Artwork

Illustrations of work in progress.

The final format will be a series of twelve A3 archive quality inkjet prints on watercolour paper.

I listened to the audio archive and selected various sections of the transcript. I then took a trip to explore books in the Readerships and Literary Cultures 1900-1950 book archive at Sheffield Hallam University. The archive is nestled in a custom made wooden pod within the Adsett’s library, it has book shelves (of course) and places to sit and read. It’s a special little reading place preserving words that were read in the first half of the 20th century. The work above is my first response, I’m planning 11 more.

adeleblog

Here is the second one. I especially like the Anderson shelter. It’s from WW2, but looks like it has been dug up and converted to a handy garden shed. This was common after the war had ended. The shelters date back to 1938 and were designed by Sir John Anderson each one protected six people from German air raids. I think that families must have been bigger then. The edition of Far From the Madding Crowd belonged to my grandfather, it’s bound in rather beautiful plum coloured leather with embossed gold lettering. I’m rather fond of the words from this transcript, we share some favourite books and I love the words ‘my life would have been less rich without reading’, so I have made sure that it is not obscured.

josieblogThis is Josie. I choose to put The Scarlet Pimpernel there because she describes it as the first book that ‘grabbed’ her. Aesthetically the colour and it’s battered state appeal to me.  This volume is in the Readerships and Literary Cultures 1900-1950 archive at Sheffield Hallam University.

mavisblog

The energy leaps out of the pages of Mavis’s transcript, if she ever sat down it was with a book. She seems to have read entire libraries, five books at a time, which is why there is more than one book in this piece of artwork.

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Running Down Eyre Street: Sheffield Reading and the Second World War

On 21 September 2018, Reading Sheffield’s chair, Mary Grover, gave a paper by her and Val Hewson at The Leeds Library’s conference to celebrate its 250th anniversary. Here is a summary of the paper, which you can read in full on our Research page.

The war impinged on the reading experiences of our interviewees in ways that often seem contradictory.

Access to books generally was limited by paper shortages, the lack of funds to buy new books, petrol rationing and the scarcity of new titles. In Sheffield too, children faced an extra barrier when, as a safety measure, the Council closed their libraries and moved the junior stock to suburban centres. Those away from home on active service were often forced to rely on the limited choice available through the NAAFI, described by our interviewee Peter as ‘all sorts of, what shall we say, blue books and very blue books’.

But in many ways the war enabled access to books previously unexplored and above all, sharpened intellectual curiosity as readers sought to understand the world that was breaking in upon them.

Take the case of Mary, aged 18 when the war started. Her record of all the books she read between 1936 and 1942 allows us to map both the transition from teenage to adult reading but also from reading for pleasure to a wider reading, often shaped by war. In 1936 and 1937, Mary indulged in P. G. Wodehouse, Beverley Nichols, Ian Hay and Edgar Wallace. By 1939, like many others, she is clearly reading to inform herself about the world beyond Sheffield and the war. Non-fiction like Deslisle Burns’ Democracy, its defects and advantages (1929) dominates her list.

For Mary and indeed most of our readers the quality and availability of public libraries were critical to their access to books. It was their good fortune that Sheffield Libraries were then in the guardianship of a remarkably gifted librarian. In wartime Joseph Lamb oversaw the opening of one branch library and 12 suburban ‘library centres’, and was able to acquire publishers’ stocks at nominal prices. His libraries supported not only the serious interest of borrowers like Mary in the war and the world beyond, but also the general need of Sheffield’s residents for distraction and entertainment in the home, with novels like Gone with the Wind and special guides on handicrafts and games. By the end of the war borrowing had risen to unprecedented heights.

The war seems to have isolated our readers but simultaneously to have increased their passion for books and the value they set upon their reading. As our reader Judith said:

I remember running up Eyre Street with Sheila Thompson so she could join the library. They gave you a little round ticket which you kept and slotted the book’s name … and my mother played pop with me because she didn’t know where we were.

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