Mary Robertson

Mary Robertson

Mary was born on the 4th December 1923.

She is being interviewed by Sue Roe on the 7th March 2013.

Sue Roe: This is an interview conducted by Sue Roe. It is the 7th March, 2013 and I am interviewing…

Mary age 6 (middle child) on the way to Bridlington by Sheffield LNER Station August Bank Holiday 1929. Picture from Sheffield Mail, (Newspaper House Fargate)

Mary age 6 (middle child) on the way to Bridlington. 8am conveyed by LNER improvised platform transport, Sheffield Station August Bank Holiday 1929. Picture from Sheffield Mail, (Newspaper House, Fargate)

Mary Robertson::    Mary Robertson

SR:      That is R-o-b-e-r-t-s-o-n

MR:    Yes.

SR:      And she was born in …

MR:    4/12/ 23.

SR:      And whereabouts in Sheffield?

MR:    Oh in Sheffield. At Nether Green. Oakbrook Road.

SR:      Yes and you lived in between 1945 and ’65, you lived, whereabouts in Sheffield did you live?

MR:    ’45 I was still at … now let me see.

SR:      Did you live at Westwood Road?

MR:    Yes and then we married. Of course I left home then. The days when you just had to take a flat wherever you could. I married in ’51.

SR:      Oh yes.

MR:    Did I? I’ve been married sixty-odd years. Just give me one minute. I was 29. I married when I was 29.

SR:      It might have been ’52?

MR:    Yes, I picked the wrong date. I’m not very bright at the best of times [laughs at herself].

SR:      So that’s the beginning of the interview. So now we’re going to talk about reading. Did anybody read to you when you were young?

MR:    Yes, I’d noticed that question. Mother seemed to be too busy. Father would read after Sunday lunch until he fell asleep but my sister was the one who read to me. She was two and half years older and she would always read to me when I was little.


SR:      Any particular time of day did she read?

MR:    Mostly when we were in bed at night or I think mainly that. Night, it would be early evening we would go to bed. Yes, she would always read to me.

SR:      What sort of books? Do you remember what she read to you?

MR:    I think we started on nursery rhyme books but I cannot remember any more. It would be the children’s books of the day. You will perhaps know.

SR:      Winnie the Pooh is it? I don’t know.

MR:    Yes!

SR:      Do you remember Winnie the Pooh?

MR:    Yes I do.

SR:      I don’t know about Noddy.

MR:    And Peter Pan. And it gradually comes back as you think about it.

Bridlington 1927


SR:      What were the first books you read that made you feel you were reading more grown up books?

MR:    Well this was during the war years because I was … when I left school when I was 16 I was waiting to be called up so I was still at home. So I used to go to the library for mother and she liked Mary Burchell, Ethel M. Dell. And I used to go to the local Red Circle library … we were talking about this with Mary. And I’d get some books for her when you paid tuppence a time to join and I would read very light romances. I always felt guilty because, you know, you didn’t read those kind of things then [chuckles]. But that was when I was about 17.

SR:      What about before then? Perhaps when you started going to school, to junior school and secondary school?

MR:    Do you know, I have been trying to think about that and I cannot remember. I know I did read but I must have done because there was no television and I used to read in bed, but I can’t remember. Isn’t it a shame?

SR:      Do you remember any books that you read at school, part of your lessons? Did you study anything?

MR:    Well I went to a convent school. We are not catholic but we went to Mylnhurst High School and I can’t remember. We did English and things like that but I can’t remember reading, having a set book to read. I think the teaching, learning was very different when I was a teenager than it is now.

SR:      Where you say you got books from the Red Circle library, which branch was that?

MR:    On The Moor and then I graduated to the main library, the public library which was my greatest delight, that place.

SR:      The Central Library?

MR:    Yes. It is still and until I couldn’t walk that is where I went every fortnight. I loved it.

SR:      Did people buy books when you were younger? As presents?

MR:    They must have done, yes. Mostly annuals that you can buy. You know, The Girl’s Annual. I have still got one. Mabel Lucie Attwell’s, those were the kind of books we had. Girl’s Own and What Katy Did and all those.

SR:      Did you get those as presents?

MR:    Yes, they’d be presents. We didn’t go to libraries when we were little because we weren’t allowed out of the end of the road you know.

SR:      Did your parents have any attitudes? They were OK about you going to the library as you got older?

MR:    Oh yes! We were encouraged to read.

SR:      So they did encourage you to read?

MR:    Oh yes that was our main means of entertainment. Going to the cinema and reading.

SR:      Did you get any books from friends that you knew?

MR:    No. I don’t recollect exchanging any books until I got older.

SR:      Can you think of where you did your reading?

MR:    Yes. Always … yes, I do remember. You are triggering off memories now. On Sunday we always had the roast lunch, Sunday lunch time and the fire would be…they were biggish houses down on Westwood Road. [Pauses] There’s two lights come on now.

SR:      That’s fine. [Sound of something being adjusted]

MR:    And we always read after Sunday lunch. We had lots of armchairs and that is where we always read. Mother, my sister and I, I don’t think my brother did.

SR:      So your mother read?

MR:    Oh yes. She read the lighter novels because that was her age that did.

SR:      But she read a lot. You used to see her.

MR:    I used to get her books from the library for her and that was my first introduction to libraries. I loved going into a library. I expect you do.

SR:      Certainly, certainly. And what sort of books did they have in the Red Circle library?

MR:    Oh a lot of them were these light novels like Ethel M. Dell. I thought that was a bit daring because there might even be a love scene it that. I noticed one, was it The Sheik?

SR:      Was it The Sheik?

MR:    Oh I think so or something like that. Books were very different then to what they are now. I mean they never mentioned … they got as far as the bedroom door, “and then the door closed”, and that was it.

SR:      Can you think of any of those books that you read as a young adult that made a particular impression?

MR:    Yes. Once I was looking through the list there because I had forgotten. I liked A J Cronin. I liked … just give me that list again. Nevil Shute, I read nearly all his. Alan Sillitoe, Howard Spring and then I tell you what I liked in my teens, I liked cowboy books.

SR:      Oh yes.

MR:    Zane Grey and all those. Yes.

SR:      Why do you think they made a particular impression on you, those sorts of books?

MR:    Well they were just an escape from life weren’t they really? It was war days, very dull days and you escaped, as you do now. You escape into another world when you read.

SR:      Well that is certainly true. Any other particular books that you really liked?

MR:    I wasn’t what I call a more…, if I use the word heavy reader you will know what I mean. Classical is the word I want mainly but I read John Braine, H E Bates, Cronin.

SR:      Did you read The Darling Buds of May? H E Bates?

MR:    Oh yes but I read his stronger ones, called The Purple Plain.

SR:      Oh?

MR:    It was about the war in the Far East.

SR:      Oh I’ve not heard of that one.

MR:   [looking at list – refering to Anya Seton]  Now she was my favourite of all, and my sister. Did you ever read any of her books?

SR:      Yes I have read …

MR:    They were all historical books but oh very good books, better than what I call ‘frivoty’ ones.

SR:      There was Katherine wasn’t there?

MR:    Yes.

SR:      About Katherine Swynford if I remember.

MR:    Yes because that takes the history of the Plantagenets.

SR:      Yes it does. Did you like historical books?

MR:    Yes, and they are still my favourites.

SR:      Do you know why it is that you like those?

MR:    Yes. It is only since leaving school that I realised that I liked history far more than I ever did when I was at school.

SR:      Doesn’t say much for history teachers does it?!

MR:    Well we were taught by nuns, you know. Bless ‘em, they were lovely, it was a lovely school but I don’t think I learnt a lot. As I say, the war was coming up and it was a very bad time. I left in 1939 as the war started and it broke into anything you were going to do.

SR:      Interrupted a lot I should imagine. When you were a teenager and a young adult you say you went to the Red Circle and you went to the main library. Did you not go to a local library?

MR:    Yes. I am jumping a bit but when I used to meet the children from Nether Green and again it was our greatest delight. We would get on the bus and we would go to the public library on Tapton …

SR:      Tapton Park? Taptonville Road? At Broomhill?

MR:    Yes. Both my children loved reading and we used to go every week there. I used to sit whilst … they spent hours looking for books and then I would read some as well.

SR:      Did you have a library at school? At Mylnhurst?

MR:    No. It was a school that had only been opened the year before.

SR:      Oh I see.

MR:    I mean they were the happiest years of my life but I didn’t learn much! But that’s me, a lot of them did.

SR:      What about bookshops? Did you ever go in any bookshops and buy books?

MR:    I have no recollection of that. I can only assume, as I say, I don’t think I could afford for one thing. The library was my main source of books.

SR:      And that was the Central Library when you were younger?

MR:    Yes, but younger still it was the Red Circle and when we mentioned it to Mary Grover, “Oh”, she said, “the Red Circle” – when we were in the little group at the church.

SR:      She is very interested in the Red Circle actually.

MR:    Is she?

