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.

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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.

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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

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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