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

City Librarian Speaks Out

Joseph Percy Lamb (1891-1969) was Sheffield’s City Librarian between 1927 and 1956. More than anyone, Lamb was responsible for the success of the city’s library service in the mid-20th century, when annual issues rose from under one to over four million and seven new libraries, including the Central, were opened. As Reading Sheffield contributes a talk about him to the 2019 Heritage Open Days festival, here is Joe Lamb himself in October 1933, giving the presidential address to the Sheffield Literary Club.

Joe Lamb (image: SCC)

Threatened by Mob Hysteria

Intellectual Freedom in Danger

Warning by Sheffield Librarian

Nazi Example

Joe Lamb’s self-confidence shine out in the Sheffield Independent’s report on 13 October 1933 of his address to the Literary Club. We realise with surprise that here is, not a politician or pundit, but a local government officer. The speech has not survived but we are left in no doubt of the conviction behind it. The Independent characterises it as strong criticism of ‘the attitude of the present generation towards life in general and literature in particular’. Lamb had evidently been angered by the

recent ‘barbaric spectacle’ of German university students publicly burning books containing some of the finest flowerings of German thought.

A Nazi throws confiscated ‘un-German’ books into the bonfire on the Opernplatz in Berlin in May 1933 (image: public domain).

This was a reference to the public burning of around 25,000 ‘un-German’ books by Nazi students which began on 10 May 1933. Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany in January and the anti-Jewish Nuremburg Laws proclaimed in April 1933. There were bonfires across the country, and the works of writers such as Berthold Brecht, Karl Marx, Heinrich Heine, Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque and Ernest Hemingway were condemned as corrupt. In Berlin, around 40,000 people heard propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels speak in support of censorship. This story seems to be missing from the Sheffield press, and perhaps Lamb, as City Librarian, felt that the threat to liberty and civilisation should have been better reported. For, having denounced the situation in Germany, he posited that ‘even in Britain there was growing up an attitude of conscious hostility to intellectual freedom’. He went on, in the blunt way of his time:

It is, of course, true that literature has never been free from persecution at the hands of the mob, and that this mob has not always been confined to the depressed classes of the community. … The more subtle weapons of social ostracism and economic pressure, no less powerful and ruthless because they are carefully hidden from public view, are in force even now.

Lamb was not afraid to point out the gap he perceived between intellectual and everyday life (notwithstanding the fact that there must have been academics in his audience).   

The preoccupation of scholars with the past, and the inevitable association between intellectual pursuits and the leisured security of university life have tended to isolate the idea of culture from contemporary thought and the ordinary scramble for existence. … I suggest that the time is coming when the whole structure of learning, buttressed up as it is by a great deal of make-belief, will be forced to discard many of these supports and re-build on foundations of intellectual honesty. Otherwise there is very serious danger of it being undermined by the forces of mob hysteria which our modern civilisation has called into being. 

As if this wasn’t enough, Lamb also took a swipe at methods of teaching.

We are not content to accept with simple thankfulness the works of writers of undoubted genius; we must forever be dissecting them on the operating slab and exhibiting their entrails to groups of shuddering students. … We even perpetrate the grisly joke of using the works of Shakespeare as a medium for the exercise of parsing and grammatical construction; and thousands of children who might conceivably grow up to a proper appreciation of literature are eternally damned by the macabre activities of the earnest educationists. Is it any wonder that so few survive?

(He was, of course, not unique in this particular criticism, and we know from his writing of his own unsatisfactory experiences learning literature at school.)

Lamb warned against the mediocre ‘in thought, language, creative work’, which was all too easily accepted, he thought, by the ‘pseudo-cultured’. For him the answer was robust ‘individualism of thought’, questioning rather than accepting.

Eighty years on, you wonder how the members of the Sheffield Literary Club responded to their president’s strong words. This club had been founded in 1923 as the Sheffield Poetry Club, and was often mentioned in the press (not least for its pseudo-medieval Christmas dinner, ‘ye soper æt Cristenmæsse of ye witenayemot and clubbe of lettres’, with the president as the ‘mayster of the feste’). Subjects discussed at its meetings included: Jane Austen, Mary Webb, Bryon, satire and early English novels. No doubt it seemed appropriate in this context to have the city’s chief librarian as president. That he was elected four years in a row suggests that they also valued him.

The Sheffield Literary Club, with Lamb third from the left, front row (image: Sheffield Newspapers)

Joe Lamb was a self-made man from a working-class family in St Helens. Denied higher education (which seems to have rankled throughout his life), he became an assistant librarian, which was a secure, white collar job. He was an auto-didact, using the ample opportunity his profession gave him to explore literature, music, philosophy and science. He also took his professional exams and became Sheffield’s City Librarian in 1927, winning national and international renown for the service. Throughout his career, he wrote and spoke about public libraries, determinedly promoting Sheffield. He seemed always to relish argument, and even controversy, for example, stocking his branch libraries with popular fiction like Edgar Wallace at a time when professional librarians frowned on offering books for entertainment. All this meant that he could appear difficult and was sometimes disliked, but he was always respected. This is the man we see in the newspaper of October 1933. In essence, he sought out his own way, always demonstrating the ‘individualism of thought’ he advocated to the Literary Club.

If you would like to learn more about Joe Lamb and Sheffield Libraries, our talk is on 17 September, at 10.30 am, in the Central Library, Surrey Street, Sheffield, S1 1XZ. The talk is free but places can be booked here.

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