Winnie Lincoln

Winnie Lincoln

Winnie is being interviewed by Mary Grover on the 8th May 2012.

[This interview was conducted in Winnie’s sitting room in the company of her two friends Jean and Joan and Winnie’s daughter, Kathryn.  You can find Joan’s interview here.]

Mary Grover: I’m interviewing Winnie Lincoln.  Winnie was born in Upperthorpe and lived in Upperthorpe until the 1950s when she moved to Wadsley, where we are now.

Thank you very much, Winnie, for letting me come.

Winnie Lincoln: Right.

MG: So first of all Winnie, you’re obviously a very big reader.  I can see that from this room which has got your books all around us.  When do you think your love of reading started?

Winnie:   Er, well.  Really in later life, you know.  I mean when we were; we didn’t have books at home.  Don’t think mother could afford them anyway, only the odd one that were prizes and that, you know.  And …, and we went to the library otherwise. In fact I’ve still got one or two of mum’s old books.

winnie--1web

MG: Have you?  What are they?

Winnie: Yeah, from her being ten years old.

MG: Really?

Winnie: Yes.  Jessica’s Prayer, gosh, some more I can’t just think of.  I don’t know whether Kathryn’s got any of them.

MG: Was that a Sunday School Prize, Jessica’s Prayer?

Winnie:  I think so, … and a Bible, one or two old ones.  Red Dave, that was my husband’s when he was a boy.

MG:  I don’t know that one.

Winnie:   And I still kept it, yeah.  But other than that, you know, it was just library books or books that people passed on to us.

MG: Yes.  So did your parents read those books to you or did you read them mostly yourself?

Winnie:  Well mother didn’t have much time to read to us only she used to sing Salvation Army hymns to us.

MG: Did she?

Winnie:  Yeah she was a Salvationist.  Yeah, she was more familiar with that.  She hadn’t time to sit down and read much.

MG: What about the Bible, did she read from that to you?

Winnie:  No, no she didn’t.  But she was always quoting things from it.  But other than that, as I say it was you know just going to the library.

MG: Which library was that Winnie?

Winnie: Upperthorpe.

MG:  Was that fun?

Winnie:  Yes I used to enjoy that, yes.  And of course when you’re schooling you’re going with your friends, meeting up with your friends and they were passing on word, oh read this, read that.  But it were mostly fairy stories and things like that that you’d go in for when you’re young aren’t they?

MG: Yes.

Winnie: You know.

MG: So what age did you leave school?

Winnie:  Fourteen.

MG:  And did you go on reading after you’d left school?

Winnie: Yes, but not so much really.  Mm, books that came into the house, comics, you know and that.  Me brothers, I were youngest of five, so no, we didn’t have a lot of books.

Dad used to belong to a Red Circle Library, do you remember that?

MG: Well I’m very interested to hear about the Red Circle Library, Winnie, because I think there were two branches and one’s on Snig Hill.

Winnie: This one was on Infirmary Road.

MG:  Infirmary Road?

Winnie: Yes.

MG: And what were they?  Because, what kind of books did they have, Winnie?

Winnie: Just fiction.

MG:  Just fiction, right.

Winnie:  I didn’t see any others.  I used to go and get Dad’s books ‘cos he were interested in sport, or mostly horse … I can’t remember the author that used to ride, er write on horse racing and things like that, and westerns, of course.

MG: Zane Grey, did he read?

Winnie:  I can’t remember.

MG:  Can’t remember but he liked westerns.

Winnie:  Yes.  And anything on horse racing.  He was a bit of a gambler.

MG:  Was this novels about horse racing?

Winnie:  Yes.

MG: Ah, I didn’t know there were any.

Winnie: Yes.  Oh yes.

MG: Can you remember any authors of these horse racing books?

Winnie:  No I can’t, no.

MG: How interesting.

Winnie:  I think they used to pay probably sixpence.  It was not very much.  And it was a lending library.

MG: So for sixpence, you could get quite a few books?

Winnie: No I think you probably only get one.

MG:  That’s interesting.

Winnie:  Might have been less than that, I can’t remember.

