Hazel H

Hazel H

Hazel was born in Sheffield on the 13th January 1929 and grew up on the Sutton Estate in Hillsborough.

Hazel is being interviewed by Mary Grover on the 9th May 2012.

One passage was cut from the recording and transcript.

hazel-hotchkiss-2

Mary Grover: Where were you born Hazel?

hazell-hotchkiss-1

Hazel H:      Oh Sheffield, I think I was born, no, I came to live on the Sutton Estate when I was two. Yes, I was two. I just don’t know where. My mum lived in West Don Street, it is all coming back to me. They had a shop, just a jumble shop that sold clothes and things like they did in them days. I think me mum were a bit ambitious and me dad was a traveller and I think he did that and run the shop as well. Same time. She put her name down for the Sutton Estate when it was being built because it was a modern estate in them days, with hot water and, you know, that sort of thing. That sort of thing that was important. We grew up on the Sutton Estate; we had a good childhood. Dad died when I was two, but we’d a good childhood, friendly, good neighbours and we lived on a little place, what do they call it, Dunella Place [Hillsborough]. There were a few houses and neighbours were good but they weren’t intrusive at all. They were very, you know, they came to the door and they knocked and they waited like. They just didn’t walk in or anything like that. And we lived there for quite some time until we grew up, there were four us, and we wanted an extra bedroom and that is when we moved into Laird Road at the bottom, bottom house, on the Sutton Estate.

MG:     That’s in Wadsley.

HH:      Wadsley, yes. And what do you want to know from there?! I went to Wisewood School and it had just opened. I think I was in the first year of it opening and I went at Easter time, my birthday was January, I went at Easter time and it was lovely. We loved school. It wasn’t a bit strict and things like that, it was lovely. Everybody wanted to go to school.

MG:     Was that junior school or senior?

HH:      Junior. mm, infants. Started at infants and the junior school was part of it. Then the senior school was the bit that they pulled down. Do you remember that? Do you know about that?

MG:     No.

HH:      You know where the post office is at Wisewood? Well there was a school across the road and their junior school was in Ben Lane next to the chapel. You know that building next to that?

MG:     Yes.

HH:      I think that’s down now int’it?

MG:     So you loved school?

HH:      Yes I loved it. There were no reason not to really because I think it was a new way of educating children. I don’t know but it weren’t strict and, mm, you did respect the teachers. That’s a fact, that. They didn’t lose that at all.

MG:     When were you born?

HH:      13.1.29

MG:     Thir – ?

HH:      Thirteen, one, twenty-nine.

MG:     So you went to Wisewood School in the thirties then? The middle of the 1930s.

HH:      1934 would it be? You went when you were five then didn’t you. I think that must be when I started.

MG:     Did you remember any books that were read to you at school?

HH:      I remember Enid Blyton a lot but I don’t think I was very clever. I didn’t pass me eleven plus. [Laughs]

MG:     So where did you go on to school when you were eleven?

HH:      At Wisewood Senior School.

MG:     Wisewood Senior School, yes, yes.

HH:      And then I left when I was, was it 14? Yes.

MG:     What did you do then?

HH:      I went to dressmaking.

MG:     Did you?

HH:      Yes. I like sewing. We had an interview at school and they asked us what we liked doing and of course I was shy and didn’t like saying anything. So me mum chipped in. She always did because I were always backward at coming forward. “Well she likes sewing”. So they said, “Oh well, they want somebody at the shirt factory.” Well I came home furious. I didn’t want to make shirts! Oh I came home and I were angry, you know, “I’m not going there”.  And there was an advert in the paper that night and it were for John Walsh’s. You don’t remember that do you? Well it’s a big shop, you know where the place is now you know, I think it is T J Hughes, it were there. This was a big old building on the corner and I went to work … No! I didn’t, I’m lying, because it was the Blitz and it got firebombed. No, that didn’t get a firebomb, it caught fire from a shop next door and it just went right through the building. And so this job was advertised and it were at Broomhill and I went there.

