Judith G’s reading journey

The third of five children, Judith was born in May 1939.   As a child, she lived off Ecclesall Road in Sheffield.  Although she passed the 11 plus, her parents could not afford grammar school, and so she went to Greystones Secondary School and left after O Levels.  Judith tells two stories in her interview: her own and her mother’s. Judith’s mother loved reading and shared this with her daughter.  ‘I just took to it because my mother read a lot.’ 

 

The first library in Judith’s life was the private Red Circle at the bottom of the Moor.  Her mum used to borrow ‘what they called “bodice-rippers”, romantic novels and stuff’ every week.  ‘I think it cost tuppence a week, or every time you took a book out or fourpence – something like that.’*  Then her mum joined the public library and Judith went along too, to the imposing Central Library in Surrey Street.  ‘I thought at first she wouldn’t be allowed in that one, you know, and then of course once she got there, there were more books than she could … and it was free as well.’  In those days, the public library service in Sheffield, under City Librarian Joseph Lamb, was rapidly becoming one of the best in the country, with a reputation for responding to the interests and needs of its members.

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From before she left junior school, Judith was allowed to go alone to the central children’s library.  She recalls joining with her friend Sheila:

… she wanted to join the library and we ran up all the way up there after school and my mother played pop with me because she didn’t know where we were. Her name was Sheila Thompson … and I said, “If you come with me, we can come and join.” … They gave you a little round ticket which you kept and slotted the book’s name in that, God, I remember that.

Judith spent a lot of time in the children’s library.  For her, it meant not only interesting books, but also warmth and peace ‘until they closed at five o’clock’:

I used to bring books home, but on a Saturday afternoon I’m afraid I spent a lot of time in that children’s library because you could sit there with any book you liked, encyclopaedias, because at home it was, you know, hustle and bustle, we didn’t have much because we had no money and there weren’t a television in those days, this is the ’50s, coming up to the ’50s, and I just used to go to the library for a bit of peace on my own.  Because there was four of us and my grandmother and father and mother all rattling round one house …

The children’s librarian was Mrs Scott, who sounds formidable.  Young borrowers’ behaviour was expected to meet the standards of the day.

She was really nice, you know, because in those days you couldn’t run around like they do nowadays, you had to sit reading quietly … she was quite stern, you know, you couldn’t racket round – mind you, nobody did in those days.

Having joined, Judith ‘read and read’.

I think it was my Aunty Marjorie, she used to say, “Doesn’t that child do anything? She’s always got her nose in a book.” And “What’s the matter with you, child, why don’t you go out to play?”

A book which made a lasting impression was Joey and the Greenwings#, ‘about this young boy and these things that came from outer space or something’. Almost 70 years later, the memory is strong:

Dear Lord, how your memory comes back! There was a little song in it about this little lost chick. What was it? Little lost chick sang cheep in the night, cheep in the night, and the moon stretched her arms out shiny and bright, to the little lost chick that sang cheep in the night!

In time Judith moved up to the adult library. ‘ … you’d go in there and think, you know, posh.’  Books by popular authors of the day like Georgette Heyer, Mazo de la Roche, Rider Haggard, Mary Webb, Conan Doyle and John Buchan drew her in, although she got into trouble with Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber.  Her mum used to ‘keep an eye on what I read’ and ‘made me take it back – she thought it was a bit racy! And it wasn’t.’  (Judith has less happy memories, as many of us do, of her set texts, like Charles Reade’s The Cloister and the Hearth, ‘the most dreary book I’ve ever read’.)

Over 60 years later, Judith remains a keen member of the public library.  In this, she is like her mother, who in old age ‘used to come in with four or five books’ from Highfield Branch Library.  In her turn, Judith has influenced her daughter, Lindsey, who works in a bookshop and has #enough books to start a library’.  In fact, you can trace reading through four generations: from Lindsey, through Judith and her sister who talk together about books, to their mother and even their grandmother who was ‘always on about books and that, she’d been well educated’.

Two readers - Judith and her mum

Two readers – Judith and her mum

‘It’s interesting, isn’t it, how libraries are places where people feel comfortable,’ says our interviewer. Judith agrees.  These days she goes to the Ecclesall branch, but still occasionally visits the Central Library:

It still is the biggest library, isn’t it? And plus, the fact it has all the other things, you know, the reference library and the art gallery and whatnot. Because we used to go and have a cup of tea up there and look around the art things, and I used to think, “This is fantastic, it’s free, it’s a public library …” that was the whole point of going there.  And … when they have an open day, and I’ve been down in the bowels where all the old books are – you might find my Joey and the Greenwings down in that bottom bit!

