Dorothy Norbury

Dorothy Norbury

Dorothy was born 11 January 1934.

Dorothy is being interviewed by Sue Roe.

Sue Roe: This is an interview conducted by Susan Roe [R-O-E].  It is the 22nd of September, 19 … 2011. I’m interviewing Dorothy Norbury [N-O-R-B-U-R-Y].  She was born in?

Doeothy Norbury:  I was born in the village of Dinnington.

SR:  In Dinnington. On?

DN:  On the 11tthof January, 1934.

SR:  And you’ve been living … You lived in which area of Sheffield between 1945 and 1965?.

SR:  ‘45 and’ 65.

DN:  The years I lived in Dinnington, yeah.

dorothy-norbury-

SR:  In Dinnington, okay.  Now, I’ll just read you through these things.  Did anyone read to you when you were young?  How did they read to you, when, who was it?

DN:  That’s amazing that you should ask that because my parents were always very busy and they never did read to me.  But, I was a very poor reader.  I had a girlfriend that lived next door and we were born four days between each other.  We grew up like sisters and we used to have sleepovers, and one of my greatest joys was to lay in bed with her while she read to me.

SR:  Okay, can I just stop you there just to check that it’s … okay.

DN:  Is that newspaper sounding on there when you turn it over; is it rattling?

[Pause]

SR:  Can I start it again just to be sure?

DN:  Yes.

SR:  This is an interview conducted by Susan Roe [R-O-E] on the 22nd of September, 2011.  I’m interviewing Dorothy Norbury [N-O-R-B-U-R-Y], born in Dinnington on …

DN:  The 11th of January, 1934.

SR:  And lived in Dinnington between 1945 and 1965.  And I’ll just ask you that one again.  Did anyone read to you when you were young?

DN:  Yes, but it wasn’t my parents.  They were always too busy because they had  a newsagent’s shop. And, I used to have sleepovers with my friend next door.  We were born four days between each other.  And when we had sleepovers; my greatest joy was for her to read to me.

SR:  And what kind of books did she read?

DN:  Mm, Enid Blyton mostly, yeah.

SR:  Noddy, that sort?

DN:  No, I didn’t come across Noddy until I had my own children.

SR:  Okay. What were the first books you read that made you feel that you were now reading grown up books, adult books?

DN: I never read books actually.  Being in a newsagent’s, it was always comics.  The comic that I read that made me feel grown up was the Girls’ Crystal.

SR:  I remember that one, yeah. Any books that you got, where did you get them from? From family, the library or friends?

DN: The books that I got were from family.  My favourite book which is going to be … is Christmas morning, I used to wake up and I used to have a Rupert book in my sack and it was the first thing I went for and I wasn’t bothered about anything else.  I used to take a torch upstairs with me so I could read it in bed.  And I used to read Rupert.

SR: Can you talk of any of the books you read as a young adult that made a particular impression …

DN: I didn’t do a lot of reading, actually, other than, as I say, I was in a newsagent’s.  I used to read the Woman, Woman’s Own, all the comics. That was my reading.  I didn’t read books until…Oh, when would that be?  Probably when I went to college in 40 [when she was 40]. That’s when I started reading books.

SR: Yeah, and what did you do at college?

DN: It was, I was just 40 when I went to be, when I went to qualify as an NNEB.  I had been working in school for ten years but I hadn’t got any qualifications.  So I went back to college to get the qualifications.

SR: Is that a nursery nurse?

DN: Yeah, a nursery nurse, yeah.

SR: You know the things like the Woman’s Own …

DN: I should correct myself there.  I did read books when I went to Maltby Grammar School.

SR:  Maltby Grammar.

DN:  And we had to, obviously we had to read books for exams and things like that, but I never ever finished them.  I found out in later years that I’m dyslexic. I didn’t know at the time, I mean it was a thing that was unheard of.  But going back to work at school with the children and seeing the people coming in and testing children, and I think, “Oh, that’s me.  I do that and I do that.”  And it made me realise that I was dyslexic, just slightly. Yeah.

