Library memories from the Sheffield Forum (Part Two)

Here are more memories of local libraries from the online Sheffield Forum.

L recalls:

Courtesy Picture Sheffield

Courtesy Picture Sheffield

When I worked at Brown Bayley’s on Leeds road, Attercliffe in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, I used Attercliffe library all the time. I remember on one occasion I wanted to reserve a book called “Sir you *******”. Feeling a little awkward at asking for the book, I whispered the title and author to the librarian. Unknown to me the librarian was a little bit hard of hearing and asked me to repeat the title again. I raised my voice a little and repeated the request, again she asked me to repeat the title of the book. I did so in a slightly higher voice ( but still quite low). She suddenly realised what I had said and almost shouted back at me ” Sir you *******” yes we do have it but it is out at the moment so do you want to reserve it?. The library was quite busy at the time and everyone turned round to see who was ordering a book with such a title.

If you still haven’t read the book, replies someone else, it’s available via Abebooks.

B remembers the library’s own reading clubs:

I remember Hillsborough Junior Library in the late 40s.  They had a reading club.Which I seem to remember was run outside normal opening hours. The perk of this was that you could get first chance of reading any new books that had arrived. Which was a rare event at that time. The downside was you could only read them in the library, not allowed to take them home.

Yes, in the 1950s it was on Wednesday evenings – I think it was called the “Reader’s Circle”. (says H)

Hillsborough Library

Hillsborough Library, with the children’s library extension

TW went to Walkley Library:

Walkley Library

Walkley Library

Whilst at St Mary’s School, Walkley, in the mid 1960s, we used to gather in pairs just after lunch with the oldest at the front (add the year group of each child in the pair), and then be walked along South Road, past all the shops, until we reached Walkley Library on the end. We then had to replace our library books from the children’s section. Sometimes it was difficult to choose a new one in the time. I remember liking: the Cherrys (by William Matthew Scott), the Adventure Series (by Enid Blyton); Secret Seven (by Enid Blyton); Famous Five (by Enid Blyton); Jennings (by Anthony Buckeridge); Just William (by Richmal Crompton), Biggles (by W. E. Johns) and probably many more. At least one time we spent longer in the library (I think it was also over several weeks) and researched a topic. I chose (or was given) “History of Railways” as I thought at that time that my great great great grandfather (who was called Rockett) drove Stephenson’s Rocket when it won the Rainhill Trials. I remember taking great care to colour in a picture that I had drawn of the Rocket.

KK remembers fun at Firth Park Library:

Oh dear! I might be lowering the tone, but…I lived on Firth Park Avenue from 1960 age 5 to 10, don’t recall what age I was but, I loved to go in Firth Park library and play hide and seek around the great big bookcases, spent what seemed like hours in there and had lots of shushing and tutting from the librarians and stiffling the giggles made it even funnier. At age 60, I still immediately see the hide and seek potential in most big or ornate buildings I go into, before I see the architectural beauty of the place!!

More serious response to your question…I do remember paying the fine for late return and it going into the triangle shaped collection box on the high counter. I used to feel like a mini criminal. Also the sound of the date stamping in the book and the flicking through of the cards to put your library ticket into the index system. Hide and seek anyone? Lol

What are your memories of libraries in Sheffield? Use the Comments box to let us know.

A very local library

When she sat in on the interview of her aunt Wynne Wilson, Diane Haswell contributed an interesting story about an unusual private library in Sheffield in the 1950s.  You can read Wynne’s story here.

Diane Haswell was born in 1947.  As a small child she lived off Rustlings Road near Endcliffe Park in Sheffield.  She remembers unusual competition for the public library service – a very local library run by a man called Smith, from a back room in his house which was, she thought, somewhere around Louth, Peveril or Ranby Roads.

Well, I can remember … going to a man’s house and I think he was called Mr Smith and in one back room there was a treasure trove of books and I could pick three books as a young child and my mother picked three books and she also picked three books for her husband, my father.

And he stocked all the Enid Blyton books and things like that. I think that was why it was so popular in the ‘50s so we had that for about ten years so we didn’t go to another library apart from school.

