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.

 

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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.

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