Joan T

Joan T

Joan was born on the 5th November 1924.

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

Joan was part of the group of Wadsley Friends whose joint interview you will find under Wadsley Friends. However she spoke separately to Mary and this is the transcript of that separate interview conducted in the presence of her friends. Joan passed her 11+ and went to the secondary School of Art in Surrey St opposite the Central Library.

MG: Joan was born on the 5th of November 1924 and lived in Wisewood and was then in the forces, and then came back after 1948 to Wisewood. [Editor: Joan moved to Sheffield from Bradford when she was about four.]

MG: Thank you very much, Joan.  So, you’re obviously a keen reader.  Do you know when you started to love books?

JT: No idea. I just loved books. I couldn’t have been able to read, but I just loved books.  So when I started reading, I’ve no idea.

MG: Did your parents love books?

JG: Yes they must’ve done. Most of them. I don’t know if it was me parents or me grandparents.  Walls of books, you know.

MG: Were there?

JT: Yes, I don’t know what they all were ‘cos I couldn’t read them all when I was a toddler, so.  But I just loved the books, you know. Some of ‘em were all right.  I could read through something.

MG: So do you think your parents and your grandparents bought their books or went to the library, or both?

JT: Well it’s probably both but a lot of them were rentals as well from university and all those books kept me quiet later on.   You know, so that was useful.

MG: So you acquired all those books?

JT: I did, not all of them, but quite a lot of the books were passed round.

MG: Were there any you were particularly glad to have?

JT: This is a time I’m talking about before I could read, so, but I still did, yes. There were some, yes.

MG: So, where did you go to school, Joan?

JT: At Wisewood and the College of Art.

MG: At Psalter Lane?  Was it at Psalter Lane, College of Art?

JT: Oh no it was before that.  It was at the end of Surrey Street.  Oh yes, yes. Junior it was then.

MG: And when you were at school, did you enjoy reading?

JT: Oh yes.  By then, yes.  I did then, yes.  From twelve onwards I suppose, yes.  I had books out of the library, the school library, as well as other kinds, so it was all right.  I didn’t. er, I read a lot of theirs and library books then.  More than the ones we had at home.

MG: Did anyone help you choose those books?

JT: No actually, the ones at school we were just given those.  You know, suitable ones I suppose. There were all kinds of books, you know.

MG:So they were chosen for you?

JT: Well yes because it was a – we had to write about them when we’d finished reading them, you know.  So that was to make sure we’d read them I suppose.

MG: Were there any that you loved?

JT: Well I can’t really remember any of those. I think quite a lot were fictional but I can’t remember them much.

MG: Right. So do you find you don’t remember fiction as much as other books?

JT:  Er, I don’t remember any of them actually!  Possibly so, yes.  There’s certain ones you read over again, you know.

MG: Yes. Which ones were they that you read over and over again?

JT:  Those at that time, none.  Later on I did though, the ones I had at home, I read them over and over again.  Don’t think the others I did. Just get them out once and read them.

MG: So going forward in your life, when you were an adult, which books did you read over and over again?

JT:  I don’t think I did.  Cos I didn’t read that many fiction books after that.

MG: Didn’t you?

JT:  No.  Only the ones that were still at home, you know.  They were old ones and not very trusted, perhaps, you know.  I can remember them but they’re not very interesting [laughs].  A bit, … a bit heavy going I suppose for that age, I don’t know.  Possibly.

MG:  Did you read them because you felt you should read them?

JT:  Not because I should, but I had to read every book.  It didn’t matter what it was.  A book was a book!

MG:Right, yes.

JT: You know, I couldn’t resist.  If I did go to the library I’d have to pick anything that looked a decent book.  Providing it wasn’t fiction.  And I’d read it, whatever it was.  But I don’t remember those stories.

MG:So you sort of galloped through them.

JT: Well no, it depends. No, no, I’d read it.

MG: Yes. But you must’ve read quite quickly to have read so many.

JT: No, not necessarily quickly, no. I don’t think so.

MG: No. When did you find time to read when you were at school?

JT:  At school. Apart from the school books, no, we didn’t have a lot of time, you know.

MG: No.

JT: Well with work and things you don’t have time to do much reading.

MG: No.

JT:  Apart from for school.  Them reference book things for work, for working at school, you know.

MG: So when you left school and you hadn’t got the school library, where did you find your books to read?

JT:  Er, well, I couldn’t afford any then.  So it’d have to be library at that time.  There wasn’t a lot of time really.

MG: Was that Hillsborough Library?

JT:   Er, yes.  It didn’t go on very long because the war was on then and so I did other things.

MG: Yeah.  And you were in the forces until 1948, and did you have any access to leisure reading then?

JT: None.

MG: None?

JT:  No time at all.

MG: No time.  Where were you in the forces, Joan, where?

JT: Where? Bedfordshire.

MG: Right. So that really meant your reading stopped until 1948?

JT: Yes it did yes.

MG: And when you came out of the forces you were 24, and what did you do then?