Diane’s memory is pretty good.  Kelly’s Directories between 1951 and 1965 record ‘Frederick R. Smith, library’, based at 30 Blair Athol Road, near Rustlings Road.

Here is the house from which Mr Smith ran his library.

Here is the house from which Mr Smith ran his library.

How did Frederick R Smith’s enterprising library work?  Although Diane doesn’t remember money changing hands, she thinks there was a subscription fee – ‘my mother must have paid’.  The loan period was a fortnight.  Subscribers had their own codes which were written in the front of each book they borrowed, with the result that there was a record of what they had read.  Even though it is over 60 years ago, Diane still remembers that her family code was 33 S, because they lived at 33 Stainton Road.  Presumably the ‘librarian’ kept a list of who had borrowed what and when.  Reading this, you wonder how often, and with what, Mr Smith refreshed his stock.

At all events, the library was well-used for years.

… we sometimes had to stand in a queue before we got to the living room, taking the old books back and pick[ing] up the new and sometime there were queues of people outside the front door so it must have been a popular venue and a source of books.

Just like the public library, Mr Smith developed his own mobile service.  When Diane’s family moved seven miles away to the Handsworth district in 1952, Mr Smith’s son, Eric, used to come round in a small van, ‘which [Diane] can picture now’. He would open this up to reveal a selection of books.  Despite the change of address, the family kept their 33 S code, which Diane ‘thought was strange’.  Soon the library ‘took off in [our] little neighbourhood and [my] mother’s neighbours used to borrow these books’.

Mr Smith’s home-made library seems to have been popular despite Ecclesall branch library and the Central Library, both of which were nearby and free to use.  Ecclesall had opened in October 1949 at the bottom of Knowle Lane (about a mile away from Diane’s childhood home) and became one of the busiest branches.  The Central Library was less than three miles away in Surrey Street, on a good tram route.  Of course, at this remove, we have no notion of the scale of Mr Smith’s library, but perhaps it was popular because it was so very local and therefore easy for busy families.  Maybe its casual nature was also attractive, although Sheffield Libraries was informal in terms of layout, rules etc, especially in its children’s libraries.

Sheffield Central Library, Junior Library

Sheffield Central Library, Junior Library

In fact, in time, Diane did use the Central Library with its comparatively vast resources:

As soon as I was eight, I was allowed to catch a bus into town and go to the Central Library which I thought was wonderful, just to have a thousand books rather than perhaps fifty to choose from. But I think that it was significant, the Central Library in Sheffield. I know a lot of people went to that rather than a local library.

But the start of Diane’s reading journey was in a small, private enterprise patronised by her whole family:

… in one back room there was a treasure trove of books and I could pick three books as a young child … those three books were so important to me.

[Mr Smith’s library] really did set me and my parents on the path to avid reading.  If my father read authors such as Nevil Shute and Nicholas Monsarrat then so did I and I was still at primary school.  But then of course my father and I could discuss the stories afterwards, which I loved.

Perhaps this sort of amateur library will come back into being, as public libraries are forced to close, or at best reduce their opening hours.

Does anyone else remember Mr Smith’s library, or anything similar?  Please let us know.  

Chris F’s reading journey

Chris F was born in 1939, in the Whirlowdale area of Sheffield. He attended boarding school and Cambridge, where he read engineering.  He returned to Sheffield and worked there all his life.

But on the whole I have to say it’s the land of make-believe in most of my reading.

Chris is very clear that he reads, and always has read, for entertainment.  He usually relaxes, for example, with a book for half an hour or so before sleep, and says that most of his books ‘have been bought at airports’.  But if you think that books are not particularly important to him, or that he has not thought about their impact on his life, then you would be wrong.  As our interviewer said:

And clearly books have been so important in your life that you can’t imagine one without.

Chris’ introduction to reading was traditional.  The books he remembers from his childhood were staples: A A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, Allison Uttley’s Little Grey Rabbit and Beatrix Potter.  At school, he graduated to Enid Blyton and then to school stories like Billy Bunter. Thousands of schoolboys in the middle of the 20th century must have had a similar start.  Chris was one of those in whom the habit of reading was firmly set by authors who told a good tale.

