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

Romer Wilson: Remembering Sheffield’s Forgotten Novelist

Part One

By Val Hewson

The writer Romer Wilson, born in Sheffield in 1891, is now almost forgotten. Her name appears in a few databases and blogs, and she has brief Dictionary of National Biography and Wikipedia entries. A novelist who also wrote short stories, verse and a play, and an anthologist of tales for children, she was generally well regarded in her lifetime. She seems, however, to have received almost no critical attention since her early death in 1930. We found her, by chance, through her father, Arnold Muir Wilson (1857-1909), whose name came up in our research into Sheffield Libraries.

Our sister project, Reading 1900-1950, has posted an article about Romer Wilson’s novel, Latterday Symphony (Nonesuch Press, London, 1927), here. We are researching her life, and while there is much to discover, we know enough to offer a good introduction to Sheffield’s forgotten novelist.    

The first thing to know is that ‘Romer Wilson’ is not her name. On official records, Romer Wilson is Florence Roma Muir Wilson, eldest child of Arnold and Amy Letitia Muir Wilson. On her marriage, she became Florence Roma Muir O’Brien. According to correspondence archived at Girton College, Cambridge, her friends called her, not Florence, a popular name of the time, but Roma. Why Roma we cannot know, but it is interesting that her parents visited Rome on their honeymoon. Romer and Roma, invented and real, pen-name and given name. Perhaps Roma felt that Romer, which could so easily be a man’s name, would be an advantage in her career. (Indeed, critics did occasionally assume that they were reviewing the work of a man.)

Parkholme, 30 Collegiate Crescent, Sheffield, where Romer Wilson was born

‘A dark old manor house on the edge of the moors just outside Sheffield’ was Romer Wilson’s home for most of her childhood, until it was sold on the death of her father in 1909.[i] This was Whiteley Wood Hall, a 17th century house with Victorian additions, stables and extensive grounds, in Fulwood, a suburb in south-west Sheffield. Romer was born on Saturday 26 December 1891 in Parkholme, a much smaller suburban villa in Collegiate Crescent, in the desirable Broomhall area just outside the town centre.[ii] Her father, on the way up in the world, bought the Hall in 1893, when she was about two years old, for somewhere between £7,000 and £9,000 (a sum beyond the imaginings of most Sheffield residents at the time). The Hall had important historical associations: Thomas Boulsover (1705 – 1788), the inventor of Sheffield Plate, and Samuel Plimsoll MP (1824 – 1898), famous for the Plimsoll line on ships, had both lived there. The house was demolished in 1959, with the grounds and outbuildings becoming a Girlguiding outdoor activity centre. Today all around is park and common land, well-used and easily accessible. Its relative remoteness in Romer’s day perhaps contributed to her depictions of wild, even hostile moorland in her books, Greenlow (Collins, London, 1927) and All Alone: The Life and Private History of Emily Jane Bronte (Chatto & Windus, London, 1928), from where this quotation comes:

West and north and south the moors hang above the West Riding of Yorkshire. They rise up bleak and black and brooding, a thousand feet, two thousand feet above the valleys. Empty and silent, without trees or lakes, without wide rivers, without grand impressive mountains, they roll away from this world.

All Alone (Introduction to Haworth – A Journey from To-Day)

Whiteley Wood Hall, Common Lane, built 1662 by Alexandra Ashton, demolished 1959. Stood in its own woods, commanding a view over the Porter Valley. Home of Thomas Boulsover, inventor of Sheffield Plate, who died here in 1788, and Samuel Plimsoll
Whiteley Wood Hall, Common Lane, Fulwood, Sheffield. Image courtesy of Picture Sheffield (www.picturesheffield.com). Ref no: y01697

Dark, remote and ancient Whiteley Wood Hall may have been, but Romer and her younger sister Natalie (born in 1893) and brother Leslie (born in 1899) had a privileged childhood. There were servants, parties and fetes, holidays abroad, chauffeur-driven motor cars, outings to the theatre, music lessons and private education.    