JT: Mm, I went into an office.  I did try nursing but the men went mad, [typist’s note, I listened to this many times, but this is what it sounded like to me.  It may have been me mam went mad] so I went into an office.  I still went reading some things, you know.

MG: Yes.

JT:  But not quite as much, perhaps.

MG: No.  Where did you find your books when you were 24?

JT:  Well they would be library books, yes.

MG: Yes.  Yes.  Can you remember any book that you read and you thought, “Oo this is a really adult book, you know, I’m not reading children’s stuff anymore.  This is an adult book.

JT:   I don’t really remember reading children’s books!

MG: Really?

JT:  Well, I don’t remember any.

MG: No.

JT: At all.

MG: No.

JT: Erm, I don’t know really, I can’t think oh, Yorkshire, what do they call her?

MG: Winifred Holtby?

JT:  Pardon?

MG:  Winifred Holtby, you didn’t read…..

JT: No, no.  Can’t remember.  Sorry.

MG: So when you got your parents’ books and your uncles’ books and some of your grandparents’ books,

JT:  I did read technical books in between these things.

MG: Oh did you?

JT:  You see, that took up time.

MG: Yes.

JT:  I think I’ve still got a book on aeronautical engineering.  I thought of going into that,

MG: Really.

JT:  but when I got there I decided it was a bit out of date by then!

MG: So was that what you worked on in the war, aeronautical?

JT:  No.

MG: No.

JT:  No.

MG:But you liked reading.

JT:  Oh yes.

MG: Engineering books.

JT:  Anything yes!

MG: Did you?

JT: Yes!  But you don’t remember all of it, do you?

MG:No.

JT:  But I remember quite a bit of it, a good bit of that.

MG:Yes, so you’ve still got your aeronautical  …

JT: I remember those but I don’t remember the fiction ones at all.

MG: Ah, that’s interesting.  So you remember the non-fiction more than the fiction.

JT: Yes. Well, ‘cause you use them as reference books you do remember them.  It’s something you’re learning isn’t it?

MG: Yeah. Yes, yes. So fiction was something you just did for a bit of pleasure and then forgot about it.

JT: Oh yes, yes.

MG: That’s interesting!  So there’s no novel that really you re-read?  Or have re-read as an adult because you particularly like it?

JT: I think I’ve read a few but I can’t just recall what they are. Not important enough to remember. I’ve not got a very good memory anyway.

MG: Well Jean said she enjoyed Dickens very much, was he a favourite?  Not at all?

JT: That’s not my cup of tea at all.   No I’m afraid.  I mean, it just doesn’t interest me.

MG: I think there was an author who was involved in aeronautical engineering called Nevil Shute.

JT:Oh yes.

MG: Did you read any of his?

JT: Yes, yes I did.  I remember those, yes. He was in the Air Force. Yes, yes.

MG:Thank you very much.  Bringing it right up to date actually Joan, which books are you enjoying at the moment?

JT: Mm, I read very little, actually. A lot of the books I have are reference books for anything I want to do, you know. Those of course get read over and over again but, er, the other ones I possibly I might read in bed, paperback ones, as a sort of, I’m just trying to think, popular things. Not, they’re fiction, yes, but er I only like certain ones.

MG: Yes So with your parents’ books and your grandparents’ books, were they mostly factual or fiction?  Both, right?

JT: Yes.

MG: That’s very interesting.  Thank you very much Joan.

Tyas 2 [Joan wanted to add something at the end of our interview so this is where I caught up with her.]

JT: … in my life at five [laughs].

MG: Put you off?

JT: It put me off school.

MG: Oh, no.

JT: So I didn’t bother any more with anything. I’ve used my imagination as to where I am and so you know the rest.  Well I didn’t think if the rest of the teaching was a bit like that, I didn’t want to know.  Very stupid child!  [laughs]

MG: So school didn’t excite you?

JT: No it didn’t I’m afraid, until I got to the 11+ year for some reason. Other than that I was always sent out from classes.

MG: Were you?  Were you naughty?

JT: No.  I remember them always getting sent out when it was sewing time but actually I think there was a point in that.  I’m not very ambidextrous with my fingers and it was always a bit of a problem. Which is all right if you want to draw and paint, ‘cause you’re any good at it, but it’s not much good for sewing. I used to lose (I always did when I was a kid) lose needles and that.  I don’t see the point and anyway we weren’t doing anything special.  It wasn’t anything, you know, just doing, I think they did sampler things and things of that sort. And I thought, “That’s a waste of time”.  But I used to get sent out.  I much preferred it outside!  [laughs].

MG: Thank you.

Recent Posts

City Librarian Speaks Out

Joseph Percy Lamb (1891-1969) was Sheffield’s City Librarian between 1927 and 1956. More than anyone, Lamb was responsible for the success of the city’s library service in the mid-20th century, when annual issues rose from under one to over four million and seven new libraries, including the Central, were opened. As Reading Sheffield contributes a talk about him to the 2019 Heritage Open Days festival, here is Joe Lamb himself in October 1933, giving the presidential address to the Sheffield Literary Club.