SR:  What kind of books do you really like that you read now?

DN:  What I read now. I’ve read every Catherine Cookson book that there were.  I read, I like to read books that make you realise how lucky you are to be living at this time in life and not at the turn of the century when there was so much hardship.

SR:  Now, did you get any of these books from … Did you buy them or did you go to the library?

DN:  I started going to Dinnington library with that girlfriend of mine, Ena, when I was in my very early teens.  But the books, I never read them because I found it so difficult to keep reading them. And when I came to live in Sheffield and I used to take the children to the library, my children to the library, and I took out … And the books I used to get then were gardening books or cookery books, or anything that was practical. I was not interested in novels then.

SR:  Did you go to … When you went to college, did you get any out of the library then?

DN:  Yes I did, at college.  Obviously we had to read books because they wanted our opinion.  A lot of the books were to do with children and they wanted our opinion on what you got from the books, the stories.

SR:  Did anyone encourage you to read?

DN:  No.

SR:  Not at home, no?

DN:  There again, my friend across the road, when she started taking her son to the library, she asked me if I’d like to go with her. And we both went together with the children.  And she was the one that encouraged me.  What would I be then, I must have been in my early 30s then, when I started reading.

SR:  And that’s you started reading Catherine Cookson.  (DN:  Yeah)  Did anyone make you feel that reading was a waste of time?

DN:  Yes, I think so.  My mom was a very practical person, she were always busy doing something.  ‘Cause, as I said, they had a newsagent’s, and she … they had quite a few different things going at the time. So when my dad wasn’t there, my mom looked  after the shop.  And so, then before the War, it used to stay open until nine o’clock at night. So, she was always, they were always busy doing something. Obviously, when the War came along, I was only very young.  I can vaguely remember it, and they started closing at six o’clock then.

SR: Did the newsagen’ts stock any books?

DN: No, not books, just comics.

SR:  Where and when did you find time to read?

DN: What, now or as a child?

SR:  Both.

DN:  Well, when I was, as I said, when I was a child, the only time I read really was when I was with my friend Ena.  We would read together.  Now, I read when I go to bed. Probably for an hour every night when I go to bed.

SR:  Did anyone ever make you feel embarrassed about reading, like that it was like a guilty pleasure.

DN:  Mm, not a guilty pleasure because I found it difficult to read.  When I was in the junior school, the teacher used to pick out people to stand up and read from a book. And I used to stand and die if you picked me. Absolutely, because I was just … Apart from not being able to read very well, I just lost it, you know, my nerves.  There’s something else I’ll tell you … When I … This is … Somebody should have picked up on this.  When I went from the infant school to the junior school, they sent me up with a book, because I couldn’t read, about Roger the dog.  That’s how bad my reading was.

SR:  And nobody picked it up.

DN:  Nobody picked up on it, no.

SR:  Did you ever read anything because you thought it would improve you, you know, that it was something that you ought to read?

DN:  I don’t know, I like reading about politics in the newspapers but other than that I don’t think so.  As I say, my passion was the garden and cooking, and things like so I bought books like that to improve on.

SR:  Were there any books that you read when you were younger that you wouldn’t read now?  You wouldn’t dream of reading again?

DN:  No, because I didn’t read all that much.

SR:  No, okay.  I don’t know, let me have a look.  Do you read any historical novels, did you, do you read?

DN:  Yes, well you see, Catherine Cookson and all of those, the ones associated with her, are all historical ones, yeah.

SR:  I’m just looking at my list. Any crime, crime fiction?

DN:  Mm, no, I don’t particularly, I like watching crime on the television, but I don’t like reading it, no.

SR:  Any classics, Jane Austen or anything like that?

