The Lord Mayor visits In Praise of Libraries

 

The Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Councillor Anne Murphy being greeted by Mary Grover,  founder of Reading Sheffield.

Chatting with historian Loveday Herridge, Reading Sheffield treasurer.

With Val Hewson, Reading Sheffield social media editor.

Visitors to the exhibition perusing the books. A selection of children’s annuals, novels and factual books, pamphlets and magazines published in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Listening to the Sheffield Readers voices.

 

 

 

Ted L’s Reading Journey

Ted L, born in 1919, was one of our oldest interviewees.  He lived in the Norfolk Park area of Sheffield most of his life, apart from his war service as a fitter and machinist in the Ordnance Corps.  He took part in the retreat from Dunkirk (he and three others were stranded for six days, with only a pot of marmalade and some cubed beetroot to eat) and then was stationed in East Africa for two and a half years.  In peacetime, he worked in engineering, and the ‘only one romance [he] was ever interested in’ was with his wife, Nellie, whom he met at work and married in 1948.

All sorts of pictures in there, not just ordinary paintings, some of them extraordinary … We went to look at Leonardo … it was only dull light and there was two whacking great pictures, best paintings I have ever seen.

This was Ted, talking about a visit to the National Gallery.  For him, books meant art rather than anything else.  His flat was full of books, and they were mostly about art, noted the interviewer, although he also enjoyed history, architecture and music.  His neighbour Gillian, who sat in on the interview, described how Ted ‘devour[ed]’ all the book she lent him, and Ted himself said:

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.

There were books in his childhood, with Ted’s mother going to the library every week to borrow, among other, P G Wodehouse, and his father (‘He wasn’t educated.  He was a working class man, he was a plumber’) enjoying detective stories.  And Ted himself did read fiction as a boy – ‘ripping yarns’ from authors like John Buchan and Rider Haggard, who were so popular in his youth.  He remembers studying Buchan’s Prester John at Duchess Road School and also reading Blanket of the Dark, She, The Thirty-Nine Steps and King Solomon’s Mines:

… that’s a brilliant thing, that. They made a film of it. I read a lot of them … I don’t think I would ever have imagined I would have been in Africa when I read a Rider Haggard book.

At school, Ted was a clever boy, particularly interested in history and once coming ‘top in English’:

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 [and brought in books].  He was the best teacher we ever had, Mr Cross.  He didn’t spare you, I liked him for all that.

As with many boys of his background, Ted’s formal education ended at the age of 14 when he became an engineering apprentice.  But by then it had opened that important door to art, as for two days a week he used to go to the art school in the centre of the city.

This art school was close to the site of the new Central Library and Graves Art Gallery which opened in 1934.  Ted had a ringside seat at the building:

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.

 

Ted, who liked architecture as well as art, was interested in the new library, which he describes as a ‘fine building’.

Well, I think, [the old library] was an old music hall and there was a little chapel next to it … and then the other side was the art school. … 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 they’ve got a theatre underneath though I’ve never been in it.

Now, when he went to the public library, ‘I didn’t get reading [fiction] books. I used to get out books about art. ‘ He also enjoyed visiting the Graves:

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 [on the wall of his flat].

You can read and listen to Ted’s interview in full here.

Lizz’s recollections of reading 1950-65

My dad was an agronomist and when I was very young we lived in farms and agricultural colleges.  My first recollections of a book as an object were pictures in a board book of farmyard animals, which I still have.

favourite-animals-

Every Christmas I received a book from my Aunty Mary.  She was the Principal of Leicester Teacher Training College so I expect that the books she chose were to be educational as well enjoyable.  My dad read to me every night before I went to sleep, and Aunty Mary’s books formed the core of my book collection.  This is a period when books were chosen for me – for example, John Masefield (The Box of Delights), Hugh Lofting (the Dr Dolittle series) Grimms’ Fairy Tales, C S Lewis (the Narnia series), T H White (The Sword in the Stone), Andrew Lang’s Blue and Green Fairy Books, Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden), Rosemary Sutcliff (The Eagle of the Ninth), A Wonder Book by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  My favourites?  Dr Dolittle, The Magician’s Nephew, The Box of Delights and The Secret Garden.