MG:     Making clothes.

HH:      It was John Walsh’s, John, oh dear. John Walsh’s had a place at Broomhill and it was all where their buyers and senior staff lived and then they went down to the shop in town to work. Well when it was on fire during the Blitz, the senior staff had to go and get digs, I think John Walsh’s organised that but, a week, but the shop took this big building over. Do you know where it is?

MG:     I know Broomhill, whereabouts in Broomhill?

HH:      It used to be in Broomhill, Glossop Road, that was the address, Glossop Road and you know, a big side entrance and it was about …. you know where the King Edwards School is? Well the bottom gate down the front of John Walsh’s used to be like you came out of that and you could look up over onto King Edwards.

MG:     Yes, so when you were working at Walsh’s, did you enjoy your work?

HH:      Oh I loved it.

MG:     Did you?

HH:      Loved it every bit.

MG:     Did you get any time to read when you were working there?

HH:      No. We used to go dancing.

MG:     Dancing! Yes. [Laughs] So life is too much fun really to sit at home?

HH:      No, I didn’t sit at home because I met friends there. I had two good friends and we stayed friends right until we were 18 and they wanted to go in the Forces because that was a time, you know, when I remember it was just after the war, weren’t it? Something like that. They wanted to go in the Forces and I wouldn’t, couldn’t leave me mum. I couldn’t just leave her because she was a widow. Well I couldn’t do it, it didn’t seem right.

MG:     Did you have any brothers and sisters Hazel?

HH:      Yes. I had a brother younger than me, Crowther, was born after dad died, Bramble was two years older than me and Cynthia was two years older than him. So there were two years in all of us.

MG:     Right. So there was Cynthia and then your brothers and then you.

HH:      Yes, Cynthia.

MG:     And when you were children did you have any books in the house?

HH:      No, no … I think probably, I don’t really know why, but me dad died when we were young and me mum, there was no such things as pensions and things in them days. So she had to go on what was called public assistance. That was the next step to the workhouse so she had to try hard … It upsets me. She had to try hard to keep the wolf away from the door and to keep us, look after us and she did.

MG:     How did she do that? How did she look after you all?

HH:      Well, we’d got a good grandma on me dad’s side and she was very good to us. Just how good we shall never, ever know because she didn’t talk about what she did. But we used to go to grandma’s, one of us would go, usually Cynthia and I would go up and grandma would push some money in Cynthia’s hand and she’d say, “Sixpence towards your breakfast, sixpence …”[doorbell rings] … are you there Ernie? [Ernie answers the door]“ … Sixpence for insurance man,” because you’d to pay some insurance hadn’t you for death and things like that and da, da, da, da we never knew what last was … that was grandma. That was always what she did, put this money in our hand but I think she was an angel to her, an angel. And my dad had a brother and he was just as good to me mum, nothing in it, you know, just a really good brother-in-law to her.

MG:     So there was no money for books?

HH:      There were no books, no, no money for anything. [Inaudible] …. food either. I mean I don’t know what we’d do without me grandma.

MG:     So when did you start to find books for yourself?

HH:      I joined the library when I were a bit older, like probably, probably when Cynthia didn’t used to take me down. It might have been round about seven or eight or something like that. I just can’t remember that exactly, round about that time. I can’t remember the books that I read, there’s only Enid Blyton and that because I think it were probably the first. I know I remember reading Gone with the Wind and them sort of things, as I got older.

MG:     Where did you get Gone with the Wind from?

HH:      I think that was from‘t library.

MG:     The library, yes.

HH:      Yeah because we couldn’t, hadn’t money to buy books.

MG:     No.

HH:      We’d no money at all.

MG:     Do you think Gone with the Wind was one of the first grown up books you read?