Joe Lamb (image: SCC)

Threatened by Mob Hysteria

Intellectual Freedom in Danger

Warning by Sheffield Librarian

Nazi Example

Joe Lamb’s self-confidence shine out in the Sheffield Independent’s report on 13 October 1933 of his address to the Literary Club. We realise with surprise that here is, not a politician or pundit, but a local government officer. The speech has not survived but we are left in no doubt of the conviction behind it. The Independent characterises it as strong criticism of ‘the attitude of the present generation towards life in general and literature in particular’. Lamb had evidently been angered by the

recent ‘barbaric spectacle’ of German university students publicly burning books containing some of the finest flowerings of German thought.

A Nazi throws confiscated ‘un-German’ books into the bonfire on the Opernplatz in Berlin in May 1933 (image: public domain).

This was a reference to the public burning of around 25,000 ‘un-German’ books by Nazi students which began on 10 May 1933. Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany in January and the anti-Jewish Nuremburg Laws proclaimed in April 1933. There were bonfires across the country, and the works of writers such as Berthold Brecht, Karl Marx, Heinrich Heine, Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque and Ernest Hemingway were condemned as corrupt. In Berlin, around 40,000 people heard propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels speak in support of censorship. This story seems to be missing from the Sheffield press, and perhaps Lamb, as City Librarian, felt that the threat to liberty and civilisation should have been better reported. For, having denounced the situation in Germany, he posited that ‘even in Britain there was growing up an attitude of conscious hostility to intellectual freedom’. He went on, in the blunt way of his time:

It is, of course, true that literature has never been free from persecution at the hands of the mob, and that this mob has not always been confined to the depressed classes of the community. … The more subtle weapons of social ostracism and economic pressure, no less powerful and ruthless because they are carefully hidden from public view, are in force even now.

Lamb was not afraid to point out the gap he perceived between intellectual and everyday life (notwithstanding the fact that there must have been academics in his audience).   

The preoccupation of scholars with the past, and the inevitable association between intellectual pursuits and the leisured security of university life have tended to isolate the idea of culture from contemporary thought and the ordinary scramble for existence. … I suggest that the time is coming when the whole structure of learning, buttressed up as it is by a great deal of make-belief, will be forced to discard many of these supports and re-build on foundations of intellectual honesty. Otherwise there is very serious danger of it being undermined by the forces of mob hysteria which our modern civilisation has called into being. 

As if this wasn’t enough, Lamb also took a swipe at methods of teaching.

We are not content to accept with simple thankfulness the works of writers of undoubted genius; we must forever be dissecting them on the operating slab and exhibiting their entrails to groups of shuddering students. … We even perpetrate the grisly joke of using the works of Shakespeare as a medium for the exercise of parsing and grammatical construction; and thousands of children who might conceivably grow up to a proper appreciation of literature are eternally damned by the macabre activities of the earnest educationists. Is it any wonder that so few survive?

(He was, of course, not unique in this particular criticism, and we know from his writing of his own unsatisfactory experiences learning literature at school.)

Lamb warned against the mediocre ‘in thought, language, creative work’, which was all too easily accepted, he thought, by the ‘pseudo-cultured’. For him the answer was robust ‘individualism of thought’, questioning rather than accepting.

Eighty years on, you wonder how the members of the Sheffield Literary Club responded to their president’s strong words. This club had been founded in 1923 as the Sheffield Poetry Club, and was often mentioned in the press (not least for its pseudo-medieval Christmas dinner, ‘ye soper æt Cristenmæsse of ye witenayemot and clubbe of lettres’, with the president as the ‘mayster of the feste’). Subjects discussed at its meetings included: Jane Austen, Mary Webb, Bryon, satire and early English novels. No doubt it seemed appropriate in this context to have the city’s chief librarian as president. That he was elected four years in a row suggests that they also valued him.

The Sheffield Literary Club, with Lamb third from the left, front row (image: Sheffield Newspapers)

Joe Lamb was a self-made man from a working-class family in St Helens. Denied higher education (which seems to have rankled throughout his life), he became an assistant librarian, which was a secure, white collar job. He was an auto-didact, using the ample opportunity his profession gave him to explore literature, music, philosophy and science. He also took his professional exams and became Sheffield’s City Librarian in 1927, winning national and international renown for the service. Throughout his career, he wrote and spoke about public libraries, determinedly promoting Sheffield. He seemed always to relish argument, and even controversy, for example, stocking his branch libraries with popular fiction like Edgar Wallace at a time when professional librarians frowned on offering books for entertainment. All this meant that he could appear difficult and was sometimes disliked, but he was always respected. This is the man we see in the newspaper of October 1933. In essence, he sought out his own way, always demonstrating the ‘individualism of thought’ he advocated to the Literary Club.

If you would like to learn more about Joe Lamb and Sheffield Libraries, our talk is on 17 September, at 10.30 am, in the Central Library, Surrey Street, Sheffield, S1 1XZ. The talk is free but places can be booked here.

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