MG: So you were sent down to collect them.

Winnie:  Yes, very often.

MG: Did you choose them for your dad?

Winnie: Yes because I knew what he wanted.

MG: Yeah.

Winnie: I’d be in trouble if I brought back what he’d already read! [Laughter]

MG:  So you had to remember what he had read and go and find a new one for him?  That’s hard!  When you were down in that Red Circle Library what did, what was it like?

Winnie: It was quite busy, actually.  Er, it was only just a little shop.

MG:  Right.

Winnie: You know, and no bigger than just one room, one small room.

MG:  Right.

Winnie: But lots of people used to go and use it.  I mean in actual fact, you know, I mean I know books wouldn’t be expensive then, but there was a lot of people, they just couldn’t afford to buy them.

MG: No, that’s right.

Winnie: They couldn’t afford to buy them.

MG: No.  Were the books in the Red Circle Library paperbacks?

Winnie:  Yes.

MG: Right.

Winnie: Yeah.

MG: So were some of them a bit, falling apart?

Winnie: Yeah but they were still passable, you know.

MG: And when you were down there Winnie, did you see any that you would’ve fancied reading?

Winnie:  No.

MG: No!

Winnie: Winnie: No, they weren’t, er, no.

MG:  Right.

Winnie: But then, I, you know, just used to read whatever you could get hold of, sort of thing.

MG: Yes.  So what did you get hold of?

Winnie:  Well, not much.  Other than the library.

MG: So the library was your main source of books.

Winnie: It was, yes.  Till I got, you know, when you get older and anybody reads a book.  Oh you’d like to read this, passed around, as I said before.

MG: Yes.

Winnie: And then of course, … after, as you get older, you get more selective in what you want to read.

MG: What became your favourites?

Winnie:  Well, mm, adventure, history, anything really, now, that’s factual.

MG:   So you prefer factual now, do you, Winnie?

Winnie:  Ahem, yes.

MG:  So when you were in your twenties, what did you like?

Winnie:  I didn’t read a lot then.

MG:  You didn’t.

Winnie:  No.

MG: Why do you think that was?

Winnie:  Well I think you were at work and then in your spare time, if you weren’t busy at home, helping mum and things like that. … And then of course, my older siblings were having families so I was pretty much involved with them.  And then it was later on that I started.  I mean I’ve read, I’ve always read.  My husband used to like books on nature, so we always read things like that.  Shooting, nature, whatever.  But since then, I like, more or less, factual books.

MG: Factual books, yes.

Winnie:  Factual books.

MG: Tarka the Otter, did you ever read that one?

Winnie: No.

MG: No.

Winnie: No.

MG: Mm, that was a sort of mixture of nature and, wasn’t it?

Winnie:  It was, it was.

MG: So with your liking of history and fact, Winnie, did historical novels?  Did you enjoy those?

Winnie: Yes.

MG: Anyone stick out in your mind?

Winnie:  Oh, lots really.  Adomnan of lately, Adomnan. [A life of Columba]

MG: Oh yeah.

Winnie:  Yeah.

MG:  I tell you what we could do Winnie.  I see that you’ve got some novels out there.  Could we put them between us on the sofa and you just tell me a bit about them?

Winnie: Oh gosh.

MG: Thank you very much.

[The microphone is knocked over.]

Winnie: Look at that poor thing!

MG:  Winnie is showing me a book. What is it Winnie?  That’s a very old book.

Winnie: Well, it is.  I should probably … And these, in actual fact, I think mum used to collect so many coupons out of a paper and she’d send these off and …, I made a mess of that!  And …, send for these books and that goes, these were the only ones we had really.

MG:  It’s a beautiful book actually.  I know it’s old but it’s beautifully printed.

Winnie:  It is old yes, because it covers everything.

MG: So what’s it called, this book?

Winnie:  It’s the Southern Encyclopaedia of Knowledge.  We only got the volume one.

MG: Right, yes.

Winnie:  The front part’s missing.  So this would probably be about, er, early thirties, I should imagine.

MG: Yes, 1920s or 30s.

Winnie: This one might be better.

