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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A ‘Brilliant Throng’ at the Town Hall

On Monday 20 September 1909, Sheffield Council hosted a reception in the Town Hall to mark the annual conference of the Library Association, which was being held in the city for the first time.[i] For once my interest in library history coincides with my interest in clothes…

Both the Sheffield Independent and the Sheffield Telegraph covered the discussions at the conference in detail. They also found space for some gentle fun at the librarians’ expense, less gentle criticism of Sheffield’s own library service and, in the case of the Town Hall reception, extensive fashion notes.[ii]

The Independent’s feature on the reception is signed ‘By Our Lady Representative’. This was an anonymous byline frequently used in the newspaper between about 1895 and 1915, for reports of splendid balls, garden parties and other society events, meticulously recording the guests, gowns and jewels on display.

On this occasion Our Lady Representative set the scene, describing the Town Hall’s reception rooms:

Quite in keeping with their reputation for lavish hospitality was the reception given last night by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress (Ald and Mrs H K Stephenson) in honour of the visit to Sheffield of the Libraries’ Association [sic]. Our spacious civic reception rooms, garlanded with foliage and flowers, evoked much admiration from the visitors, who found much enjoyment in the admirable supper served in the Council Chamber and ante room…

Sheffield Town Hall - the main entrance today. Guests would have used it in 1909ld have
The main entrance to the Town Hall today. Guests would have come in this way in 1909

The Telegraph agreed. The ‘stately entertaining rooms at the Town Hall [had] never been more beautifully decorated’. It went on:

supper was served in the Council Chamber and ante-room from nine o’clock onwards, and there was also a buffet supper in the drawing-room on the grand corridor.

The grand staircase up to the reception rooms (By Michael Beckwith. Public domain)

There was superior entertainment for the evening:

… the entertaining programme of songs by Miss Nina Gordon and the sleight of hand exhibitions by Dr Byrd-Page … Miss Nina Gordon is an artiste very much after the style of the famous Margaret Cooper, and the selections from her varied repertoire were keenly appreciated. So too, were the clever tricks of Dr Byrd-Page … The band of the 3rd West Riding Brigade Royal Field Artillery played during the reception. (Independent)

Miss Gordon specialised in humorous songs and sketches and Dr Byrd-Page was a ‘prestidigitateur’ or Illusionist. They both feature often on theatre bills of the period, and claimed royal patronage. By 1912 Dr Byrd-Page declared ‘the honour of appearing before His late Majesty King Edward VII on no less than seventeen occasions; and frequently before His Most Gracious Majesty King George V’.[iii] The Sheffield Telegraph described Miss Gordon as ‘Queen Mary’s Favourite Entertainer’ and an ‘exceedingly versatile artiste’.[iv]

In Sheffield Town Hall, their audience included industrialists, civic dignitaries and academics from the University of Sheffield. The Lord Mayor, the Town Clerk, the Bishop of Sheffield, the Master Cutler and the Mayor and Town Clerk of Rotherham led the way, and notable Sheffield names, such as Mappin, Vickers, Bingham, Hadfield and Harrison, were all represented. The Library Association was led by its President for 1909, Sheffield’s own Alderman William Brittain, who, according to the Telegraph of 21 September, was ‘identified more than any other gentleman in Sheffield with the development of museums and libraries’; and by prominent librarians like Stanley Jast, later chief librarian in Manchester and Croydon, and Sheffield’s own chief librarian, Samuel Smith.

Alderman Brittain (seated) and (directly behind him) Samuel Smith, Sheffield’s chief librarian

As might be expected in 1909, all the illustrious guests, including the librarians, were men, but their wives, daughters and sisters were present too. It is here that Our Lady Representative comes into her own. Consider the Lord Mayor’s family:

… the Lady Mayoress wearing her chain of office disposed about the corsage of an artistic evening gown of chartreuse green satin, her jewels including a diamond tiara and a diamond pendant of great beauty. Mrs Blake (mother of the Lady Mayoress), in a handsome black toilette sparkling with jet, brought Miss Blake and Miss Esther Blake, both wearing beautiful frocks of rainbow effect, the former expressed in pale blue chiffon over white satin with broad opalescent embroideries, and the other in mauve tinted chiffon en tunique and weighted down the left side with a band of nacre sequins. Mrs R G Blake’s black satin toilette looked well with a corsage bouquet of La France roses; and Mrs Philip Blake was a pretty young matron in a tunic dress of palest mauve ninon done with a broad Greek key embroidery. (Independent)

The Telegraph, meanwhile, reported that the Mayoress of Rotherham, Mrs Dan Mullins, wore a ‘heliotrope satin gown, enriched with embroideries’. (Judging by the number of times heliotrope and its near relation, mauve, are mentioned in the coverage, they must have been among that season’s colours.)

