Jean Wolfendale

Jean Wolfendale

Jean was born on 7th March 1933.

She is being interviewed by Sahra Ajiba on 14th October 2011.

SA:  This is an interview conducted by Sahra Ajiba, S-A-H-R-A A-J-I-B-A. It is 14th October 2011. I am interviewing Jean Wolfendale, J-E-A-N W-O-L-F-E-N-D-A-L-E. She was born in 1933 on 7th March and lived in Meadowhead and Norton between 1945 and 1965.

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Jean in the entrance to High Storrs School 1950

So, Jean, to start, did anyone read to you when you were young? Or how did you … gain your keen interest in reading when you were younger?

JW: Mm, yes, I think my parents read to me a little but not a lot because they were both, er, very busy people. I learnt to read when I was … I think five, almost as soon as I started school and got very bored because … … there wasn’t any stimulation in school. So, …  my parents took me to the children’s library which was in, well, where it is now, in the middle of Sheffield and I was enrolled there as soon as I was seven.  I think you couldn’t join before you were 7, …, and after that it was a weekly trip to the library to get suitable books. Mm … but I’ve always just loved reading … mm … They also bought me Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia, all twelve volumes which I devoured, starting with the fiction and gradually got onto the more, erm … what’s the word … academic things, but the fiction and the poetry were the things that attracted me at that age. The trip to town became a very regular thing.  I had a close friend.  We went to music lessons in town and then from there we would go to … , the library and also to … a shop on Holly Street, Andrews, where they had the most wonderful display of children’s books, and we would save our pocket money and buy a book as often as we possibly could.  Then we’d share them. By ‘45, which is I think the time you’re wanting to talk about, I was at High Storrs School, I’d be a second year then, and of course we were very much encouraged to read the, sort of, [bimmer] [unclear word] classics.  I had Ivanhoe as a prize at one point.  So I read a lot of Walter Scott and a lot of Jane Austen.  Mm … for a sort of lighter reading there was Little Women and, er [long pause], let me think.  Oh, yes the Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy.  My friend and I ploughed through all seven volumes of that, which we thoroughly enjoyed.  Erm … what else? [long pause] Let me think [long pause]. For light relief, yes, there were Biggles books which were all about wartime exploits and, of course, it was in … well, it was the end of the war but we’d been brought up through the war so that was all very, very … mm … what’s the word again … oh dear, I do hate this.  It was in the top of our minds sort of thing so there were the Biggles books and also there was an author called Mal-Malcolm Saville who . . . one of his books was Mystery at Witchend and there were others which were sort of spy story-type things but not spy stories.  We also had the Hans Andersen and the Grimms’ Fairy Tales and so on but I think that must have been at a younger age than teenage.  Mazo de la Roche, yes, I ploughed through all the Jalna novels and I absolutely loved them.  I couldn’t wait to find the next one in the series from the library.  Hugh Walpole, a lot of his books I read.  Mm, what else have you got here? Dickens, at that age I would have been reading Christmas Carol and David Copperfield … , I think the other ones came later.

SA: Are there any books that stand out in your mind as being a transition from childhood to adulthood that you chose to read and that you think made you feel more adult?

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Jean (left) Bridlington 1947

JW: Yes, there was an author called Frances Parkinson Keyes. He [sic] wrote very meaty, very long novels.  I can’t remember a great deal … a particular title now but again it was … several of them were set in the American Deep South and, …, they were quite adult and I enjoyed those very much.

SA: So it was more the change of genre that made you feel more adult than one book?

JW: Yes, and then there was Dornford Yates who wrote the Berry books.  Which were screamingly funny and, … I shouldn’t find them funny now but I did then and again … I used to annoy my parents by sitting in the corner and laughing at the books and they couldn’t understand why.  They were, they were fascinating … as I say I probably wouldn’t enjoy them now, although I’d love to read one again just to try it [laughs].  Er, I can see Gone With the Wind.  I think I probably read that about that time and that again was a much more adult one.

Erm, [pause] yeah my father read … goodness I’m sorry, dreadful this, they’re all on the tip of my tongue and I can’t remember them.  I’ll come back to that, it doesn’t matter.

SA: Ok.

JW: Er, so what else was there?

SA: So you said that you got most of your books from the library or you went down to the little shops and saved your pocket money to get them.

JW: Yes.

SA: Did your parents, even though they didn’t read to you that much, when you were younger, did they encourage your reading?

JW: Oh, very much so.  Yes.  To be fair, there wasn’t an awful lot else to do.  The only other thing to do in the evenings, apart from school work, was, erm … er, listen to the radio, which obviously we did as a family but, er, yes reading was very much encouraged.