MG:  Yes and it’s got beautiful illustrations and it’s beautifully printed.

Winnie: They were, they were very good. ‘35, this.

MG: So did you read encyclopaedias?

Winnie: I used to read these, yes.

MG: And this second book you’ve got here, Winnie, what’s this?  Children’s Golden Treasure Book.  [A third voice says “Oh I had one of them”.  MG: Did you have that Jean?].  ‘Brimful of joy and entertainment! ‘

Winnie:  And it was!  I love ‘brimful’, yes.  [Laughter]

MG: So what’s it brimful of?  [Jean: Things come to you don’t they when other people are speaking.  Winnie: They do Jean.  Jean: Sorry.  Winnie: No.].

MG: …, I was just looking at this.  Maggie and the Gypsies, by George Elliot.

Now there’s a sort of  … very famous author.

Winnie: Yes of course he is.

MG: I wonder if it’s taken from, yes.

Winnie: I didn’t know that then!

MG:  Course!  No.

Winnie:   No.

MG: So I think that must be an extract from Mill on the Floss, perhaps.

Winnie: Yeah they were.

MG:  Aha.

Winnie: They’re all extracts.

MG: Yeah.  Do you think you ever read George Elliot, a whole novel?

Winnie:  No, never.  No.  Ewing?  Does that read “Mrs Moss by Mrs Ewing”?

MG:  And Mary Lamb, a poem by Mary Lamb.  So it’s full of good stuff, Winnie.

Winnie:  Yeah but I mean I weren’t aware of that then.

MG:  No. When you’re looking through it now, can you pick out one that you really loved?

Winnie:  Mm  I think probably Surprise for Katy, I think I like that.  That was by Coolidge, Susan Coolidge.

MG:  Ah, from What Katy Did? Lovely book.

Winnie:  It would be, yes.

MG: Yes, yes. So this book.

Winnie: Christina Rossetti?

MG: Wow.

Winnie: Summer.

Jean:  Oh I remember her, Christina Rossetti.

Winnie:  Do you Jean?

Jean: Yes.

Winnie: Yes.

Jean: It’s funny in’t it?

Winnie: Feast of the Moon Goddess.

MG: Lewis Carroll?

Winnie: Oh I mean …, these were treats.

MG: Oh yes.  So how do you think you parents bought that book, would that be with coupons do you think?

Winnie: Yes, yeah they would be.

MG: Can you remember the newspaper, Winnie, that you got those coupons from?

Winnie:   No.

MG:  No.  You don’t know what paper your parents took?

Winnie:  No I don’t.

MG:  No.

Winnie: The Thorny Path?  Ooh!

MG: Winnie’s got a third book now that is very old and it’s called The Thorny Path by Hesba Stretton.

Winnie: She’s the author of Jessica’s First Prayer, too, which I’ve got upstairs, I think.

MG: And you think Jessica’s First Prayer is a Sunday School Prize, didn’t you?

Winnie:  I’m sure it was.  It’s upstairs. Back bedroom.

MG:  That’s a heartbreaking story.  So can you remember anything about this Thorny Path book?

Winnie:  No I can’t really.  They were all tear shakers.

MG: Yes, yes!

Winnie:  Weren’t they.

MG:   Oh dear. Very, very sad pictures.

Winnie:  Very. All the books of that period were, weren’t they?

MG:  Yeah.

Winnie: They were very hard.  Like Jessica’s Prayer. In fact I only found that out a few weeks ago and I thought I’ll read this again.  She’s on her own completely and living in a garret and I think it was the verger at the local church; she’s brought it now.  Yeah, Jessica’s First Prayer.  So she’s all alone in this … Salvation Army Slum Corps.

MG:  Oh brilliant!  There’s an inscription in this, “Salvation Army Slum Corps”.

Winnie: Slum Corps.

MG:  Slum Corps?

Winnie:  Yes it was, and it’s still there.  Salvation Army on Infirmary Road.

MG: Yes.  So what was this Slum Corps?

Winnie: Well, because it was slum area.

MG:  Oh.  And it says, “Presented to Hannah Stacey.”

