Margaret was born in Sheffield on the 17th April 1945. Between 1945 and 1966 she lived close to the city centre.
Margaret was interviewed by Susan Roe and Mary Grover on the 10th May 2018.
Susan Roe: Did anyone read to you when you were young?
Margaret H: No … not at all.
SR: Do you remember any books you read as a young child?
MH: None, we didn’t have books in the house.
SR: So, when do you remember starting to read?
MH: Probably in school.
SR: In primary school?
MH: And actually starting to learn to read at school.
SR: And what sort of books did you learn to read at school?
MH: Just normal ones … I can’t remember any titles but just the normal textbooks we had at school … you know the simplistic early books when you’re learning. Its phonics now but then it was just spelling things out.
SR: Did you read Enid Blyton or any classic children’s books?
MH: Later on, I can’t remember at what age I was, I was taken to a library by my granddad and that was Sheffield City library and I vaguely remember going there and into the children’s sections … but I wasn’t comfortable reading for a long time.
SR: Why was that?
MH: I think because … I was a poor reader. I think largely because I didn’t have any encouragement at all. There was no one was saying if you can read well you will get great joy from this, nothing along those lines. I can remember something that really sticks with me is, as a child having to read aloud and it really frightened me. I was really worried about that. I remember one of the other things was that we had a teacher who was very keen on spelling. The spelling test was on a Friday morning and there were ten spellings and for every one you got wrong you were given the cane [Sue gasps]. That happened for quite a long time but needless to say, I’m quite good at spelling [both laugh]. At that early age, I’d gone home with my hands bleeding from having the cane.
SR: This was at Springfield Primary School?
MH: Yes it was. Up until … I went to Business College when I was 16 and I think it dawned on me then that my reading was not very good. I was doing typing, short hand and business studies and all those sorts of things. At 16 there were plenty of jobs around. I had four to choose from and I worked at an architecture office. When I got there I found that I had to read reports quite regularly and I was there for ten years before I had my children. That’s when I became aware of the fact that of how important reading was and what I could gain from it
SR: What were the first books you read that made you feel like you were reading more adult books do you remember?
MH: I don’t remember any titles. As I’ve got older my favourite reading materials are biographies and autobiographies. I enjoy reading about people’s lives … and how things develop in someone’s life.
SR: Like different experiences?
SR: Were there any books in the house?
SR: What about your granddad? You mentioned you were very close.
MH: Not in reading terms. He was the one who I went to the library with. In school we were told about libraries and I must’ve said at one point that I would like to go and I remember going with him.
SR: Did you go regularly with him?
SR: Did you go with him to change your books or anything?
SR: Did you go to bookshops or anything like that?
MH: No, not at that time.
SR: Not as a teenager or young adult?
MH: No … when I met my husband life changed dramatically. The family life that I had, with no books or anything, and then I used to visit his home and his dad was politically minded and the material there was incredible. I had never seen so many books in a house … and that’s when things started to open up.
SR: Did you read any of the books?
MH: I sort of skipped through them. They were not mine and I was new to the house but they were a wonderful family and I was welcomed. Things just opened up for me and from then on. When I first knew him he was a worker in a steel works and then things moved on and we worked together side by side for 31 years. I was involved in much more than I’d ever experienced before.
SR: Not just family life but also professionally?
MH: Yes, professional life as well.
SR: And did that affect your reading habits?
MH: Yes, because a lot of time I’d be taking minutes from meetings and then transcribing them so you know that’s when the spelling came in [both laugh]. From then, looking back my education was not brilliant and I do regret that to this day, I wish that I had some encouragement.
SR: Nobody at home encouraged you?
MH: No, not at all.
SR: Did they make you feel it was a waste of time?
MH: Yes, because the only thing they were interested in was working … my brother was born when I was sixteen and one of the things was talked about was that I was in college at the time and wouldn’t go on to work but I would be his nanny. It was only one of the cutlers who came in the pub and said, ‘You can’t do that, that’s not right’. I think if they hadn’t have intervened that very probably would’ve happened.
SR: They would’ve taken you out of college?
MH: Yes and I would’ve taken care of him … there are regrets there that I didn’t – my brother who is 50 something.
SR: He’s 15 years younger than you?
MH: Yes. They moved from the pub and he had a superb education.
SR: And the benefit that you didn’t?
MH: He’s gone on to great and wonderful things and I’m very proud of him but I sometimes think …
SR: That would’ve been nice?
MH: Yes that would’ve been nice and I’m sure given the encouragement I would’ve enjoyed it, so there are regrets there.
SR: When you were working at the architecture office were there books there? Or did people talk about reading?
MH: Yes that was a new part of my life. They were good people and nice people and were very kind to me. I was quite, when I think about it now, I was so naïve. So … just not worldly wise at all, and there was a lady there who was the secretary to the partner and she was just wonderful to me
SR: Like a mother figure? Did she take you under her wing?
