The Magic Story Book (1949 and 1950)

Bobby: (turning aside wistfully). Do you really think Father Christmas will bring me my engine, Betty?

Betty: Yes, I should think so. I am feeling rather worried about my doll and pram. Do you think it was too much to ask for both?

Bobby: I don’t see why you shouldn’t get them, as you want them so much. Besides, Cousin Mary asked for lots and lots of things last year, and got them all.

Betty: Yes, so she did. Well, anyway, we usually get more things than we ask for, so I don’t think he will mind my asking for two things.

In autumn 1949, the staff at Walkley Library were already planning for Christmas. What festivities could they lay on for the children who ‘regularly attended the Reading Circle’? Olive Phillips, the children’s librarian, and Kath Hunt, then a ‘humble library assistant’, decided to produce a  play. ‘We loved it. We were young. We just did it.’ Here are Kath’s memories.  

Carnegie library at Walkley

The Reading Circle was held four evenings a week, starting at 6.30pm. The children were told a story and then a book – maybe the latest Enid Blyton – was read as a serial. (Remember this was when Enid Blyton was accepted as a popular children’s author.)

Olive Phillips and I had the idea of producing a play for Christmas, rehearsing during the Reading Circle time. We looked at some plays but royalties were required to perform these to the public so we then thought of writing our own play. We did this with the encouragement of the librarian, Mr Broadhurst, or ‘Broady’ as he was thought of by us!

The Magic Story Book tells how Bobby and Betty Brown creep downstairs on Christmas Eve, hoping to see Father Christmas. They want proof of his existence, to convince their sceptical cousins Mary and Robert. But they fall asleep, and are found by Wee Willie Winkie and his friends from Nursery Rhyme Land. They decide to test the children’s knowledge of nursery rhymes. Who, for example, is this?

I come from far across the sea,

My magic lamp I’ve brought with me,

I’ll rub it once, and then again,

Now, can you tell me who I am?

Father Christmas appears and is angry that they are not asleep, but he forgives them when he hears about Mary and Robert. ‘Now rub your lamp, Aladdin,’ he says. ‘Then I will get on with my rounds or I shall never get finished before daybreak.’ The next day, Betty and Bobby tell their adventure to Mary and Robert and their friends, but to no avail. ‘There is no Father Christmas. You’re making it all up,’ says Mary. They summon Aladdin who carries Betty, Bobby and Mary off to Nursery Rhyme Land. Their friends who are left behind pass the time making up rhymes:

Something has happened, it’s very weird;

Betty and Bobby have disappeared,

Taking Mary with them too;

Oh, whatever shall we do?

When Betty, Bobby and Mary return, they tell their story:

Mary: We’ve been to Nursery Rhyme Land. It’s been such fun and we saw Father Christmas’ toy shop. He was asleep in his cottage, but we peeped through the window and saw him. I’ll never disbelieve again. Mary Mary quite contrary gave me these flowers from her garden, and the Queen of Hearts made some tarts for us.

And the play ends with carols. You can read the play here.

Olive and I were very enthusiastic, even rehearsing on Thursdays, our day off. We had much support from the Branch Libraries Supervisor, Mr Harry Marr and the Deputy City Librarian, Mr Jack Walker. They arranged for copies of the play to be duplicated (no photocopies in those days). They even lent us a platform to use as a stage in the old reading room where the play was to be performed. As the platform was not high enough, we had to balance it on four dustbins to make sure that the audience would be able to see all the children. Would we have got away with this today? Perhaps not, but it was most important as the audience were mainly parents, brothers and sisters and grandparents of the participating children. They had to have a good view.

Unfortunately there is no record of that performance but it was judged a great success. The following Christmas, 1950, when Olive had moved to Firth Park Library and I was working in the children’s library at Woodhouse, I produced the play again. This time the event was reported, with a photo, by the South Yorkshire Times and Woodhouse Express:

Woodhouse children in The Magic Story Book (1950)

Library Play

Woodhouse Debut Before Child Audience

An audience of about 100 children on Thursday saw a play. ‘The Magic Story Book,’ presented in Woodhouse Library by members of the children’s reading circle. The play was written by Miss Kathleen Hunt (19) and Miss Olive Phillips (20), of 39, Bishop Hill, Woodhouse, junior librarian at Firth Park Library, Sheffield.

