Jean H

Jean H

Jean was born on the 3rd August 1926.

Jean is being interviewed by Mary Grover on 8th May 2012.

Mary Grover: Well Jean, I know you are a great reader. When did you start to read?

Jean H: I think it was when I was about five or six years old.

Mary Grover: So who started you reading? Was it school or parents?

Jean H: Both. My mum and dad and school.

MG:  So did you parents read to you?

JH: At night, before I went to bed. [Laughs.]

MG: And can you remember what they read to you at all?

JH: Not really.

MG: But it must have been fun.

JH: Yes.  Nursery rhymes, or little poems.

[Jean starts laughing because Mary has to sit on the floor to get the microphone nearer Jean.]

MG: Sorry, I have just had to sit on the floor which is a strange position to interview somebody from.  When you went to school, Jean, what did you read there?

JH: [Pause.] Do you know, I can’t recollect.

MG: Did you enjoy school?

JH: Yes, and as a matter of fact, English was one of my main subjects that I really loved, reading and reciting and reading plays.

MG: Was that at secondary school or …?

JH: No, just at normal school.

MG: And can you remember any of those plays you were in?

JH: No.

MG: But you enjoyed them?

JH: Yes, I enjoyed reading them, especially reading poetry.

MG: Has that stayed with you for the rest of your life?

JH: Really, but I can’t remember such a lot now.  My memory is just going.

MG: What school did you go to?

JH: I went to Hartley Brook Rd School in Shiregreen.

MG: And when did you leave?

JH: I left at fourteen.

MG: And what did you do then?

JH: First of all I worked at Shentalls. Do you remember? First of all, I worked in the office at Shentalls. First of all, when I was fourteen, you used to scrub floors, do the windows and then it was … do you remember dried milk? [MG: Yes.] There were stacks of different dried milk in the windows. I used to go out and bring peoples’ orders in. Write them all down when I was working in the office as well as on the counter.

MG: And did you have any time to read when you were working at Shentalls?

JH: I don’t think I did really. No, not really.

MG: So, when as an adult, did you get back into reading?

JH: When I was in the Forces.

MG: So 1939 onwards.

JH: 1944 to the 1950s.

MG: Where did you find your books when you were in the Forces?

JH: We had like libraries where you could go and read if you wished.

MG:  Were they pleasant places to be those libraries?

JH: Yes.

MG: Did you enjoy being in the library?

JH: Yes, I loved Dickens. They were the only books that stick in my mind somehow.

MG: Did you have a set of Dickens?

JH: I just borrowed them either from the library or wherever I could.

MG: Were any of those Dickens novels special?

JH: Yes, I used to love Christmas Carol. That’s the only one that sticks in my mind.

MG: Did your parents like Dickens?

JH: My mum and dad were quite clever. They only went to secondary school because that’s the only thing their parents could afford for them to do. They were both very clever.

MG: They never made you feel that reading was a waste of time?

JH: Oh no, never. Never. [Emphatically] Never. They used to go down to the library in Firth Park every week and on a Friday they used to have a story-teller which was really lovely and they used to collect the books. As I say, I used to like poetry as well as reading.

MG: Did you learn any by heart at school?

JH: Yes. I used to have to stand up in front of the class and read [Laughs.] and if we had visitors, I used to have to stand up. I remember having to do these different things and when the visitors came to school, I used to have to round with them.

MG: And that was because you were a good speaker, I imagine.

JH: Perhaps so, yes.

MG: So when you were in the Forces, you were obviously a keen reader.

JH: I didn’t have an awful lot of time. You were nearly always alert for the sirens going and being in London was a bit dicey.

MG: What was your job?

JH: I was in the Medical Corps. I was a sergeant at 19.

MG: So you must have been very tired in the evening.

JH: I was the youngest sergeant in the London District.

MG: Good heavens!

JH: It was very … you know, had to go out, any time.

MG: Very frightening.

JH:  As well as being in the RMC, I was [inaudible] at a kind of reception station for people who were very poorly.  You sorted them like going to the doctors.