It must also have helped that Chris grew up in a house filled with books.  He doesn’t remember being urged to read by his parents but ‘the means of doing it was there’.

I never recall actually going to a library because we had an enormous number of books at home … Which my parents had. I’m rather like my father, once you get a book you never throw it away.

He remembers lots of crime, with Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and the less well-remembered Carter Dickson/John Dickson Carr.  There was also some real-life crime:

… It was the life of the pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury which I found very nice and gory at the time, I enjoyed it.

It was around this time that Chris found Nevil Shute, ‘who I think is probably my overall favourite author, which I started reading having seen the film of A Town Like Alice’. Even now, years later, he still enjoys these novels, which he says are gentle and believable:

I got all the books and I, oh about every five or six years I start again at the beginning. I re-read a lot of old favourites.

Requiem for a Wren

In Chris’ teens lots of his books came through his joining the Companion Book Club:

… you didn’t get any choice in those days, you got the book that they sent you. I’ve still got them all. Five bob a month it was and you finished up with a novel you probably would never have read otherwise.

By now, Chris had developed a taste for adventure, so Alistair McLean’s HMS Ulysses, his first book from the Companion Book Club, was very welcome. McLean was followed by C S Forester, Dennis Wheatley and Dornford Yates.  Chris laughs as he recalls Dennis Wheatley:

… the house library at school had one or two Dennis Wheatleys and they all had the salacious bits in them and we all knew where they were, pages 27 and 28, and if you opened the book they were well-thumbed.

The interest in adventure – swashbuckling, espionage, war, arch criminals etc – remained constant from school, through university, into adulthood and working life.  Chris remembers, with pleasure still, the adventures of Simon Templar alias The Saint, James Bond alias 007 and Dr Syn alias the Scarecrow and Captain Clegg.

Chris has tried reading some of the books he enjoyed, like Frank Richards’ Billy Bunter, to his grandsons, but with mixed results.

I’ve tried to get my grandsons involved but I have to say, modern boys are very difficult to get to read because they’ve all got their little widgets that they play with and watch television the whole t-time. It was books like Billy Bunter and like Enid Blyton that got me reading and I think got my generation reading.

He is concerned by what he sees as the declining interest in reading among children.  He accepts that they gain a lot through technology (he is learning to use his own Kindle) but fears the next generation will:

have a terribly limited outlook on life … I do despair a little because with the modern exam system and the way that kids don’t read in our days we shall finish up with children with very narrow horizons.

What about improving books then? Were you led to see [reading] as an improving thing? asks the interviewer.

Well, we had books that we were studying and that we had to read. And funnily enough I can remember well the … the books that at the age of about 13 when I went away to public school that we had to read and thinking ‘Oh God, these are heavy going’. But I’ve read them again since and thoroughly enjoyed them. I think there is a difference when you actually have to read them and be questioned on them…

1st US edition of Darkness at Noon, 1941

1st US edition of Darkness at Noon, 1941

These were books like Darkness at Noon (1940) by Arthur Koestler – the story of a Bolshevik who falls victim to Stalin during the purges of the 1930s.   Chris still occasionally reads books his teachers would have thought of as improving:

I’m half way through Great Expectations, I never really read Dickens. I had to do Dickens at schools but I read Nicholas Nickleby recently and I’m reading Great Expectations now.

But it is the authors like Dornford Yates, C S Forester and Nevil Shute, whom he found for himself, that he goes back to, happy to re-read them:

… to take you away into a land of make believe.

Nevil Shute

Nevil Shute

Sheila Edwards’ Reading Journey  

Sheila was born in 1937.

She was interviewed by Alice Seed.

sheila-edwards-age-16-

Sheila age 16 years.

Sheila cannot remember being read to and says her family had little interest in reading.  She puts down her own love of reading to her position in the family.

It was company for me because my sister was quite a lot younger than me so she wasn’t really a companion … Perhaps  I was a little bit of a loner anyway you know, so I just used to wrap myself up in books.