This comfortable life was due to the efforts of her father, Arnold Muir Wilson. A remarkably frank obituary said of him:

… at all times a theatrical personality. … Self-made, frank almost to the point of brutal bluntness to friend and foe, assertive and dauntless, relentless as a sleuthhound in business, with a boundless capacity for work and an astonishing capacity for turning unlikely circumstances to his own advantage. … a want of self-control, an almost reckless impulsiveness of action and a disregard … for the feelings of others. … one could never definitely conclude that Mr Muir Wilson had any clear creed or abstract principle, or that he was seriously in earnest … gossipy … in private he was a good fellow and an entertaining companion …

Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Monday 4 October 1909
Councillor Arnold Muir Wilson (1857-1909)
Arnold Muir Wilson. Image courtesy of Picture Sheffield (www.picturesheffield.com). Ref. no. y08151.

Wilson was in many ways the classic Victorian success story. He was a prominent solicitor and a Conservative councillor for over 20 years, with Parliamentary ambitions. He had started in trade, helping out as a child in his father’s barber shop on Snig Hill in the town centre. The Wilsons evidently prospered, opening various new businesses, and in time Wilson switched from trade to profession, thus rising up a social class or two. We know little of his education (other than a period in Germany), but his professional training was through Clifford’s Inn, where he won prizes.[iii] He opened his own law firm and was much in demand. He had business interests too, owning property, land and a share in Sheffield’s newest theatre, the Lyceum. He even contrived an appointment as honorary consul for Serbia in 1898, which presumably appealed to both his vanity and his eye for an opportunity.

Around 1906, however, Wilson fell ill, consulting a ‘brain specialist’. His illness seemed to exacerbate an already volatile character. He attacked a magistrate in court, for which he had to issue a public apology. When a by-election was called in Attercliffe in 1909, dismayed not to be chosen as the Conservative candidate, he stood as an independent but lost and promptly took the official Conservative candidate to court, alleging assault and damage. The case was dismissed. After this, Wilson’s health declined further, and he went abroad, saying he would never return alive. He was right: he had a complete breakdown in Vancouver and died soon after in hospital. His body was brought back to Sheffield and quietly buried in the General Cemetery. ‘Never, probably, was a man who had played so prominent a part in public life buried in so private a manner,’ said the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (Monday 25 October 1909). He left almost £50,000, mostly in trust for his family, and instructed that his property, including Whiteley Wood Hall, be sold. His wife and children evidently moved to a smaller property nearby.   

Around this time, Romer was coming to the end of her schooldays. She had been privately educated until she was 15, when she was sent to West Heath, a boarding school in Richmond on Thames, for four years.[iv] After that, in 1911 she went up to Girton College, Cambridge to read law.[v] Socially this was apparently a happy time, with Romer making many friends including the economic historian, Eileen Power (1889 – 1940), social reformer Margery Spring Rice (1887 – 1970) and the novelist Emily (‘Topsy’) Coursolles Jones (1883 – 1966), who seems as forgotten as Romer herself. Academically, she was less happy: she spoke of ‘considerable boredom’ and passed her exams ‘with mediocre honours’ in 1914. A tutor suggested she do some writing, and she started by producing ‘rubbish for a typewritten private magazine’.

This then was the beginning of Romer Wilson’s literary career. There’s a suggestion of the accidental about it: a young woman doing a little writing to occupy her time in between social activities. She did not need to work after all. Or did the tutor’s suggestion accord with a wish of her own? At all events, she was soon working feverishly on a novel, against the background of war.

Part Two of Romer Wilson’s story will follow shortly.


[i] Quoted, but not attributed, in the entry on Romer Wilson in the Dictionary of National Biography.  

[ii] Parkholme, 30 Collegiate Crescent, is now owned by Sheffield Hallam University.

[iii] Clifford’s Inn was one of the Inns of Chancery to which all solicitors belonged before the 20th century.

[iv] A more famous pupil, many years later, was Lady Diana Spencer.

[v] Law was an interesting choice. Was it a tribute to her father? No woman was allowed to practise law in the UK until the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, five years after Romer finished her university course.

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