Ted L

Ted L

Mary Grover is interviewing Ted L in the company of his ex-neighbour Gillian B.

Ted was born on 26th September 1919.

[This is partial summary and partial transcript because most of it is not about books. Sections summarised are between square brackets.

Not transcribed are interesting passages towards the beginning of the interview about Ted’s Second World War experiences as a fitter in Sheffield, Rhyll, France, Aldershot, Scotland, Middle East, Cairo, Mombasa, Nairobi, Berbera in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, East Africa. He was in Ordnance with South Africans.]

Mary Grover: So we are in Norfolk Park now. And you have lived in Norfolk Park all your life, Ted?

Ted L: Well this area, well you could call it Norfolk Park area.

[After he came out of the army Ted moved up to Gleadless, then Gleadless Town End, then Dronfield ( Coal Aston) for about six years.]

TL: We moved out of there actually.  Nellie’s mother got Alzheimer’s disease and Nellie had to look after her and that bungalow wasn’t big enough to do a job like that you see. So we moved back into Sheffield and we went to live on Langdale Drive.

[Ted left Duchess Rd School in 1933 at fourteen and went into engineering works as apprentice. He was 19 years old when he went into the army. When conscription was announced, it was ‘a big blow’ … ‘because I was just twenty’.  He and some friends decided to join up in something that would maintain his trade so they joined the Ordnance Corps.

The great raid was when he was on leave. Everything at his old school was made of wood so the incendiary bombs just blew it up.]

TL:  Always in the top of form.  I wasn’t an idiot like some of them. … We had a good teacher called Mr Cross. He was a Londoner with a broad accent. I didn’t know what a Londoner was in those days. He had posters all over the place, Cunard Liners stuck round.  [Ted remembers the books he brought in.] He was the best teacher we ever had, Mr Cross. He didn’t spare you, I liked him for all that.

[During the passage that follows Ted describes his army career in the Ordnance Corps.  He was first sent to France and then evacuated to Dunkirk.  He was on the beach in Dunkirk for six days. For four of them the only thing they had to eat was a pot of marmalade and some cubed beetroot.

After this he had a glorious summer in Rhyll -“‘three beautiful cinemas”. He then went to Aldershot. Then he was posted to Scotland to the Clyde estuary and went out to the Middle East. When he got there, he went to Cairo and Suez where he was in a big camp for five days. Every morning there was parade and if they called out your name you were posted somewhere..

Ted was In East Africa for two and a half years:  Mombasa then Nairobi. The men were separated into different workshop units. He was put into Kenyan Armoured  Car Regiment. He was in Ordnance Mobile Workshops, units of five. He had to learn to drive and had a machinery truck which was his workshop. Eventually he was sent by ship to Berbera in Somalia, then up to Abbis Ababa.  He was a fitter and machinist.  He had to make new parts for the armoured cars. Outside Addis Ababa was an air strip full of abandoned and destroyed Italian planes, abandoned because Mussolini couldn’t maintain them.

Ted has used Highfields Library and then Central. He watched Central Library being built in Surrey St because halfway through his schooling he was given two days a week at the art school near the Lyceum and used to watch the great cranes moving the big blocks. He much admired the building and still does.]

TL: Thursday and Friday I used to go to an art school. And when we used to go out in the afternoon we used to watch them building the new library. … Then when I was at the art school and we used to watch the cranes, the big stones. Very interesting that was. I was with that library right from the beginning. [cut]

TL: Well, I think, [the old library] it was an old music hall and there was a little chapel next to it … and then the other side was the art school. [cut ] Started building it about 1929 and took them about three years. [cut] The old one was cramped. There were smaller rooms and these lines of shelves up all close together. Quite a lot of people all mugged up sort of thing. When this new one opened everything was beautiful and spacious, art gallery upstairs, and I think [it] they’ve got a theatre underneath though I’ve never been in it. Aye, it was interesting that. I’ve often thought,”‘I watched them building that”.

MG: As an artist did you like the building?