SR:      Yes, yes. She is. Were people there to … this also applies to the library … did anybody ever advise you as to what books …?

MR:    If you asked for books, yes. As they do at the library.

SR:      They would suggest books to you?

MR:    Yes and then of course … I’m jumping again … another of my greatest delight was when the mobile library started coming round. I would go every week there and I loved it because you could order books.

SR:      And then they would bring them to you?

MR:    They would be on the bus the next week.

SR:      At the Red Circle was it mainly women who went? Or were there men as well?

MR:    Oh I have no recollection. I think it would be mainly women because the ones I had to go and look for, for mother, were the light romances and I being an early teenager, read the same ones as well. They really were rubbish, some of them!

SR:      And were the people working there mainly women?

MR:    Yes they were. I don’t ever remember men working there.

SR:      Because I think there was more than one I think, Red Circle.

MR:    This was the one on The Moor and Mary said she knew it.

SR:      Yes. There is a photo of it in one of her talks.

MR:    Yes. And when we mentioned it, because there aren’t many of us at Ranmoor, one or two said, “Oh I remember it. That is where we went!” [Exclaiming]

SR:      Did you ever get … some people say they got books from newsagents, or from newspapers or like Encyclopaedia Britannica or something? Did your family ever get books like that?

MR:    No but I remember … oh now you see there is another memory. One Christmas father bought my sister and I the complete Encyclopaedia Britannica. About 12 volumes. I’d forgotten. That was our greatest source of delight. We learnt everything we knew. There is only one page I didn’t like and that was the one with the snakes on it. But we learnt a lot from those and we would sit for hours on the bedroom floor when we were younger, going through and through these books. Do you remember them?

SR:      Yes I do. Do you remember how old you were when that happened?

MR:    Oh I’d be only … I guess from about seven years old onwards. It’s the brain … turn it off … until you start talking, as you get older, you do forget parts of your past.

SR:      Well you’ve got more to forget than younger people.

MR:    Yes I suppose it is!

SR:      And you say your parents encouraged you to read and your sister presumably?

MR:    Yes. I don’t remember my brother … he read the boys’… the Beanos and all those, you know.

SR:      And your teachers? Did they encourage you to read?

MR:    Well with them being nuns I think that was too worldly for them. I don’t recollect, I’ve no doubt we were given books to read but I have no recollection of them making much impression on me. For instance, you asked why I like historical books, because when we had history at school it was so boring. It would be reams of facts, nothing interesting and then when my daughter went to Nether Green and she would come home with some of her homework about history, oh I loved it because it was history as related to people.

SR:      It’s more real isn’t it?

MR:    Yes. That is when I picked up my interest in history. Not at school.

SR:      Did you ever choose books for anybody else?

MR:    Only for my mother and then my children.

SR:      Yes, children. Did anybody ever make you feel that reading was a waste of time?

MR:    Yes, because we weren’t allowed to read for too long. It is because of the other important things to do. Before I could read, this is a small incident, my sister had her nose in a book all the time until she started to read to me and I can remember now standing in front of her and saying [in a taunting voice], “Reader, reader, reader”. I must have been a horrible child!

SR:      Did your parents ever say, you know, “Get your nose out of a book, you need to do x, y and z?”

MR:    No because we always picked our time for reading when everything else was finished. You see we all had our own bedrooms so we read in bed and things like that.

SR:      Did you ever read with the torch under the blankets?

MR:    Oh yes! Maybe an Ethel M. Dell where it was a bit spicy [laughs].

SR:      When you got older, did you find time to read as you got older?

MR:    There was a time … yes … when Andrew who is now 58, when he was a baby I lived in a flat on Carterknowle Road and my husband was away a lot so I was on my own an awful lot of time and I would push him in his pram down to the bottom of Carterknowle Road and there was a very good library there in one of the newsagents shops.

SR:      Oh yes.

MR:    And I would always get books out and as soon as he had gone to bed I would read and read. As soon as I had got him down.

SR:      I wonder what newsagent that was.

MR:    I don’t know. I can see it … [Probably Yeadon’s]

SR:      It’s not Mrs Turner is it?

MR:    I don’t think I would know a name. Do you know the bottom of Carterknowle?

SR:     I do, yes.

MR:    On the far side there were a group of nice shops. There was a newsagent, there was a pork butcher’s. There was a little furniture shop. Well it was just there.

SR:    I am just looking … is there somewhere like Hazel Library or Harry Thornton’s?

MR:    No because this was just a few shelves in the newsagent shop.

SR:      Oh in the newsagent’s, I understand. So it wasn’t a bookshop as such.

MR:    No. It was not a bookshop. It was just a little lending library.

SR:      Within a newsagent’s.

MR:    Yes, which was very nice. Another one I used to go to, you see, I am remembering now. I was born and brought up on Westwood Road, that’s just below … [muffled].

SR:      Yes, I know.

MR:    There were a few shops at the bottom there and there was a newsagent and he had a few shelves and I’d go and pick books up.

SR:      What sort of books did they have? Do you remember?

MR:    Well, they’d be novels. I wasn’t into the heavier reading. So I’ve obviously always read. I can’t remember my sister going but yes.

SR:      So you remember when you were a child, reading or being read to…

MR:    Oh yes!

SR:      And then reading as you got older.

MR:    And then reading as I got older.

SR:      And the books that you got for your mum as well. What about … when did you start work?

MR:    I was called up.

SR:      Oh gosh. At what age? 18, 19?

MR:    Yes. 18, 19. So I stayed at home after leaving school. I left school when I was nearly 17 and it was a very in-between time.

SR:      Well you knew you were going to be called up didn’t you.

MR:    Yes. So I was called up until I was 23. So it was a period of life that didn’t seem to include anything like books. We’d get to the cinema if it was safe.

SR:      Where were you called up to?

MR:    I was called up … by the time I got in the … I wanted to go in the Wrens but they were shut. So I was sent in for the NAAFI. I was on an RAF camp and it was NAAFI shop which was very nice and we were on a detention camp for the fliers who had flipped their tops a bit with their terrible job. And they were sent to us for three weeks and they used to pile into my shop. Quite an exciting time for a …

SR:      Where was that?

MR:    Up at Norton.

SR:      Oh yes where the aerodrome was, where the airfield was?

MR:    Yes. That’s right.

SR:      And were they recuperating these pilots?

MR:    Yes. They had three weeks there. Constant square bashing and regular hours and regular meals and they were all wings laden with medals and they were shell shocked really.

SR:      That’s what we would call it now wouldn’t we? Their experiences.

MR:    They called them the naughty boys then but they weren’t really.

MR:    There was one I’d got my eye on and he had his eye on me. They did mad things. He took a small plane and he flew down the Thames and under the bridge. That kind of thing. So of course …

SR:      A bit daredevil.

MR:    Yes. That was an escape from what they were doing. So I don’t remember reading a lot in those days. I must have done when I got home.

SR:      Did you come home very often?

MR:    Yes! I used to come home quite a lot because I wasn’t far way.

SR:      Were you in uniform?

MR:    No. The disappointment of my life! I wanted a uniform [laughs]. I wore whites in the shop.

SR:      And that was, how long did you say?

MR:    Oh I was 20 until I was about 23 or 4, until the war ended. I was there when peace was declared.

SR:      So you don’t remember any particular reading while you were there. You were a bit busy.

MR:    No. I must have read. I don’t think I had graduated into any more than just picking up a novel because they weren’t very good times.

SR:      No. Were there a lot of young women like yourself?

MR:    There must have been but you didn’t mix a lot, you see. The people you were with were the ones on the camps and then they didn’t come into your home life.

SR:      No. Did anybody ever make you feel embarrassed about what you read? You know, that you were reading something that you shouldn’t read?

MR:    No. Do you know I have no recollection of us discussing books. Now that’s terrible. Like we do today. We exchange views, “What have you read?” and “Have you read so-and-so?” I have no recollection of that.

SR:      That you were reading something that actually people would look down on?

MR:    Oh yes I am sure we did! [laughs]

SR:      But you don’t remember anybody expressing that?

MR:    Oh no, no.

SR:      And what about reading stuff because you thought it was improving, you know, because you ought to read it?

MR:    Not till I got older.

SR:      What sort of books did you read?

MR:    I always, after I got past those rather silly novels, I always liked what I call better books. I liked authors often more than women, and the cowboys. I am looking at these [papers shuffling]. One of my favourites but I don’t know if you’d call him. I didn’t read Arnold Bennett. John Braine, Room at The Top he wrote didn’t he? All those.

SR:      Yes he did.

MR:    Now they were a …

SR:      Kitchen sink?

MR:    Yes they were.

SR:      A bit more gritty.

MR:    Depressing was the word but I read them all. Cronin, yes.

SR:      Did you like John Braine even though he was a bit depressing?

MR:    Oh yes because they were well written and they were different to the books I had been getting for mother, you know. I remember as I am going round these. I never did Galsworthy or the heavier ones. What I call heavier ones.