Sheila’s family had a subscription to Boots Library in the centre of town (‘there were a lot to choose from’) only a few hundred yards from the magnificent new Central Library which contained, as it still does, a vast Children’s Library in the basement.

So every Saturday she travelled down from the hills of Sheffield’s western suburbs to explore both libraries in the centre of town.

 … in those days you used to go down on the bus and spend all Saturday there.  I don’t remember Boots Library having tables where you could sit down but the Children’s Library did, so you know, it was somewhere to go and thoroughly enjoyable.

Sheila borrowed novels by Noel Streatfeild and Kathleen Fidler but has no memory of getting adult books from the Boots library so thinks that her subscription probably finished when she got to about fifteen years old.

tom-browns-schooldays-book-

Sheila read constantly and sought variety. She cannot remember returning to a favourite or re-reading with pleasure.

I had these certain authors and I used to wade through everything that they’d written and if I couldn’t find it on the library shelves then I would order it.

Enid Blyton and the magazine, Sunny Stories, were superseded by Georgette Heyer when Sheila was in her teens. Lately she did try reading Georgette Heyer but found they had lost their charm.

Sheila’s family also subscribed to a book club where she thinks she may have found the Nevil Shutes she remembers. Though Sheila has a sense of herself as the only passionate reader in the house, her family must have valued access to books by joining a book club and accepting the fact that on Saturdays their child found her way to two libraries that were not that near home.

dam-busters-

 

sheila-companion-bookclub

Her taste is mainly for fiction and once she has exhausted an author goes on to another.

I do write down what I read now ‘cause, you know I’ve read so many, sometimes I forget how much I’ve read so I have a quick look through to see if I’ve read it before, so I’ve got a little book which I take out when I go to the library [just to prompt me] .

For much of her life reading was a solitary activity. It is still associated with delight, privacy and comfort. Bed is a natural place to read. Books give

hours of pleasure, puts me to sleep sometimes. I’m reading and I’ll suddenly find the book starts going down and I’ve nodded off, but yeah it’s good.

But once Sheila had her three children she and her husband, Geoff, created their own reading community.

There were three of them and [they] all had to have separate stories read every night so we started with the youngest and worked up, and then of course since then, I’ve had grandchildren and I get a lot of pleasure out of reading to them – there’s something very special I think about reading to children, … they all love books now probably because, you know, we started off like that. … I got rather disappointed when they began to get older and they used to say they would read the stories. I lost my job.

 

sheila-book-shelf-2

Reading Journey by Mary Grover

Access Sheila’s transcript and audio here.

Hazel’s Reading Journey

Hazel was born in Sheffield in 1929, one of four children.  Her father died when Hazel was very young and her mother brought the family up.  Hazel worked as a seamstress at a shirtmaker’s.  She married in the 1950s and had two daughters. 

HazelH01

Hazel has no memories of being read to and certainly had no books in the house. ‘There were no books, no. No money for anything.’ Hazel’s father had died when Hazel was two leaving her mother with two young children and another on the way.  Her mother struggled to feed the four of them so there were no extras. The generosity of two relatives in particular kept the family fed. ‘But we had a good childhood, friendly, good neighbours; they weren’t intrusive at all.’

School too was a happy experience. At the Junior School there was Enid Blyton in abundance. ‘We loved school. It wasn’t a bit strict and things like that, it was lovely. Everybody wanted to go to school.’

Hazel’s older sister, Cynthia, probably helped Hazel find her way down from Wadsley to Hillsborough Library, but after she was eight Hazel made her way there herself. Hillsborough is one of the most elegant of Sheffield’s Libraries, a late eighteenth century house set in parkland. In his autobiography, A Yorkshire Boyhood, the MP, Roy Hattersley, who also grew up in the Hillsborough area in the 1930s, described it as ‘our constant joy. It was part of our lives, a home from home’,

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During her teens the one book that Hazel recalls as a constant favourite was Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind – not the film because the family had no money to go to films, but the book. But by the time Hazel was a teenager her mother had enough money to buy a few books.

