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.

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Mary Grover: Where were you born Hazel?

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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

Dickens Comes to Sheffield

In the spring of 1936 Sheffield Libraries mounted an exhibition of ‘Dickensiana’ in the Central Library, to mark the centenary of Charles Dickens’ novel, The Pickwick Papers. The celebrations, wrote the Sheffield Independent enthusiastically, ‘touch us all with a sense of remembered delights and living entrancement’.

The Central Library, only a couple of years old, had been designed with space for exhibitions and displays, in contrast to the previous buildings, and the chief librarian, J P Lamb, took advantage of this over the years.

The Pickwick Papers – Pickwick at the slide, by Hablot Knight Browne (better known as Phiz) (public domain)

Our reader Jessie (b. 1906) was a great fan of Charles Dickens, whose novels she came to through her job as a cleaner for the vicar of St John’s Park in Sheffield in the 1920s. Seventy years later, she recalled that her employer:

… had some fantastic books – he had all Dickens’ books and [the housekeeper] had all these in the kitchen in her bookcase.

She said to me one day. ‘Now I think you will get more education, child,’ (she never called me my name, always ‘child’) ‘with Dickens’ books’ which when I did start I was a real Dickens fan, and I am now you see.

Although we cannot know if she saw it, no doubt Jessie would have been interested in Sheffield Libraries’ exhibition of ‘Dickensiana’. It was one of many events around the country marking the centenary. Pickwick, Dickens’ first novel, had been an immediate success, and remained very popular.  

The press around the country also made much of the centenary. The Sheffield Independent, for example, covered it several times. On Tuesday 24 March 1936, its columnist, ‘Big Ben’, wrote about events organised by the Dickens Fellowship in London:

On Friday next the Pickwick Centenary celebrations begin in real earnest when, at the Caxton Hall, Westminster, there will be a reception of delegates from 76 branches of the Dickens Fellowship. On the following morning the annual conference will be held. Meanwhile, rehearsals are being held daily in connection with the centenary matinee which is to take place at the London Palladium tomorrow week. …

Sir Ben Greet’s company is playing a portion of the version of Bleak House … and, of course, Mr Bransby Williams will make some appearances, first as Mr Pickwick himself, then as Charles Dickens …

On Sunday evening next a special centenary service will be held in Westminster Abbey, and on Monday the original Pickwick coach will leave Charing Cross for Rochester, driven by Mr Bertram Mills.

After the matinee tomorrow week a banquet will be held at Grosvenor House, when Sir John Martin Harvey will propose the immortal memory.[i]

The Sheffield branch of the Dickens Fellowship held its own celebration, a ‘Pickwick supper’, on Saturday 21 March. The Independent reported on the following Monday that over 70 Fellowship members ‘enjoyed hearty 19th century fare’ at Stephenson’s Restaurant in Castle Street. The meal was followed by a ‘musical evening provided on Dickensian lines’ including a contribution from ‘sweet-voiced Jimmie Fletcher, Sheffield’s own famous boy vocalist.[ii]

The Independent continued its coverage the next Wednesday, 25 March, in Big Ben’s ‘Talk of London’ column, reminding readers of Dickens’ visit to Sheffield in 1852.[iii] Dickens gave many public readings of his novels and also acted in plays. Big Ben reported seeing, in a display in a London bookshop, a playbill for a ‘performance by the Guild of Literature and Art’ at the ‘Music Hall, Sheffield’, on Surrey Street. The cast included: Dickens himself; fellow author Wilkie Collins; Mark Lemon, the founding editor of Punch and The Field; and John Tenniel, who would later illustrate Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

It must have been a busy evening for all concerned, for it was one of those three-decker shows which were so popular a century ago. And as Dickens figures as the manager and the producer of all three, as part author of one, and a player in all three it would appear that he loomed nearly as large in that night’s entertainment as Charlie Chaplin does in Modern Times. …

I wonder if the Sheffielders of that day realised how honoured they were in having such famous writers on the stage of the music hall.  