MH: Yes she did, I learnt an awful lot from her. She gave me a lot of encouragement and helped me with things when I was taking dictation from whomever and I wasn’t sure about things and I hadn’t had the knowledge really.
SR: It could’ve been a bit technical couldn’t it?
MH: Yes she did help me with a lot and I was very grateful for her.
SR: Did she encourage you to read books?
MH: Yes and actually she was the first person who introduced me to magazines.
MH: I’d never had a magazine and we’d never have a newspaper in our house.
SR: Or a comic?
SR: Not a Bunty?
SR: Or a Girls Crystal?
MH: No I never had anything like that! She [laughs] was quite a glamorous lady really and the magazines she had she would pass onto me and I thought this was wonderful [Sue laughs]. I thought it was absolutely wonderful.
SR: Did anyone recommend at work to read any particular books or anything like that?
MH: No, I don’t remember that.
SR: So when did you take up reading?
MH: Quite late on really when I think about it. Books became more important when I had my own children. My daughter was born in ’69 and my son in ’72 and then I don’t know if it was something at the back of my mind but I realized I wanted to read to them, or to her when she was small. In fact I can still recite Tootles the Taxi [Sue laughs]. We had it every night forever really. I’ve still got the book at home and that’s when we started to introduce books into the house and every night one of us read to them.
SR: Did you take them to the library when they were older?
MH: Yes we did. Things were changing back then. When my daughter was at school they had a school library.
SR: Was there nothing for you in the school library?
SR: Not even at Tapton?
MH: Yes but I was only there a short while so I didn’t become involved in the school library there … but now I read everything and anything really, I enjoy reading and I read most days.
SR: When you were younger were you ever embarrassed about what you read?
SR: Did you ever read anything that you felt would be looked down upon?
MH: No I don’t think I was embarrassed. I think some of the magazines that this lady had given me … I remember thinking that they were quite irrelevant to what was going on in my life [both laugh]. I would consider posh magazines like Vogue …
SR: Oh gosh.
MH: Yes and those sorts of things because there were lots of fashion and I wasn’t into that at all just because I just wasn’t.
SR: Especially the price tags?
MH: Exactly! But they were only to look at, and some people have this don’t they?
SR: A different world?
MH: Yes, a totally different world and it wasn’t my world. It’s funny, I say to my daughter sometimes that I remember my mum talked about jacuzzis and I remember it was a present and I was going to a spa and I was going to have a back massage and my mum said not for the likes of us.
SR: Did she?
MH: Yes, and you know that stays with me, it really does, because I’ve had lots of nice things since then but I always think about that and it’s almost as if I wasn’t worthy of that.
SR: Did you ever get any books as Christmas presents when you were a kid?
MH: Not when I was a kid.
SR: Not any annuals or Girls Crystal?
MH: No I don’t remember anything like that. We always bought our children annuals or whatever they were interested in.
SR: Was it because they [parents] weren’t readers and didn’t see it as important for you?
MH: No, not at all.
SR: How do you feel about that now?
MH: Quite sad really. I often compared myself, not so much now, but with my brother because he came along later. When I think about it, because I was with my husband, he was almost like our child and we had a totally different view about how he should be educated.
SR: So he got the benefit of you and your husband’s attitudes?
MH: Absolutely and it was very advantageous for him as my mum and dad left the public house and moved to Derbyshire. He was nine at the time, so he was at primary school for almost a year but there were still grammar schools and he went to Staveley Grammar and he flew, he absolutely flew. We were there to encourage him.
SR: That’s what’s important isn’t it?
MH: Absolutely and that that’s the difference and I have a very close relationship with him, which is super! So I missed out I think on quite a lot.
SR: Did you ever read any books that you thought might improve you when you started reading?
MH: Oh yes! I tried to read self-help stuff really because I’m still not over-confident at all but I went through a stage where I didn’t think I was good enough for lots of things. So, I read self-improvement books really. I don’t think it made an awful change and I really mean that, I don’t think it made a change. I think life experiences changed my view on lots of things and that is because I was fortunate enough to have met my husband and his family and that’s when things changed dramatically for me.
SR: So they actually gave you what you hadn’t gotten at home?
MH: Yes, they did and I was very grateful for that. As I said before, my mother-in-law only died 18 months ago but she was the most … she was just super to me. She always told me that I was the daughter that she never had, because she had two sons and it made such a difference.
SR: Did they ever pass on books to you or recommend books to you?
MH: Yes, my father-in-law’s favourite book was The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.
SR: Bedtime reading?
MH: Yes but a bit heavy going – I did try [both laugh]. He was a member of the Communist party, so some of the books in the house were quite heavy going you could say.
SR: What about your husband? Did he ever pass on books to you?