Somebody came round to the door and she ordered these books and she paid for ‘em weekly. She did do well ’cus she didn’t have cash in them days. We had these books and there was a collection.

Hazel obviously admired her mother’s ambition for her family and her success in supporting them, alone. However she wasn’t so keen when her mother mapped out her future when she was 14.

We had an interview at school and they asked us what we liked doing and of course I was shy and didn’t like saying anything. So mum chipped in. She always did because I were always backward at coming forward. “Well she likes sewing”. So they said, “Oh well, they want somebody at the shirt factory.” Well I came home furious. I didn’t want to make shirts! Oh I came home and I were angry, you know, “I’m not going there”.

However Hazel soon started work in a dressmaker’s in the affluent suburb of Broomhill, the workshop having being bombed out of the centre of town, and she never regretted the trade her mother had chosen for her.

With dressmaking came dancing which left little time for reading. Though Hazel read to her own children, personal reading became a pleasant memory rather than a present resource. However, the words that have remained her for ever are the poems that she learned at her secondary school, Wisewood. I met Hazel at the Wadsley exercise club, Slightly Sprightly, and interviewed a group of women from the club who had all been to Wisewood School. As children they had all lived within walking distance of Wadsley Common, still known for the richness of its dawn chorus and the wildness of the undergrowth that only half conceals the spoils from the ganister mines worked there until the 1940s.  Independently of Hazel, her three contemporaries did exactly the what Hazel did when I asked them if they had read any poetry at school. ‘Meg Merrilies,’ they exclaimed and embarked on a word-perfect performance of Keats’ poem.

Old Meg she was a gipsy;
And liv’d upon the moors:
Her bed it was the brown heath turf,
And her house was out of doors.

Her apples were swart blackberries,
Her currants, pods o’ broom;
Her wine was dew of the wild white rose,
Her book a church-yard tomb.

Her brothers were the craggy hills,
Her sisters larchen trees;
Alone with her great family
She liv’d as she did please.

No breakfast had she many a morn,
No dinner many a noon,
And ‘stead of supper she would stare
Full hard against the moon.

But every morn, of woodbine fresh
She made her garlanding,
And every night the dark glen yew
She wove, and she would sing.

And with her fingers old and brown
She plaited mats o’ rushes,
And gave them to the cottagers
She met among the bushes.

Old Meg was brave as Margaret Queen,
And tall as Amazon:
An old red blanket cloak she wore,
A chip hat had she on.
God rest her aged bones somewhere–
She died full long agone!

 

By Mary Grover

Mavis’s Reading Journey

Mavis, born 18 January 1937.

Mavis is well travelled. From the age of five she walked, on her own, three quarters of a mile to school, sometimes getting a lift on one of the coal lorries as it left the weigh station where her father was manager. The weigh station was deliberately set apart from Tinsley colliery to guard against pilfering. Mavis could have taken the bus to school but because of her father’s job she was thought of as ‘posh’ and walked to avoid the bullying.

When Mavis got to nursery school at three or four she could already read. Yet, her parents being more on the maths side probably didn’t read to her much and they didn’t have any books in the house.

Well, they had three: the Bible; a book called Vigil which I thought was Virgil till I thought he couldn’t have been that bad and it turned out to be a book of prayers; and a Dorothy L Sayers murder mystery, and those were the only three books, with a dictionary, that they had in the house.

But a friend of the family, Auntie Vera, was a primary school teacher. She borrowed books from the school library for Mavis and left them with her for the week. The girl soon learned to decipher the words with the help of the pictures.

Between the ages of five and eleven Mavis went on regular visits to her father’s brother who was a headmaster two train rides away at Barnby Dunn, a village near Doncaster. With her mother working Mavis would often spend the holiday in the library of her uncle’s school.

And there were picture books, children’s books.  And he used to buy me books, often books which were much older than the age I was, and because I thought he knew what he was doing, if he bought it me and I found it hard, it must be my fault and I better make sure I could read it [laughing] because he would ask me about it when I saw him again ….His was the one book which triggered off lots of others.  He bought me, when I was about seven, he bought me a book of Greek myths.