The play was presented at the Walkley Library, where Miss Phillips and Miss Hunt were employed last year. Parents could not be accommodated in the Woodhouse Library.

About 30 children were in the play, which concerns the attempts of two children to convince their cousin that there is a Father Christmas.

Taking part were: Maureen Fox, Barbara Grant, Kathleen Crossland, Carol Macintyre, Carol Macvinnie, Maureen, Eileen and Barbara May, Carol Pickeridge, Auriol Wheeler, Marlene Grice, Barbara Simons, Rita Hall, Pauline Cardwell, Carol Gummer, Eileen Price, Ann and Pat Roebuck, Lynne Hartley, Sandra Taylor, Joseph Firth and Stanley Rodgers.

Kath remembers the whole experience of the play very well, and now thinks back about her friend and co-author with some sadness. Olive Phillips married and moved to the Birmingham area, and died in her early fifties, in the 1980s.

If anyone recognises the names of the Woodhouse children, or remembers the Walkley performance, please leave a comment.

Old Jack Frost comes round at night;

Fingers and toes he tries to bite,

I hide myself beneath the clothes,

And then he cannot bite my nose.

 

More of Kath’s memories will be posted soon.

Margaret G’s Reading Journey

Margaret was born on 12 June 1924, and grew up in Walkley, a suburb of Sheffield. Her mother stayed at home after she married and her father was ‘a clerk at the Town Hall [where] he did all the salaries for the teachers’. Margaret left school at the age of 15 and worked in Sheffield, including for the local transport company. Later she trained as a nurse. She married in 1953 and had two children. She remains a keen reader, and still enjoys books she had in her younger days. 

‘No, I can’t.’ Margaret is quite indignant when she is asked if she can remember learning to read, as if perhaps reading has always been there.

I can remember my parents read to me every night and my father used to draw us pictures of the stories and, er, we were always well supplied with books. … Some were presents and some they bought.

Margaret’s parents were readers, she thinks, with her mother particularly enjoying ‘what she called a nice murder’. Margaret and her younger sister both belonged to the Walkley branch library, built at the turn of the 20th century with funds from the Carnegie foundation and with its own children’s room. When they were ‘able to cross the road’, they went to the library alone and ‘read the Chalet School stories and things like that, Angela Brazil’, like so many girls of their generation.

Walkley Library

Reading was perhaps seen by Margaret’s parents as a safe, suitable activity for their daughters:

I s’pose we were still reading … I was young – very young until I was 19. We weren’t like they are today. I wasn’t allowed to do things. I mean the night of the blitz* I was going to a dance – no way was I was going to go. My parents said no and that was it. You see, they said no.

It was around this time, Margaret thinks, that she was reading popular authors like Warwick Deeping, J B Priestley and ‘a lot of Elizabeth Goudge’.

I love her books – I’ve just been reading them all again … and er the libraries have managed to get some … I’ve got one or two myself and I got Green Dolphin Country and it’s so long I didn’t remember much and it all came back fresh. … I liked even the children’s books she wrote.

I think I read Herb of Grace. I think I read some of those early on. I know I used to go around the second hand bookshops when we were away [on holiday], especially if it was a wet day. I picked one or two books up there.

But Margaret never read ‘improving books’ or classics.

I never read Dickens or Shakespeare and that’s something I’ve never wanted to read. I suppose because I didn’t do it at school.

The war brought change. When her call-up papers came, Margaret trained as a nurse at the Children’s Hospital in Sheffield. While she enjoyed it, it left little time for anything else:

… when I was nursing there was no time – only for nursing books. … You had to go for your lectures in your free time for that day.

After she married in 1953, life was still busy but perhaps there was more time to read.

… my husband would probably sit in one place and I’d be in another and we might talk all evening … you know … Once we’d got the children to bed and I mean we’d only two and I used to knit and sew as well.

There were family trips to the library, the branch at Broomhill:

Yes, we all went together. My husband never read anything non-fiction. Yes, he was a physicist, so he was really more into … he did read autobiographies, perhaps, but not many.

