom and all the others upstairs?

BW: Yes, all the storybooks.

CW: There was a downstairs and an upstairs.

BW: All your writing implements and everything.

CW: Yes, and stationery!

BW: Protractors and everything

CW: And all your stationery was there.

BW: That was before you could get them at supermarkets and so on.

TC: Oh, how interesting.  So, that was your main … So, you got your books from there, you knew the authors that you liked.  Did you ever discover any new ones or any books that made a particular impression on you that, you know, when you had your children you handed down to them or you recommended to them?

CW: Um, not really, not really.  They sort of seemed to make their own minds up about that, didn’t they?

BW: Oh, yeah.

CW: I suppose that it was the same … I think it was sort of, by then, it was sort of more modern.  Things were the same …Their adult reading is very similar because we share books.

TC: Ah.

CW: Even now.

TC: You say you got married in …

BW: ’64.

CW: ’64.

TC: ’64.  Did you carry on reading?

CW: Oh yeah.

TC: Were you working then?

CW: Yes.

TC: And how did your, you know, your reading … Was it useful to you in your profession?

CW: No, I don’t think so.

TC: But you carried on reading?

CW: Yeah, I carried on reading because, yeah, we used to read in bed, didn’t we?  Which we don’t do anymore.  But yeah, no, we did.  We sort of used to just carry it on.  We’ve always carried on, haven’t we?  Well, we didn’t read as much when the children were small.

BW: [Laughing] No, we didn’t get the opportunities.

CW: But we did read to them, didn’t we? They’ve all been read to.

BW: The girls liked the What Katy Did series, those sorts of things.

TC: What about you then, Bob?  Can I come to you now and ask you about your young life and where you got your books from, and whether you were read to or you just read independently?  How did it all start for you?

BW: Very difficult to say.  My parents never read to me, as far as I know.

TC: Were there books in the house?

BW: No.

TC: Oh.

BW: There’d be the Bible and that would be about it.  There may have been one or two books but I wasn’t aware of them.  And my parents read the paper.  My dad read the paper and that was mainly it, you see.

TC: What paper did he read, can you remember?

BW: Oh, it was the … It would be the Herald, probably, yeah.  And the News of the World on Sunday.  So I used to read these as well, but that was after I learned to read, of course.  I don’t know how I learned to read, but I think I learned to read fairly young.  I remember one book when I was very young, and that was just a little paperback thing, about a dozen pages, and it was nursery rhymes.  About that size.  And I remember reading these and learning every one off by heart.  And that was my precious book, you know.

TC: Yeah.

BW: And I can’t remember anything else about that period, about reading, how I read, or anything.  I knew [I] enjoyed reading and I knew that I wanted to learn to read.  But no, my parents weren’t big readers at all.

TC: When did you then … When did you start expanding your reading then?  Was it when you went to school?

BW: It was when I went to school, yes.  Of course, you didn’t have books in school, so I used to go to the library.

TC: What was your school? Which school did you go to?

BW:  Meynell Road.  Meynell Road School.

TC: In Parson Cross?

BW: In Parson Cross, yes.  It wasn’t the new Parson Cross.  It was the old Parson Cross near Wadsley Bridge.

TC: Yeah.

BW: It was built in 1936, I think it was.  I had two sisters, two older sisters, but I can’t remember them reading either, very much.  So, everything I did was on my own bat, I think.

TC: Yes, you sought books out to read.

BW: And I don’t know what sort of books I was looking for.  I knew I was to go to the library and pick a book up and it was probably short stories or something like that.

TC: Which library did you go to?

BW: The first library was Hillsborough Library which is a couple of miles away.  You had to go by tram to get there.

CW: Is it still there?

TC: I don’t know.

BW: Oh yes.

CW: In the middle of the park.

BW: Yes, yes it is.  It’s still there.

TC: Is it still there?

CW: Are you sure?

