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

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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