He didn’t like novels?

Oh no, no novels!

Broomhill Library

These days Margaret says she reads ‘mostly when I go to bed, and in the morning. Make my cup of tea in the morning and I read in bed. … But I try and save my library books for bed.’  She enjoys today’s authors like M C Beaton, Jack Sheffield and Ken Follett.  ‘… the library are very good – if I ask them if they’ve got it in, they’ll send it me.’

But she also goes back regularly to the popular authors of earlier days:

A J Cronin: Shannon’s Way this is. Yes, this is the one, it says ‘To Margaret, Happy Christmas from Gladys and Dick’. Also you see, there’s a ‘1950’ in there and there’s ‘a pound’ on it. … I’ve just read this again and quite enjoyed it.

Mary Stewart: Oh, I like her.  I’m reading all those again at the moment. … Yes, I’ve got quite a few of hers there.

Patricia Wentworth: … an older one, isn’t she?  She wrote mysteries, yes. … well, I’m reading a lot of hers again with … not Miss Silver … yes, it is Miss Silver, and it’s Miss Marple. They’re quite funny really. They’re so old fashioned! They’re quite funny, quite simple stories.

And Elizabeth Goudge: … that’s what Elizabeth Goudge wrote about, families. And a lot of people would say it was fantasy but it makes good reading, and I’m finding now I’m reading properly, I’m not skipping anything. I probably did that in my younger days. I wanted to get on to see what the ending was, but I’m finding now that I’m reading more or less every word. … That is fantasy really, because it’s about a town, a small town, and everything circulates around the cathedral and the Dean and various things, and I suppose a lot of it is. But some of them write so descriptive you can feel you’re there. And that’s what I’ve found lately.

 

 

* The ‘Sheffield Blitz’ is the name given to the worst nights of German Luftwaffe bombing in Sheffield during the Second World War.  It took place over the nights of 12 December and 15 December 1940.  Margaret remembers it well:

And er I remember the night of the blitz I went to work the next day.  I walked all the way. Course when you saw the mess, I just walked all the way back because there was nowhere to go to work.  I remember that.

Plus ça change: the British and foreign languages

In 2013 a survey for the British Council found that three out of four adults in the UK could not have a conversation in Spanish, French or other foreign language.  There were calls for more language teaching in schools and colleges. Our inability to speak other languages and our apparent reluctance to try have serious economic and cultural consequences, said the British Council.  Businesses miss trading opportunities, and we all miss chances to experience other cultures.

 

Plus ça change, you might (be unable to) say.  The findings of the 2013 research are, sadly, not new: there have been many such reports over the years.  Back in 1929, in their regular Books and Readers bulletin, Sheffield Libraries discussed a report of the time.

Education for Salesmanship. The charge has often been made that the British manufacturer is steadily losing his grip on foreign markets, and we wish to draw attention here to “The Interim Report of the Committee on Education for Salesmanship – British Marketing Overseas,” which has just been added to the Commercial and Technical Department. … It has been formulated by a Committee of some thirty leading business authorities and its suggestions are worthy of deep consideration.

Deficient Knowledge of Foreign Languages. This was a subject of very special inquiry by the Committee, and they report that “we agree with one witness in thinking that in view of the increasing severity of foreign competition, alike as regards trading and technical skill, the acquisition of foreign languages has long passed the luxury or drawing room stage, and their study will determine to some extent the future measure of British overseas trade prosperity.”

The report goes on to stress the importance of having catalogues and prices compiled for foreign markets in the language of the country to be traded with and in terms of the weights and measures in local use.  … Yet a large number of British Firms attempting to do, or actually doing business … display a strange insistence on writing to their customers in English.”

The final summing up of the Report, as follows, is particularly challenging. “If we were asked what our evidence shows to be, broadly speaking, the outstanding weakness in British marketing overseas, we should answer:- A detached and insular attitude and unscientific practice – relics of the time, long past, when we enjoyed a virtual monopoly of the world’s markets for manufactured goods.”

The article in Books and Readers goes on to ‘draw the attention of the people of Sheffield to [the library’s] comprehensive selection of books on modern marketing methods, salesmanship, advertising, etc…’

Help available for learning languages is also described.