DN:  No, but then again, you see, I like watching them on the television.  I watch them all on the television.  I did read, when I was at grammar school, I read the Count of Monte Cristo.  Absolutely fascinated me, that did.  I really loved that book.  And that was one of the books that I managed to get through to the end!

SR:  It’s got the story.

[Both laugh]

DN:  It’s got the story, yeah.

SR:  Cause these others like Catherine Cookson:  Pearl Buck, Nevil Shute, I don’t know if you’ve read any of these.

DN:  No.

SR:  Ethel Dell.

DN:  No.

SR:  Margaret Mitchell, she wrote Gone with the Wind.

DN:  No.

SR:  I mean some of these are …

DN:  You see, all those classics, I love the stories, but I haven’t got the patience to read them, even now.  I have to read every word.  I can’t skip read like other people do, you know.  I have to go through it all.  It takes me a while to go through a book.

SR:  Yes, yes.  Do you think that there are any ways that your reading has changed your life at all?

DN:  Obviously, the books … the Catherine Cookson books and there are some other writers that write in the same vein. Yeah, it’s made me appreciate what I’ve got because I’m reading about some of the … Like, I didn’t realise that children used to run about without shoes and socks on.  And they used to go gleaning in the coal, in the slag heaps and things like that. I didn’t realise anything like that until I actually read about it in novels.  And I was just amazed, yeah.

SR:  And that’s had an effect on you?

DN:  Oh yeah, definitely.  It makes you appreciate life.  Yeah.

SR:  Yes. Just a moment.  Did you know of any lending libraries that were in newsagents, or in Sheffield at all?

DN:  I had … mom and dad had friends who we called Auntie and Uncle, and they had a newsagents in Rotherham, and they used to, …

SR:  Lend out?

DN:  I don’t know if they loaned them or sold them, or what, because I was only a very young child.

SR:  Yeah, ’cause of course there was second-hand bookshops as well, like in Castlemarket, or markets in town.

DN:  I never came into Sheffield, it was an hour’s journey on the bus.

SR: Yes

DN: Yeah.

SR:  How did your family come to be in Dinnington?

DN:  How did they come to be in Dinnington? Now then.  My mother’s father went to Dinnington when the pit opened, to work in the pit, and the brothers as well.  And they came to live in Dinnington in that way.  Now my father, his parents lived at Eckington and his father used to walk from Eckington to Dinnington to work down the mines.  And that’s … And they met, of course, eventually they moved into the village and that’s … I think, I think mum met my dad because they had the newsagent’s shop and he used to go around collecting paper money and he used to call at their house.  And that’s how they met, yeah.

SR:  And you lived in Dinnington since childhood until you got married.

DN:  Yeah, until … I lived in the same house until I got married.  And then we lived there until … Malcolm joined the police force and we had to move to Sheffield.  I wouldn’t have come voluntarily, but we had to move.

SR:  Did you like living in Dinnington?

DN: I loved Dinnington, yes.

SR: When World War II came, you said you were quite small.  How did it affect your family?

DN: Mm, the things I remember about the war, was the very first time that they bombed Sheffield, I didn’t know this at the time, my dad told me later.  My dad picked me up and carried me around to me aunt’s house because she had a cellar, and we went down the cellar.  And as he was carrying me around, I could see all these beautiful lights in the sky.  And I said to him, “Dad, dad, stop.  I want to look at those pretty lights.”  And he said, “Another time.”  [Laughs]  And then another thing I remember about it was, in the winter time, when it was dark, my dad … he had just one bulb that hung over the counter, and he had this black shade around it so when the door opened, no light went outside.  Those are the two things that stick in my mind about it.

SR:  Was your dad in the war?

DN:  No, he’d got a bad heart.  He went to … They sent for him and they turned him down because he had a bad heart.  That’s how he found out he’d got one, actually.

SR: And your mum, was she drafted into anything or did she … ?

DN:  No, because she … they’d got the business, so you see …

SR: And young children.

DN:  Yeah, we were young children.  I think I was about five, four or five, something like that.