BW: Yes, it’s still there.  And then the other one would be Southey Green Road at the top of the hill.  And there was a pub that used to be called [the] Magnet that’s been pulled down now, just opposite of that, near the council offices.  They had a library then and that’s where I used to go too.

TC: But you would make a special journey to go to the library to get a book to read.

BW: Oh yeah, yeah.  Your books would be out of date, so you’d go to pick another one, you see.  That’s really what my books were.

TC: And can you remember what you read?  What the books [BW:  No] were?

BW: No, there was nothing in particular, just the stories.  I didn’t read Enid Blyton, Noddy or anything like that.  I wasn’t interested in anything like that.  But I did read the Famous Five series, you know, that sort of thing.

TC: So, adventure stories.

BW: Yes, sort of adventure stories, but for children.

TC: Yes, yes.

BW: But I never grew into the adventure stories for adults.

TC: Didn’t you?

BW: No.  I used to go to the cinema a lot and my favourite films were the cowboys.

TC: Mmm.

BW: And the war films.  But I didn’t want to read about them at all.

TC: Didn’t read cowboy books, Wild West, war books?

BW: No, no, Nevil Shute, never interested in anything like that.  No.  I don’t know why.  I’m more interested in people, more than anything, you know.  So I read the adventures of the Famous Five and that sort of thing, you know.  But then I remember going onto Treasure Island.  Yeah, and that’s the first, I think, adult book, as you said, that I read.

TC: That was the first, Robert Louis Stevenson, that was the first. [BW: First adult book, yes.] Right, right.  Where did that lead you?  Did you read more Stevenson?

BW: I may have tried Kidnapped.  I’m not certain.  That’s probably the only other Stevenson.  But I think the biggest change was when I passed the 11 Plus and went to Walkley.  And then you had your own books, which I had to read, you see?  And that’s when I became interested in more of the classic type of books.  I remember reading, on my own bat, because I wanted to see what it was like, was [sic] David Copperfield.

TC: Ahah.

BW: And that was my favourite book.

TC: Did that make you want to read more Dickens?

BW:  Yeah, yeah.  I tried the Dickens, I read … This was before, when I was in junior … senior school, you know, and I read … I never read Oliver Twist because I’d seen the film and I wasn’t interested once I’d seen the film.  So I read Hard Times and Nicholas Nickleby.  And then I tried Martin Chuzzlewit and I couldn’t make it through that.  And I gave up on Charles Dickens. [Laughs.]  And later on, you see, I sort of read … I enjoyed those books, but then I read more for relaxing … As I got older, yeah, for relaxation and pleasure.  So yeah, more of the Agatha Christies and all these sort of things.  So I was into the classical but it had to be … not the difficult classics.  I wouldn’t try Ivanhoe or some of the other 19th … 18th century authors, you know.

TC: Why not?  Didn’t want a challenge?

BW: I had to be interested in people.  I mean, you can’t get [a] more interesting character than David Copperfield, you see.

TC: You obviously love that book.

BW: I find them a bit hard going, some of them.  Sort of a style of literature.  Beyond a certain point … I want to read easy and I found David Copperfield, and Charles Dickens on the whole, easy to read.  They were speaking my language, you know, some of the older authors, more classical authors, were speaking not my language, you know, and I didn’t want to keep looking in dictionaries to see what the words were or anything like that, you know.  So, I think, that’s it.  And then I tried the … People criticise Agatha Christie[‘s], you know, style of writing as not very good and so on, but she’s very, very good at descriptions.  You got into a book and immediately it hit you what the story was about, and you got engrossed in it.  And some of her contemporaries, I found, too much description, you know, and you couldn’t get into the characters and so on.  So, I read very little of her contemporaries, whereas now I read modern thrillers.  Not thrillers, mysteries.

TC: Mysteries, oh yes.