HH:      Yes. I don’t know how old I was when I read that, probably, I was probably older than what I think, I don’t know. But I remember all these books, oh me mum bought us some books. Somebody came round to the door and she ordered these books and she paid for ‘em weekly. She did do well ’cus she didn’t have cash in them days. We had these books and there was a collection. I think there was about twelve in a box but some didn’t appeal to me because some were for boys and I remember more of these about poetry in ‘em. I remember them. I used to look at and read them because I could understand them better.

MG:     Can you remember any of the poems?

HH:      ‘Meg Merrilies’, she was gypsy, that stands out most and I used to say that. When we used to recite at school, we used to have to go on  … [inaudible, laughing] and I always used to say that one.

MG:     So you learnt a lot of poetry by heart at school?

HH:      Oh I did that, yes. Poetry. But that was as I say, these books that mum got us. As I say I never looked at others because they were boys’ books.

MG:     So there were no story books there, it was mostly poetry or boys’ books?

HH:      I don’t think I could get involved in a story, I don’t think I could have read a story. I don’t know, even that has gone from me. There’s a lot I can’t remember.

MG:     And when you left school did you go on using the library?

HH:      [Speaks almost in a whisper] No I went dancing.  I went to John Walsh’s and we went out dancing.

MG:     So reading sort of faded away a bit after that.

HH:      Yeah.

MG:     Did you ever get back to reading?

HH:      Umm, no not really because I had me children, didn’t I, when we came here. We got married in 1954 and then Julie were born in 1960 and, mm, they sort of like introduced me to a new world because you do everything you can for them. You live for them and do everything. You know, they didn’t go short of anything but it was … because Ernie were working then. Yeah, Ernie were working, married in 1954, Julie were born in ’60 and Ernie were working so we were like considerably better off. Don’t take that literally will you! [Laughing]  But, you know, we were. Did I tell you he used to work nights?

MG:     Yes.

HH:      Oh and that were a nightmare.

MG:     He worked at W H Smith as a night manager.

HH:      Yeah and that were a nightmare ‘cus he was in bed all day but he loved the kids and there weren’t anything that they were short of, so consequently, that used to be a lawn there, so consequently all the kids used to come round our back and play. Well you know what kids are when they play, because they were all little together and he never used to get any sleep! So he used to have to swap and he had to sleep in front bedroom and I stayed in back bedroom and that’s like it stayed ever since. That’s how your life gets structured.

MG:     It does, it does. Did you read to your children?

[cut]

MG:     So what with Ernest working at W H Smith, did he get any discount on books and newspapers?

HH:      Oh yes, he got a discount. We had a card. Yes, yes, he got some free papers, I think it were two free papers a day. We always had newspapers in the house but there again his dad worked with newspapers at Weston’s, I can remember that name. That was another, so Weston’s and W H Smith were like competing.

MG:     So did you ever buy books through W H Smith?

HH:      No, I can’t say I did that. No, I can’t.

MG:     Would you buy them now or not really?

HH:      Well I can’t concentrate long enough to read now, mm, so it’s … sometimes I’m talking to Ernie and I have to ask him again. He gets … he takes it all with a joke but it’s not funny.

MG:    It is hard isn’t it?  When you are watching television I suppose it is the same?

HH:      Oh aye, he watches … [speaking softly, inaudible] … I don’t like  … I like Coronation Street and I like Emmerdale. I like those two programmes because they deal with everybody’s problems. They are all acted out aren’t they in them series and that is what I like about them. It’s real life and then Ernie is on to cowboys and … things … and then so I have a code word book what I do. Um, you fill lines in and get letters, you fill lines and make the word right.

MG:     Like a word search?

HH:      Yes. Oh no, a word search is when you are looking for them in a line like, aren’t you? These are not that. You fill the letters in.

MG:     I know what you mean. You have a little clue, code word.

HH:      Code word. I do them and I have one at side of me bed and I always, when I go to bed, I’ve got me little cup of milk and I’m doing me code word and the next thing … the book’s there on t’other side …

MG:     And you’re away.

HH:      And I’m away. That’s my, what you call it where you have something to make you sleep? Sleeping tablet.