TL: [Ted has always been interested in art, design and architecture] Oh yes, I thought it was fine. I think it’s a fine building that is. I like the art gallery. I have been up there for all sorts of things. In fact there was a programme the other day about Lowry, the painter. Well he came there once, after it was built.  I went one day and up in one of the galleries, there were lots of rows of little seats. There was a restaurant there and it was right next to that. … and I said to this girl, “What’s all this for?‘”She said, “It’s  Mr Lowry coming to give a lecture for the children”. Well I never stopped for that ‘cos I never knew when it was going to be, next morning I think. But that gallery next to it was full of his pictures. That was when I first got to know about Lowry, you know. I admired his work. There were these funny little characters in it. I think they’re fantastic. I’ve got one up there now.  That’s Lowry up there.

MG: On the calendar.

[cut]

MG: Can you remember what you borrowed and read before you went to school?

TL: The books I used to read were Rider Haggard. He used to write books about South America and Africa.

[Ted remembered She, King Solomon’s Mines and studied Prester John in school.]

TL: King Solomon’s Mines, that’s a brilliant thing, that. They made a film of it. I read a lot of them [cut] I don’t think I would ever have imagined I would have been in Africa when I read a Rider Haggard book. In fact I don’t know where they were about. They were in various places. Southern Africa or Central Africa.

MG: Did you ever read John Buchan?

TL: Yes, I used to read John Buchan books. Blanket of the Dark was one of them. I’ve got that in there now.

GB: Thirty Nine Steps.

TL: Thirty Nine Steps, that was one of them, aye. Can you think of any others?

MG: Prester John, about Africa.

TL: Oh yes, that was the first one I read. I read that at school. That was the first one I read – that was probably what got me on Africa in earlier part of my life. Aye, Prester John. I forgot all about that.

MG: So do you think you studied Prester John in class?

TL: Yes, we had that when we read it. They were teaching us all about it, about people in Africa, I think it was the northern part of South Africa where he was there and that was where I first got introduced to Africa really. That’s what set me going. I liked the books I read and I said, “I’d like to go out there” like and I fetched up out there. There you are, you see!

[Mary introduces Ted’s friend Gillian B.]

MG: So when you were at school, what school was it?

TL: Duchess Rd. Just down the bottom here. It got bombed in the war and I think they’ve built a small building on it now but I don’t know if it’s a school or what it is but, you know, the school, it was just bombed, flat out of it. I was at home at that time. I was on leave. It was in, was it December, was it 1940? And I came home – was it draft leave? – and we had that great raid then and that’s what destroyed it. It was one of these Victorian schools and everything in the side was made of wood you see. Incendiary bombs got in and it just blew up sort of thing.

[Discussion about subsequent schools built and housing.]

MG: Do you think you enjoyed your English lessons, your history lessons at school?

TL: Well, I liked history. I warn’t so keen on English, I was all right. I got it all right, the grammar and all that. Some of them didn’t. I was even top of the class one time but I was always in about the top four. I wasn’t an idiot like some of them. I did all right at school.

Gillian B: You love history don’t you?  Because we often talk about history.

[cut]

Gillian B: You’ve got lots of books yourself.

[Ted’s flat is full of books, mostly art books. Gillian describes how Ted ‘devours’ all the book she lends him.  History, architecture, art, music.]

TL: I don’t read a hell of a lot now.

[When Mary asked about the NAAFI libraries, Ted only had memories of one in the camp in Aldershot but never went into it. He never came across Hank Janson.]

TL:  Books? [in the army] I can remember all sorts of things but I can’t remember them.

[There were books in Ted’s family home. Mother went every week to the library and his father read detective stories. Ted got his books from the libraries.]

TL: [discussing libraries] I didn’t get reading books. I used to get out books about art.

[Ted’s father was a plumber born in Crowthone in Berkshire. His paternal grandfather was a regular soldier who joined the army in 1854 when the Crimea War started.”‘He had a rough job in Crimea, got a head wound which eventually killed him”.  He took up physical training, became a fencing master in schools and became the army fencing champion and taught fencing at Winchester. He got a job at Wellington College and did it till he died. They put a metal plate in his head. Ted has got his Crimean war medal.

There follows a long discussion about long-lived relatives and how their longevity took him back in time to the eighteenth century. His Aunt Ada died at 99.]

MG Do you think there were books in your family over many generations?

TL:  Oh yes. Not many people had books but we had a big wardrobe. There were all sorts – plumbing trades books, beautifully produced things. [One was printed in 1750 “a reading book, a story”.]