Winnie:  Stacey.

MG: For regular attendance, February the 2nd 1899.  So do you know who Hannah Stacey was?

Winnie: My mum.

MG: Your mum?

Winnie: She’d be ten years old then.

MG: Right.  Yes.  Jessica’s First Prayer, the book you were describing to me, with this poor little girl in the garret. So what did she pray for, I wonder?

Winnie: Oh he was a coffee stall keeper and he also looked after the local church.  Must’ve been like a verger or something there.  Yes.  And he took her under his wing and gave her shelter and ted her and took her into church and she’d never been in church before.  It’s very – a real tear jerker.

MG:  Yes, with lovely illustrations.

Winnie:  Yeah, yeah.

MG:  Yes yes.  So these Sunday School Salvation Army books of your mother’s you’ve treasured yourself.

Winnie: Oh yeah.

MG:  Yes.  Did you ever get any prizes?

Winnie:  Ooh no!  [Laughter]  Never!  Never!  I never went long enough!  No, no!

MG: And I don’t think they gave out prizes in the twentieth century like they did in the nineteenth.

Winnie: No, as I said, I used to go to the Salvation Army and St Phillip’s Church.

MG:  Oh yes!

Winnie: And St Bartholomew’s at Upperthorpe, no, not St Barts, Tabernacle.  Yeah, yeah.

MG: Ah yes, now St Phillip’s church, a very famous man worked there, Arnold Freeman.

Winnie:  Oh, I knew him!

MG: You knew Arnold Freeman?

Winnie:  I went, Arnold Freeman had the little theatre on Shipton Street, just below The Oxford at Upperthorpe.

MG:  Yes.

Winnie:  Right, and he used to put on little plays.

MG: Yes.

Winnie: We used to go there.

MG: Did you?

Winnie:  And they were just wooden forms, it were only a little place.

MG: Yes.  Can you remember any of those plays?

Winnie:  No I can’t.  But we used to go there.  I remember him.

MG: What was he like?

Winnie:  Mmm, not a tall man, quite slim, as you would expect, quite studious. He used to walk, sort of walk about in a study.  But it was nice. We used to go, because I mean, probably, I can’t remember even what we paid.  We probably got in for free. ‘Cos I was always hanging round t’door.

MG: And what else did The Settlement have at St Phillip’s?

Winnie:  I can’t remember.  Did that belong to St Phillip’s?

MG:  Yes it was connected with St Phillip’s [Winnie: was it?] but I’ve forgotten when it became independent.  They moved up to the Merlin Theatre after the war.

Winnie: Did they?

MG: Yeah, and it’s him that the Freeman College is named after.

Winnie:  Yes, yes?

MG: So he was a very amazing …

Winnie: I learned more about him since than I knew then.  Right, yes.

MG:  There wasn’t a library there, Winnie, was there?

Winnie: No, not that I know of.

MG:  No, right.

Winnie:  Just above there on Shipton Street there was Oxford Street – it was joining on.  And there used to be the nurses’ home, just above there, to the Infirmary.  Oh, right, yeah.

MG: So when you – going back to when you left school, Winnie – … did you live in Sheffield?

Winnie:  Yes.

MG: And that’s when you didn’t have much time to read is that right?

Winnie:  No I didn’t, no.

winnie-3-copy

MG: So when do you think you got back into reading?

Winnie:  Only in later years, really. Well since I’ve been married.

MG:  Hm.

Winnie: As I said we read more books on nature and wildlife and, that sort of thing.  And then I got more into local history and history in general, archaeology, anything like that I’ll enjoy and read.

MG:  So would you agree with Joan who said that really she remembers more factual than novels.

Winnie:  Yes.

MG: Ah, that’s interesting.  So we’re going to close this interview down and open up the next one for all three of you.  Cause there’s so many overlaps.  Thank you very much Winnie for that.  That’s fascinating, all three of you really, because in a way it’s coming through that fiction really wasn’t what you treasured.

Winnie: No, no.

MG: You know, looking at these encyclopaedia books, mm, it’s really factual books and poetry for you.  Okay we’re going to stop this one.