MG:     Sleeping tablets. Better for you. So when really the time you read most was when you were at school, is that right?

HH:      Yes. At school and I can’t remember what I read and I know me mum, we had these books what were bought and there were … and me sister used to read to me.

MG:     Did she, did she?

HH:      Yes, we used to sleep together. Yes.

MG:     Can you remember anything Cynthia read to you?

HH:      No, I think she’d read to me and I think I would be asleep before she knew. You know, it were like a sleeping tablet. She were kind to us.

MG:     Is she? Is she still a reader, Cynthia?

HH:      Cynthia died in … she’s four years older than me. So Cynthia died, I think she were about 85 when she died, could have been 86, I don’t know.

MG:     Did she go on enjoying books when she was an adult?

HH:      No, because she got into dancing and that sort of thing. It was a different era.

MG:     What about the war, too? Did that not leave you much leisure time?

HH:      Mm, how old was I in the war?

MG:     You were ten when it started so yes, you were at school then, so you were … .

HH:      That were involved with the eleven plus weren’t it?

MG:     That’s right.

HH:      I didn’t pass.

MG:     So is there any one book that stands out, Hazel, in your life, that you remember?

HH:      I just remember Gone with the Wind, I don’t know why but I know I saw that film as well. I think it was the talk of the day then, weren’t it probably, you know. Everybody probably went to see it.

MG:     Did you go to a lot of films?

HH:     No, we didn’t have the money.

MG:    No. Was dancing cheaper?

HH:     Yes and it were more fun.

MG:     Fun yes, so you loved dancing?

HH:      Yes, we had to push hard to get that last tram, to get that last bus, the Worrall bus that used to start at the bottom of Dykes Hall Road because we lived on the Sutton Estate.

MG:     Where did you dance then?

HH:      City Hall…[inaudible]. Yes City Hall. We were all of us, we weren’t, I don’t know how to put the word … common. That’s what me mum would use I think. We weren’t common we were like still sedate, still, don’t know, we weren’t let loose or anything like that. We used to rush out for that bus, you know, that tram and get on that and nip in house, because we lived in Laird Road.

MG:     You never missed that tram or that bus?

HH:      Oohh no! You left early enough to get you out. You’d be running like but … !

MG:     Did you meet Ernest at a dance?

HH:      Oh no! He’s not a dancer. If he was in here you know what he’d say, “Oh no I always walk like that.” That’s Ernest, you always get that joke with him. No, how did I meet Ernie? Well he was me brother’s friend and they were at school together and he used to come up ont’ common here, scrumping, and they’d go home with shorts full a apples. One day a local bobby caught ‘em and said, “What you doing there, lads?” They saw him coming so they got down the tree. “What you doing there?”, so he says, “Oh nothing, we just …” and so he said, “And what’s that then?” with his truncheon, “And what’s that then?” and of course the apples smashed on me brother [laughing]. They took ‘im home, not by the scruff of his neck like … [interruption]

MG:     …  Yes, so they took him home?

HH:      They took him home and of course me mum was angry because you know to get into trouble with the police, it were … and that’s the only trouble he’s been in. He didn’t get any … that were the only thing he ever did wrong. And the thing was, Ernie’s granddad was a police sergeant and he lived in Shropshire and when they promoted him to sergeant, they had to move him. So they sent him to Sheffield, and I think that were to sort Mooney Gang and that out. Mooney Gang, you don’t know them, do you? You’ve heard of ‘em?

MG:     Heard of them, don’t know much about them?

HH:      I think they were to sort all that out and of course he met a Sheffield girl and he married and that’s Ernie’s side of the story but you didn’t come to hear that. What did I tell you that for?

MG:     How you met Ernest, whether it was to do with dancing?

HH:      Through the bobby. And Ernest’s granddad was very strict but nice, you know. He had a lot of influence on his family like. So that’s kept him out of trouble. There were a lot; he could easily have gone ‘t wrong way.

MG:     Well Hazel thank you very much. That is very interesting.

 

 

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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