Your supervisor was asking me about the, the little libraries that there were in Sheffield and I told her that my father through my mother belonged to one of these.  I told her it was, I forget the name, but anyway I’ve remembered it, it was the Red Circle library and it was on, I think, Angel Street, although it might have been on Haymarket.  Er, and erm, they stocked sort of popular fiction. He liked crime and cowboys and detective novels and so on and she could get those for him from there.  The public libraries didn’t have that sort of thing in those days – it was very much more erudite. You know, you were supposed to be educated if you went to the library rather than just amused.  Er, Nevil Shute, Dad and I both enjoyed those, that was something we shared together … because they were very well written, they were lovely.  [Long pause]  What else?  [pause].  Tarka the Otter, yes, I remember reading that but I think that was much later.  I don’t think he was writing when I was that age.  I seem to remember Tarka the Otter, probably in the late ‘50s, probably ‘60s, I’m not sure about the date on that.

SA: OK.  So your family was a positive influence on reading.  Is there anyone that made you feel like reading was a waste of time or that just didn’t encourage you to read?

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Jean and family in Scarborough 1948

JW: No, no.

SA: So everyone was happy – ?

JW: Everyone encouraged me to read, yes. Yes, definitely.

SA: So you said you used to sit in the corner and laugh and you don’t quite know why you would do that now.  Have you ever read a book that’s kind of a guilty pleasure or that you feel embarrassed about?  Anything like that?

JW: [long pause] Yes, let me think. Who was it? Which one was it? Oh gosh there was a famous one. Well, Lady Chatterley – when we were at school, of course, everyone wanted to get their hands on Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It was many years later before I did actually read it but we were all trying to read it at that time. There was another one … oh dear … I can’t remember its name but there was another, sort of, well I suppose it would be quite mild these days but it was considered very sexy in those days. All the girls in school were trying to get hold of copies of this but I can’t remember its name.

SA: So you noticed a difference between what was high-brow and what was low-brow?

JW: Definitely.  Yes.

SA: But did you read a mixture of both?

JW: Yes.  Yes, er, yes.  I think so.  Definitely.  As I say these Dornford Yates ones, you’d call them ‘pulp fiction’, I suppose, but they were, they were ok.  Erm, school was a very, very strong influence and it was very much: ‘Children, girls, you must read.  Uplifting books.’  Erm, we were very much discouraged from having, for instance, comics or anything like that.  I had something called Girl’s Crystal but . . . which was a … quite a decent comic but you couldn’t possibly have mentioned that in school because that wasn’t the done thing as it were.

SA: So reading was encouraged but only a certain type of reading?

JW: Yes. Yes … Geoffrey Thorne (Sp?).  Oh, that’s another one.  He would be considered light reading but we used to read those.  I’ve read most of those in my time.  John Buchan, he was more approved of … erm … much more literary.  I still enjoy reading him.  I’d quite like to see a Geoffrey Thorne again but I don’t know where you would get one now.  Hammond Innes.  I’ve read those but again I can’t remember what stage.  That’s probably pushing towards late teens rather than early teens.

SA: Yeah, that’s fine. We’re looking at how-how your reading developed as you get into adulthood so you can talk about anything you like.

JW: Yes. Oh, gosh, right, it’s something that stays with you for life.  I – I belong to a little group of ex-teachers and, when we meet, we swap books and we talk books all the time and I mean, you know, it’s still there.  Antony [sic] Hope, The Prisoner of Zenda, I’ve got that on the shelf, just over there.  That again was an early teenage one. Dennis Wheatley.  That was the one I was trying to remember that my father . . . my father had these and he didn’t think they were suitable for me, but I used to read them on the quiet.

SA: So, as you grew up and as you became older, did you streamline the kind of book that you read to a certain genre or did you have favourite authors or did you just continue to, like, devour, like lots of different types of literature?

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On the way to Mam Tor

JW: Devoured really, I suppose.  Yes, I don’t think I particularly … I suppose it was historical fiction in many ways that I used to go for.  I hadn’t realised that but I supposed it was.  To a certain extent ,anyway.  I don’t remember reading much Georgette Heyer. I tried her and didn’t like it but I read D K Broster and Baroness Orczy.  For some reason I never took to Jean Plaidy.  Anya Seton was another one that I really enjoyed.  There was … now what was her name?  A Traveller in Time by … Alison … Uttley.  That’s right. That was … erm, one that absolutely fascinated me as an early teenager I think, and that set me onto Mary Queen of Scots and all that sort of thing.

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SA: You said that you were a teacher.  Do you think that your love of reading either influenced becoming a teacher or was influenced by becoming a teacher?

JW: [pause] It influenced my becoming a teacher.  I … gave up on a chance to go to university and got married and had children so I didn’t become a teacher till I’d had my family and … when I went to college I specialised in English and French and that was obviously as a result of my – my reading and so on.  I did English at Higher School Certificate so I’d got a background of English.  So reading obviously played a tremendous part in my life, it still does.

SA: OK. That’s because one of the questions is: ‘Do you think reading has or how has reading changed your life?’  So you think it has?

JW: [pause] I can’t say it changed it because it’s always been there … mm … but I can’t imagine a life without it and in fact at the moment I’m beginning to have some trouble with my eyes and I can’t read for long and that is a real … er … hurt, you know, I have to do something else and I’d prefer to read [sounds sad].

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Bridlington 1947

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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.

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