Language Talks, at Hillsborough and Walkley Branches.  As regards the need for better language training may we also point out that all the City Libraries stock good books on the major languages, especially from the commercial angle, and in the Central Lending Library there are in addition continually growing collections of reading matter in French, German, Italian and Spanish.

Learning the written languages, however, is only half the battle and the need for actual training in the spoken language needs to be met.  There are two active mechanical agencies in this work: the gramophone and the wireless.

A early Philips wireless from 1931. Were the Sheffield Libraries' models something like this? (Creative Commons licence)

A early Philips wireless from 1931. Were the Sheffield Libraries’ models something like this? (Creative Commons licence)

The Library does not yet stock gramophone records, but it is making an attempt by means of wireless to help students to attain a knowledge of French, German and Spanish as spoken and written to-day.  The Walkley and Hillsborough Libraries have special rooms set aside for Wireless Discussion purpose*, and these rooms are available to language students on the evenings when language talks are broadcast.  The set is a three-valve Philip’s [sic] All-Mains, and the tone of the loud-speaker is particularly good.  For the information of students we give the [BBC] programme for the next three months:

Walkley Mondays (2LO#) 7.25-7.45 p.m.
French by M.E.M. Stéphan Jan. 27th; Feb. 10th; 24th; March 10th; 24th; April 7th.
Spanish by Dr. A. R. Pastor Jan. 20th; Feb. 3rd; 17th; March 3rd; 17th; 31st.
Hillsborough Wednesdays (5GB#) 8.0 – 8.30 p.m.
German Language Talks by Mr. O. Siepmann. Weekly, January 22nd to April 9th

 

* Wireless Discussion Groups were a BBC initiative of the 1920s and 1930s.  Libraries welcomed groups of people to listen to one or more set programmes and to discuss them afterwards.

# 2LO was a BBC London station in the 1920s.  5GB, based at Daventry, became the BBC’s National Programme from the late 1920s.

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.

Meg-Young-1955--ok

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.’

20150718_151958

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.

meg-young-1955-ok

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

Sheffield – City of the Library

Here is a selection of libraries in Sheffield: Totley, Hillsborough, Highfield and Manor.  The buildings they occupy, or occupied, are one way of telling the story of the public library – and popular reading – in Sheffield.

On 1 February 1856, Sheffield’s first public library supported by the rates opened in the Mechanics’ Institute in Surrey Street (where the Central Library is today).  The first branch library opened in rented rooms in Upperthorpe in 1869.  Since then, in attempts to meet the needs of outlying areas, the council has opened, inherited through boundary changes, moved around and, in some cases, closed many branch libraries, part-time ‘library centres’ and mobile services.

In the early days in Sheffield libraries, as elsewhere, the emphasis was perhaps more on education and improvement than on leisure and entertainment.  (Libraries do, of course, do all these very well.)  The number and selection of books was at first limited, particularly in the case of fiction.  The books were kept behind a counter and had to be requested from a rudimentary catalogue, rather than being stored on the open shelves familiar to us.  Reading rooms, which have now disappeared, were an important feature and were often separate for men and women.  Over the years, book stocks have increased hugely both in number and variety.  As have the services available, with libraries regularly hosting book groups, exhibitions, concerts and other events.  They now offer internet access, ebooks, films and music, as well as books between hard and soft covers.  Sometimes they share premises with community centres and other public services.

The council had opened three branch libraries – Upperthorpe, Burngreave and Highfield – by 1876, although it was concerned by the expense and kept book funds low.  From about 1900, building and refurbishment started in earnest and continued for many years, albeit with gaps.  Progress was often uncertain, with part-time libraries set up in inadequate, rented rooms.  This was the case with the first branch, Upperthorpe, which started in the schoolroom of the Tabernacle Congregational Church, Albert Terrace Road.  Occasionally, grand buildings were adopted, adapted and expanded over the years.  The Hillsborough branch, for example, opened in 1906 in two rooms in the former gentleman’s residence of Hillsborough Hall, grew over the years and is there still.  In most cases, from Burngreave in 1872, the approach was the purpose-built building reflecting the architectural style and library management theories of the day.  But happenstance has often played a part too, as a building or site became available unexpectedly and was turned into a library.