MH: Not really, no. His reading is usually reports.
SR: So it’s not reading for pleasure?
MH: No, he’s reading for work.
SR: So your favourite books as you said were when you had your children and you bought books for children. Did you start reading any fiction or novels?
MH: Yes I did but nothing sticks out in my mind other than the biographies. I’ve read lots and lots on Nelson Mandela. That’s the sort of things that I enjoy and at the moment I am reading Judy Dench’s.
SR: Why do you think you enjoy them perhaps more than fiction?
MH: I don’t know … I like to know people’s backgrounds, where they came from and how they think they’ve arrived at where they are. I find that most interesting.
SR: How they dealt with things that were thrown at them?
MH: Yes. When you think about Mandela there was an awful lot that he had to endure.
SR: So you’ve not got any fiction that you particularly like? Do you like crime fiction or science fiction?
MH: Now and then I like a romantic novel. You know, holiday reading.
SR: I was thinking about that, what do you take on holiday? Do you still take a book with you?
MH: Yes, I would do. When we’re going away I’ll wander round W H Smith’s and pick up some sort of easy reading.
SR: You mentioned magazines -k were there any stories in them that you remember?
MH: Very little really. When I think about it and I’m going back a long time, it was mostly fashion and I didn’t have any make up at all when I was at a young age, my dad would not let me.
SR: Did he not approve?
MH: Not at all, I remember getting these magazines and him taking them away from me.
MH: He said you don’t want that rubbish.
SR: So the magazines weren’t like People’s Friend?
MH: No it was glossy magazines.
SR: Like high fashion?
MH: Yes. I remember this lady had this make up, but I can’t remember the name, and it had face powder and a powder puff. I saved up and I bought this and I thought I had the world. I think I actually must’ve looked ridiculous with all this stuff on my face. Looking back, I did miss out on quite a bit.
SR: Did you go to the cinema at all?
MH: A lot, I went with my granddad.
SR: It was cheaper then to go to the cinema?
MH: It was cheaper and there were a lot of cinemas in Sheffield. I can remember going 2 or 3 times a week because that was another way of getting out of the house, I loved the cinema and I still do.
SR: What sort of things did you go and see with you granddad?
MH: Anything and everything!
SR: Did you go to the Saturday morning ones?
MH: Sometimes I did but they were mainly sort of cowboy films. We saw a lot of the old ones that he liked sort of detective type stuff and I just used to go along with him.
SR: Which cinema did you go to?
MH: There was Gaumont and opposite that there was one called The Cinema House.
SR: Next to Cole Brothers?
MH: Gaumont was below Cole Brothers and at the other side of the road there was another one and that was The Cinema House I think it was. There was the Hippodrome down what used to be Henry’s Bar?
SR: Cambridge Street?
MH: Yes, Cambridge Street!
SR: Not Studio 7 on Wicker I presume?
MH: Don’t think I ever went there, that was a bit of a naughty one that one.
SH: There was one in Fitzalan Square as well wasn’t there?
MH: Yes there was, I remember that one because there was lots of cartoons on there.
SR: There was the old one and a bigger one, which is now the bingo hall because that’s where I saw the Sound of Music.
MH: There was the Odeon wasn’t there but that came later.
SR: Did that spin from any of your reading, your choice of films?
MH: Yes because I had the albums but that was much later on. I had Photoplay album, which was about films and film stars so I did have those. I had quite the collection actually.
SR: Were you ever prompted to read a book based on the film that you’d seen? Like Gone With The Wind or something like that.
MH: Not really no.
R: So there wasn’t a book connected to the film? So you didn’t go see a film because you’ve read the book?
MH: I think that came later, not so much in those times that we’re talking about. We’re talking probably 50s aren’t we?
SR: Yes, there were a lot more cinemas and you got two films usually?
MH: Yes you did, B films wasn’t it?
SR: You said you like biographies but is there anything that you actually hate and would never read?
MH: I’m not a sci-fi person at all I like real life. Even with fiction sometimes, I think it’s a bit …
MG: Going back to biographies is there any life that you read about and thought I connect with this on personality terms not necessarily backgrounds, just the person.
MH: One thing that did stay with me for a while was Julie Walters’. I enjoyed reading about her and I think the way she that she has developed as an actress but I also like the way she conducts herself and she just seems a really nice person.
SR: I don’t know anything about her life. Is the pattern of life interesting?
MH: I think so yes. She lives on a farm and she had difficulty having a daughter and went to great pains to have a child. I just liked her as a person.
SR: What sort of biographies have you thinking … you know you didn’t have a particularly easy life, that you are also interested in reading about people who also have had a more difficult time?
MH: I think there probably is a connection there. I don’t very often talk about my life before I was married because … it wasn’t very nice [Margaret laughs]. Part of it wasn’t. I love my granddad to bits and he was everything to me and I don’t know what sort of person I would have been without him – I think probably very different – if I had taken the path that my mum and dad wanted me to take. We went in a different direction.