SR:  Which school did you go to?

DN:  I went to the Dinnington Infant and Junior and then I went to Maltby Grammar School.

SR:  Did you pass the eleven plus?

DN:  Well, I sat … when I sat for it, it was at ten.  And I sat for it at ten and failed, so I sat for the paid for and I failed that.  Fortunately for me, they made it eleven plus that year, and so I sat it at eleven plus and I managed to get through.

SR:  And how long were you at Maltby Grammar?

DN:  I was at Maltby Grammar School until the fifth form. I sat my, I sat my trials for the school certificate and I got through that. I failed in French,  that was the only thing I failed in.  You were only allowed to fail in one subject then.  We took nine subjects and I failed in that one, so I got through me trials, but when it came to going for the finals, my mum had to go in hospital.  She had a hysterectomy, and I’d got a sister who was only four.  She had her after the war.  She was only four, so I had to leave school to look after the shop and my sister.  So I never did take my finals.

SR:  No. And you say you, we talked about further education, you went to be a nursery nurse.

DN:  Yes, I applied for a job at Ballifield … Not Ballifield, StradbrokeSchool, at Stradbroke School as the unqualified … well, as the CCA, Child Care Assistant, and I got that job and I was there for ten years.  And they started to come down … there would only, they would only employ people with qualifications, not that anybody said anything to me, but I decided to go back to college and get my qualifications.

SR: And did you, did you work before that?

DN: Only for my parents.

SR: Yeah.

DN: I was in the shop.

SR: Yes.  Did you work for them after you got married?

DN: Yes, and even when I got children.  If the newspapers were late, my dad used to come fetch me to help him.  I was only … wait a minute … I was only thirteen the first time my father got me up to help him pack newspapers.  When I was seventeen, my mum and dad had never had a holiday on their own together, so when I was seventeen and they asked me if I could look after the shop, and I did do.  I got up at five o’clock in the morning, packed the papers, looked after the shop until six o’clock at night.  Yeah.

SR:  Long day.

DN:  It was a long day.  I had some good help though, I was courting him at the time.

[Both laugh.]

SR:  And what, if you don’t mind me asking, what date was it that you got married?

DN:  What date?  …, 16th of October, 1954.  I was twenty, yeah, that’s right, 1954.

SR:  And what is … is Norbury your married name?

DN:  Norbury is my married name, yeah.  My name was Bagshaw.

SR:  Bagshaw, was that a local family in Dinnington or Eckington?

DN:  Well, I suppose so.  My father was one of seven or eight and my mother was one of five, I think. So, yeah.

SR:  And you’ve got some children?

DN:  I’ve got three children, yeah.  They all live abroad, unfortunately.

SR:  Oh dear. A long way away?

DN:  Yes, two in Canada and one in America.  Vancouver, the two in Canada live in Vancouver and the daughter in America lives in Houston.

SR:  I think that’s about it.  Let’s see if I can stop it.

 

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‘Those Cheerless Cemeteries of Books’

The thrill of entering a public library. Thousands of books arranged in familiar patterns. Fiction and non-fiction. Classics and novels contemporary and historical, romances, crime stories and thrillers, sci-fi and fantasy. Books about art, science, music, history, travel, philosophy, politics. What will I find this time? Something entirely new? a much-anticipated sequel? an old friend? Each visit is a promise.

At the beginning of the 20th century, public libraries, including Sheffield’s, looked very different from our ‘open access’ model, where the books are there for us to wander through, to pick up, to choose or return. Then, while there might be a few out on display, many public libraries hid their books away behind counters, or kept them out of sight in rooms marked ‘No Entry’. Catalogues, often out-of-date, were set out in the public area, and sometimes copies could be purchased. Borrowers would seek the advice of library staff. Once a book was chosen, an assistant checked on its availability and, if it was not already on loan, retrieved it from its shelf and handed it over to the borrower.   