Like many other towns and cities, Sheffield benefited from the generosity of Andrew Carnegie who donated the funds to build Walkley and Tinsley.  They both opened in 1905, although Tinsley did not join Sheffield until 1912 and so the credit for its library belongs firmly to the then Tinsley Urban District Council.

Highfield

Highfield

In 1876 ‘twin buildings’, splendid and solidly Victorian, were opened in Highfield and Upperthorpe.  They were designed by E Mitchell Gibbs, who was the University of Sheffield architect.  Highfield, on London Road, is still in the library business, sharing premises with a children’s centre. Today the building looks a little tired outside but inside is bright and cheerful open-plan.  Connected to the library is a substantial house for the librarian, which may indicate the council’s aspirations for its relatively new library service.

The 2004 Pevsner Architectural Guide for Sheffield describes the ‘Florentine Renaissance style’ of this Grade II-listed building.  Over the main entrance are carved figures representing Literature and Medical Science and a quotation from Thomas Carlyle: ‘That there should one man die ignorant who had capacity for knowledge, this I call a tragedy…’  On Sheffield Forum here, PlainTalker says: ‘I love the inscription over the doorway…I find it touching and inspiring. I spent many happy hours in Highfield library as a child/young woman. I love books and love reading.’  Reading Sheffield interviewee David Flather remembered taking his wife Sally, who used a wheelchair, to Highfield: ‘…she’d go around in her wheelchair and collect a dozen books or so…they looked after her very well…’

Hillsborough

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In A Yorkshire Boyhood (1983), Roy Hattersley described the library as:

‘our constant joy…part of our lives, a home from home housed in what had once been a mansion owned by a local worthy’.

Reading Sheffield interviewees Noel Housley, Bob Webster* and Joan* all remember using it, with Noel Housley saying it was a ‘very nice old house’.

Hillsborough House (on Middlewood Road) was built in 1779 by Thomas Steade (1728-1793).  The Steade family’s lands apparently included not only the present park but also the land on which Hillsborough Stadium stands.  The estate changed hands several times until 1890, when the council bought the house, stables and surrounding land.  There was talk about turning the house into a museum or gallery but in 1906 it opened as a branch library and the surrounding land became Hillsborough Park. The house is Grade II-listed and looks well in its mature parkland, although the single-story, municipal additions – necessary for the library’s functioning – are a pity and the separate stable block, also listed, is in a very sorry state.

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Totley

Old Totley Library

In late 1939, Sheffield Council was preparing for war.  Junior libraries, for example, were closed as part of evacuation plans and small, part-time libraries for adults set up in some areas.  But by Christmas 1939, when the expected air raids had not happened, things returned to normal.  This meant that a small branch library could be opened at 288A Abbeydale Road South, in Totley, a suburb which had become part of Sheffield in 1935. Ironically, the tobacconist next door apparently ran a small private lending library.  The building was previously an electricity showroom/sub-station (and perhaps a bank) and is now a hairdresser’s salon. It looks odd – windowless, like a shoebox, but with an elaborate stone garland on one wall, carved by stonemason Horatio Taylor who helped build All Saints’ Church in Dore.  As a library, it was said to be long, dark and badly-lit but without it there would have been no service in Dore and Totley.  The building rent was £15 a year.

Totley Library

It was not until 1974 that matters improved, at a cost of around £50,000.  The library was moved to a new building at its present location at 205 Baslow Road, on the site of a plant nursery.  This has much more light and is no doubt much more flexible, although it too resembles a box – this time, an egg-box.  The architects are said to have been influenced by the shape of Sheffield’s famous Crucible Theatre, constructing two octagonal rooms for children and adults, connected by an administrative area.  Since October 2014, Totley Library has been run by volunteers as an ‘associate library’, following the council’s plans to close it as an austerity measure.