SR:      That was the Forsyte Saga business.

MR:    Somerset Maugham. We had J.B Priestley.

SR:      Did you like him as a Yorkshire writer?

MR:    Yes. I didn’t read a lot of them. An Inspector Calls.

SR:      His play.

MR:    His plays. I can’t remember but I know I read some of his books.

SR:      Angel Pavement and Good Companions.

MR:    Good Companions, yes. Alan Sillitoe. I remember his. Howard Spring, yes. Now I can’t remember what they were about, Howard Springs’ books, they were a bit different but a bit depressing.

SR:     Oh dear. A bit too realistic are they?

MR:    Yes.

SR:     Did you, you know like The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist?

MR:    No. I didn’t know that.

SR:      Any sort of H G Wells, you know, like is it The Diary of Mr. Polly? Is that H G Wells?

MR:    Oh yes, dear Mr Polly, yes. Now what’s the other one? War of the Worlds.

SR:      Yes, sort of science fiction. Did you like science fiction?

MR:    Yes. Not as much as … now my daughter loves science fiction. No, that was about all I ever read in science fiction. It wasn’t of my era at all. Dorothy Whipple! I remember hers but I couldn’t tell you what she wrote.

SR:      I have to say I can’t remember them.

MR:    I know the name.

SR:      Do you remember reading the sort of rural things like Tarka the Otter or Salar the Salmon?

MR:    No, I never read that. I remember the children reading it. Jean Plaidy. They’ve sent them home from the library with large print today. They were very historically correct.

SR:      And you enjoyed those?

MR:    Yes. She was a historian, isn’t she?

SR:      Because Georgette Heyers, she tended to do the Regency ones.

MR:    Oh yes. I loved those. And my sister loved them as well and she didn’t kind of progress beyond that but I’ve found them a little bit frivolous in the end.

SR:      Yes, yes like Regency Buck and they all tend to live happily ever after.

MR:    And I’m not keen on these great novels where it starts with, “She’s the kitchen maid, terrible hard life …” You know very well she is going to marry the Lord of the Manor!

SR:      Like Catherine Cookson or something?

MR:    Yes. I have quite a few friends who read those but no, that is not for me.

SR:      Now it’s interesting, Rafael Sabatini or Scaramouche or Captain Blood … were they…?

MR:    I remember Rafael Sabatini’s books. I remember reading them but I couldn’t tell you what they were about. I must have read Scaramouche.

SR:      The sort of swashbuckling …

MR:    They were swashbuckling weren’t they?

SR:      Yes.

MR:    I went through a phase of liking that.

SR:      Did you have a phase were often, I mean well I did as well, where you get an author and you think, “Oh I like this chap” and you read loads of his books?

MR:    Oh yes.

SR:    Did you go through that?

MR:    I even do it now. I have my favourite authors even now.

SR:    Do you just focus on those and then …?

MR:    Oh no I like a variety.

SR:     What about adventure? Did you like adventure books at all?

MR:    Not really. I remember reading, who was it used to write about the wolf dog and he was in Canada?

SR:     Jack London?

MR:    Yes.

SR:      The Call of the Wild.

MR:    That’s it. That’s a long time ago.

SR:      White Fang.

MR:    I remember reading one or two of those. Those, I went through a phase, even now I like something other than just the ordinary novel. Yes, I liked his.

SR:      You like something to catch your interest.

MR:    Yes, it’s a got a little bit more depth to it. I didn’t really like Victor Hugo. Jack London didn’t he write kind of …

SR:      Yes he wrote the ones we were just talking about. White Fang and Call of the Wild.

MR:    I told you my brain is going.

SR:      Any thrillers?

MR:    No I didn’t like thrillers.

SR:      Or crime? Detectives.

MR:    I quite like them now. I have read all the Rebus books.

SR:      Oh, Ian Rankin.

MR:    All of his. I am a great fan of his and of Robert Goddard’s. Those are more of my present day favourites.

SR:      What about when you were younger? In the ’45 to ’65 period?

MR:    I can’t remember anything like that then.

SR:      20s to 40s? There would be people like Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham and Dorothy L Sayers.

MR:    No, I didn’t like theirs then. No.

SR:      It just didn’t do it for you?

MR:    Not at all. Even now. I watch Agatha Christie on the television with Poirot or whatever but no, they didn’t appeal to me at all.

SR:      Do you know why that was? Because you liked Rebus?

MR:    Yes. I don’t know. They didn’t seem real then.

SR:      And his are all quite gritty aren’t they?

MR:    Oh yes.

SR:      Set in Edinburgh.

MR:    What’s his name?

SR:      Ian Rankin.

MR:    Ian Rankin.

SR:      He’s got another detective but I don’t like him as much.

MR:    That was earlier on wasn’t it?

SR:      Fox. He’s a new one.

MR:    A pseudonym kind of thing.

SR:      No, it’s a new detective he’s writing about. He’s called Fox.

MR:    Oh I haven’t read that. I like Rebus.

SR:      I like Rebus.

MR:    You almost felt you know them in the end. In fact my daughter has been to where Rebus, in Scotland, Glasgow, where he used to go and have his drink.

SR:      Oh really. What about comics, comedy books, like Cold Comfort Farm?

MR:    Oh yes. Who did I love? Bertie Wooster’s.

SR:      Oh yes, I’m trying to think what’s his name? P G Wodehouse, that’s it.

MR:    Wodehouse, that’s it. I tell you I got one from the library this week, one of Delderfield, somebody, somebody Delderfield.

SR:      Oh yes. To Serve Me All My Days, that’s Delderfield.

MR:    I didn’t like those. I don’t know what it is, it just didn’t grab me.

SR:      Now I often ask these Giovanni Guareschi, the Don Camillo books.

MR:    No. I didn’t read any of those and I did not [with emphasis] like American books. I still don’t.

SR:      What is it about them?

MR:    I don’t know, I think it is the language. It is so different and way of life is so different. I like my books to be English way of life.

SR:      I thought you meant the language is a bit too …

MR:    I don’t like the language of it either.

SR:      Sort of a bit crude or a bit too much swearing in it?

MR:    Yes. It’s not so much the swearing, it’s the style.

SR:      Yes.

MR:    For instance, what was it they said, “He went … he left”, we would say, “He left the room”, they would leave out ‘the’, ‘of’ and things like that. Have you noticed that?

SR:      No, I haven’t noticed that. So it is that sort of style of writing that you are not keen on.

MR:    No, they don’t grab me, American books. I did read Gone With The Wind of course and Forever Amber.

SR:      What were they like?

MR:    Oh they were naughty! You read those under the bedclothes! [Laughs] Now they would be just every day reading.

SR:      Did you ever see the film of Gone With The Wind?

MR:    Oh yes, I don’t know how many times. You’d queue.

SR:      Did you queue up?

MR:    Oh yes, the Hippodrome, now what road is that now?

SR:      The Hippodrome, no, I remember the Gaumont.

MR:    You know when you’ve come top of The Moor, and you’ve come to the crossroads? You go a bit higher up and there is the, used to be the Salvation Army Citadel, it was one of those roads up there, the Hippodrome.

SR:      Oh yes, I know.

MR:    You won’t remember the Grace Jones Picture Palace, right opposite, is it Tesco?

SR:      I think I do actually.

MR:    It’s now a Napoleon’s Casino or something.

SR:     And the Abbeydale Cinema, I remember that.

MR:    Yes, well when we lived down Carterknowle Road, I mustn’t keep you but when Andrew was a baby I would get him washed or whatever and then run all the way to the Abbeydale and watch the first house and run all the way back and then David would have got Andrew to bed and then he would go to the second house.

SR:      We used to go on Saturday mornings. Did you go on Saturday mornings as a child?

MR:    No. My children did.  Andrew went to the News Theatre, do you remember the News Theatre?

SR:      In Fitzalan Square? I do, yes.

MR:    Fitzalan Square. I used to leave him there for an hour.

SR:      They had cartoons on didn’t they?

MR:    Whilst I had an hour to myself.

SR:      Did you read any of the saga, Mazo De La Roche, Jalna?

MR:    I did but I can’t remember much about it.

SR:      Were they popular? Did you read them because they were popular at the time?

MR:    I think they were the popular book of the time and I can’t even tell you now what they were about. They were American weren’t they?

SR:      Were they? I don’t know. I am not familiar with those.

MR:    Yes. The ones we did like, my sister and I particularly, were Anne of Green Gables. We’re going back a bit now.

SR:      No worries. Why did you like that?

MR:    Oh they were so real. They were written to make it live. She was a naughty girl wasn’t she, in a way! Yes. I think that was lovely. Also it was rather sad that she hadn’t got a mother and father and they made films … oh another one I loved, Little Women. I wept buckets over that book.

SR:      And did you read the others? You know the follow on like Jo’s Boys?

MR:    Yes but it didn’t seem the same, Little Women, then the film.