BW: And I find they tend to be in it.  And I like a bit of humour as well. I like humour.  Quite honestly, I like the whimsical sort of thing, you know.  And I can’t stand modern literature with modern words, you know.  Are you with me?

TC: The Danny Boyles or what are some others …

BW: Yeah, it’s not my style of talking.

TC: No.

BW: And therefore I don’t like reading about it, you know.  Fuddy-duddy, stuck-in-the-mud sort of thing.  [Both laugh.]  Even though I was at work and you work with workmates and things like that, you’re still aware of these things.

TC: If you did like the mysteries and the detective stories, did you read things like The 49 [sic] Steps or, you know, that kind of book, of those genres?

BW: Yes, yes, now he was very good.  Yes, 49 Steps [sic] was good, loved 49 Steps [sic], yes.

TC: John Buchan, wasn’t it?

BW: Yes, John Buchan was okay.  But some of the, oh, I don’t like the other one, R.F. Elderfield, was it?

TC: Yes, yes!

CW: Delderfield, Delderfield.

TC: Delderfield, yes!  His book was called, oh my word, it’s gone out of my head, but I know the one you mean though.  So, did you like things like Kingsley Amis, or Evelyn Waugh?  You said you liked whimsical … P.G. Wodehouse, that kind of thing.

BW: Oh, I liked P.G. Wodehouse.  I didn’t read much of him, but I did read the odd little book.  They were very short stories, weren’t they, P.G. Wodehouse?  I read the odd story of P.G. Wodehouse and the odd story of Kingsley Amis.  They were going at my youth time, 20s and so on.

TC: Yes.  I’ve got a list of … We’ve got some, sort of, ones to help us out really a bit here in terms of the people.  You said you didn’t read Nevil Shute.  What about George Orwell, Aldous Huxley.

BW: Oh no, oh no.  They were not my … They were depressing.  I don’t read depressing literature.

[TC laughs.]

BW: A lot of people … I don’t want to be depressed, you know.

TC: No.

BW: I want to go into a different world and enjoy it and I have to like the people I’m reading about.  If I don’t like them, not interested in them.

TC: I’ve got some crime ones here, which Agatha Christie is under.  What about the Sherlock Holmes books, Arthur Conan Doyle, were you attracted to those?

[CW begins speaking.]

TC: You were, Carolyn.

BW: I was, but I never got … I only read the odd one, that’s all.  It’s one of those things where you read things by accident and therefore you get into it.  I enjoyed all the Sherlock Holmes films, but I never really got an opportunity to read them that much.

TC: What about Dennis Wheatley?

CW: Oh!  He was another one my mum read, yes.

TC:  Did he write The Carpetbaggers?

CW: I don’t know.  I didn’t read those, Dennis Wheatley, but Mum read … That’s an author I remember, yeah, Mum reading.

BW: Of course, in my generation, everybody was reading things like Micky Spillane and that sort of thing.

TC: Ah.

BW: And quite honestly … yeah … remember the first book I really bought for myself – used to be the very slim books you could go down to the local newsagents and buy them.  And it was…oh God, gosh … Sexton Blake.

CW: I don’t know what’s happened to his books.

TC: Sexton Blake!

CW: Yeah.

BW: I bought a series of Sexton Blake.  Thin little books, Sexton Blake, yeah.

TC: Which was the newsagent you went to when you say you went to buy them at the newsagent?

BW: The local one, at the local shops.  It was called Hatfields at Wadsley Bridge, yeah.  Hatfields newsagents, yeah.  They stored things like that.  They didn’t have books really, but little things like … my father was not interested in reading at all, apart from the newspaper.  My mother used to read Woman’s Weekly.  She wouldn’t read Mum’s Own [sic] because that was trash.

[CW laughing.]

BW: Woman’s Weekly, the stories were all right in there.

CW: Yes, yes, of course.

BW: But she wasn’t a learned person.  She left school at 13 and she got on all right, but … yeah.

TC: When you started work, were you able to continue reading then?