Sheffield Central Library, opened in 1934, not long after the establishment of SINTO

* Tuppence (2d) and fourpence (4d) are roughly equivalent to 1p and 2p, but worth about £1 to £2 today.

# Joey and the Greenwings (1943), by Augustus Muir

Judith’s mum’s reading journey

Our interviewee Judith G was born on 5 May 1939.  In her interview (which you can read here), Judith reveals not only her own reading journey but also, at one remove, her mother’s.  It was while she accompanied her mother on her reading journey that Judith started her own: ‘I just took to it because my mother read a lot.’  

Here is Judith’s mum’s story.

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Judith’s mother was born in Sheffield around 1906.  She married a much older, ‘aloof’ husband who had been married twice before and who worked as a joiner at Chesterman’s Bow Works off Ecclesall Road*. They had five children, one of whom died as a baby.  In time, Judith’s ‘demanding’ grandmother came to live with the family.  There was little money for luxuries in a working-class area during the war and the austerity that followed.  ‘I think she took to the libraries as an escape from looking after us and, you know, not having much.’  There were some books and newspapers at home, and when Judith’s grandmother came to stay, she ‘was always on about books and that, she’d been well educated’.

Judith’s mother ‘started with the private Red Circle Library’ between Ecclesall Road and the Moor, with its books ‘written for somebody who didn’t want … you know, stir your brain kind of thing’.  We have no titles or authors, but she liked ‘what they called “bodice-rippers”, romantic novels and stuff’ and used to go to the Red Circle every week:

… my mother used to walk me down there I think just to get me out of the house and give her a break from four kids and my father … I can still see it with the red circle on the front and it was just like two shop windows with books in. Circulating library they called it, which I think is a lovely name. I always used to think it might revolve! … I think it cost tuppence a week, or every time you took a book out or fourpence – something like that.

Although she is pretty sure that her mother never borrowed it, Judith vividly remembers one particular book cover:

… there was a skull and there were pearls rolling down its face – I must have been a macabre child! – and it was called Devil’s Tears and that’s stuck in my mind for 60-odd years.#

Then Judith’s mother

decided to join the library, the big library in town, the main library.  Because my mother was quite timid and I thought at first she wouldn’t be allowed in that one, you know, and then of course once she got there, there were more books than she could … and it was free as well.

 

Sheffield Central Library, opened in 1934, not long after the establishment of SINTO

This was Sheffield’s Central Library on Surrey Street, opened about 15 years earlier and then recovering from wartime privations.

Judith’s mum found pleasure in reading all her life.  When she was older and lived in Sharrow Vale, she used to go to local Highfield Library.

I can still see her, she used to come in with four or five books, and … she still used to toddle up and down to the library, which was not far from her in those days, with those books. Because she used to say, “Oh, they were ever so nice at Highfield Library.”  At Christmas they used to give them a cup of tea and a mince pie.

Highfield Branch Library

Highfield Branch Library

Looking back, Judith understands her mother.  She never talked much about how she met her much older husband, but ‘no, I don’t think that mum, bless her, had a good marriage’.  Books were:

… the only sort of rest she got from the lot of us.  Don’t forget, my grandmother lived with us, she died when I was fifteen, and she was always demanding, my poor old mother was easily … cowed, shall we say?

Oh yes, [escape’s] what I think it was.  She’d not much in her home, kind of thing, apart from keeping us four in check, and I think that’s it, she sort of buried her face in books.

 

*  The splendid Bow Works are now occupied by Aviva Insurance.

#  We think that this book might have been Edgar Hale’s Devil’s Tears (1946), although the cover shows a face rather than a skull.  You can see the cover here.

 

Jean W’s Reading Journey

Jean was born in 1933 and grew up in Sheffield. After leaving High Storrs School she married and had a family. Later on she trained as a teacher of English and French.

Jean’s recollection is that when she was small her parents were very busy and therefore didn’t read to her much. However, she still became an enthusiastic reader.

I learnt to read when I was… I think five, almost as soon as I started school, and got very bored because there wasn’t any stimulation in school.

So at the age of seven she joined the Children’s Library in Sheffield and from then on made weekly trips in search of suitable books. In addition her parents bought her Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia, ‘all twelve volumes which I devoured.’Also from that time Jean remembers Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Anderson.

The library trip was very important. Jean and a friend would go into town for music lessons and then go to the library and also to Andrew’s, a shop in Holly Street which had a lot of children’s books. They saved their pocket money and bought books which they shared.