A-wonder-book-

dr-dolittle-

One of Aunty Mary’s last Christmas present books was The Hobbit, but I did not read Lord of the Rings until I was at university.

I became horse-mad around the age of six, and from then until about the age of ten  horses dominated my reading.  I had a huge volume called Horses, Horses, Horses that I read over and over again.  Books by the three Pullein-Thompson sisters ring a bell; Black Beauty of course; a series about Romney Marsh; plus books on anatomy, riding, drawing and breeds of horses.  As a family we often used the library at Impington Village College, where my dad ran a film club.  I used to design and make the posters for the film screenings.  My parents still directed my reading to some extent – for example, I was not allowed to read ‘trashy comics’.  I got round this by devouring huge piles of the Beano and the Dandy. They were stored in a cupboard with gas masks and a tin helmet at a friend’s house.  We also did not have a television, because it might interfere with our reading.  Sounds crazy now.

The telly arrived when I was 11, and I increasingly selected my own reading.  I was indirectly influenced because my parents just left their books about and I would pick them up.  Women authors dominated my mum’s reading.  She was a great fan of Jane Austen, and Emily and Charlotte Bronte.  I had to read Pride and Prejudice for ‘O’ level English Lit but never really got on with Jane Austen.  But I did enjoy Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.  The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier was one of mum’s favourites.  Among the authors that I read due to her influence were: Edna O’Brien; Anita Brookner; Winifred Holtby; Rebecca West; A S Byatt; Katherine Whitehorn; Doris Lessing; Muriel Spark; Iris Murdoch.

My dad in contrast read contemporary fiction.  Through him I read: John Updike; Salinger; John Braine; J P Donleavy; Thomas Pynchon; D H Lawrence; Hermann Hesse; and Kerouac.

Other authors I remember reading between 11 and 17 were: H G Wells; John Masters; John Wyndham; Lynne Reid Banks (The L Shaped Room); Jean Rhys; Malcolm Lowry (Under the Volcano); Patrick White; Saul Bellow; Zola; William Golding.  I waded through The Herries Chronicles (Hugh Walpole) and attempted to read Lorna Doone but found the dialect tedious.  However I quite liked Chaucer which, along with Shakespeare and a considerable amount of poetry (largely forgotten), was on the school syllabus.

Then there were the forbidden books – The Story of O by Pauline Réage, and the Kama Sutra.  (Titles were passed pupil to pupil.)

I had six large factual books that I looked at repeatedly and which, looking back, have influenced the science and art that I did later.

  • Lionel Wendt’s Ceylon.  My mum was a nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment during WW2 and was stationed in Trincomalee.  This was one of her books.  It’s full of large black and white photographs.
  • The Sculptures of Michelangelo – again a book of large black and white photographs, which most likely belonged to my dad.  I can remember being especially impressed by the slaves freeing themselves from the rock.
  • The World’s Greatest Paintings: Selected Masterpieces of Famous Art Galleries edited by T Leman Hare.  Three muddy brown volumes probably inherited from my grandfather and a collection of coloured plates of what were then considered significant paintings from famous western galleries.  It’s purely visual, with no information other than title and artist.

The large black and white photographs of Ceylon and the sculptures of Michelangelo have directly influenced my own photography and, although The World’s Greatest Paintings ends at the Pre-Raphaelites, it introduced me to Art History.

  • And lastly The Science of Life by H G Wells, Julian Huxley and G P Wells.

My version of The Science of Life was published by Cassell & Company in 1931 and included some dubious and speculative science.  My favourite picture remains that of the medium ‘Margery’ extruding ‘teleplasm’ from her nose and mouth.

ectoplasm--copy

And here is an example of more conventional, but equally fascinating, science.

science-of-life--copy

Lizz Tuckerman is a freelance multimedia artist based in Sheffield.  She was previously a research scientist working in genetics and reproduction.  Lizz designed this website and has produced artworks inspired by the Reading Sheffield interviews.  She was born near Ironbridge in Shropshire and her early childhood was spent in Penrith and Kilve (Somerset). When her father began work at The National Institute of Agricultural Botany, the family moved to first to Histon, a small village in Cambridgeshire and then to the market town of Saffron Walden in Essex. Lizz has lived in Sheffield for 26 years.