SR: You wouldn’t know how to fish would you?
MH: No I wouldn’t.
SR: Would you ever read anything like the Mitfords?
SR: Because they were very interesting.
MH: Very interesting, yes they were.
MG: Can I ask about the present activities you’re doing in schools? You’re working in a school with little ones reading.
MH: Reading all the time with the children.
MH: I’ve been reading this morning with them and I find that fascinating. I love it when there’s one little boy, who’s a twin actually, and one of them he read with me a few weeks ago. And each time I go into that classroom he comes up to me and asks, ‘Can we read?’ I said to the teacher, ‘Is it all right?’ and he said, ‘Oh yes’. We go off in a corner and he never wants to stop and it’s lovely and I like it a lot. I enjoy it a lot; I like being with them. I like kids actually and I love my grandsons, all four of them – they’re all very different.
MH: We’ve read lots of books with them like Harry Potter’s. Our house is full of books.
MG: For the children and for yourselves?
MH: And us as well yes.
MG: Is there any children’s book that you’ve come across for your grandchildren which you think ‘that’s wonderful’.
MH: Yes, let me think … lots of them actually. I can’t remember the name of the author, my memory’s going… but it was a whole series. They’re boys and they wanted to read adventure books, but I can’t remember the name of them.
MG: It’s okay!
MH: They were super to read and they loved them.
MG: There’s some wonderful stories now.
SR: As well as the classics, have you ever read any Dickens or Jane Austen, that sort of thing?
MH: Not really no.
SR: You missed that?
MH: I missed that out.
SR: Because very often you are introduced to them at school.
MH: My younger brother has a great collection, the whole works of Shakespeare, which I haven’t managed.
SR: Neither have I [laughs]. Are you interested in history?
MH: Yes, I love history!
SR: And I don’t just say that as a history teacher [Margaret laughs]. I thought it fits with the sort of biographies.
MH: Yes I love history. I just watched, I don’t know if any of you saw it, the Woman in White on TV.
SR: Oh yes, it’s Wilkie Collins isn’t it?
SR: It’s very good; he was friends with Charles Dickens!
MH: Oh was he?
SR: Yes! Do you like to see a BBC dramatisation of a book?
MH: Oh yes!
SR: Those Sunday serials they used to have at teatime.
MH: It just finished on Monday night I think it was.
SR: Because they’ve had David Copperfield.
MH: I love all that and they had a whole series of the Dickensian stuff not long ago.
MG: They do it so brilliantly!
MH: Yes they do.
SR: Because I know when we’ve interviewed some people and they found Dickens a bit wordy whereas the dramatization helps bring it alive.
MG: And Jane Austen has come into the lives of many people because of those dramatizations.
MH: Yes, I know
MG: Like in the films.
MH: They are brilliant.
SR: There’s sort of modern spin offs as well like …
SR: There’s one with Reese Witherspoon in there and it’s a modern version of Emma.
MH: Oh is there?
SR: Not Legally Blonde but something like that but it’s a modern take on Jane Austen. You’ve not read any of these where modern authors have written books like The Murder Comes to Pemberley, which is like a Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice but it’s updated with a murder?
MH: Oh I see, no I haven’t.
SR: It’s interesting!
MG: Think it’s wonderful that you didn’t have children’s books as a child, and here you are spending so much time with children.
SR: Perhaps it was because of that?
MH: Maybe, I don’t know.
SR: Maybe because you didn’t know what it was like?
MH: Yeah …
SR: and you want to help all the children to …
MH: To not have that?
MG: You never had the benefit of that school library?
MH: … No
MG: The English teaching do you remember anything about it?
MH: Barely … the thing about school was … I often think about when people say a particular teacher made such a difference and I’m finding that now with my eldest grandson because he’s just sixteen and he’s at the UTC on Matilda Street.
MG: Oh yes?
MH: He was at Birley School and at fourteen he realized he was into engineering – it seems to run in the family. So at fourteen he went down there and he’s there until he’s nineteen. He’s absolutely loving it, but with English he just … didn’t want to know and I tried to help him so much with bits of information that I could help him with. Only this last year he’s got a new English teacher, and this chap … I don’t know how he’s done it, but he’s opened something in George that has just inspired him! He’s just got a B grade in his English and he’s absolutely delighted.
SR: That’s brilliant!
MH: He’s absolutely delighted. He’s over the moon because he didn’t think he’d be able to … I don’t remember having anyone having the effect on me in my life, but my husband does.
SR: Our last question, is usually has reading changed your life?
MH: Not really no. It’s more experiences that have altered my life.
SR: Now you can see it with your children and grandchildren?
MG: Well thank you very much, Margaret.