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Other relatives introduced her to other delights:

If went to my auntie’s I’d pick up her magazines. What was it?  The People’s Friend. And I would be as engrossed in The People’s Friend, I’m ashamed to say.  I was a bit omnivorous and unselective.

Mavis read everything, whatever she could get her hands on. When she got one of the highest 11+ passes in the city she attended Sheffield High School, another two stage journey. Her school friends came from all over the city and sometimes beyond the city boundaries so Mavis had few friends out of school. From 11 onwards her reading was extraordinarily varied.

It would be George Eliot one week [and] The Island of Adventure the next, or The Adventures of Scamp. … I had a horse phase, like all little girls, but I was reading quite a lot of adult fiction at the same time.  Especially as the stuff that I got lead on to was always available. You didn’t get a big queue for the next George Eliot whereas you did for the Enid Blytons.

Later on at the High School, she managed to take Friday afternoons off during the optional games periods and she would make her way, usually alone, to the Central Library. She remembers her first visit.

As I walked in – didn’t know quite know where to start – and started at the Ws. I found Hugh Walpole, Leo Walmsley and … I think accidentally someone had filed Warwick Deeping in the Ws and I read him and I just read others by those authors.

Perhaps the ease with which Mavis approached any kind of book, without fear or favour, made her a natural story-teller.

Funnily enough there was a little girl who used to read a lot who was on my dinner table when I was a third year. … She used to read quite widely for a little girl, I thought, and we used to play making up stories at the table, to while away the time when you’d eaten the first course and had got to wait till everybody finished to go and get the second, and you’d tell a story and stop, and the next one … And it was Margaret Drabble.  I’ve often thought, my goodness, no wonder she was a good storyteller, good at that game!

However, Mavis’s careless and carefree appetite for any kind of literature nearly cost her the chance to become the English teacher to whom so many children owe their delight in reading. When Mavis went up to Leeds University she had to make a train journey that she was anxious about. Would she miss her stop and end up in Scotland? To avoid getting lost in a book that might absorb her too fully, she snatched her mother’s copy of The Reader’s Digest magazine.  When she got to Leeds, the interviewer asked

“What did you read on the train?”  So I said “Readers’ Digest” and I saw this expression and I thought “Ah”.

Mavis quickly explained her the reasons for her reading choice and persuaded her interviewer that she was a serious enough student to do a degree in English Literature but after that I was aware that there were things you didn’t own up to but apart from magazines I don’t think it would have ever occurred to me.

Mavis's copy of Wordsworth

Mavis’s copy of Wordsworth

Listening to Mavis describe the lessons she taught all over the country: Harlow, Bolton, Kersley and Carlisle, I wished she could have been my English teacher. She created groups in which every member read a different book and shared her opinions with her friends. Alongside the necessary detailed analysis of a “set-book” these students absorbed Mavis’s delight in the range of literary journeys available to us all, her readiness to recognise the unknown and explore it.

When, at university, Mavis was temporarily abashed by how little she had learned at school about the Metaphysical poets, her response was characteristically matter of fact and entirely positive: “I realised that I had very large gaps which was a good thing to know”.

by Mary Grover

Access Mavis’s transcript and audio here 

Madeleine Doherty’s Reading Journey

Madeleine was born in Sheffield in 1940 and grew up near the Botanical Gardens. She lived with her parents and her brother, who was four years older. Her father was an engineer. Her mother was French and Madeleine’s French grandmother also lived with them. After leaving school, Madeleine trained as a teacher. She married and had a family; her husband taught engineering.

madeleine-treeby-1952-.okMadeleine says of the house she grew up in:

…it was a house full of books,..a lot of them were my father’s engineering books, then there’d be my mother’s French books, and then there were my brother’s books.

Her early memories of books are of being read to but by the time she was eleven she was choosing books and reading them. From this time she remembers the Milly Molly Mandy stories, a French book called Les Malheurs de Sophie about a naughty girl, a weekly comic called Sunny Stories which came out on a Friday and a series of books, The Twins, about twins in different countries. Her favourite book was a beautifully illustrated edition of The Water Babies, which was a present from her father’s mother. Although she understood French and had French books read to her, she didn’t read any herself.

