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.

 

Recent Posts

In the year 1873

I’m researching the remarkable Walter Parsonson (1832-1873), who was Sheffield’s first chief librarian from 1855 to 1873. Here, by way of an introduction to the man, is an account of the public library during his last year in charge. It comes from the annual report of the Council’s Free Library Committee, as it appeared in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph on Monday 6 October 1873.[i] 

Walter Parsonson (copyright Sheffield City Council,
used by permission of Picture Sheffield. Ref: u04592)

In 1870, three years before Walter Parsonson died, the Midland Station opened in the valley below Norfolk Park. Sheffield would not become a city for another 20 years, but the new rail route to London, via Chesterfield, was a sign of the town changing fast. Sheffield’s population had trebled to 239,000 since Walter’s birth in 1832, although its area was smaller than today’s city, with districts like Hillsborough yet to be incorporated. Steelmaking and related industries were making fortunes for the few and keeping the many going. The town centre was being developed and new residential areas like Crookes being settled. Thousands of people still lived in slums, however, and public health was poor. Schools were expanding thanks to the Elementary Education Act 1870, and by the end of the decade steel baron Mark Firth would establish Firth College, the forerunner to the University of Sheffield.      

The public library, which opened in 1856, was a well-established part of mid-Victorian Sheffield. There were the central lending and reference libraries in the old Mechanics’ Institute in Surrey Street; and branch libraries in Upperthorpe and Brightside. These branches were recent innovations, with Walter Parsonson’s ‘valuable services…most cheerfully and unstintingly given’ to them, and the Council was proud of them, on civic and cultural grounds, as pledges for the future.

Brightside

Brightside was judged a success by the Committee, with 3,800 borrowers registered in a year:

The returns from the Brightside branch library are eminently satisfactory, and prove the wisdom of the course adopted by the Town Council in erecting a building specially adapted for its efficient working.

It opened, on Gower Street, in September 1872, at a cost of £2,000, with about £800 spent on a stock of over 5,000 books. There was a lending library, a ladies’ reading room and, upstairs, a public reading room (there was, you see, the public and then there were women). As Sheffield’s first building ‘erected with some consideration for the working of a library’, according to Alderman Fisher of the Free Library Committee, it was an experiment.[ii] The Sheffield Daily Telegraph said on Thursday 5 September 1872:

It is sufficient now to say that it is a neat if not handsome-looking edifice, and that the interior arrangements are the most appropriate character, surpassing in the matter of convenience the central institution.

Brightside Library, Gower Street (copyright Sheffield City Council, used by permission of Picture Sheffield. Ref: u03145)

Neat on the outside, Brightside had on the inside state of the art Victorian technology, which was another sign of Council commitment to libraries:

… 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. The frames contain 72 columns … and each of these is divided by thin slips of japanned tin into 150 little shelves. (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Saturday 17 August 1872)

Each shelf was marked with the number of a book. Borrowers chose from a catalogue and then checked the indicator. If the allocated shelf was clear, their choice was available and library staff would retrieve it from behind the counter. But if the shelf showed red, the book was out on loan. The Brightside indicator, made locally, by Mr Cocking of Watson’s Walk in the town centre, worked ‘most usefully and satisfactorily’, said the Committee report.

Brightside was evidently well used: in 1872-3, ‘the issues have been 67,177 volumes, or a daily average of 248 volumes’, with fiction (46,435) easily the most popular. This was always the way, although some complained that libraries should only have ‘books of information’, frivolous novels being a waste of time and public money. There were 7,200 books on the Brightside shelves by 1873, and almost 40% were fiction. But there were also almost 2,000 books on history, biography and travel, and 800 on arts and sciences.

Brightside (with a later name change to Burngreave) remained a library until 1990. The building is still there, and is now the Al-Rahman Mosque.  

Upperthorpe

The branch had opened in 1869, in rooms rented by the Council in the Tabernacle Congregational Church on Albert Terrace Road. No doubt it had also been seen as an experiment. Its facilities were obviously poorer than Brightside, but the Committee felt that it too had performed well:

Its work during this time had been extremely satisfactory; the average daily issues which had fallen from 162, in 1870-71, to 150 in 1871-2, having this year increased to 183. The total issue for the year had been 49,640 books.