[Ted’s sister, Dorothy, provided a window on London for Ted and his wife, Nellie.]

GB: T’s sister was a communist so she must have read quite a lot.

TL: Oh aye, anything Russian, but she calmed down later on.

MG: What was her job?

TL: Secretary. She went down to London. Secretary to this woman  well known  but … . I didn’t know much about her work – out of my sphere.

[Dorothy retired at 74 and went to live in an old people’s flat in Clapham on the top floor, eleven floors up. The flat had a balcony and “you could see right across London.  Battersea Power Station. Could see St Paul’s the other way”. “I used to like London in those days” but Ted doesn’t like the rush now.]

MG: Your family has really got around.

TL:  Oh yes, my father, and his father born in 1837 but before that the family came from Mansfield.

[MG asks whether he got back to reading when he got out of the army.]

TL: Oh yes, I used to go to the library and get books out, not reading books, technical books.

I don’t read fiction books. Never have done … I have always been interested in a subject … I can learn something.

MG: Would you ever think that fiction was a waste of time?

TL: Oh no. If they want to read it, they can read it. I will if it interests me but apart from that …

GB: You have fantastic knowledge considering you left school …

TL: A lot of it was from my father. He wasn’t educated.  He was a working class man, he was a plumber. He lost his job in about 1929 in the Great Depression so he started working … He spent money too quickly on beer and everything.

[Ted had read Three Men in a Boat  .. ‘that was funny that’. …]

TL: My mother used to read that P G Wodehouse. … My mother used to read anything … they were all fiction books  … aye, romances, being a woman it would be something like that.

[MG asks if mother used the Red Circle library].

TL:  Now you mention it I think … I never used to use it.

[His mother liked romances and detectives. Ted didn’t know anything about Boots Library.]

GB: You don’t like anything romantic.

TL: There was only one romance I was interested in and that was with Nellie.

[Ted married Nellie in 1948.]

TL: I came out the army on St Valentine’s Day 1946 and I stated courting Nellie in 1947 September. I met her at work …. They manufactured tyre gauges and Nellie used to test them. I asked her out one day and she said ‘Oh yes please’.  That was the best answer I ever had to anything. It went from there on.

TL: We got married in 1947 [sic].

MG: Was Nellie a reader?

TL: She liked romances in magazines. The books I read she didn’t like though.  She worked in an engineering works. … She took a job as a secretary but she had no particular education .She went to an ordinary school, you see. She got called up and directed into this job, you see, working on these tyre gauges. She could have gone to night school but I don’t think she ever did. … She was clever enough to learn it and was in charge of an office at one time. She worked for the AA company in Paradise Square and she was in charge of that office and then they scrapped it all. … All the office work was sent to London [she was offered chance to work there and turned it down] a good job and well paid but neither of us fancied living in London. It’s like an absolute rush in London  … I don’t like that.

[Ted used to go and visit his sister in Sibella Rd in Clapham and the chap who owned it used to let rooms off – he was a Labour MP during the recess.  Ted and his wife use to rent one of the rooms for about ten days.

Visited art galleries National Gallery.]

TL: All sorts of pictures in there, not just ordinary paintings, some of them extraordinary  …. We went to look at Leonardo … one section there and it was only dull light and there was two whacking great pictures, best paintings I have ever seen.

[GB mentions the Leonardo drawings exhibition at the Graves.]

TL: We were down at Windsor Castle one time with Dorothy … down the corridor beside the chapel … and it’s Charles I and three views of him.

GB: Van Dyke.

[Ted likes coats of arms.]

TL: [Re Leonardo drawings] The paper was white as that and it was good drawing paper. It looked as though it was done last week and he’d got a woman with a fancy big cloak or something and the shading on that.

GB:They used something called silverpoint.

TL: Gave us a chance to go down and see things.

[Then follows a long description of an encounter that meant a lot to Ted. On holiday in 1958 in Innsbruck, a quintet on a dais playing Tyrolean songs, he and his wife met a Dutch couple, a Frenchman with two girls and a German couple. He had been a major in the German army. Ted told the German that he had been at Dunkirk. The German replied, ‘I was at Dunkirk’.]

TL: We were shaking hands across the table, “We are comrades.” We weren’t drunk or anything!  He was a smashing bloke to talk to.