SR:     Who was in that?

MR:    Audrey, Katherine Hepburn, she was Jo and she had her hair cut short, like yours and oh, I wished to have hair like that. I loved those two books.

SR:      Did you read Anne of Avonlea? Because there are about seven.

MR:    Oh there are a lot of them.

SR:      Did you read any of the others?

MR:    I don’t think I read them all. I know my sister did. She was a great reader as well.

SR:      So it was like reinforcing the reading.

MR:    Yes.

SR:      Did you ever swap books?

MR:    We must have done. I don’t think she went to the library. She married fairly young and had children quickly so your lives separate then don’t they?

SR:      You remember the romances, as you said, when you went to …

MR:    Red Circle.

SR:     Yes, like Ethel M Dell. Do you remember any of the others on that list?

MR:    Oh yes, where had I got to?

SR:      The next page. Where it says romance.

MR:    I just glanced through them. Oh Ruby Ayres, yes, Ethel M. Dell, Maud Diver.

SR:      What were those like?

MR:    Berta Ruck. They were the same, very light novels, romances.

SR:      Are these sort of ‘happily ever after’?

MR:    Yes, as I say, “She was the house maid or the scullery maid in the big house and she married the Lord of the Manor”, but she rose frightfully refined this girl in spite of coming from a humble background [chuckles].

SR:      Did you read any Mills and Boon?

MR:    No. I drew the line at those. They didn’t appeal to me at all. I know it is a standing joke but I never did like them. They were too happy ever after.

SR:      They weren’t realistic because you like them to be a bit realistic.

MR:    I like them to be a bit more about life. I am just looking … shocking books, no, I didn’t read any of those.

SR:      So you’ve not read Lady Chatterley’s Lover? That tends to be the one that everybody’s read.

MR:    Oh yes! It was banned and then it went to court. Before that we would get it and we would pass it round and it was one you would read under the bedclothes. It was the most boring book I’ve ever read!

SR:      I’ve yet to find anybody who doesn’t say what you’ve said.

MR:    The part that was thumbed was the part with the gardener. That’s the only part. I mean now it would be nothing, would it? Oh we laugh about that.

SR:      So it wasn’t particularly impressive?

MR:    Oh no!

SR:      And did it seem very rude or shocking at the time?

MR:    It was [sharp intake of breath] “I shouldn’t be reading this”, yes. I didn’t get the D. H. Lawrence books. They were too gritty, they were too real. I quite like some of his plays but not the books.

SR:      Talking of gritty. What about Thomas Hardy? Did you like him?

MR:    I can’t recollect reading any Thomas Hardy because they were …

SR:      They were more classics I suppose.

MR:    Yes. I heard them on plays and I would watch them on film. Did he … I am showing my ignorance now … did he write The Mayor of Casterbridge?

SR:      Yes he did. Mayor of Casterbridge, Far From the Madding Crowd, Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

MR:    I loved them when they were done as plays. Oh I read Tess of the D’Urbervilles but I like them put on film or on the radio.

SR:      Tess of the D’Urbervilles has been made into a film quite a few times.

MR:    Yes. This was years ago.

SR:      And Far From the Madding Crowd was Alan Bates and Terry Stamp.

MR:    Yes. It was.

SR:      He was Sergeant Troy. Very handsome he was too.

MR:    Oh he was!

SR:      That’s quite a nice story I think but some of them are quite sad. The Mayor of Casterbridge.

MR:    Oh it was sad where he sold his wife. I thought, yes, it made a very deep impression on me. It was a wonderful book but so sad.

SR:     What about Jane Austen?

MR:    Nope, I never read Jane Austen or the Brontes. I should have done.

SR:      You didn’t start them and not read them?

MR:    No. They were too, can I use the word prissy?

SR:      Yeah, of course.

MR:    I liked a little bit more get up and go in my books. I know they are wonderful classics and I do like them now they have been made into television.

SR:      Pride and Prejudice and things.

MR:    Yes.

SR:      What about Dickens?

MR:    I never read Dickens. Now my husband was a great reader and his father. They had a big house and their own library and he was the one that read all these books. In fact I still have some somewhere. Dickens, do you find a lot of ladies read Dickens or do you find it is more of a man’s book?

SR:      Perhaps a lot of the men but we tend to interview more women than men, I don’t know why that is. Perhaps women read more fiction than men, I don’t know.

MR:    I think they do. I think men like more fact don’t they?

SR:      I mean I do like Dickens. He is my favourite.

MR:    Do you really? I should have given him a go shouldn’t I? Given him a go. I think it is a bit too late now.

SR:      I think it is like one of those questions earlier, were you ever reading a book because you ought to rather than because you want to? I think you have got to want to read.

MR:    Yes, you have else you won’t get into it.

SR:      Or you certainly won’t finish it, will you?

MR:    I can usually tell by the first three pages if it’s going to grab you or not.

SR:      Do you always feel you must finish a book or have you got past that?

MR:    I always used to feel I must finish. I will admit just lately, books they have sent me from the mobile service, I have thought, “No, I don’t like this” and given up on them. Not many but I am afraid I am much slower now. I tell you what I have got, I have got a Kindle.

SR:      Oh yes. How do you find that?

MR:    I have only just … is there a book called The Wood Carver?

SR:      Quite possibly.

MR:    It’s about the … I’m just finishing it. It’s about the Portuguese when they were getting the Christians. What is the word?

SR:      Oh inquisition?

MR:    Yes, like the Spanish Inquisition. It was the Portuguese Inquisition and it’s in India and it’s very sad. It’s very strangely written and I can’t find out who’s written it because I don’t know quite how to go back and then go forwards. It’s my son’s partner, she gave it me.

SR:      Oh that was nice.

MR:    Well because I can get big print you see. It is small and that is as much as my eye will take.

SR:      And you can get it to bigger size.

MR:    You can get any book on that. Oh I tell you what the first one that was on it, I don’t recommend it to anybody, was the Hundred Shades of Grey or Fifty Shades of Grey? You have never read such tripe! I managed one, two chapters. It isn’t even well written.

SR:      It is sort of supposed to be a bit erotic isn’t it?

MR:    Oh [exasperated tone].

SR:      She has written three.

MR:    Has she really? And they are going to make a film of one of them.

SR:      And it’s made like in The Guardian or The Observer, she’s in the top three or has been.

MR:    She’s never!

SR:    Oh yes, people buying it.

MR:    Have you read it?

SR:      No.

MR:    You wouldn’t like it. It’s rude for one thing but it’s so badly written. I don’t mind sex if it’s well written!

SR:      Is that important to you, about a book being well written?

MR:    Yes.

SR:      Not just the plot, not just the story?

MR:    It’s only … you realise when you read one badly written that you do like them to be grammatically correct and it matched your own/old [unclear] school learning.

SR:      Now in this other list. I don’t know if you have read any Pearl Buck, I haven’t?

MR:    Years and years and years ago. She used to write about China or India.

SR:      The Far East, didn’t she?

MR:    Yes.

SR:      I think she was out there herself.

MR:    Now you are going back a long way aren’t you? I remember reading one or two but I couldn’t tell you anything about them. I think the name appealed more – Pearl.

SR:      Any Elizabeth Von Arnim?

MR:    No, I don’t know that name.

SR:      Something April.

MR:    Which page are you on?

SR:      We are on that one where it says ‘other’.

MR:    Right, let’s have a look. Yes, I read H E Bates, oh Catherine Cookson, I went through a phase of theirs.

SR:      What do you think to her now?

MR:    I wouldn’t read them now. When I first read them, again they were quite well written but they were a bit gritty weren’t they? You know. They were the very seedy side of life. I expect they were very true really.

SR:      About some sort of illegitimate child, sort of, that seemed to be the feature.

MR:    Oh yes, that was the theme wasn’t it.

SR:      I think so.

MR:    Yes, I soon got past theirs.

SR:      Aldous Huxley?

MR:    No.

SR:      He’s more science fiction.

MR:    No. Oh Jacobs, I remember hers but don’t ask me what they were about. I used to get them for mother. Have you ever heard of anybody reading Naomi Jacob?

SR:      No, I haven’t.

MR:    That is way, way back when I used to go to the Red Circle library. They were novels but they were a little bit better novels.

SR:      Than the Ethel M. Dells?

MR:    Yeah, but the one that my sister loved, and I say most of all I would read some of them, were Georgette Heyer.

SR:      They were quite light.

MR:    Light but quite accurate.

SR:      Quite historical weren’t they?

MR:    As you say, the Regency books, and “going to Bath” [said in upper class accent].

SR:      Oh yeah that’s it.

MR:    [Makes an inaudible comment]. Nevil Shute, yes, yes, I loved his books.

SR:      Why did you like those?

MR:    There was more in ‘em. They were adventurous. What was that one I loved? A Town Like Alice, all those. They were very sad books really, because he’s Australian isn’t he?

SR:      Yes.

MR:    Yes, I liked his books. I presume he’s dead now because I have never seen any.