MG: So were you a nurse or on the administrative side?

JH: No, I wasn’t a nurse, I was a medical orderly.

MG: Very interesting.

JH: It was very interesting, taking people to hospitals, especially when you’ve got soldiers who had come from the Far East, Middle East.

MG: Do you think those very interesting experiences led you to read different books than if you had stayed in Sheffield?

JH: No, I don’t think so.

MG: But you had access to the Forces library.

JH: It was NAAFI and they used to exchange books.

MG: Did you find that Joan? [Inaudible response from Joan.]

MG: So when you got back to Sheffield, what did you do then?

JH: First of all, I thought I’d love to be a nurse because when I was in the Forces they said that I was a born nurse, but I didn’t. I went to work in Shentalls, in the office there, would it have been … ? I’ve forgotten now.

MG: You got married.

JH: Yes, I got married.

MG: And did you read at all when you first got married?

JH: I don’t think I did.

MG: So when did you pick up books again? When did you find that you had time for reading?

JH: As I got older. But I more or less like to go to the theatre, plays, you know.

MG: Yes, so where did you go to them?

JH: Lyceum  …The Empire which used to have like …

MG: So theatre was a great love.

JH: I used to go.

MG: Was there one production which stands out as a very good evening out?

JG: No I don’t think so.

MG: So it was partly the fun of going out and being with friends?

JH: Well, I’ve never been very good at making friends but I’ve always gone to the theatre, to plays, on my own.

MG: So it meant that much to you?

JH: Yes, I just loved going. And I loved going to the opera more than anything when the operas used to come to Sheffield.

MG: They don’t come as much now.

JH: Yes. [Inaudible.]

MG: I am afraid so. Leeds is the nearest now for opera. So the cinema – did that figure?

JH: I’m not all that keen on cinema.

MG: Well, thank you so much, Jean.

Recent Posts

The Reading Journey of David Price, a Sheffield historian

By Mary Grover

David has contributed two key aids to our understanding of the history of Sheffield: Sheffield Troublemakers: Rebels and Radicals in Sheffield History (2011) and Welcome to Sheffield: A Migration History (2018). Members of the Reading Sheffield team have used both books to inform our own research and have been hugely grateful to David’s personal help at various stages of our own projects.

The Price family. David is on the right.

A ‘left-leaning’ family

David was born in 1936. He spent the war years in Wales and the rest of his childhood in the south of England. It is not surprising that he became an historian; he was born into a culture of debate. His mother was a Methodist and more ‘left-leaning’ than the family of his father who once called her ‘the Muscovite’. She had a science degree and taught throughout her sons’ childhood. David describes her as ‘remarkably capable’. Though he had to leave school early, David’s father became an architect by working his way up in the architectural office of Edwin Lutyens and then found employment in the Ministry of Works. His parents first met in a boarding house on the east coast where they spent the first five hours of their acquaintance discussing ‘all sorts of things’. Clearly David’s mother was persuasive because his father moved steadily leftwards and they came to share their political convictions. David’s father ‘revered’ Kingsley Martin, the editor of the New Statesman.

At first the influence of David’s mother was strong, sometimes as censor. Though David’s enjoyment of Winnie the Pooh was encouraged, his mother disapproved of Beatrix Potter because as a biologist and botanist she disliked the anthropomorphising of animals: ‘animals speaking seemed ridiculous’. She did not approve of Enid Blyton whom she described as ‘a bit below par’.

As David grew older it was his father’s reading tastes that he began to share.

Though W W Jacobs is less read today than Wells, Stevenson and Conan Doyle, his sinister tale The Monkey’s Paw still appears in anthologies of supernatural or horror stories and has been often filmed.

I went on walks with him during which he would tell me about his latest reading (often biographies). Also he had a large book collection himself.  So I read a lot of novels that belonged to his generation by authors like R L Stevenson, W W Jacobs, H G Wells, Conan Doyle.