 

Recent Posts

In the year 1873

I’m researching the remarkable Walter Parsonson (1832-1873), who was Sheffield’s first chief librarian from 1855 to 1873. Here, by way of an introduction to the man, is an account of the public library during his last year in charge. It comes from the annual report of the Council’s Free Library Committee, as it appeared in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph on Monday 6 October 1873.[i] 

Walter Parsonson (copyright Sheffield City Council,
used by permission of Picture Sheffield. Ref: u04592)

In 1870, three years before Walter Parsonson died, the Midland Station opened in the valley below Norfolk Park. Sheffield would not become a city for another 20 years, but the new rail route to London, via Chesterfield, was a sign of the town changing fast. Sheffield’s population had trebled to 239,000 since Walter’s birth in 1832, although its area was smaller than today’s city, with districts like Hillsborough yet to be incorporated. Steelmaking and related industries were making fortunes for the few and keeping the many going. The town centre was being developed and new residential areas like Crookes being settled. Thousands of people still lived in slums, however, and public health was poor. Schools were expanding thanks to the Elementary Education Act 1870, and by the end of the decade steel baron Mark Firth would establish Firth College, the forerunner to the University of Sheffield.      

The public library, which opened in 1856, was a well-established part of mid-Victorian Sheffield. There were the central lending and reference libraries in the old Mechanics’ Institute in Surrey Street; and branch libraries in Upperthorpe and Brightside. These branches were recent innovations, with Walter Parsonson’s ‘valuable services…most cheerfully and unstintingly given’ to them, and the Council was proud of them, on civic and cultural grounds, as pledges for the future.

Brightside

Brightside was judged a success by the Committee, with 3,800 borrowers registered in a year:

The returns from the Brightside branch library are eminently satisfactory, and prove the wisdom of the course adopted by the Town Council in erecting a building specially adapted for its efficient working.

It opened, on Gower Street, in September 1872, at a cost of £2,000, with about £800 spent on a stock of over 5,000 books. There was a lending library, a ladies’ reading room and, upstairs, a public reading room (there was, you see, the public and then there were women). As Sheffield’s first building ‘erected with some consideration for the working of a library’, according to Alderman Fisher of the Free Library Committee, it was an experiment.[ii] The Sheffield Daily Telegraph said on Thursday 5 September 1872:

It is sufficient now to say that it is a neat if not handsome-looking edifice, and that the interior arrangements are the most appropriate character, surpassing in the matter of convenience the central institution.

Brightside Library, Gower Street (copyright Sheffield City Council, used by permission of Picture Sheffield. Ref: u03145)

Neat on the outside, Brightside had on the inside state of the art Victorian technology, which was another sign of Council commitment to libraries:

… the handsome mahogany frames on each side of the lending counter, in which is arranged what known as the ‘Indicator System,’ whereby the reader may see at glance whether the book he wishes to borrow is available or not. The system is ingenious, yet so simple that all can understand it. The frames contain 72 columns … and each of these is divided by thin slips of japanned tin into 150 little shelves. (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Saturday 17 August 1872)

Each shelf was marked with the number of a book. Borrowers chose from a catalogue and then checked the indicator. If the allocated shelf was clear, their choice was available and library staff would retrieve it from behind the counter. But if the shelf showed red, the book was out on loan. The Brightside indicator, made locally, by Mr Cocking of Watson’s Walk in the town centre, worked ‘most usefully and satisfactorily’, said the Committee report.

Brightside was evidently well used: in 1872-3, ‘the issues have been 67,177 volumes, or a daily average of 248 volumes’, with fiction (46,435) easily the most popular. This was always the way, although some complained that libraries should only have ‘books of information’, frivolous novels being a waste of time and public money. There were 7,200 books on the Brightside shelves by 1873, and almost 40% were fiction. But there were also almost 2,000 books on history, biography and travel, and 800 on arts and sciences.

Brightside (with a later name change to Burngreave) remained a library until 1990. The building is still there, and is now the Al-Rahman Mosque.  

Upperthorpe

The branch had opened in 1869, in rooms rented by the Council in the Tabernacle Congregational Church on Albert Terrace Road. No doubt it had also been seen as an experiment. Its facilities were obviously poorer than Brightside, but the Committee felt that it too had performed well:

Its work during this time had been extremely satisfactory; the average daily issues which had fallen from 162, in 1870-71, to 150 in 1871-2, having this year increased to 183. The total issue for the year had been 49,640 books.