SR:      And On the Beach, I think that was a sad book.

MR:    Yes. That was very sad.

SR:      George Orwell?

MR:    No.

SR:      Did you read 1984 or anything?

MR:    No. I didn’t read [unclear], George Bernard Shaw. Just going down them. I have read some of Evelyn Waugh but I can’t tell you what it was. I am not much good as an interviewee am I?

SR:      It’s all right. A lot of people can’t remember. They can remember particular authors.

MR:    I can remember I have read them but I can’t tell you what. I always say that I have practically read a library in my lifetime so you do tend to forget.

SR:      Yes of course.

MR:    I did not read science fiction, no.

SR:      What about Virginia Woolf?

MR:    No [emphatic].

SR:     No?

MR:    What do you think of her?

SR:      Not my …

MR:    Is she…?

SR:     She’s a Bloomsbury Set.

MR:    I know she was in Bloomsbury Group isn’t she?

SR:      Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Orlando.

MR:    I’ve seen whatshername …

SR:      Vanessa Redgrave?

MR:    No, married Richard Burton – Elizabeth Taylor – do one of her books and that was brilliant but I never read them. They were very heavy and gritty weren’t they?

SR:     And you are not so keen on science fiction, we said that earlier didn’t we?

MR:    No.

SR:    Any non fiction? We have mainly focused on fiction. Did you read any?

MR:    Not a lot, no.

SR:      Travel books or biographies of …

MR:    I like biographies, I have read quite a few but don’t ask me who. I read them when they sent them.

SR:      Oh to the library?

MR:    Yes. I read Judi Dench, I read her biography recently. I read quite a few. They can be very boring you know.

SR:      I did this and then I did that and then I did the other. And it depends on how well researched they are.

MR:    Yes.

SR:      If it is an autobiography as opposed to a biography.

MR:    That’s right.

SR:      It can be a bit … and any political works, any sort of non fiction?

MR:    No. Even though I worked in … I was secretary to the Conservative agent and MP for six years. I wouldn’t want to read political books. That was my job.

SR:     Did you read any like Reader’s Digest? Did you get those?

MR:    Yes, we used to read a lot of Reader’s Digest. There were some very good short stories in there, weren’t there. Is it still on the go?

SR:      I think so, yes.

MR:    It’s the kind of thing that people would have and throw away or pass on, didn’t they?

SR:      Yes.

MR:    I liked the little anecdotes you used to read. They were very funny.

SR:      Oh yes, I know. Let me go back to my list of questions. Wait a minute.

MR:    Ohh … W H Hudson, The Green Mansions. I am sure I have read that, in the rural section.

SR:      Did you read that?

MR:    I am sure I have. You see these, they ring a bell but then you forget what they were about and if you read a lot like I did then I am afraid as you get older, you do forget.

SR:      Or you can’t remember which is which.

MR:    Yes. I am not much good as an interviewee.

SR:      No, no, no, this is not unusual. We have got quite a few you’ve mentioned. Did you read any Rider Haggard?

MR:    Yes.

SR:      King Solomon’s Mine and that sort of thing?

MR:    Oh yes!

SR:     Did you like those?

MR:    Yes. That was more my cup of tea as you might say.

SR:      In Africa.

MR:    Yes, there was more to them than the … I did not really like the romances.

SR:      There is like Allan Quartermain and She and…

MR:    That’s right, that’s why I read more … ooh I remember reading She. You’ve got a good memory. I’d forgotten that.

SR:      And I said King Solomon’s Mines which is …

MR:    Yes. They were, there were more in them than the ordinary novel weren’t they? Like I say, I tended more to read books by men. Authors.

SR:      Mmmm, and like westerns or adventure or something.

MR:    Yes, I got past the western stage but they seemed quite adventurous. I like, one of my favourites, a [inaudible] called Thirtynine Steps.

SR:      Oh John Buchan.

MR:    Oh you notice how I remember.

SR:      Yes because I have got that on my Kindle actually.

MR:    Have you?

SR:      Yes, John Buchan’s 39 Steps. What’s interesting is, because I love the film, I have seen the film …

MR:    Oh I’ve seen it in all it’s different stages, different versions.

SR:      Yes, Robert Donat which is always my favourite.

MR:    Ahhh, my favourite, poor man he suffered because he had terrible asthma.

SR:      Did he? I didn’t know that.

MR:    Yes. It was asthma that killed him in the end and there wasn’t the medication then. You perhaps didn’t notice but the way he speaks, when I found out that he had asthma so badly, ohh wasn’t he lovely!

SR:      Handsome, very handsome.

MR:    Oh I thought he was a wonderful actor. What was the one where he became headmaster and …

SR:      Oh Mr Chips.

MR:    Goodbye Mr Chips.

SR:      Yes, he was Canadian I think actually.

MR:    Was he?

SR:      Yes, he’s not English he’s Canadian but he was … and that film changes … the bit at the beginning where the women gets killed in his flat in the film. In the book it is not a woman, it’s a man.

MR:    Is it?

SR:      Yeah, but having a woman getting murdered is a bit more sort of …

MR:    Is it, what, The Thirtynine Steps, it’s a man?

SR:      Yes, Thirtynine Steps.

MR:    Oh that’s an all-time favourite of mine. Is it yours?

SR:      Yes.

MR:    I could do it for them almost.

SR:      Yes because there’s quite a few actors like …

MR:    I’ve watched every version, Kenneth More and …

SR:      Robert Powell.

MR:    Robert Powell, that was the latest. That was a bit too …

SR:      No, not as good as the original because they had Peggy Ashcroft in it and John Laurie.

MR:    Oh yes, all the old favourites.

SR:      Can you think of books that you read when you were young and enjoyed but you wouldn’t dream of reading again?

MR:    Do you mean children’s books?

SR:      No, no any book when you were younger, as a young adult. You know, like for instance the light romances you read perhaps.

MR:    Oh I wouldn’t read those again now. They were all right for a young teenager and we were very … there was no such word as teenager when I was that age and we were very innocent teenagers. No, I wouldn’t dream of reading anything like that.

SR:      Any others that you think, ‘Well I’ve read them then and I wouldn’t read them again’?

MR:    Some, there must be, that I have persevered and read to the end and thought well at least I’ve done it but I wouldn’t read it again.

SR:      Or you go through a phase like you say your Catherine Cookson and you think you’ve had enough of those.

MR:    Oh yes, Georgette Heyer, yes.

SR:      You felt that with Georgette Heyer that she was just too light.

MR:    Oh they were far too light.

SR:      And you wanted something a bit more meaty?

MR:    I think a little bit more with a bit of body in it.

SR:      Yes.

MR:    I am reaching the stage now, as I say, unfortunately I can’t read as many books but I want to put some on my Kindle. I understand you can buy them and put them on.

SR:      Oh yes you can.

MR:    I will have to ask Carol because she … before you finish I am going to ask you …

SR:      No, no..

MR:    …how you recharge it because it is running out.

SR:      You need to … I can set it up for you if you want.

MR:    Yes, that’s it.

SR:      And you need to have an Amazon account normally or an account to download.

MR:    Carol does, yes. She’ll do it for me. She got an upmarket one with a light on it but they gave me this because they’ve put it on the big print for me.

SR:      The font you can alter and it’s quite bright isn’t it, the Paperwhite, yes my husband’s got that one. Now they are quite useful I think.

MR:    They are. I have just got a letter to say go and make an appointment to go and have another x-ray at the hospital. I thought, “Well this time I will take my Kindle,” because there’s nothing worse than sitting waiting for things like x-rays with rows and rows of people is there?

SR:      And also a big fat book is a bit heavy.

MR:    It’s too heavy. I thought, “Oh I’ll take my Kindle”.

SR:      Yes that’s a good idea.

MR:    Carol has put quite a few things on I haven’t got to yet. She likes murders and mysteries. I like one or two but I don’t know who they are by but they are not on your list.

SR:      They are perhaps more modern ones.

MR:    Yes. These are the old, what I call the semi-classics, the old faithfuls aren’t they?

SR:      And they are from that period, you see, which is what we are talking about ‘45-‘60.

MR:    Of course you are.

SR:      I mean obviously there are other authors, you know like Hemingway is not on the list. Ernest Hemingway, never?

MR:    No. I’ve just seen one.

SR:      Who’s that?

MR:    The Prisoner of Zenda! That was a great favourite of mine, again with a bit more in it, a bit more excitement. That’s when I was younger.

SR:      What about Graham Greene?

MR:    No, I didn’t like Graham Greene; he was a bit holier than though. I don’t know why.

SR:      He just didn’t do it for you?

MR:    He didn’t grab me at all and I never read any of Raymond Chandler.

SR:      And Dashiell Hammett. Dashiell Hammett wrote, I think he wrote Maltese Falcon, you know that famous film.

MR:    Yes I like the film but I couldn’t read the book. Dorothy Sayers, I remember reading one of hers. These are ones that I persevered with but wouldn’t read again.