The Sheffield Corporation have given a good deal of attention lately to the development of the public libraries on modern lines, and evidence of the progress that has been made will be forth coming to-day when the Central Lending Library will be open for view to the public on the open access system. … (Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Thursday 1 June 1922)

From an anonymous pamphlet, The Truth about giving Readers Free Access to the Books in a Public Lending Library (1895)

With the exception of research and specialist institutions, there must be few ‘closed access’ libraries now. Why was it the norm in the early days? Maybe librarians and library authorities had little faith that books would not be disordered, damaged or even stolen by borrowers. Controlling access was a way to safeguard books owned by local ratepayers, not all of whom were happy with their money supporting the, to them, wrongly named free libraries. Perhaps there was also some attempt to influence what people read. Librarians and councils habitually worried about borrowers preferring the light novel over the serious work. The public library was, after all, invented to help people improve themselves.

Sheffield Central Lending Library 1910, with books locked away behind the counter (Courtesy of Sheffield Libraries and Archives – www.picturesheffield.com.
Ref: s02145)

As well as keeping borrower and book apart, closed access often meant problems for library staff. Book stores generally seem to have been crammed with shelving from floor to ceiling and young assistants had to scurry up and down long ladders to find books. Here is Joseph Lamb, Sheffield’s chief librarian from 1927 to 1956, on his days as an assistant:

Birmingham Central Library in those days (1913-14) was a murderous place in which only those with sound bodies and hardened minds could survive. Most of its large stock was shelved in three tiers of iron galleries reaching to the ceiling. In a closed library with an average daily issue of 900, the amount of leg work demanded of the staff was enough to qualify them as Everest climbers. (J P Lamb, Librarian While Young, The Librarian and Book World, Vol XLV, No 3, March 1956)

Opening of the Birmingham Central Free Library. Illustrated London News. Sept 16, 1865, page 256 (public domain). The ‘cheerless cemeteries’ can be seen on the left, with ladders for the staff to climb up and down.

And Sheffield librarian Herbert Waterson, who started work in 1869, hinted at the particular problems the ladders meant for Victorian women seeking library work.

Closed access inspired a piece of Victorian technology, the ‘indicator’. This was a screen, often fixed to the wall and divided into tiny sections, each matched to a book listing in the catalogue and showing if the book was in or out. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph proudly described the locally-made model installed in the new Brightside Library in 1872:

… the handsome mahogany frames on each side of the lending counter, in which is arranged what known as the ‘Indicator System,’ whereby the reader may see at glance whether the book he wishes to borrow is available or not. The system is ingenious, yet so simple that all can understand it. … (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Saturday 17 August 1872)

The Cotgreave model of indicator
(from A L Champneys, Public Libraries (London, Batsford, 1907))

Indicators were often very large and could be unwieldy. The ones made in 1876 for the Upperthorpe and Highfield branches had the capacity for 12,000 books each. One of the Highfield assistants claimed that the staff used to play football behind their screen when the librarian was not on duty.[i]

Open access in a public library was trialled as early as 1893 at Clerkenwell in London by James Duff Brown and seems to have aroused considerable opposition.[ii] It began slowly to be adopted, as the objections to it were proved baseless. But in conservative Sheffield closed access was the order of the day until after the First World War. In two places only could borrowers roam at will among the books. The branch library at Walkley, which opened in 1905 with a grant from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, was converted to open access in 1913-14 by its pioneering librarian, Albert Ibbotson. His superiors objected but he got away with it. ‘The [open access] Walkley Library’, said a letter from Mr A Ballard to the Sheffield Independent on Tuesday 16 August 1921, ‘has been for the past seven years a veritable university to the working people’.[iii] At the same time, two schoolteacher members of the Council’s library committee petitioned successfully for the opening up of the Reference Library.[iv]

These were among the few innovations in Sheffield Libraries in the early years of the 20th century. By 1921 the service was in decline, and there was much muttering in the press. The numbers of books borrowed were falling, book stocks inadequate, administrative practices old-fashioned, staff demotivated and buildings (especially the Central Library) in poor repair. New chief and deputy librarians – R J Gordon and J P Lamb – were recruited to put things right. Determined and modern, they wasted no time.