The book that made the strongest impression on David as a child was one that I had never heard of, the Swiftian satire by André Maurois which mocks the folly of war: in French, Patapoufs et Filifers (1930), in English Fattypuffs and Thinifers. It is about a boy who arrives in a strange land where there are two countries at war with each other. One country is easy going and the other not. Both are fighting over a little island between them. In the end they make peace. David associates the presence of this book in the house with his parents’ membership of the Peace Pledge Union, the pacifist campaign which they joined in 1938.

The radio was a source of stimulation to both David and his parents. David remembers Children’s Hour, in particular Uncle Mac. He enjoyed the adventures broadcast, for example those of Malcolm Saville. Many of his stories were broadcast in 1946 and Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet in 1945. If the dangers seemed too thrilling there was always the sofa to hide behind. Though David ‘quite liked’ Arthur Ransome, it sounds as though they were a little short on thrills.

As David and his brother grew older, the whole family would often go to Guildford Repertory Theatre. The productions were of a high standard. He remembers Henry V, Murder on the Nile and the Broadway comedy Affairs of State by Louis Verneuil. But on Saturday afternoons David’s father usually took himself off, on his own, to the cinema.

School: more scope for debate

When David passed his 11 plus and went to Woking Grammar School, he developed a circle of friends every bit as intellectually curious as his parents. One of his circle became an Anglo-Catholic and David was a Methodist so religion became a subject for debate. The two boys and their friends would wander round the town’s parks in their lunch hour discussing religion, politics, evolution and the latest edition of the Brain’s Trust, in particular the contributions of the celebrity philosopher, Cyril Joad. ‘I remember the gossip when Joad was fined for not paying for a railway ticket.’ One teacher, ‘though rather pompous’ encouraged the boys’ general reading.

When he was 16, in 1952, David compiled a diary of his reading. It includes Joad’s Guide to Modern Thought, The Cambridge History of English Literature, British Historical and Political Orations, Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, The History of the USA by Cecil Chesterton (‘a dubious brother of G.K. Chesterton who was regarded as anti-Semite’), Pickwick Papers, Goethe’s Faust in English, Doctrines of the Christian Church, the Penguin Book of Comic Verse, The ABC of International Affairs, The Life of Albert Schweitzer and Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale. David describes reading Graham Greene in his teens and ‘probably’ Orwell. David’s diary includes a long discussion about the implications of Stalin’s death and notes for David’s talk about Chopin to the musical society.

David remembers reading Scott’s Kenilworth and Conrad’s The Rover. He returned to André Maurois, to his biography of Benjamin Disraeli, having recently read Disraeli’s novel, Sybil. The teenager ‘haunted’ second-hand bookshops, in particular Finnerens, where there was a mysterious inner sanctum containing books that Mr Finneren said ‘would not interest you boys.’ David also used the municipal library in Woking. His English teacher was a Freeman of the City of London and took the group to the City. It was a busy day – they visited The Guildhall Museum, Southwark Cathedral and then the teacher left them and the boys attended Question Time at the Houses of Parliament: all superb preparation for his successful application to study History at Cambridge in 1955.

David’s journey to Sheffield

After university David did his National Service in the Royal Army Educational Corps. He found himself helping poorly educated infantrymen with their English, maths and current affairs, a task for which he was well equipped. He then joined the Civil Service.

Moving for work, David has made Sheffield his home during the last forty years. He has written the histories of so many Sheffielders that it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to write a little of his own history: his history as a reader.

  1. ‘Those Cheerless Cemeteries of Books’ Leave a reply
  2. Val’s Reading Journey: Word Games 2 Replies
  3. A Light To Read By Leave a reply
  4. Charles Dickens in Thirties Sheffield Leave a reply
  5. A Reading Journey Expanded 1 Reply
  6. In the year 1873 Leave a reply
  7. The Day The Library Closed Leave a reply
  8. A ‘Brilliant Throng’ at the Town Hall Leave a reply
  9. Dickens Comes to Sheffield Leave a reply