SR:      They are sort of 1930s, Lord Peter Wimsey and that sort of thing.

MR:    They are all right when they are put into films or …
E Phillips Oppenheim? A political, financial, oh no.

SR:      No, I’ve not read …

MR:    Georgette Heyer, Margaret Irwin, I remember hers. There was one, Elizabeth somebody and she wrote, only wrote about three, about Edinburgh.

SR:      Oh?

MR:    Historical romance. Oh they were good.

SR:      I don’t know that.

MR:    Unless I can find her name, Elizabeth somebody, Oh they were good. I thought it might be on these but it’s not.

SR:      Did you read Winifred Holtby, South Riding?

MR:    No.

SR:      Do you remember South Riding?

MR:    That’s a favourite of my sister’s. No.

SR:      Did you think reading’s changed your life at all? Do you think it has made a difference to your life?

MR:    It hasn’t made a difference but it gets you through some bad times if you want to forget anything or just escape the world for a bit a book is a fine thing to do but I am afraid television has taken over a lot with people now.

SR:      So …

MR:    I read every night and I read in bed. I find now I am not really comfy in bed but I can hold my Kindle in bed.

SR:      Oh that’s good isn’t it?

MR:    Yes. Do you like to read in bed?

SR:      Yes. I do. I like to read and that’s what’s good about being retired, I can read without feeling guilty or thinking about things I ought to be doing.

MR:    Are you doing all the things you wanted to do now you are retired?

SR:      Well a lot of the things, yes. I wanted to learn to play the piano but I think I am too old for that and I think my arthritis …

MR:    Well it might do it good. My husband’s family was very musical. My husband was one of those people that could hear a tune and sit down and play.

SR:      Oh how lovely.

MR:    Harmonise, everything.

SR:      Oh wonderful.

MR:    Yes, that was a gift wasn’t it?

SR:      Yes, can I ask you a few biographical details if you don’t mind?

MR:    Yes of course, love.

SR:      So we’ve said when you were born. Can you just repeat that? When you were born, your birthday.

MR:    4th December, 1923.

SR:      1923 and you were born in?

MR:    Down at Westwood Road.

SR:      Westwood Road. Were you born at home or in hospital?

MR:    Yes. In those days all births were at home and you had a nurse in.

SR:      Which number were you on Westwood Road?

MR:    Pardon?

SR:      Which number was it?

MR:    We lived at 46 and then we moved to 48 because the garden was bigger and dad was a great gardener.

SR:      Is that right? It’s another of my colleagues on the book club, Loveday, lives at 42 I think.

MR:    42, that was Mrs Bailey. Oh do you know, my sister and I can go down that road and remember every person. It was a cul-de-sac and it was a little world of its own.

SR:      It’s a lovely position as well. That had a lovely view too.

MR:    Beautiful, lovely, we were very lucky.

SR:      How did your family come to be on Westwood Road or in Sheffield?

MR:    Born and bred there. My mother lived on Rustlings Road, father lived over at Wilkinson Street. His parents and brother were veterinary surgeons so they lived over there. David, my husband’s family, lived on Rustlings Road. You didn’t move far, even after the war, people tended to want to stay in their homes.

SR:      So it’s Sheffield families.

MR:    Yes we are Sheffield families.

SR:      So since you were a child on Westwood Road where did you live? You always lived there and then you went to be in the NAAFI and then when you got married?

MR:    When I got married, first flat over at Page Hall Road near the Northern General. The days when you couldn’t buy houses, you rented. Then we went to Carterknowle Road, a flat there. Then Whitfield Road.

SR:    Oh yes, I know.

MR:    I think we had the only rented house in Fulwood.

SR:      Really?

MR:    And then we bought the house on the crescent and then here.

SR:     Now how did the Second World War affect your family? Did it affect them?

MR:    No, because my brother wasn’t called up until it was nearly over. My sister was engaged. She and Eric got engaged, he was in air force, just before he went abroad. She didn’t see him for four years. It was a funny life you know.

SR:      Oh gosh.

MR:    We weren’t bombed out but yes, I didn’t like … it was … it had some very good points did the war years because I enjoyed being on the air force base [chuckles].

SR:      It’s quite exciting I should imagine, meeting all these air force men!

MR:    All these lovely men! Because if you were reared in a convent like we were and had a very strict upbringing.  On Westwood Road we weren’t allowed to play below the second gas lamp for instance, that kind of thing.

SR:      So did your father have a business or …

MR:    No, he was an industrial chemist, analytical chemist.

SR:     So was he affected by the war at all?

MR:    Well he worked seven days a week!

SR:     So it would keep him busy.

MR:    He was at, what on earth were they called, and then they became British Steel?

SR:    It could be Firth Brown’s, Thomas Ward’s.

MR:    No it wasn’t Firth Brown’s – Vickers!

SR:     Vickers.

MR:    It was a part of Vickers Armstrong. The day after the blitz he walked all the way to Hillsborough and the place had been bombed.

SR:      Oh gosh!

MR:    And his laboratories were all a mass of broken glass.

SR:     So he was kept busy?

MR:    Oh yes.

SR:     And your mum?

MR:    Mum didn’t work. They did a bit of genteel voluntary work but in my mother’s day ladies didn’t go out to work.

SR:     No, no. Of course not.

MR:    What a boring life. You raised your children and that was it.

SR:      Now which school, which junior school? Was that at Fulwood?

MR:    No. We went to a little private school, Eversley [?] High School opposite Botanical Gardens.

SR:      Oh yes I know.

MR:    On the corner of Riverdale Road and Brocco Bank. And from there when I was 10 we went to Mylnhurst, all three of us. I was there until I was nearly 17.

SR:      So you had about 6 or 7 years there?

MR:    Yes. Lovely school.

SR:     Did you do any exams?

MR:    No [with emphasis] – before you ask me – the war was a great good thing for me because everything came to a halt. The school kind of closed. There was no 11 plus or GCSEs, well my sister took Higher School Certificate. Yes oh I didn’t. They decided, I don’t know why in their wisdom, my parents decided I was the one that wasn’t clever so I didn’t think I was. Oh yes, I would look after mother and things like that. That’s what used to happen in those days.

SR:      So you left school when you were 17, about 1939?

MR:    Yes.

SR:     And did the school close?

MR:    No but it was very disrupted.

SR:     Of course. Then you came home until you were called up.

MR:    Called up, yes. I did a little job at, for the Board of Trade, ‘cos the man who ran it lived on our road. That was just a fill in because I knew I would be called up.

SR:      And did you go back into education at any time?

MR:    No. That is a great sadness of my life. I would like to have done but with always being told I wasn’t clever I never thought I was.

SR:      It is what we call a self-fulfilling prophecy. You think you aren’t because people tell you, you aren’t.

MR:    Yes. I mean I was the school comic and the comic at home, you know and I was always there if anybody was ill. It was that kind of thing. I wanted to be a nurse. My cousin was a doctor; he was training. I said, “Well I haven’t any exams”. “Oh”, he said, “I can get you in”. “Oh no”, said mother, “You’re too delicate”.

SR:      Ahhh.

MR:    That was a shame. That was one of my sadnesses for me.

SR:     And you say your father was an industrial chemist and your mum didn’t … What about your parent’s parents? What did they do?

MR:    Veterinary surgeons on father’s side and on mother’s side they were wool and gentleman’s outfitters and wool merchants and they had one of the big shops in town.

SR:     Oh yes. Which shop was that?

MR:    Well it was Hartley Brothers. That was the name it traded under. You know right opposite the town hall.

SR:     Yes.

MR:    We used to call it Timpson’s Corner. Then there were a few shops here and they have balconies. Have you ever noticed, have you ever looked up? Seen the wrought iron balconies?

SR:      Yes.

MR:    Well that was one of them shops, the big shop.

SR:      Oh yes.

MR:    If anybody great came we would go, like the King or Queen, and we could be on this little balcony.

SR:      So you had a good view, yes, yes. And you got married in 1952?

MR:    The war interrupted everything. I was 28, coming up 29 when I got married. You either married when you were 18 or 28 because in between …

SR:      Did you meet your husband in Sheffield?

MR:    Yes. Have you ever interviewed any of these ladies … have you ever heard of Brincliffe Oaks where everybody used to go to the Saturday night dance?

SR:      I know Brincliffe Oaks. I used to live Abbeydale Road.

MR:    Did you? Well they had a Saturday night dance and everybody met their futures there.

SR:      Really?

MR:    It was quite respectable. My brother met his wife there;my sister was already engaged and married by then.

SR:      And what did your husband do?

MR:    They were, err, Davenports, the cutlers and steel manufacturers, so he worked within the firm but he also had two brothers who put their wives in as managing directors so a lot of family.

SR:      They didn’t put you in?

MR:    No but when David came out of the navy they said, “Oh yes, your job will be here” and everything, but the brothers had taken over. Anyway that is rather unpleasant history for him.