The Music Hall, where Dickens performed

The exhibition in the Central Library was described in the Independent on 23 March.  

Rare Dickens Books

Pickwick Centenary Exhibition

To celebrate the Pickwick Centenary, the Sheffield City Librarian (Mr J P Lamb) has arranged a special exhibition of Dickensiana in the Central Library, Surrey street.

A valuable collection of rare books has been assembled, including many first editions, and several with bibliographical peculiarities of singular interest.

Some of the books belong to the Central Reference Library, but the main part of the display has been lent by Mr. W. Slinn, whose fame as a bookbinder extends much further than Sheffield.

Sheffield Readings

Considerable interest is also attached to a water-colour of Dickens (lent by Mr. Daniel Evans), giving one of his famous readings at St. James’s Hall, London, in 1870. A few of our older readers may remember his visits to the old Music Hall in Surrey street, which was later used as a Central Lending Library until its demolition in 1932.

In any Dickens exhibition pride of place is generally given to the Pickwick Papers. To-day it is still one of the most popular books.

The exhibition can show you a copy of the first edition printed in volume form. Other editions on show include Nicholas Nickleby, Dombey and Son and the first octavo edition of Oliver Twist.

The exhibition begins to-day and will continue for a few weeks.

Later, on Thursday 26 March, Big Ben reported that the City Librarian, J P Lamb (never one to miss an opportunity for publicising the library), had rung to tell him that:

another copy of the playbill and a smaller bill are on view at the exhibition of Dickensiana at the Central Library in honour of the Pickwick Centenary, [along with] an actual ticket of admission to the show mentioned.

The newspaper reproduced the playbill to illustrate the article.

Music Hall, Sheffield, The Amateur Company of the Guild of Literature and Art ... will have the honour of performing for the twenty-first time, a new comedy ... Not So Bad As We Seem or, Many Sides to a Character
The playbill, reproduced by kind permission of Sheffield Libraries and Archives (Picture Sheffield, ref: y10454)
Specially designed admission cards to a performance which was given in the Music Hall, Sheffield, under the management of Charles Dickens
One of the ‘tickets of admission’, reproduced by kind permission of Sheffield Libraries and Archives (Picture Sheffield, ref: y10459)

As my colleague Mary Grover pointed out in her account of Jessie’s reading, Dickens, always popular, had a rather less secure literary reputation in the early 20th century than he does now. Big Ben for one, however, had no doubts. In his last column on the centenary, on Monday 30 March, he wrote:

The Pickwick Centenary celebrations this week touch us all with a sense of remembered delights and living entrancement. Nothing new in literature, no new fashions or coteries can affect the universal popularity of Pickwick. If only some of the intellectual snobs and pseudo-intellectual cynics could produce anything with a hundredth part of the vitality, humanity and humour which characterised the art of Charles Dickens we could forgive them much of their pretentious nonsense.

Think of the gallery of rich characters, of the kindly satire, of the human understanding that this man produced. Mr. Pickwick was always surprised by the perversity of the world and by the assaults it made on his ingeniousness. He was – he is – so English. He has lived long. He will go on living. This centenary will give him new vitality and will do our hearts a power of good at a time in our history and in the history the world when so much is being done that Pickwick could never have understood and would certainly have hated.

Jessie, you feel, would have cheered.


[i] Bransby Williams (1870 – 1961) and Sir John Martin-Hervey (1863 – 1944) were actors who had considerable success interpreting Dickens. Sir Ben Greet (1857-1936) was an actor-manager well-known for his touring Shakespearian productions.

[ii] Sheffield Independent, Tuesday 26 May 1936.

[iii] Dickens is known to have visited Sheffield four times, in 1852 to act and in 1853, 1858 and 1869 to give readings. He may also have visited in 1839, to report on local Chartist meetings, but there is no definitive evidence of this.

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