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.

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Steel City Readers

By Mary Grover

Reading Sheffield’s main activity this year is to raise money to support ‘Steel City Readers’, the book by our founder, Dr Mary Grover, about reading for pleasure in Sheffield between 1925 and 1955. The memories of the Sheffield readers we interviewed for our oral history project are at the heart of the book. We want to raise £12,500 to make ‘Steel City Readers’ free to download through an Open Access Licence, so that anyone may read it. Here is our Just Giving page where you can make a donation.

Mary Soar (born Wilkinson)

When you joined the queue of boys waiting to ask Mary Wilkinson to dance, you didn’t know that you were in for something more than swinging a girl round ‘in a room with a lovely bouncy floor above the garage on Psalter Lane’. For, in between dances, Mary brought out her ‘Confession Book’.

With this and a fountain pen, the resourceful girl soon extracted from her friends, male and female, but mostly male, their innermost desires. Each person had to ponder how to conclude a set of prompts like these:

‘I am going to marry for . . ‘

‘My favourite girl is . . .’

My favourite dance band is  . . . ‘ (Harry Roy being the ‘Marmite’ band)

My favourite author is . . .’ (Most of them were thriller writers like Edgar Wallace and the authors of the long-running Sexton Blake series.)

Reading Sheffield discovered Mary’s precious time-capsule ten years ago when we set out to explore the books that mattered to Sheffield readers in the Thirties and Forties. We interviewed 65 readers from all over Sheffield, born before 1945, about what they read when they were growing up.

Mary’s Confession Book is a treasure because people who are not famous, like Mary and her friends, rarely leave records of how they thought and read. Yet, our personal histories and our tastes are individual and surprising, and reflect the times in which we grew up.

The first reader whose memoir I explored did indeed become famous. He was born long before our readers and his reading could easily have derailed a career which was to see him inventing the process of creating stainless steel. Yet Harry Brearley’s first love was reading.

Harry Brearley

Like most of our readers, Brearley had no books at home and even less schooling. He had no access to books from municipal libraries, so, being the resourceful child he was, he made his own. He became a bottle washer in a chemistry laboratory, went to night school, and was inspired by the great educator and philanthropist, John Ruskin. The boy kept borrowing Ruskin’s economic treatise, Unto This Last, copying it out, page by page. He bound the pages with scraps of leather he had scrounged and created a copy of Ruskin’s great work that was his to keep. A formidable achievement, but it was Sheffield’s good fortune that he decided that ‘Reading, there was no living in it’. He turned his attention to the chemistry textbooks lent him by the head of the laboratory.

Adele Jagger aged about 16 in the back garden of 277a Ecclesall Road

For most of our readers, growing up during the Depression, the Second World War and the hard times that followed, there was, still, less of a living to be made from book-learning than there was from taking up a good apprenticeship, if you were lucky enough to be offered one. So why were so many of the people we interviewed gripped by the reading bug and the desire to entertain and educate themselves by reading? For many, with little encouragement, reading became a kind of addiction. Adele, born in 1942 whose father was a painter and decorator, never saw either of her parents hold a book yet, as she put it, ‘something gets hold of you, doesn’t it?’  When I suggested to Doreen, born in 1934, that when she started courting there might not have been time for reading, she was quite tart with me: ‘You can read and dance, Mary!’ Doreen had to leave her grammar school early for lack of parental support. Mary Wilkinson had to leave school early because the family printing business folded. Both girls never let the absence of a School Certificate rob them of an education. They kept on reading.

Doreen Gill and her husband

Most of our readers depended on Sheffield’s superb libraries for the books they read but annuals and comics also changed people’s lives. When Fred Jones from the Manor got tuberculosis in the Thirties at the age of 8, he was a non-reader: ‘I just couldn’t fathom it’. He was sent to Nether Edge isolation hospital and thanks to a mound of comics donated by an imaginative benefactor, he came out fluent, ‘never able to put a book down’ and got to night school.

Fred’s story is told by one of our interviewees, Malcolm Mercer, a boy who never passed his 11+ but became headmaster of Parson Cross School largely because of his own reading. When he left school at 14 to become a shop-assistant he bought himself a notebook and recorded everything he read. He borrowed books from Park Library, setting himself his own curriculum, which included Scouting for Boys, Lord Beaverbrook’s Success, 100 Tips for more Trade and Tolstoy’s Tales of Courage and Conflict.

Park Library

Steel City Readers is inspired by the pleasure Malcolm, Doreen, Mary and others found in the books they hunted down. Liverpool University Press is publishing it as an e-book which will make it free to readers globally, but an author must find £12,500 for the licence fee and other costs to publish it. Will you help Reading Sheffield pay the fee? If you could make a donation, perhaps in memory of someone you know whose life was changed by reading, we would be most grateful and you would be contributing to preserving Sheffield’s history.

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