SR:      Is that a sore point is it?

MR:    Yes.

SR:      So your husband was in the navy?

MR:    Oh yes, Fleet Air Arm.

SR:     Oh gosh. Did he fly anything?

MR:    No, he was just in the …

SR:     The support.

MR:    He was part of the ship, the armoury.

SR:      And he went … and that was during the war?

MR:    Yes, all over the place.

SR:     Oh gosh.

MR:    He was in Hiroshima just after the bomb.

SR:     [Exclaims]

MR:    Just after the bomb fell because they were laying landing strips in Australia ready to invade up in the islands, so they were sailing up, but of course the bomb had dropped on Hiroshima.

SR:      Oh dear that must have been a bit gruesome.

MR:    Not a nice time. I have got pictures of my … what he got when he was in Hiroshima. Time I think best forgotten don’t you?

SR:      Yes I think so, a bit gruesome.

MR:    It had to be but it was a terrible time.

SR:     Yes it is, a terrible thing. And did he enjoy being in the navy do you think?

MR:    I think so.

SR:     Yes?

MR:    Because it got them out. You see, in that time of the world we had not travelled or done anything. Men were called up and suddenly life was completely different, dangerous but completely different.

SR:      A bit adventurous as well perhaps? Yes. It might be rose-coloured glasses but it was different.

MR:    It was completely different and it got them away from … opened their eyes to life a little bit as well.

SR:      And for you, going in to the NAAFI?

MR:    Yes.

SR:      Did that open your eyes a bit?

MR:    Yes, I wasn’t afraid of men anymore! [inaudible] … to being in a convent! [both laugh]

SR:      What were the nuns like?

MR:    Oh they were lovely …

SR:      Were they all nuns in fact, all the teachers?

MR:    Yes. We eventually got two teachers, ordinary teachers, but they were all nuns. They were the Sisters of Mercy. They were also the ones that ran Claremont Nursing Home.

SR:     Oh yes.

MR:    And they were part of Little Sisters of the Poor.

SR:     Yes, I know.

MR:    They were a teaching nursing order. A bit like, did you ever watch Call the Midwife?

SR:      I haven’t seen it but I know what it is. They are …

MR:    They are nuns. A bit like that, all part of the teaching school. Claremont was the nursing side.

SR:      But you felt you didn’t learn a tremendous amount from them?

MR:    Well that’s my fault. Some very clever girls came out. Well Mary Finnigan who was my mate, we used to get pushed to the back of the class for giggling. She married the President of Northern Ireland.

SR:     Did she? Oh goodness!

MR:    Yes. She became a doctor. It was me, I was …

SR:      Was it very strict? Did they beat you at all?

MR:    Oh no! Gentle, not like Notre Dame.

SR:      Because I know nuns can be a bit brutal.

MR:    Yes. Only one who I was terrified of because she would make me stand in front of the class to do maths and I was no good at maths and we had to decline thermal … what was it? Do you remember that?

SR:      Thermodynamics? Yes. There were so many laws of thermodynamics.

MR:    Oh goodness me, yes.

SR:      Do you remember like English, did you have to learn poetry off by heart?

MR:    Oh yes. Poetry was the great thing. Poetry, singing, music, that was the theme really, English.

SR:      So you learnt poems off by heart?

MR:    Oh yes. The only one I can remember is Walter de la Mare.

SR:      Which one? The Traveller? The Listener, The Listener.

MR:    What was the other one? ‘If I should die…’

SR:      That’s Rupert Brooke. Is it Rupert Brooke?

MR:    Yes. Those were the kind of things we learnt, gentle things.

SR:      Classic poetry. Yes, we did some.

MR:    Very, very happy school years.

SR:      And your sister was there as well was she?

MR:    Yes. Well she was told she was much cleverer. I was the one that had to do the housework but Margaret, of course, she’s more intelligent.

SR:      And the boy was the boy. The brother was the boy.

MR:    But my sister who was kind of semi-housebound, now lives in Doncaster. I am the one that’s survived all the things thrown at me. She hasn’t. It isn’t always brains that gets you through life, you know.

SR:      And you said she married early and had her children early didn’t she?

MR:    Yes. When Eric came back from the war; yes he was in Middle East for nearly five years.

SR:      My goodness that could have been a bit gruesome I think.

MR:    Yes and she married within the fortnight when he came back.

SR:      Oh!

MR:    I think that was a big mistake but they’ve been happy but he died 19 years ago, in March, as my husband died 19 years ago in the November. We lost our husbands in the same year.

SR:      Oh isn’t that sad. Do you see a lot of your siblings, your brothers and your sister?

MR:    My brother, as I say, lives just up the road. My sister – I can’t get far you see and I don’t have a car and she just kind of fell and hurt her leg one day and never walked properly again.

SR:     Oh dear.

MR:    It’s a shame.

SR:     It is.

MR:    Because she has got a biggish family and they all run and help her. I don’t expect anything of mine because they both work and …

SR:     They are busy people.

MR:    Yes. When I did collapse with this thing they brought Judith down and she’s, she was a secretary but she now, she wanted a little job whilst the children were little and not leave home very much. You ought to turn this off …

SR:      Errr….

MR:    No it’s all right love, nothing, not any secrets, so she took a little job at the Costcutters at the end of the road. I don’t know if you know it? The little supermarket.

SR:     Yes I know.

MR:    She’s now supervisor, she runs the shop now.

SR:      Well it gets her out of the house.

MR:    It’s very hard work, she can do 12 hour shifts but they are hoping to save up because their eldest daughter, my granddaughter, one of them, she’s in Australia.

SR:      So they want to visit?

MR:    They want to go and visit her.

SR:     Did you ever visit Australia?

MR:    No! I used to travel quite a bit, coach travels, but never farther than Europe. I think Greece was the farthest we went.

SR:     Were you ever sort of inspired by anything you read to go to any places?

MR:    Ooh Rome! I don’t know what it was I read but yes, I felt I’d come home.

SR:     Yes.

MR:    Have you travelled a good bit?

SR:     We travel to Europe. We go to France a lot.

MR:    Do you?

SR:      We like the Mediterranean, we don’t go very far. We’ve been to America once, my husband’s a bit more well-travelled than me.

MR:    I’ve never been to that side and Charlotte, this granddaughter that’s in Australia, her boyfriend, his father is an orthopaedic surgeon in Hong Kong. So she’s travelled far more. She made, you know these laptop things, where they make films?

SR:      Yes.

MR:    She did a beautiful one of her travels through China and The Great Wall. So I’ve travelled by that!

SR:      Sort of vicarious isn’t it? Can I just ask you what your maiden name is?

MR:    My maiden name was Nixon, N-i-x-o-n.

SR:      Just for the record. OK. Is there anything else you want to add?

MR:    I don’t think so. I thought when you were coming I don’t know what you’ll talk to me about but it has been most interesting thank you. As I say, the final thing I will say is, I’ve always loved [with emphasis] books and I find that I couldn’t go through life without a book. And I still am a bit the same and do you find a lot of your ladies say that?

SR:      Yes. Books are a lifeline very often.

MR:    I do think that we ladies who used to be more stuck at home with children and we didn’t work, I think books were our, not escape, but…

SR:      Did you find that? Did you manage to read even when your children were small?

MR:    Oh yes. Get them to bed quickly and get my book out. Yes!

SR:      Did your husband read?

MR:    Yes, he was a great reader but he read … he was wading through Samuel Pepys’ Diaries when he died and he was enjoying it. Yes, those were the kind of things he liked.

SR:      So you’ve managed to read even, you know, when you’ve been busy and …?

MR:    Yes. Well he was away a lot so that’s, I found books a great companion.

SR:     Yes and becomes a solace isn’t it?

MR:    Yes. A little bit of escapism as well.

SR:      Yes. You’re in a different world aren’t you?

MR:    Yes, do you find that’s so, when you read?

SR:     Yes, just for that time that you are in a different world.

MR:    I think books are, they’re wonderful aren’t they, when you think about it?

SR:     Yes they are. On that point I think that would be a good place to stop.

MR:    I hope it’s not been too boring for you.

SR:     No.

Recent Posts

A ‘Brilliant Throng’ at the Town Hall

On Monday 20 September 1909, Sheffield Council hosted a reception in the Town Hall to mark the annual conference of the Library Association, which was being held in the city for the first time.[i] For once my interest in library history coincides with my interest in clothes…

Both the Sheffield Independent and the Sheffield Telegraph covered the discussions at the conference in detail. They also found space for some gentle fun at the librarians’ expense, less gentle criticism of Sheffield’s own library service and, in the case of the Town Hall reception, extensive fashion notes.[ii]

The Independent’s feature on the reception is signed ‘By Our Lady Representative’. This was an anonymous byline frequently used in the newspaper between about 1895 and 1915, for reports of splendid balls, garden parties and other society events, meticulously recording the guests, gowns and jewels on display.