BW: Yes, yes.

TC: What had reading given you that, you know, that affected your work and the rest of your life?  Do you think that it gave you an understanding of other people?

BW: Absolutely, because they … you were able to communicate by letters and by … a lot of my work was report writing.

TC: What did you … where did you…?

BW: I worked in R& … Research and Development, you see.  And when we did a project, we had to write the project up and we had to interpret the project and put it forward, you see.  So, you had to know how to get your points of view over and tell a story in that sense.  So that and the work you did at … the essays you had to write at school, you see.  They all helped, you know.  You got a vocabulary that you could use and if you’d got a vocabulary, it was very good for you.  If you hadn’t got a vocabulary, you were struggling, you know.  So, that did help.

TC: May I ask what company you worked for that time?

BW: Started off Pickford Holland and then it became Dyson Refactories.  Yes, yes.  So that’s where we met.

TC: Right, so let’s go on to where you met then!  You were both working there, did you?

CW: Yes, he was already working there and I went to work in the chem lab.  I was a little chemist there, and yeah, that’s where we met.  But can I say that he still writes very well.  I mean, I’ve done as much … well, probably not done quite as much writing as him, but I …

BW: It’s just confidence.

CW: I don’t write very well.  And I didn’t pass my English O level first time around, did I?

[BW laughs.]

CW: And he…

TC: But you were a scientist.

CW:  Well, yes, and in the end actually, you know when you went to get your qualifications, you went on day release, you had a day off and went to the [?] Street Tech College and HNC and all that.  What was it?  It had to do with the last internship.  You had to have … I’d got maths and physics and all the other stuff, but I still hadn’t got English Lit … English Language.  I’d got English Literature, but I hadn’t got English Language in the O level.  And one of the lecturers, he … I don’t know how he knew, because it was something that only I knew.  He said, “Look, there is an English language paper for science …”  I don’t know … it can’t be science-based, but apparently there was an English Language paper you could take that would give you an O level in English Language, but it was slightly different.  And he arranged for me to take that.

TC: Oh, how wonderful.  And you got it.

CW:  And I got that.  I think I was still … I still think I only got a C.  I didn’t do brilliantly, but I passed it anyway.  So I got this little licenseship chemistry thing in the … yeah.  Which … But … I don’t know I … He’s got a good imagination you see.  That’s one of things that probably reading … but I …

BW: Yes.

[BW continues speaking but is unintelligible due to CW and TC speaking.]

CW: Even though I read a lot, I don’t think I’ve got that good an imagination to write … to make things up.  My imagination works in a different way.

TC: You married in ’64, you said, and you read together.  Can you remember the books you read then that you shared at that time?

CW: We always shared books, didn’t we?  We always read the same books, haven’t we?

BW: Yes, yes, very few that we didn’t read the same.  We always had the same … similar habits in reading.  I probably read a bit more than you because I’ve got more time.

[CW and TC speaking simultaneously.]

TC: And at that time during the 60s, what were you reading?  Did you take books when you … did you take books on your honeymoon, you know?  Did you on holiday?

BW: At that time we didn’t … We liked the historical novels, mainly.  And sort of historical mystery writers, set in the monks [sic] and that sort of thing.

CW: Oh yes, that was a thing, wasn’t it?

TC: And who were they, who wrote those, the monks?

BW: They were on television afterwards.

CW: And we did read that one that he was in – Sean Connery.

BW: Oh yeah.

TC: The Name of the Rose.  That one?

CW: Yes, we’d already read that before …

TC: You’d already read that before?

CW: Yes, we’d read that before the film.

TC: That’s by an Italian writer, isn’t it?

BW: Yes [Pauses and laughs.] I can’t remember his name.

CW: The ones we read …

BW: When we first married, we joined the World Book Club.  And so we got things like semi-historical things, like Cook and the Antarctic, and …

CW: Oh, and we read that Kennedy thing.

