Julie’s reading journey: ‘Manor Library was a daily lifesaver for me’

Our guest blogger Julie was born on the Manor estate in Sheffield in 1950. She attended St Theresa’s Primary School.  After graduating from Notre Dame High School, she left Sheffield for Newcastle-on-Tyne, to train as a teacher. She taught for two years in Liverpool before heading off on an adventurous journey to Sydney, Australia, where she still lives. She has spent her career in education – teaching, writing and lecturing. She was Head of Education at the Australian Museum and General Manager of the charity The Peer Support Foundation. She now writes fiction. Her novel Nowt But Drippin’ is set in Sheffield and will be released by Pegasus later this year.

Manor Library and its garden today

By Julie Howard

My earliest memory of Manor Library is the Peter Pan and Wendy mural, which was painted on one of the glass partitions. Dressed in pale greens and blue they flew through the air, their eyes wide with astonishment. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was 1955 and the library was only a couple of years old. It was glorious. 

Manor Library in the 1950s, when Julie joined
The Manor entrance today, showing it has not changed so very much since the 1950s

In the children’s library, boys and girls whispered together as they searched the shelves. Occasionally a giggle would erupt only to be quelled by a glower from the librarian. Once we had chosen our book, we approached the counter. The librarian vigorously flicked through small brown envelopes until she found our card. There was a nerve-wracking moment as she scrutinised the chosen book before peering down into your face. Heaven help you, if you chose something unsuitable. I remember a Just William book being confiscated. With a burning face I went back to choose ‘something more suitable’ from the shelves, which was difficult because I didn’t know what I’d done wrong. I now think it was because I had chosen a ‘boy’s book’!

The imposing entrance through which the young Julie walked

I loved Manor Library from the first moment I stepped in there. At first, I was heartbroken to find I couldn’t borrow a book until I was six. It took me weeks of pleading before they let me join. It was years later I found out that the kind-hearted librarian had changed my birthdate. Nat the Cat was my first book. I read it in the morning and went back for more in the afternoon, only to be told that I could only have one book a day!

The library in the 1950s

Manor Library was a daily lifesaver for me. After tea, mum would walk me up to ‘Reading Circle’. Children sat cross-legged on the floor and the librarians’ stories took us away from our everyday lives to Narnia and other exotic places. From that time on, mum often found me standing and staring hopefully at the back of my wardrobe. The librarians always left us, jaws hanging, at the most crucial part of the story. If we wanted to know the ending, we had to rise up to the challenge of finishing the book.

At Christmas time the drama group would put on plays and the whole family would attend. Of course, with my long blonde hair I was always an angel, but one year, I was lucky enough to get a singing part… Oh joy! 

It was a magical place to write. Storybook and pencil in hand I would walk up Prince of Wales Road, to the library, which always seem to be open. I’d sit at one of the tables and write my stories of fairies and goblins.

Julie and her classmates

I now divide my time between Sydney and Sheffield (Manly to the Manor) Of course an annual pilgrimage to Manor Library to say thank you, is essential. I am still reading and writing voraciously. My novel Nowt But Drippin’ is set in Sheffield and draws on some of my childhood memories. I also work with refugees and others trying to get their stories into print. After all we all have a story to tell, don’t we?

Julie today

Manor Library serves the Manor ward in souh-east Sheffield. The area was rural until the 1930s, when Sheffield Council started building a large estate to relieve inner city crowding. The branch library was almost ready in 1939, when war broke out, and it could not be completed and opened until 1953. The design of the building was innovative in its day, and we plan to tell the story of Manor Library in a future post.

Librarians’ Voices: Barbara Sorby: ‘Gosh…where to start?’

Barbara Sorby worked in Sheffield Libraries for about 40 years, starting and finishing her career at the Manor Library in the east of the city.  Manor also happened to be the library she belonged to as a child and growing up.  It opened in 1953 (it was supposed to be 1938 but World War II and its aftermath got in the way).  It was the country’s first modular library: that is, the interior walls were kept to a minimum to allow maximum flexibility in use.  More than sixty years later, Manor Library shows its age a little but remains a harmony of light and space.

The Manor Library today

Manor Library today

‘Gosh …where to start?’ she says.  With a scent…

My enduring memory of Manor is of my first day there, which was actually my very first working day.  I had used Manor since the age of 8, and year on year the foyer was filled with beautiful flowers and plantings from the Parks Dept.  On my first day in January 1963 the foyer was full of hyacinths, and the smell of them is so evocative, every year I return to Manor in thoughts as I smell those flowers, wherever I am.