Manor

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Manor Library, serving a large housing estate, is a pioneer and another sign of the council’s aspirations.  It somehow has a look of both the 1930s and the 1950s.  This is no surprise as it was started in 1938, mothballed during the war (when it was used for civil defence) and finally opened in 1953, at a cost of about £30,000.  Its opening was part of a postwar plan for 11 new branches to serve both new estates and older suburbs.  It was the country’s first modular library: that is, the interior walls were kept to a minimum to allow maximum flexibility in layout.  Glass screens and doors meant visitors could see all the public parts of the building from any point within it.  The foyer was panelled in walnut and sycamore and the furniture made of oak and beech.  It still looks very well today.  Much More Than Books, Sheffield’s history of its libraries, talks about its ‘sense of its spaciousness and dignity’.

Meg-Young-1956-2--copy

Reading Sheffield interviewee Margaret Young’s first job after school was as a trainee in the new library.  For Margaret (centre above), it was a fulfilling career and happy time:

‘…we were very, very efficient, we were well-taught and we were all very proud of what we did. And very busy when the Manor Branch Library opened, particularly on Saturdays, extremely busy. So we all got on together, I think you had to do really.’

What do the stories of these four branches say about Sheffield’s libraries overall?  The individual branches seem to have little in common.  They are in different parts of the city.  One is now a community library, while the others remain in the hands of the council.  Three of the five buildings were designed as libraries, but erected over a 90-year period and so look very different, while the fourth is a historic house in the Adam style and the last an odd little building chosen because it was available.  Where these buildings come together is in the council’s ambition for this public service and the commitment of the people working in them.

  

Do you have any memories of libraries in Sheffield, particularly Totley, Manor, Hillsborough or Highfield? Get in touch below and let us know.

* Bob’s and Joan’s stories will be published soon.

By Val Hewson

Elsie Brownlee’s Reading Journey

Born  24th June 1925, died  31st January 2015.

Elsie became a regular reader because her father volunteered to find the runaway daughter of the landlady of the boarding house in Anglesey where he and his family were on holiday in the 1930s. He had a motorbike, being the under-manager of a small steel firm in Sheffield. This enabled him to scour the island, find the daughter, persuade her to return home and bring her back to her family.

Successfully found and restored to her family, Gwen from Anglesey became a nurse and fetched up in Sheffield where she lodged with Elsie’s family in Walkley, on a hill two miles away from the city centre. In 1934 the splendid Art Deco Central Library opened in Sheffield.

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Sheffield Central Library in 2009 by Lawrence Whiteley. (courtesy Sheffield Libraries)

Gwen was amazed that not only had Elsie’s family not discovered this library, they hadn’t used their local library either. So, she helped overcome Elsie’s father suspicion of the germs that might be spread by borrowed books and encouraged Elsie and her mother to enrol at the Central Library, a long trek for them as they hadn’t enough money to go down on the tram.

At about the age of eleven, Elsie became a fervent library user. Not only that, her dream was to work in a library. Elsie: ‘I thought, ‘I’d love to work in a place like this. I’d LOVE to work in a place like this.’

But her father thought otherwise. Because she had enjoyed playing with the typewriter in the steelworks she was destined to become a secretary. Though the next door neighbour’s daughter went to train as a teacher, Elsie’s father thought further education for girls a waste of time as they were bound to get married. Elsie didn’t get married and loathed her job as a secretary.  Her father died in 1952 which meant that Elsie took a second job, in the evening. Walking into town to work from 9 till 5, walking up the hill for her tea, and then walking out of town to the isolation hospital at Lodge Moor to look after sick babies 7-10 and back home for 11, Elsie had no time to go to the library or to read. She went on to nurse her sister and then her mother till they died. It was only in the last few years of her life that she was able to satisfy her passion for reading.

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Elsie showed me some of her most cherished books: one by Frances Parkinson Keyes bought from the Boots Library sale for 2/-; another, her Scrubby Bears Annual, given to her as a child and lastly the heirloom, unread by anyone in the family, The Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion, Music and Romance, dated [1849]. When I met her, Elsie was getting most of her books from jumble sales rather than libraries; Phillippa Gregory was a favourite. Her final home was only half a mile from the isolation hospital where she had done her cherished evening job and about four miles up the hills from the Central Library which ‘was warm, safe and gave you constant entertainment’.

Reading Journey by Mary Grover

Access Elsie’s transcript and audio here.