She used to go to the Children’s Library in Sheffield, first with her mother and later with her brother. He would also take her to the Saturday morning film shows at the Library Theatre. When she was a bit older, she would sometimes get the tram to Ecclesall Library but she always preferred the Central Library. She loved Enid Blyton and probably read them all. She read some of her brother’s books, for example, historical stories by G.A. Henty.

Later on school became important for Madeleine’s development as a reader. She went to grammar school and when she was about 14 had a form teacher who was also Head of English. She had a cupboard full of books which anyone could borrow. Madeleine identifies this as the point at which she became an avid reader.

I used to stay up reading half the night, you know. I’d not turn my light out but I read them too fast…

She read many classic novels at this time: Thackeray, Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, Mrs Gaskell. She read what was there and didn’t necessarily seek out other books by writers she liked; in fact she thinks that even now there are Dickens’ novels she hasn’t read. She remembers C.S. Forester and E.M. Forster from that time as well.

Another powerful memory for Madeleine comes from when she was about 17 or 18 and she was introduced to the novels of Charles Williams by the curate at her church. He ran a youth club after church on a Sunday evening which she went to with friends, though she was the only one who borrowed books. Madeleine doesn’t recall the titles of these books but she remembers clearly their compelling quality. She has sometimes looked for them since but has never found them.

…I was absolutely hooked on those books…I just read them one after the other. I probably had one a week, something like that.

Madeleine talks more about Williams than about any other writer and his books clearly had a great impact on her. He was one of the Inklings group of writers, along with Tolkein and C.S. Lewis. His novels are very difficult to categorize but are usually described as religious or supernatural thrillers. Each one features a conflict between good and evil, with powerfully drawn characters on either side. This conflict is played out in a world where the boundary between the everyday world and the spiritual world is porous, with certain characters able to move between the two. The atmosphere of the novels is uncanny and quite unmistakable.

During the 1950s, Madeleine’s family didn’t have a television though she used to watch it at friends’ houses. She remembers seeing Quatermass at a schoolfriend’s and thinking that she wanted to read it. Later on she got the book.

Madeleine went to Notts County Teacher Training College in Retford. She used to come home at weekends and collect books to read. She mentions 1984, Animal Farm and Brave New World and also the novels of Nevil Shute. Madeleine’s husband wasn’t a reader and after she was married and had children, she read less. Television had a big effect. She thinks that having one meant she read less, although sometimes it would lead her to read something, as with Quatermass. Watching a television version of a book is different from reading,

…television actually spoilt people’s reading. I still believe it now. I watch things and that’s giving you a picture…and it might not be what you would have thought if you had read it yourself.

Or if you have read the book first, ‘I watch it and I think, “That’s not what I read”.’

Madeleine also enjoyed reading poetry and ‘years and years ago’ had a hardback book into which she used to copy poems. She also learned some off by heart.

She does read more now, mostly books given to her by her daughter.

Read or listen to Madeleine’s interview in full here.

Note: reviews of three of Charles Williams’ novels can be found on Reading 1900-1950 and further information about his life and work from the Charles Williams Society.

Access Madeline’s transcript and audio here

Margaret’s Reading Journey

Margaret was born in Sheffield in 1936 and grew up during the Second World War and the late 1940s.  She became a librarian in the town, married John and had three children.

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The men in Margaret’s early life were both readers. During the Second World War, with her father in Egypt, Margaret and her mother moved in with her father’s parents in Walkley, a hillside of terraced houses that largely escaped the bombing of Sheffield city centre below.

When we lived with grandma and granddad, it was mainly granddad who encouraged me to read. He was an avid reader and anything that was printed, he always asked me to [read] even before I started school. Grandma also read books and granny had a collection of bound – you know, the classics …Dickens and so on. And he took the Daily Express and I was encouraged to read all the headlines to do with the war, you know, the advance of the Eighth Army and so on. Yes, at a young age I knew more names of towns in Egypt than in this country!