TC: What was the … The World Book Club was … was it like you got things through the post?

CW: Was it through the post?

BW: Yeah.

CW: Was it every month?

BW:  very couple of months.  You got a book.

CW: Where you got one.

BW: It was a set book.  You could buy other books, of course.

CW: So, you got the set book and you didn’t have to have it, did you?

BW: No, no.

CW: You could send it back and there was a little list of books that you could have and they weren’t very expensive, I don’t think.

BW: We’ve still got them, actually.

CW: They must be upstairs.  There’s another bookcase upstairs.

BW: We’d been there for about two or three years and so we had to sort through what we read.

CW: They were one or two biographies, weren’t there?

BW: Yes, there were that you were interested in.

TC: I’ve got some historical novels and some writers here.  Did you read anything by Georgette Heyer or Jean Pla ..?

CW: Yes! They were the historical ones that I used to read with Carol, my friend.  That was … I couldn’t remember that.  Yeah.

BW: And the latter one that you mentioned …

TC: Jean Plaidy.

BW: That was part of the book club we had, yes, yes.

CW: Oh yes!

[BW laughs.]

CW: Because we’ve got that … Was it Mary Queen of Scots?

BW: Yes, yes, we got for …

CW: Most, I think are upstairs.  We have had a couple of clear-outs when the children were young.  Before charity shops, wasn’t it?

BW: Yeah.

CW: When they had these ‘raise money for the PTA’ things, and we did get rid of one or two of those, but not all of them.

TC: Did you read any of the Trollope, or, you know, the John Galsworthy books, sort of those classic things like the Forsytes.

CW: Oh, the Forsytes, yeah!

BW: No.

TC: No.

BW: I didn’t.

CW: No, I did.  Who did I hand those on to then?  I was reading those with someone.  There was another one, wasn’t there, that was a modern version of the Foresyte Saga.  That was on the telly, and who was in that?

TC: Oh, yeah?

CW and BW together: Some Cornish thing.

CW: With the tin mines and things.

BW: Yes, yes.

CW: And I’d already read those when that came on telly.

BW: And we read one or two of those together, didn’t we?

CW: Magus … Magnus.

BW: It wasn’t the Magus.

CW: No, not that.

BW: I read that and it was the most over-rated book I’d ever read.

TC: Was that John [Fowles]?  No.

BW: I think it was, yes.

CW: I don’t remember reading that … But it was a series wasn’t about some tin mining thing.

BW: In Cornwall, yes.  In the last century.  Not last century, the previous one.

CW: I thought it was Lizzy that ended up reading some of those.

BW: Yeah, yeah.  But it’s quite a wide range that we’ve …

TC: You’ve read quite a lot obviously.  I’ve got lots and lots of authors here that we might suggest to you, like J B Priestley or Howard Spring.

BW and CW: No, no.

TC: Was…Arnold Bennett, H E Bates, those kind of people … But you’ve mentioned a lovely lot of authors here and I think that, you know …

BW: H E Bates was one.  We’ve read one or two of his.

TC: Yes, yes.  Did you ever read Beau Geste?

BW: No.

TC: No.  Fine.  Well look, we’ve got a lovely lot of books from you here, so I think we can finish.

BW: One of the things that I … Jane Austen, right, you talked about Jane Austen.  We had to read Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey for GCSE.  Imagine that, all of the boys having to read Jane Austen. [Trails off laughing.] And you read?

CW: Well, my actual O level year, it was Mr Polly.

BW: Yeah.

TC: H G Wells!  Oh lovely.

BW: But I’d have got that wrong.

TC: The Time Machine.  That would have been great for boys, wouldn’t it?

BW: Yeah, yeah.

CW: We did the Time Machine, but not O level year.  It was Mr Polly was O level year.  And that was another thing that was on the telly and we hadn’t got a telly.  And, I don’t know, we found out it was on the telly.  Anyway, Dad organised something with his well-off friend.  He got a new telly and we got their old telly, and it was … would it be round about the coronation or such a year?