Jean Wolfendale at High Storrs School 1950

Jean Wolfendale at High Storrs School 1950

Once at High Storrs School she began to read classics like Walter Scott and Jane Austen as well as lighter books, such as The Forsyte Saga, Little Women, W.E Johns’ Biggles books and Malcolm Saville. She remembers getting from the library all Mazo de la Roche’s Jalna novels,

I absolutely loved them. I couldn’t wait to find the next one in the series from the library.mazo-de-la-roche-2

 

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She also read Hugh Walpole and some Dickens and began to move towards adult books. She recalls enjoying the novels of Frances Parkinson Keyes, ‘very meaty, very long novels’. Also Dornford Yates whose books she found ‘screamingly funny’.

I shouldn’t find them funny now but I did then…I used to annoy my parents by sitting in the corner and laughing at the books and they couldn’t understand why. They were fascinating.

Jean’s parents always encouraged her reading and as she puts it

The only other thing to do in the evenings,apart from school work,was to listen to the radio, which obviously we did as a family, but, yes reading was very much encouraged.

The Red Circle Library on Snig Hill,which Jean’s mother belonged to was another important source of books. This stocked popular fiction,such as crime fiction and westerns, not found in the public libraries. By contrast Jean described the latter as ‘very much more erudite’. She read widely and was aware of reading both high- and low-brow books. School was a

very, very strong influence and it was very much, ‘Children, girls, you must read uplifting books’..we were very much discouraged from having, for instance, comics or anything like that. I had something called Girl’s Crystal which was quite a decent comic but you couldn’t possibly have mentioned that in school because that wasn’t the done thing as it were.

She remembers Geoffrey Thorne for light reading and John Buchan, who was seen as ‘more approved of,much more literary’.She and her father shared a liking for Nevil Shute’s books. He also liked Denis Wheatley’s novels but didn’t think they were suitable for Jean; however, she read them on the quiet.

She enjoyed historical fiction, for example, Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda, D.K.Broster and Anya Seton.She tried Georgette Heyer and Jean Plaidy but didn’t particularly enjoy them.She has fond memories of A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley, ‘That was one that absolutely fascinated me as an early teenager.’

But she devoured all kinds of literature. She belongs now to a group of ex-teachers who swap and talk about books. Of the importance of reading to her, she says,

I can’t imagine a life without it and in fact at the moment I’m beginning to have some trouble with my eyes and I can’t read for long and that is a real hurt, you know.

 

 

Library memories from the Sheffield Forum (Part Three)

A third set of library memories from Sheffield Forum.

S talks about Hillsborough and Broomhill libraries:

Broomhill Library

Broomhill Library

As a child, I used Hillsborough Junior Library; I think the children’s librarian at one time was Maureen Raybould (?). The Junior library was/is a single storey extension built on to the side of the enormous old house which housed the adult library. I used to go to Library Club and loved both the story time and, when older, the quiet reading sessions.
In the dark winter afternoons, when the park gates were shut, the only access to the library was down a fenced walkway entered from Middlewood Road. During the 1940s and 50s (and maybe into the 60s?), there was an infant welfare clinic on the top floor of the adult library building.

When I left school in 1966, I started working for Sheffield City Libraries. My first appointment was to Broomhill Library on Taptonville Road. Bruce Bellamy was the librarian in charge. I liked helping out in the children’s library, Mary Wilde was the children’s librarian. Each week, classes of boys from Birkdale Preparatory School came to change their books. One part of the job I really enjoyed was “call-booking”; this was going out to the addresses of people who had not returned their library books in an attempt to get the books back. Sometimes we were successful, often not, the borrower had a call booking fee imposed on top of the fines, needless to say, we hardly ever got any money, even if we got the books back. The left tickets file back at the library was stuffed with wodges of tickets belonging to people with fines owing (people weren’t allowed to borrow more books until all outstanding fines had been paid).

SD recalls a small, private library:

I used to frequent the Southey Green Library and Central library.  I remember a private library on Snig Hill, not sure of the name maybe Red Circle.

I had an uncle, Reg, who had an industrial accident. With the money he got in the settlement he purchased a mobile library from someone. It consisted of a pile of books and a wooden hand cart. I remember visiting my Aunt in the late 40’s and seeing all the books on shelves in the living room.

O knew the library at Highfield:

I used to go to Highfield Library in the early 60’s every Friday afternoon with my mum. The squeaky floor amused me more than the books.  It must have made an impression somewhere as I could read before I started school, and am still an avid reader now.