Margaret’s grandfather had had a variety of occupations.

He joined the army at a young age and he was a professional soldier. I think he was really self-educated all round. He was a professional musician; he played in the army band. And he was also a [fitness] instructor in the army. But he was always reading, and he had loads of books. The Conan Doyle books I went through, again, by the age of nine I’d read Sherlock Holmes and so on. And he had a couple of encyclopaedias, which absolutely I loved, and I still love to this day encyclopaedias and the knowledge you can get from them.

The desire to understand the unknown world of her absent father had a strong influence on the little girl.

I remember in the encyclopaedias there was a section on Arabic, writing the alphabet and so on, which I thought might come in useful with my father being out in Egypt and the Middle East. Of course, I didn’t see him from the age of four until he came back in 1946. And I can remember trying to teach myself to write Arabic. I guess I would have only about eight or nine, I think.

The encyclopaedias and the Conan Doyles were perhaps all the more important because during the war only one new book came into the house. But before and after the war Margaret got books as Sunday School prizes, for birthdays and at Christmas: for example, Milly, Molly, Mandy and Richmal Compton’s Just William – ‘I could laugh out loud with those’. A special visit would be from Margaret’s father’s sister to Walkley from Sheffield.  ‘She was a maiden aunt and she encouraged reading.’

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Margaret probably ran through Enid Blyton from Walkley Library, the only municipal library in Sheffield endowed by the Carnegie Foundation (Tinsley Library was also a Carnegie library, but was opened before Tinsley became part of Sheffield).

And we were allowed a comic each, my brother – I had a younger brother – and I. My brother had either the Beano or the Dandy and I had either Film Fun or Radio Fun. And when we finished with comics we used to swap them with friends and get something different.

When her father came home from Egypt, the family were rehoused in a house of their own but the library provision was a bit of a comedown.

When we moved onto the new estate at Parson Cross [a new Sheffield housing estate], there was nothing except houses. We had no shops, no schools. And eventually, when the school was built, we had – they opened a couple of evenings a week, I think – a couple of cupboards in the school room. And as far as I can remember, there were only adult books there.

However those adult books included copies of her father’s favourite, Zane Grey. Together she and her father devoured these tales of derring-do in the Wild West and Margaret went through ‘every possible Zane Grey book printed, at the age of eleven’.

When Margaret got a place at Ecclesfield Grammar School, she looked forward to new authors to explore but the school library always seemed to be locked.

There was a library, but for some reason we were never allowed in it! Only for occasional English lessons. So I still had to rely on the locked-up cupboards and the Zane Greys.

At school Margaret did come across Winifred Holtby and J B Priestley who both reflected a Yorkshire she recognised.

I think the two of them were sort of life as I knew it in Yorkshire at that time. A gritty existence, I think, true to life, realists.

Margaret became a librarian, one of the first at the state-of-the-art library opened in 1953 on the edge of another one of Sheffield’s enormous new council estates, the Manor. She had found her vocation.

I think in the branch library it was more of a family. … We were very, very efficient, we were well-taught and we were all very proud of what we did.

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Librarianship, like her own personal reading, was all about discovery and opening doors to new worlds for other people to enter.

I think during the ‘50s I read things I would not read again. It’s like the Jacques Cousteau underwater books – I can’t even swim. But of course, in those days it was like going into space, it was something – the world under the sea was something all new and those fascinated me. I’ve never read romance books and historical novels and I still don’t read them, I’ve no interest in them.

When she and husband John had their family, they passed on their version of space travel. When their two sons were small, they bought them a secondhand set of Encyclopaedia Britannicas.

And we had to pay on a weekly subscription for these, we couldn’t afford to pay them outright. And my son, who’s now aged fifty, our second son, still has these Britannicas, [in a] proud place in his home, in his own library at home.

When I asked Margaret whether she ever tried to set limits on her sons’ reading, to steer them away from certain books, she quickly replied that nothing was off-limits.

No, because I believe you should make your own opinions on things and if you haven’t got the knowledge, how can you form an opinion on something?

Reading Journey by Mary Grover

Access Margaret’s transcript and audio here