BW: ’53, yeah.

CW: Because we’d … I don’t know if we got the telly first, but it was all around about the same sort of time.  We managed to see the coronation and it was one of those that you had to have the curtains closed.  And it was one of these tellies with doors.  It was this tiny little screen and it was a huge thing.  And it had doors and this tiny little screen.  And we managed to watch Mr Polly on it.  Yeah, but Dad was tickled that he had managed to get this telly so that we could watch Mr Polly.  But I remember … you had a book … for literature, you had a book a year sort of thing.

TC: Yes, yeah.

CW: And I remember sort of stuff like Wuthering Heights and things like that.  Sort of quite remembering, you know, enjoying that sort of thing.

TC: The Brontës.  And you read some of the Brontës, Bob.  Didn’t you say you read some of the Brontës as well?

BW: No.

CW: I don’t think they would’ve been ones that I would necessarily have … I don’t think I would have picked them if you weren’t doing them at school type of thing, you know.  But I did enjoy them, you know when you read them, yeah.

BW: So, nowadays, we’re still reading the same sort of things.

TC:  It starts a habit for life, doesn’t it?

BW: Well, now it’s just sit back and relax and read a chapter at a time.

CW: It’s just more modern things, isn’t it?

TC: Lovely.

BW: Some of the American thrillers, but not many.

TC: Did you read Raymond Chandler?

CW: No, that’s another one that we didn’t read.  Raymond Chandler.

TC: He’s talking about thrillers.

CW and BW: No.

BW: I started reading the James Bond.  The very early James Bond, Casino Royale and that, but I never continued with it.

TC: Do you still go to the library?

CW and BW speak together:

BW: Yes, we still have library books.

CW: Yes, we have books out at the minute.

TC: Which library do you go to now?

BW: One at the end of the road.

CW and BW: Greenhill.

TC: Greenhill.

CW: Just the one on the corner at the end.

TC: Fantastic.  Let’s hope they all stay open, eh?

CW: Yes!

BW: We hope so.

CW: And, this … You know like the … [Laughs.] Last time we went … a couple of weeks ago, but it’s the first time in a while actually though, isn’t it?  Because both our girls are avid readers and read similar ones to us, and Lizzy, she reads a lot, she does.  She goes in Smiths and when they sort of, obviously, seem to have three for two.

TC: Three for two…She buys three!

CW: She just buys more.  We never bought any, we’ve always sort of gone to the library and you have more books for presents, I think, than I have.  We do sort of … She passes them on to us … We did go to the library and up there, they’ve had the computers for quite a while, you know, that anybody can sort of go and use.  But they’ve got these new machines, you know, like the supermarkets have started with this self-service thing.

TC: Yes.

CW: They’ve got them at the library now.

TC: And you can scan…

CW: And they just scan your ticket.  And we looked at them…There’s two of them.

BW: You just put your book in.

CW: They’re where large print used to be.

BW: Yes.

CW: And the desks changed over there and we looked.  There were these two school girls who obviously from the primary school because they were only about this big, weren’t they? And one had got her ticket and her book.  And they were obviously waiting for us adults.  They were looking at me and giggling.

BW: [Laughing] How do you use this?

CW: Do you know how to use it?  So she grinned and said yes.  So I said, “Can you show us?”  So she had to show us how to use this thing.  And to get the date, of course you don’t get it stamped, so I said…

BW: You have to get a ticket with the return date.

CW: I said, “How do you know?” and she says, ”Oh, you press this” like a ‘receipt-y’ thing.

TC: And you just pop your ticket into your book I suppose, can’t you?

BW: We’re not certain how to take it back or renew it, so we …

CW: So, I think we probably take them and renew at least one.  We’ll have to take them back and if they go just after three o’clock.

[All three laugh.]