Highfield Branch Library

Highfield Branch Library

AB worked as a library assistant:

Sheffield Central Library

I was a Library Assistant at Handsworth Library and Central Library from 1968 until 1973. They were interesting places to work, with lots of variety and lots going on ‘backstage.’ like hunting for reserved books, repairing books, processing new releases and shifting books round in the underground ‘stack,’ Plus plenty more. As well as the many branch Libraries and the mobile Library unit, I don’t know if most people realised the many different Libraries housed in the Central building. There used to be the Central Lending Library, and the Children’s Library, but there was also the Music Library, the Library of Science and Technology, The Business Library, Central Information Library, The Local History Library, the Reading Room, and the Picture Library up by Graves Art Gallery on the top floor. There was also the massive two storey underground ‘stack’ for keeping overflow and specialist books and vaults in the basement where the valuable and rare books were kept in their own little padlocked cells. It was such an extensive network that they even used to run tours round all the different departments. It was a brilliant service for the people of Sheffield. I love libraries, what they represent, and what they can do.

I am so disappointed that some branches and services have had to close in Sheffield. Even in this digital age there’s nothing like real books, real Librarians and real libraries.

What do you remember about libraries?

 

Irene H’s Reading Journey

Irene was born in Grimesthorpe, Sheffield in 1921; she grew up there and later lived in Birley Edge. After school she worked in an office at Firth Brown’s steelworks and in 1943 married a draughtsman who also worked there. She and her husband left the company and set up a nursery business in Barnsley.

Irene and her brother,Jack

Irene and her brother,Jack

Irene grew up in a home where reading wasn’t regarded as important,

I could read quite early. I was never stopped from reading but my mother didn’t read and my father read a paper and that was it……I sometimes got shouted at because I should have been doing something else.

Occasionally her mother would read a Playbox comic to her on a Saturday morning but otherwise her earliest memory of being read to dates from when she first went to school at the age of five and the teacher read ‘How the Elephant got his Trunk’ from Kipling’s Just So Stories to the class.

Irene read widely; early reading matter included Pip and Squeak annuals sent to her by an old friend of her mother’s and Schoolgirls’ Own annuals. hailstone-flyleaf-signed-

She got books from quite a range of sources. At about ten or eleven she benefited from this special offer,

A man came to the door getting you to buy the Daily Herald…..my father signed up and so I got the whole of Dickens’ works with that newspaper.

She occasionally bought sixpenny novelettes from the newsagent at the bottom of their street. She was given books by aunts and by her paternal grandmother; when older she would sometimes ask for a specific book as a birthday or Christmas present.irene-hailstone-fondest-love-

She used Firth Park Library and later on the Central Library. As well as the municipal libraries, she sometimes used the Red Circle Library on Snig Hill.

From secondary school (Southey Green) she remembers reading Kidnapped and The Black Arrow by R. L. Stevenson and also potted biographies of famous people.

Irene, Jack and their mother

Irene, Jack and their mother

Irene’s parents had an account with Weston’s, a wholesale stationers in Change Alley; this meant that sometimes she could get books at a discount. She also read magazines and bought Woman almost from the start.

During the 40s she belonged to a national book club and recalls getting novels by Howard Spring and Anya Seton from there.She also bought books from bookshops such as Smith’s and bookstalls, both new and secondhand. She used the bookstalls in the Norfolk Market Hall on Haymarket and, later on when working in Barnsley, in Barnsley market. Her husband used to buy westerns from a market stall: if you took them back, you got money off the next one. Irene didn’t like westerns particularly but would sometimes read one,

Well, it was just something to read. If there was nothing to read, I would read anything.

The mark of a true reader. The war and marriage reduced her time for reading, ‘I was working and running a house but I still always found a bit of time.’

Irene doesn’t remember other people recommending books nor did she tend to read novels because people were talking about them or because they might be improving in some way. She has a special fondness for historical fiction and biographies of historical characters; she likes them to have proper research behind them. She mentions Georgette Heyer, Jean Plaidy and Baroness Orczy. She sometimes read crime fiction and liked Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy Sayers, though found Agatha Christie ‘a bit obvious’. She read romantic fiction too, such as Ruby M. Ayres, Ethel M. Dell and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Among later writers, she read Catherine Cookson: ‘Somebody always has to be illegitimate’.

Irene couldn’t identify any way in which reading had changed her life but she was always a reader: ‘No real encouragement, I just enjoyed it’. She still reads, getting her books now from Hillsborough Library, Waterstones and sometimes Amazon.