Tabernacle Congregational Church, Albert Terrace Road, Upperthorpe (used by permission of Picture Sheffield. Ref: s22751)

Once again, fiction comes top: ‘5,289 had been history, biography, and travels; 4,446 arts and sciences, 680 theology and philosophy; 410 politics, 1,680 poetry, 30,508 fiction, and 6,627 miscellanies’. Just one book had been lost, of the 7,138 books in stock, and at 13s it must have been one of the more expensive.

The demand for books in Upperthorpe and the success of the specially-designed building in Brightside led the Council to invest in two prestige projects in 1876 – a new library building for Upperthorpe and its twin at Highfield on the other side of the town. These were fine buildings,  designed by one of the town’s premier architects and fitted with up-to-date indicator devices, at an overall cost of about £6,000 each. One hundred and forty-four years later, Highfield is still a Council-run library, and Upperthorpe an associate library.     

Central Library

The Central Library was less satisfactory. Issues were down:

IssuesReferenceLendingTotal
1872-313,470128,032141,502
1871-215,162134,086149,248

The Committee thought that the decrease was due ‘partly to the extremely good state of trade during the past year’ (which is an original suggestion. Did people stop reading if there was business to be done?) and ‘also partly to the extensive and excellent collections’ in the two branch libraries. It pointed out too that the total for the three libraries together was in fact rising: 178,155 volumes, or 754 per day, in 1871-2 and 244,849, or 890 per day, in 1872-3. This was clearly entirely satisfactory.    

There was, however, a problem. The reference library issues had been falling steadily since the late 1860s, from 19,384 in 1869-70 to 13,470 in 1872-3. The Committee begged the full Council to take action:

It is true that the reference library is in extent scarcely worthy of the town; but it possesses many rare and valuable works, and it is much to be regretted that quieter and more spacious accommodation for their use should not be provided. Until that is done and a safer place of deposit furnished, it appears unlikely that future committees will expend much in the extension of this valuable department, or that owners of scarce works will present them for public use. The decreased issues … appear to prove that the discomfort and offensiveness of a heated, overcrowded room are too much for the zeal after knowledge to overcome. Since the opening of the reference library in 1856, private enterprise has abundantly provided our largely increased population with commensurate accommodation for drinking, dancing, and other amusements, whilst the accommodation for the nobler tastes which would bring our population to consult the learned and artistic works which are accumulated and accumulating in your reference library (which, from their rarity and value, cannot be lent out) is scarcely at all improved and extended.

The Mechanics’ Institute – home of Sheffield’s first public library

The Mechanics’ Institute building was now wholly owned by the Council, and housed the debating chamber and various offices. The ground-floor library had long outgrown its allocated space – there was no room for an indicator system there. While the Council did invest over the years in branch libraries, it failed to look after the heart of the service. The Committee’s plea in 1873 was simply an early iteration of the case its successors and its librarians would make for the next 56 years, as the situation worsened. Sheffield needed a modern, properly equipped central library.   

Conclusion

I’ll finish where the Council’s report starts – with a tribute to Walter Parsonson, about whom I plan to write more. The Committee’s report was tabled just a month after his death, and he perhaps had helped to draft it.

At the outset the Committee state that they have first to deplore the loss by death of the late chief librarian, Mr. Walter Parsonson, FRAS. Mr. Parsonson had filled the office of chief librarian with great ability since the establishment of what is now the central library in February, 1856, and the later portion of this time his valuable services were most cheerfully and unstintingly given towards the establishment and opening of the Upperthorpe and Brightside branches. Mr. Parsonson’s diligence, urbanity, integrity, and rare devotion to all the duties of his important office during this long period of service, appear to require this brief record of the melancholy reason why his name no longer appears in the ‘list of officers’ prefixed to their report.

I will be writing more about Walter Parsonson here. I’ve also recorded a podcast about Walter with Sheffield Libraries which is here. Many thanks to Picture Sheffield for allowing the use of images.


[i] Unless otherwise stated, all quotations come from this article.

[ii] Quoted in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph’s report of the opening ceremony, published on 5 September 1872.

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