On this occasion Our Lady Representative set the scene, describing the Town Hall’s reception rooms:

Quite in keeping with their reputation for lavish hospitality was the reception given last night by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress (Ald and Mrs H K Stephenson) in honour of the visit to Sheffield of the Libraries’ Association [sic]. Our spacious civic reception rooms, garlanded with foliage and flowers, evoked much admiration from the visitors, who found much enjoyment in the admirable supper served in the Council Chamber and ante room…

Sheffield Town Hall - the main entrance today. Guests would have used it in 1909ld have
The main entrance to the Town Hall today. Guests would have come in this way in 1909

The Telegraph agreed. The ‘stately entertaining rooms at the Town Hall [had] never been more beautifully decorated’. It went on:

supper was served in the Council Chamber and ante-room from nine o’clock onwards, and there was also a buffet supper in the drawing-room on the grand corridor.

The grand staircase up to the reception rooms (By Michael Beckwith. Public domain)

There was superior entertainment for the evening:

… the entertaining programme of songs by Miss Nina Gordon and the sleight of hand exhibitions by Dr Byrd-Page … Miss Nina Gordon is an artiste very much after the style of the famous Margaret Cooper, and the selections from her varied repertoire were keenly appreciated. So too, were the clever tricks of Dr Byrd-Page … The band of the 3rd West Riding Brigade Royal Field Artillery played during the reception. (Independent)

Miss Gordon specialised in humorous songs and sketches and Dr Byrd-Page was a ‘prestidigitateur’ or Illusionist. They both feature often on theatre bills of the period, and claimed royal patronage. By 1912 Dr Byrd-Page declared ‘the honour of appearing before His late Majesty King Edward VII on no less than seventeen occasions; and frequently before His Most Gracious Majesty King George V’.[iii] The Sheffield Telegraph described Miss Gordon as ‘Queen Mary’s Favourite Entertainer’ and an ‘exceedingly versatile artiste’.[iv]

In Sheffield Town Hall, their audience included industrialists, civic dignitaries and academics from the University of Sheffield. The Lord Mayor, the Town Clerk, the Bishop of Sheffield, the Master Cutler and the Mayor and Town Clerk of Rotherham led the way, and notable Sheffield names, such as Mappin, Vickers, Bingham, Hadfield and Harrison, were all represented. The Library Association was led by its President for 1909, Sheffield’s own Alderman William Brittain, who, according to the Telegraph of 21 September, was ‘identified more than any other gentleman in Sheffield with the development of museums and libraries’; and by prominent librarians like Stanley Jast, later chief librarian in Manchester and Croydon, and Sheffield’s own chief librarian, Samuel Smith.

Alderman Brittain (seated) and (directly behind him) Samuel Smith, Sheffield’s chief librarian

As might be expected in 1909, all the illustrious guests, including the librarians, were men, but their wives, daughters and sisters were present too. It is here that Our Lady Representative comes into her own. Consider the Lord Mayor’s family:

… the Lady Mayoress wearing her chain of office disposed about the corsage of an artistic evening gown of chartreuse green satin, her jewels including a diamond tiara and a diamond pendant of great beauty. Mrs Blake (mother of the Lady Mayoress), in a handsome black toilette sparkling with jet, brought Miss Blake and Miss Esther Blake, both wearing beautiful frocks of rainbow effect, the former expressed in pale blue chiffon over white satin with broad opalescent embroideries, and the other in mauve tinted chiffon en tunique and weighted down the left side with a band of nacre sequins. Mrs R G Blake’s black satin toilette looked well with a corsage bouquet of La France roses; and Mrs Philip Blake was a pretty young matron in a tunic dress of palest mauve ninon done with a broad Greek key embroidery. (Independent)

The Telegraph, meanwhile, reported that the Mayoress of Rotherham, Mrs Dan Mullins, wore a ‘heliotrope satin gown, enriched with embroideries’. (Judging by the number of times heliotrope and its near relation, mauve, are mentioned in the coverage, they must have been among that season’s colours.)

And there was:  

Mrs Brittain, whose gown of pewter grey satin was wrought with embroideries of blister pearls, her jewels being diamonds [and her daughters] Miss Winifred Brittain wearing emerald green chiffon and gold embroideries, and Mrs Hubert Rowlands attired in white satin with pendant earrings of amethysts. (Independent)

… Mrs George Franklin, wearing superb diamonds with a Parma violet toilette … Mrs Wilson Mappin, in grey brocade and diamonds … Mr and Mrs Tom Mappin, the lady in black satin with sleeves of thick black silk embroidery sewn with jet and slit up the outer side of the arms. Only two ladies had adopted the new turban coiffure. Mrs A J Gainsford, who had hers finished with a twist of white tulle, and wore a salmon pink bengaline gown, and Mrs Cyril Lockwood, whose hair was dressed with a plait, her black satin frock being enriched about the corsage with gold embroideries. (Independent)

Mrs H H Bedford chose lemon yellow satin … Miss Frost was in pale blue spotted silk; Miss Armine Sandford had a white satin gown; Mrs J R Wheatley in petunia silk applique, with cream lace motifs, had some lovely diamond ornaments … (Telegraph)

The Library Association was not to be outdone. Women librarians and the wives of the male librarians, said Our Lady Representative, ‘dispelled the illusion that a close association with books is incompatible with smart dressing’. (Just how old is the idea that librarians are uninterested in clothes?)

Miss Frost, of Worthing, who had a princess gown of pale blue satin veiled in a tunic overdress of dewdrop white chiffon fringed with silver. Mrs Wright (Plymouth) was much admired in a yellow evening frock; Mrs Kirkby (Leicester) wore white lace; and Mrs Ashton came in crocus mauve ninon de soie. Mrs Jast (Croydon) in a black toilette sparkling with jet … Mrs Chennell was wearing black chiffon; and Mrs Tickhill’s black lace gown veiled a white taffetas underslip. Mrs Samuel Smith (wife of the Chief Librarian of Sheffield) had a gown of palest pink silk, and her sister, Miss Flint, was in black, the jet bretelles being super-imposed on a fold of palest yellow velvet. Mrs Jones (Runcorn) and Mrs Singleton (Accrington) both appeared in black evening toilettes; Mrs Wilkinson (Rawtenstall) wore white silk; Mrs Bagguley (Swindon) was in sapphire blue poplin; and Mrs Pomfret (Darwen) came in old rose crepe de chine, Mrs Dowbiggin (Lancaster) wearing bright pink silk striped with white dots. (Independent)

Unfortunately, there are very few images of all this splendour. The Telegraph published the photograph shown above of Alderman Brittain with Library Association colleagues, taken during the conference, and we have the line drawings below, all of the men in their white tie and tails, and with their fine Edwardian moustaches and beards. For the women’s colourful toilettes, we have only word pictures. We have to use our imaginations to see the Lady Mayoress:

very dainty in reseda green satin, with loose hanging sleeves of cream Limerick lace, caught with cords of gold’ and wearing a diamond tiara and pendant and her chain of office. (Telegraph).

The ‘booky people’, says the original caption

Perhaps words are enough to convey the fashionable, affluent and confident elite of Sheffield that September evening in 1909. There were certainly problems locally, including poverty, slum accommodation and an over-dependence on a few, linked industries, but there was progress of which to be proud. To the world Sheffield was synonymous with steel, a place of industrial innovation and invention. Its population was growing and its suburbs spreading. It had been granted city status as recently as 1893 and within a few years it would be the fifth city in Great Britain, outstripping its great rival, Leeds. The grand Town Hall of the evening’s festivities had been opened by Queen Victoria in 1897 and in 1905 her son Edward VII had granted the University of Sheffield charter.

We know that within five years war would bring considerable change to Sheffield, with lasting consequences, but in 1909 the city could enjoy the opportunity afforded by events like the Library Association conference to show itself off and to earn the admiration of others.   

PS. Although there are no images of the women at the reception, here are a few fashion plates from the newspapers of the period, to help conjure the event.

This is the first of several pieces we plan to publish about the 1909 Library Association conference in Sheffield.

[i] The Library Association was founded in 1877 as the professional body for librarians in the UK. It was awarded a Royal Charter in 1898. It exists today as CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals, having merged in 2002 with the Institute of Information Scientists.

[ii] Both the Telegraph and the Independent covered the reception on Tuesday 21 September 1909.

[iii] Middlesex Gazette, 5 October 1912.

[iv] Sheffield Evening Telegraph, 3 February 1912.

  1. Dickens Comes to Sheffield Leave a reply
  2. Lockdown reading Leave a reply
  3. The books along the way… Leave a reply
  4. The top of the attic stairs Leave a reply
  5. ‘Young woman, 22, not a reader, joins library’ 1 Reply
  6. Wybourn in the 1950s Leave a reply
  7. Jean Compton’s Reading Journey 3 Replies
  8. Tea and poetry (2020) 1 Reply
  9. Love on the Dole in Sheffield: a Unique Story (Part Two) Leave a reply