And there was:  

Mrs Brittain, whose gown of pewter grey satin was wrought with embroideries of blister pearls, her jewels being diamonds [and her daughters] Miss Winifred Brittain wearing emerald green chiffon and gold embroideries, and Mrs Hubert Rowlands attired in white satin with pendant earrings of amethysts. (Independent)

… Mrs George Franklin, wearing superb diamonds with a Parma violet toilette … Mrs Wilson Mappin, in grey brocade and diamonds … Mr and Mrs Tom Mappin, the lady in black satin with sleeves of thick black silk embroidery sewn with jet and slit up the outer side of the arms. Only two ladies had adopted the new turban coiffure. Mrs A J Gainsford, who had hers finished with a twist of white tulle, and wore a salmon pink bengaline gown, and Mrs Cyril Lockwood, whose hair was dressed with a plait, her black satin frock being enriched about the corsage with gold embroideries. (Independent)

Mrs H H Bedford chose lemon yellow satin … Miss Frost was in pale blue spotted silk; Miss Armine Sandford had a white satin gown; Mrs J R Wheatley in petunia silk applique, with cream lace motifs, had some lovely diamond ornaments … (Telegraph)

The Library Association was not to be outdone. Women librarians and the wives of the male librarians, said Our Lady Representative, ‘dispelled the illusion that a close association with books is incompatible with smart dressing’. (Just how old is the idea that librarians are uninterested in clothes?)

Miss Frost, of Worthing, who had a princess gown of pale blue satin veiled in a tunic overdress of dewdrop white chiffon fringed with silver. Mrs Wright (Plymouth) was much admired in a yellow evening frock; Mrs Kirkby (Leicester) wore white lace; and Mrs Ashton came in crocus mauve ninon de soie. Mrs Jast (Croydon) in a black toilette sparkling with jet … Mrs Chennell was wearing black chiffon; and Mrs Tickhill’s black lace gown veiled a white taffetas underslip. Mrs Samuel Smith (wife of the Chief Librarian of Sheffield) had a gown of palest pink silk, and her sister, Miss Flint, was in black, the jet bretelles being super-imposed on a fold of palest yellow velvet. Mrs Jones (Runcorn) and Mrs Singleton (Accrington) both appeared in black evening toilettes; Mrs Wilkinson (Rawtenstall) wore white silk; Mrs Bagguley (Swindon) was in sapphire blue poplin; and Mrs Pomfret (Darwen) came in old rose crepe de chine, Mrs Dowbiggin (Lancaster) wearing bright pink silk striped with white dots. (Independent)

Unfortunately, there are very few images of all this splendour. The Telegraph published the photograph shown above of Alderman Brittain with Library Association colleagues, taken during the conference, and we have the line drawings below, all of the men in their white tie and tails, and with their fine Edwardian moustaches and beards. For the women’s colourful toilettes, we have only word pictures. We have to use our imaginations to see the Lady Mayoress:

very dainty in reseda green satin, with loose hanging sleeves of cream Limerick lace, caught with cords of gold’ and wearing a diamond tiara and pendant and her chain of office. (Telegraph).

The ‘booky people’, says the original caption

Perhaps words are enough to convey the fashionable, affluent and confident elite of Sheffield that September evening in 1909. There were certainly problems locally, including poverty, slum accommodation and an over-dependence on a few, linked industries, but there was progress of which to be proud. To the world Sheffield was synonymous with steel, a place of industrial innovation and invention. Its population was growing and its suburbs spreading. It had been granted city status as recently as 1893 and within a few years it would be the fifth city in Great Britain, outstripping its great rival, Leeds. The grand Town Hall of the evening’s festivities had been opened by Queen Victoria in 1897 and in 1905 her son Edward VII had granted the University of Sheffield charter.

We know that within five years war would bring considerable change to Sheffield, with lasting consequences, but in 1909 the city could enjoy the opportunity afforded by events like the Library Association conference to show itself off and to earn the admiration of others.   

PS. Although there are no images of the women at the reception, here are a few fashion plates from the newspapers of the period, to help conjure the event.

This is the first of several pieces we plan to publish about the 1909 Library Association conference in Sheffield.


[i] The Library Association was founded in 1877 as the professional body for librarians in the UK. It was awarded a Royal Charter in 1898. It exists today as CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals, having merged in 2002 with the Institute of Information Scientists.

[ii] Both the Telegraph and the Independent covered the reception on Tuesday 21 September 1909.

[iii] Middlesex Gazette, 5 October 1912.

[iv] Sheffield Evening Telegraph, 3 February 1912.

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