Converting all the libraries to open access and introducing the Dewey classification system, as funding allowed, was an early decision in July 1921. The task was huge but, by the following June, the necessary alterations had been made, the stocks of books refreshed and classified. The new open Central Lending Library was ready. Albert Ibbotson from Walkley had been appointed to run it in 1918 and was probably an ally for Gordon and Lamb. He had been described by the Sheffield Daily Telegraph on Friday 8 March 1918 as a ‘progressive librarian’. By 1919 he had already introduced a very limited form of access: ‘…two cases in which the latest books are always placed on view, and the rapid demand for these volumes shows how useful the system is’ (Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Saturday 6 September 1919).

No doubt primed by Gordon and Lamb, who both knew the value of publicity, the Sheffield Telegraph was eager to explain the new system to the city:

At the Library entrance is the staff enclosure where the issue records are kept and from which the staff control the entrance and exit wickets. A borrower desiring to change a book hands it to the assistant at the entrance counter, which is to the left on entering, and receives his borrower’s ticket exchange. The assistant then releases the wicket gate and the borrower enters the stockroom to select his book. After selecting the book he wishes to borrow he returns to the assistant who completes the necessary records and releases the exit wicket for the borrower to go out. Apart from this arrangement which will be greatly appreciated by borrowers, who can wander at will among the volumes, there is a new system of classification which makes for rapid working and ease of selection. As most borrowers at Public Libraries ask for books on a particular subject rather than by the author, and because of the many advantages gained by having all the books on the same or related subjects on one shelf, the books have been classified according to the subjects they cover. The Dewey Decimal classification has been used for this purpose and seeing it in operation, one is impressed by the value of the system. The books in the Library are arranged in two parts: prose fiction and non-fiction. (Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Thursday 1 June 1922)

Sheffield’s Attercliffe Library after conversion, showing the staff enclosure, the wicket gates to control access and the open shelving (Courtesy of Sheffield Libraries and Archives – www.picturesheffield.com. Ref: u01383)

The degree of detail suggests how much of a change this was. The journalist goes on to say: ‘There is no doubt that the public will appreciate the new system, under which borrowers are allowed actual contact with the shelves containing the books.’ Over the next few years, Sheffield’s branch libraries were all converted, with counters and screens removed and new shelving installed.

Borrowers in later years clearly still appreciating open access (Courtesy of Sheffield Libraries and Archives – www.picturesheffield.com. Ref: u02265)

Open access libraries are so familiar to us that any other system seems impossible. But in 1956, as J P Lamb approached retirement, he saw some merit in the old ways:

It seems to have been my library lot in my younger days to be fully occupied in re-organising old type libraries. Those cheerless cemeteries of books are now thought to have no redeeming features; but reflecting on my work in them after a lifetime spent in creating ‘modern’ mass appeal libraries, I am not at all sure that the change has been wholly good. Open access has resulted in the loss of a personal contact with the reader, which no kind of readers’ advisory system can replace. … The librarian as guide, philosopher and friend was then a reality. … (J P Lamb, as above)


[i] From Kelly, James R, Oral History of Sheffield Public Libraries, 1926-1974 (unpublished MA thesis, University of Sheffield, 1983). A copy is held in Sheffield Archives.

[ii] Kelly, Thomas, History of Public Libraries in Great Britain, 1845-1965 (London, The Library Association, 1973), pp. 175-82.

[iii] Did Mr A Ballard become Alderman A Ballard CBE who chaired the Council’s Libraries Committee between 1944 and 1954? It seems very possible.

[iv] The City Libraries of Sheffield 1856-1956 (Sheffield City Council, 1956). Along with the newspapers quoted, this is the main source for this article.

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