 

Recent Posts

Romer Wilson: Remembering Sheffield’s Forgotten Novelist

Part One

By Val Hewson

The writer Romer Wilson, born in Sheffield in 1891, is now almost forgotten. Her name appears in a few databases and blogs, and she has brief Dictionary of National Biography and Wikipedia entries. A novelist who also wrote short stories, verse and a play, and an anthologist of tales for children, she was generally well regarded in her lifetime. She seems, however, to have received almost no critical attention since her early death in 1930. We found her, by chance, through her father, Arnold Muir Wilson (1857-1909), whose name came up in our research into Sheffield Libraries.

Our sister project, Reading 1900-1950, has posted an article about Romer Wilson’s novel, Latterday Symphony (Nonesuch Press, London, 1927), here. We are researching her life, and while there is much to discover, we know enough to offer a good introduction to Sheffield’s forgotten novelist.    

The first thing to know is that ‘Romer Wilson’ is not her name. On official records, Romer Wilson is Florence Roma Muir Wilson, eldest child of Arnold and Amy Letitia Muir Wilson. On her marriage, she became Florence Roma Muir O’Brien. According to correspondence archived at Girton College, Cambridge, her friends called her, not Florence, a popular name of the time, but Roma. Why Roma we cannot know, but it is interesting that her parents visited Rome on their honeymoon. Romer and Roma, invented and real, pen-name and given name. Perhaps Roma felt that Romer, which could so easily be a man’s name, would be an advantage in her career. (Indeed, critics did occasionally assume that they were reviewing the work of a man.)

Parkholme, 30 Collegiate Crescent, Sheffield, where Romer Wilson was born

‘A dark old manor house on the edge of the moors just outside Sheffield’ was Romer Wilson’s home for most of her childhood, until it was sold on the death of her father in 1909.[i] This was Whiteley Wood Hall, a 17th century house with Victorian additions, stables and extensive grounds, in Fulwood, a suburb in south-west Sheffield. Romer was born on Saturday 26 December 1891 in Parkholme, a much smaller suburban villa in Collegiate Crescent, in the desirable Broomhall area just outside the town centre.[ii] Her father, on the way up in the world, bought the Hall in 1893, when she was about two years old, for somewhere between £7,000 and £9,000 (a sum beyond the imaginings of most Sheffield residents at the time). The Hall had important historical associations: Thomas Boulsover (1705 – 1788), the inventor of Sheffield Plate, and Samuel Plimsoll MP (1824 – 1898), famous for the Plimsoll line on ships, had both lived there. The house was demolished in 1959, with the grounds and outbuildings becoming a Girlguiding outdoor activity centre. Today all around is park and common land, well-used and easily accessible. Its relative remoteness in Romer’s day perhaps contributed to her depictions of wild, even hostile moorland in her books, Greenlow (Collins, London, 1927) and All Alone: The Life and Private History of Emily Jane Bronte (Chatto & Windus, London, 1928), from where this quotation comes:

West and north and south the moors hang above the West Riding of Yorkshire. They rise up bleak and black and brooding, a thousand feet, two thousand feet above the valleys. Empty and silent, without trees or lakes, without wide rivers, without grand impressive mountains, they roll away from this world.

All Alone (Introduction to Haworth – A Journey from To-Day)

Whiteley Wood Hall, Common Lane, built 1662 by Alexandra Ashton, demolished 1959. Stood in its own woods, commanding a view over the Porter Valley. Home of Thomas Boulsover, inventor of Sheffield Plate, who died here in 1788, and Samuel Plimsoll
Whiteley Wood Hall, Common Lane, Fulwood, Sheffield. Image courtesy of Picture Sheffield (www.picturesheffield.com). Ref no: y01697

Dark, remote and ancient Whiteley Wood Hall may have been, but Romer and her younger sister Natalie (born in 1893) and brother Leslie (born in 1899) had a privileged childhood. There were servants, parties and fetes, holidays abroad, chauffeur-driven motor cars, outings to the theatre, music lessons and private education.    