TC: Well, look, that’s brilliant.  I’m going to stop this machine now.

BW: Okay.

TC: So look, thank you very much, Bob and Carolyn.  It’s been absolutely fantastic.

Recent Posts

On the Centenary of the Armistice

Privates John Charles Hobson and John Sydney Abey have lain in the soil of northern France for over a hundred years. Of the 5,000 men Sheffield lost in the First World War, they are the only library workers, and their names appear on the Sheffield Libraries Roll of Honour.

John Abey

Before the war John Abey was the junior assistant in the branch library in Highfield, just outside the city centre.

Highfield Branch Library

This was a good job for a young man – white collar, secure and with the prospect of progression – but John would have earned his money. The hours were long: 09.00-13.30 and 17.30-21.00 in the week, with a half-day on Thursday, and all day Saturday, with staff working shifts. The library operated the physically demanding ‘closed access’ system, with books shelved on steep racks behind a counter and staff climbing up ladders to retrieve borrowers’ choices. Highfield was one of Sheffield’s first branch libraries, state of the art when it opened in 1876, in a building designed by a leading local architect, Edward Mitchell Gibbs.[i] But by the war years, the library service was neglected and Highfield was described by one employee as ‘very gloomy’. Before he joined up, John was probably one of two assistants to the branch librarian, and there would have been several boys employed in the evenings to help shelve books. The library may well have been gloomy, but there was also fun. ‘We often used to have a kickabout with a small ball behind the indicator,’ said the same employee, ‘the librarian never bothered.’ (The ‘Cotgreave indicator’ was 19th century technology: a huge wooden screen showing whether books were available or on loan.)

32 Witney Street, Highfield today. The Abey family lived here.

St Barnabas Church, Highfield today. John Abey and his family worshipped here.

The Highfield area seems to have been the centre of John Abey’s life. Not only did he work there but he lived at 32 Witney Street, near the library, with his parents, his elder sister, Ethel, and younger brothers, Arnold and Stanley. The family attended St Barnabas Church next to the library, and John sang in the choir. His mother Margaret is mentioned in newspaper reports as helping at church fetes, and her children joined in:

Oriental Bazaar at Heeley

The successful Oriental bazaar held in conjunction with Wesley Chapel, Heeley, was reopened for the last time yesterday by a band of 45 prettily-attired children of the Sunday School. There was a large and interested audience to witness the ceremony. … (Sheffield Independent, 24 April 1908)

The ‘prettily-attired’ children are all carefully named, including ‘Miss Ethel Mary Abey’ and ‘Master Jack Sydney Abey’.

John – Jack – was killed, seven months before the Armistice, on 15 April 1918. His regiment was the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (1/4th Battalion, a volunteer contingent) and he had the exposed job of signaller, responsible for unit communications. Between 13 and 15 April 1918, the battalion took part in the Battle of Bailleul, and its war diary notes intense shelling and the Germans managing to penetrate the frontline on occasion. The battalion was relieved and sent to rest on 15 April, but this came too late for Signaller Abey. On 20 April the Sheffield Independent reported that he had ‘died in hospital at Boulogne, having been wounded the same morning’. His war gratuity of £10 11s 11d was paid to his father, Herbert, and his record notes the usual award of the British War and Victory Medals. Jack is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery (VIII. I. 196). He was 19 years old.

John Hobson

Percy, John and Horace Hobson

John Hobson grins out at the camera, his cap at a cheeky angle. His younger brothers, Percy on the left and Horace on the right, look more guarded. We don’t know when this photo was taken, or by whom, but it was printed in the Sheffield Telegraph on 24 July 1916.

Three weeks earlier, Percy had been killed, one of 19,000 to die on 1 July, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, for three square miles of territory. His body was never recovered, and his name is incised on the Thiepval Memorial along with 72,000 others with no known grave. John and Horace were both ‘severely wounded’, says the newspaper. Within the year, John too would be dead. Horace alone survived the war.