Tabernacle Congregational Church, Albert Terrace Road, Upperthorpe (used by permission of Picture Sheffield. Ref: s22751)

Once again, fiction comes top: ‘5,289 had been history, biography, and travels; 4,446 arts and sciences, 680 theology and philosophy; 410 politics, 1,680 poetry, 30,508 fiction, and 6,627 miscellanies’. Just one book had been lost, of the 7,138 books in stock, and at 13s it must have been one of the more expensive.

The demand for books in Upperthorpe and the success of the specially-designed building in Brightside led the Council to invest in two prestige projects in 1876 – a new library building for Upperthorpe and its twin at Highfield on the other side of the town. These were fine buildings,  designed by one of the town’s premier architects and fitted with up-to-date indicator devices, at an overall cost of about £6,000 each. One hundred and forty-four years later, Highfield is still a Council-run library, and Upperthorpe an associate library.     

Central Library

The Central Library was less satisfactory. Issues were down:

IssuesReferenceLendingTotal
1872-313,470128,032141,502
1871-215,162134,086149,248

The Committee thought that the decrease was due ‘partly to the extremely good state of trade during the past year’ (which is an original suggestion. Did people stop reading if there was business to be done?) and ‘also partly to the extensive and excellent collections’ in the two branch libraries. It pointed out too that the total for the three libraries together was in fact rising: 178,155 volumes, or 754 per day, in 1871-2 and 244,849, or 890 per day, in 1872-3. This was clearly entirely satisfactory.    

There was, however, a problem. The reference library issues had been falling steadily since the late 1860s, from 19,384 in 1869-70 to 13,470 in 1872-3. The Committee begged the full Council to take action:

It is true that the reference library is in extent scarcely worthy of the town; but it possesses many rare and valuable works, and it is much to be regretted that quieter and more spacious accommodation for their use should not be provided. Until that is done and a safer place of deposit furnished, it appears unlikely that future committees will expend much in the extension of this valuable department, or that owners of scarce works will present them for public use. The decreased issues … appear to prove that the discomfort and offensiveness of a heated, overcrowded room are too much for the zeal after knowledge to overcome. Since the opening of the reference library in 1856, private enterprise has abundantly provided our largely increased population with commensurate accommodation for drinking, dancing, and other amusements, whilst the accommodation for the nobler tastes which would bring our population to consult the learned and artistic works which are accumulated and accumulating in your reference library (which, from their rarity and value, cannot be lent out) is scarcely at all improved and extended.

The Mechanics’ Institute – home of Sheffield’s first public library

The Mechanics’ Institute building was now wholly owned by the Council, and housed the debating chamber and various offices. The ground-floor library had long outgrown its allocated space – there was no room for an indicator system there. While the Council did invest over the years in branch libraries, it failed to look after the heart of the service. The Committee’s plea in 1873 was simply an early iteration of the case its successors and its librarians would make for the next 56 years, as the situation worsened. Sheffield needed a modern, properly equipped central library.   

Conclusion

I’ll finish where the Council’s report starts – with a tribute to Walter Parsonson, about whom I plan to write more. The Committee’s report was tabled just a month after his death, and he perhaps had helped to draft it.

At the outset the Committee state that they have first to deplore the loss by death of the late chief librarian, Mr. Walter Parsonson, FRAS. Mr. Parsonson had filled the office of chief librarian with great ability since the establishment of what is now the central library in February, 1856, and the later portion of this time his valuable services were most cheerfully and unstintingly given towards the establishment and opening of the Upperthorpe and Brightside branches. Mr. Parsonson’s diligence, urbanity, integrity, and rare devotion to all the duties of his important office during this long period of service, appear to require this brief record of the melancholy reason why his name no longer appears in the ‘list of officers’ prefixed to their report.

I will be writing more about Walter Parsonson here. I’ve also recorded a podcast about Walter with Sheffield Libraries which is here. Many thanks to Picture Sheffield for allowing the use of images.


[i] Unless otherwise stated, all quotations come from this article.

[ii] Quoted in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph’s report of the opening ceremony, published on 5 September 1872.

  1. The Day The Library Closed Leave a reply
  2. A ‘Brilliant Throng’ at the Town Hall Leave a reply
  3. Dickens Comes to Sheffield Leave a reply
  4. Lockdown reading Leave a reply
  5. The books along the way… Leave a reply
  6. The top of the attic stairs Leave a reply
  7. ‘Young woman, 22, not a reader, joins library’ 3 Replies
  8. Wybourn in the 1950s Leave a reply
  9. Jean Compton’s Reading Journey 3 Replies