This comfortable life was due to the efforts of her father, Arnold Muir Wilson. A remarkably frank obituary said of him:

… at all times a theatrical personality. … Self-made, frank almost to the point of brutal bluntness to friend and foe, assertive and dauntless, relentless as a sleuthhound in business, with a boundless capacity for work and an astonishing capacity for turning unlikely circumstances to his own advantage. … a want of self-control, an almost reckless impulsiveness of action and a disregard … for the feelings of others. … one could never definitely conclude that Mr Muir Wilson had any clear creed or abstract principle, or that he was seriously in earnest … gossipy … in private he was a good fellow and an entertaining companion …

Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Monday 4 October 1909
Councillor Arnold Muir Wilson (1857-1909)
Arnold Muir Wilson. Image courtesy of Picture Sheffield (www.picturesheffield.com). Ref. no. y08151.

Wilson was in many ways the classic Victorian success story. He was a prominent solicitor and a Conservative councillor for over 20 years, with Parliamentary ambitions. He had started in trade, helping out as a child in his father’s barber shop on Snig Hill in the town centre. The Wilsons evidently prospered, opening various new businesses, and in time Wilson switched from trade to profession, thus rising up a social class or two. We know little of his education (other than a period in Germany), but his professional training was through Clifford’s Inn, where he won prizes.[iii] He opened his own law firm and was much in demand. He had business interests too, owning property, land and a share in Sheffield’s newest theatre, the Lyceum. He even contrived an appointment as honorary consul for Serbia in 1898, which presumably appealed to both his vanity and his eye for an opportunity.

Around 1906, however, Wilson fell ill, consulting a ‘brain specialist’. His illness seemed to exacerbate an already volatile character. He attacked a magistrate in court, for which he had to issue a public apology. When a by-election was called in Attercliffe in 1909, dismayed not to be chosen as the Conservative candidate, he stood as an independent but lost and promptly took the official Conservative candidate to court, alleging assault and damage. The case was dismissed. After this, Wilson’s health declined further, and he went abroad, saying he would never return alive. He was right: he had a complete breakdown in Vancouver and died soon after in hospital. His body was brought back to Sheffield and quietly buried in the General Cemetery. ‘Never, probably, was a man who had played so prominent a part in public life buried in so private a manner,’ said the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (Monday 25 October 1909). He left almost £50,000, mostly in trust for his family, and instructed that his property, including Whiteley Wood Hall, be sold. His wife and children evidently moved to a smaller property nearby.   

Around this time, Romer was coming to the end of her schooldays. She had been privately educated until she was 15, when she was sent to West Heath, a boarding school in Richmond on Thames, for four years.[iv] After that, in 1911 she went up to Girton College, Cambridge to read law.[v] Socially this was apparently a happy time, with Romer making many friends including the economic historian, Eileen Power (1889 – 1940), social reformer Margery Spring Rice (1887 – 1970) and the novelist Emily (‘Topsy’) Coursolles Jones (1883 – 1966), who seems as forgotten as Romer herself. Academically, she was less happy: she spoke of ‘considerable boredom’ and passed her exams ‘with mediocre honours’ in 1914. A tutor suggested she do some writing, and she started by producing ‘rubbish for a typewritten private magazine’.

This then was the beginning of Romer Wilson’s literary career. There’s a suggestion of the accidental about it: a young woman doing a little writing to occupy her time in between social activities. She did not need to work after all. Or did the tutor’s suggestion accord with a wish of her own? At all events, she was soon working feverishly on a novel, against the background of war.

Part Two of Romer Wilson’s story will follow shortly.


[i] Quoted, but not attributed, in the entry on Romer Wilson in the Dictionary of National Biography.  

[ii] Parkholme, 30 Collegiate Crescent, is now owned by Sheffield Hallam University.

[iii] Clifford’s Inn was one of the Inns of Chancery to which all solicitors belonged before the 20th century.

[iv] A more famous pupil, many years later, was Lady Diana Spencer.

[v] Law was an interesting choice. Was it a tribute to her father? No woman was allowed to practise law in the UK until the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, five years after Romer finished her university course.

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