Before the war, John Hobson had worked at Hillsborough Branch Library, in a job similar to John Abey’s on the other side of the city.[ii] Hillsborough was a large and busy suburb, and the branch library seems to have been well used. It opened in 1906, in a converted, 18th century gentleman’s residence, which must have brought problems as well as charms.

Hillsborough Library

John was born in 1892, between Hillsborough and Upperthorpe, the eldest of three brothers and a sister. His father, John Henry, was a greengrocer and then a ‘car conductor’ on the city trams. John’s middle name, Charles, probably came from his paternal grandfather, Charles Hobson (1845-1923), a prominent union leader. Charles was elected to the town council, and prospered until 1903 when he was convicted of corruption. He served three months in prison. Despite this, he remained popular and influential, making speeches and writing for the papers.

It was perhaps inevitable that John and his brothers would volunteer as their grandfather was a member of the Territorial Force Council. He said in 1909:

I am essentially a man of peace. At the same time I disagree with those who preach ‘Peace at any price.’ I would never provoke a fight, and would suffer wrong rather than resort to extreme measures. Nevertheless, circumstances might arise when to remain passive, or inactive, would prove one either imbecile, coward, or void of all manly instincts. (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 13 February 1909)

The three brothers joined the Sheffield City Battalion, the 12th battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment. Its men were ‘pals’ – brothers, friends, workmates, schoolfellows etc who enlisted together, to stay together and to fight together. This gave the soldiers loyalty and fellow-feeling, but meant that in a major engagement a village, say, might lose most of its young men all at once. This happened to the Sheffield Pals at the Somme on 1 July 1916, when half the battalion were cut down by relentless machine gun fire and 250 men, including Percy Hobson, died.

John and Horace were invalided back to England, to recover from their wounds, and John was well enough to return to France in January 1917. He was wounded again and died at a casualty clearing station at Bethune on 19 April 1917. He is buried in Bethune Town Cemetery (VI. D. 39), about 50 miles from where John Abey lies. His war gratuity of £8 10s was paid to his wife, Mary, whom he had married in 1915.

A letter home from John’s brother, Percy, was published in the Sheffield Telegraph when he died in July 1916. It perhaps speaks not just for Percy but for his brothers too:

We are having a fairly good time here considering everything … Tons of work; in fact, more work out of the trenches than we get in – though sometimes this does not hold good. All the chaps are in excellent spirits. In the hearts of our men lurks the feeling that with foresight this war could have been prevented. We try not to look at the dull side of things. We are in one of the finest battalions in the present army, and I am proud to be a member of it. I should like to tell you many things about the battalion, but we are not allowed to. I had another fortunate escape on my birthday night. I was the only survivor of a small company. The trench was levelled to the ground—but it was Hobson’s choice—they would not kill me.

——

Sheffield Libraries Roll of Honour

The Libraries Roll, bright with flags, bells and laurel leaves, marks the service of 20 men who survived as well as John Abey and John Hobson. At least seven of them returned to libraries in Sheffield after the war: Benjamin Belch, Arthur Cressey, James Gomersall (Park Branch), H Valentine (Highfield Branch), F Broadhurst (Walkley Branch), F Kellington (Highfield Branch) and H W Marr (Central Library).

John Abey and John Hobson are also remembered, along with 140 other librarians, on the national Library Association Great War Memorial, now mounted in the staff entrance at the British Library in London.

Library Association memorial at the British Library

 

If anyone reading this is related to anyone listed on the Roll of Honour, we would like to hear from you. Please leave a comment below. 

 

[i]  Highfield is still a library, run by the City Council. The building is Grade II-listed, which the Pevsner Architectural Guide for Sheffield (Yale University Press, 2004) describes as ‘Florentine Renaissance’.

[ii]  Like Highfield, Hillsborough remains a Council-run branch library.

 

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