But Barbara might have taken against Sheffield Libraries forever…

At the age of eight, I and three friends from Charnock Hall School went to join the library, following a ‘marketing’ visit to the school by the then children’s librarian.  Unfortunately she had omitted to tell us that, if we were from ‘over the Derbyshire border’ (which then split Gleadless Townend in two at Ridgeway Road), we would have to pay to be members.  At five shillings per person [about £6 today] we were appalled…one small boy declaring that we had come to borrow books, not to buy the blooming library!!

Manor Library in the 1950s, when Barbara would have first known it

Here and below, Manor Library in the 1950s, when Barbara would have first known it


And it might have all ended in disaster…

I once had my hair set alight by a firework thrown into the children’s library.  And I was impressed to find that the perpetrator had been chased by another member of staff and brought down on the Ridgeway Road zebra crossing with a zealous rugby tackle.

The days were full…

The library used to be frantically busy, with borrowers stalking staff who would be shelving huge piles of books…and trying to grab the Catherine Cooksons and Zane Greys.  And it wasn’t always the men wanting the cowboy stories or the women wanting the romance!

I worked there for five very happy years…with the National Fiction Reserve Scheme as part of my job, acquiring every ‘fic’ title published in the UK by authors whose surnames began N-S.

These and many more books were stored in the Manor basement, and we had great fun switching out the lights on colleagues working down there and setting the stacks rolling!

A day Barbara could not forget…

I remember being on the counter when a shocked borrower came in to tell us that President Kennedy had been shot.  They say you always remember where you were at that time.

Four decades later…

I finished my career at Manor too…four decades later!  I was Area Librarian for South East Sheffield and based at Manor.  It wasn’t half as much fun then…nor a fraction as busy!


Library memories from the Sheffield Forum (Part One)

In February 2016 Reading Sheffield put out a call for memories of local libraries on the online Sheffield Forum.  Here are some of the stories and comments we got.

R said:

I used to go to Firth Park Library late 30s early 40s. I would read anything I could get my hands on. I went one morning to borrow a book, read it and took it back the same afternoon to exchange for another, but the librarian wouldn’t let me as she said I hadn’t read the one I was taking back.

The old Firth Park Library building today

The old Firth Park Library building today

A recalls a private library on Abbeydale Road:

I grew up as a child on Gatefield Road, off Abbeydale Road in the fifties/early sixties. In the row of shops between the bottom of Gatefield Road and Marden Road, there was a newsagents – I believe it was called Yeadon’s. On one side of the shop, they had a small private lending library which my parents used to use regularly. I usually had the task of running errands to fetch my dad his 10 Park Drive (none of this underage stuff in those days) and my mum her quarter of liquorice torpedoes.. Sometimes, I’d take their books back, The shop always seemed very dark and miserable to me. If I’m remembering correctly, they called it the Abbeydale Lending Library. The reason I know this is because, many years later, while clearing out one of my older brother’s belongings, I found a borrowed book with that name stamped inside. The shop owners had been long gone by then, so the family guilt feeling was significantly less! After they shut, I graduated to the much grander Highfields library – “Just William” books being my staple reading for several years after.

AE thinks of the temporary library at Low Edges:

My first experience of a library was as a child and using the one on the Lowedges estate. It was in the centre of a shopping parade. It was used as a temporary facility until a new one was built at Greenhill shops. I used this for many years. I remember always wanting to take out books produced by either Antelope or Reindeer publishers although I cannot recall what the stories were about. Later I became interested in football autobiographies.

SA used three libraries for study:

Manor Library today

Manor Library today

I used three libraries as study areas when I was a student at Sheffield university. The reading room at the main library on Surrey Street was a great venue as it provided desk space and peace and quiet, which were not always available at home. I also used the Manor Top library for the same purpose, as well as the Woodhouse library. The Surrey St library was also a spot where street folk and those in low income boarding houses used to hang out during the colder months. It was warm in there and they were no problem.

J recalls Firth Park Library:

I have fond memories of Firth Park library. I was at Firth Park Grammar school in 47/48, after school I would go to the library & spend hours looking at reference books on ancient Egypt.

What do you remember?  Please let us know.