Joan, Winnie and Jean at the first Reading Sheffield Celebration 2012
There was an afternoon when I wanted to turn my back on the Reading Sheffield project and spend the rest of my life exploring the history of Wadsley. It was the afternoon that I spent squashed, in Winnie Lincoln’s front room, under the coffee table where I had sited my recorder hoping to capture the voices of the five of us: me, Winnie, Winnie’s daughter Kathryn, Joan and Jean.
I had met Winnie through the Slightly Spritely exercise group that meets in Wadsley Church Hall. She wanted to share her interview with her two friends, Jean and Joan, who lived nearby. Kathryn was on hand to fetch the books that Winnie summoned and to help me field the tape recorder when it fell off the table.
Winnie, Jean and Joan had all made friends on the shopping bus.
We were all widows and decided to have Saturdays together playing cards or Scrabble or whatever. And we’d all be sat round, there were seven of us then, and it would start up quoting a bit of poetry. And everybody would pick it up, what they could remember, or else they’d remember a song. And we’d all start singing until we couldn’t remember whose turn it were to play a card.
Jean dived into the middle of Hiawatha: ‘Hidden in the elder bushes, there they waited until the deer came’ … I could go on and on.’
The three women shared memories of schools they had attended. Learning poetry off by heart had obviously been a key part of the curriculum, as it had been for Hazel, one of our other Wadsley readers. They still remembered the girls who, like Jean, had excelled at learning and reciting poetry:
Winnie: … particularly Audrey. You remember Audrey?
Jean: Oh yes.
Winnie: Audrey , she were very good. And Joyce of course, Joyce Strater.
Jean: Oh Joyce.
Joan: I can remember Joyce.
Though this poetry is still part of their shared life today, Jean, Winnie and Joan rarely share books. An exception is a rhyming history of Britain by James Muirden that Joan had lent Winnie.
Both Joan and Winnie are principally interested in the factual and neither of them seem to care for novels much. Their history books are kept as reference books, too precious to pass around.
Winnie treasures, in particular, local history books. All three women recall with respect an earlier vicar of Wadsley, Dr Harold Kirk-Smith, who in 1957 had published an excellent short history of Wadsley. Not only had Winnie got a copy of this short history, she and her daughter Kathryn found out that Kirk-Smith had written another book, about William Brewster, the father of New England.
So we went and got this book and it was lovely. It’s really nice. It was nice because it was Kirk’s book’
Winnie and Kathryn also bought a book about Wadsley from an antiquarian bookseller. Winnie recalls that it was quite expensive. Kathryn brought it down from upstairs, a beautifully bound, gilt-edged book, published in 1852: A Gazetteer and General Directory of Sheffield for Twenty Miles Around. Winnie observed, ‘My ancestors are in there’.
Joan, also interested in history, was more curious about fourteenth century Europe. She is an artist and is fascinated not only by the artists of the fourteenth century but the process of handing on knowledge, the great Renaissance project of recovery.
I think it’s just because they kept translating new things and adding things on that weren’t normally known.
However, Jean, unlike her two friends, did not register any interest in bookish history. Her chief delight as a young woman had been to go to the theatre in town, usually by herself.
Diverse though they were, all three friends had nothing but respect for the literary tastes of the others.They all agreed that books were precious objects. One of Winnie’s treasures was a book in French that had belonged to her grandfather.
MG: So your granddad could read French?
Winnie: Oh no, he couldn’t read French. He were a Lincolnshire man, he couldn’t talk Sheffield. [Laughs]
MG: So how come he’s got this French book?
Winnie: I don’t know, I don’t know. They were a family who collected things.
Joan: A book is a book is a book.
Winnie suspects that such objects were purchased when a neighbour died.
if anybody died, it was open house. And they’d then ask people to, you know, come in and buy what they fancied. To get rid of the stuff. There was no fetching somebody to empty the house, like these dealers. They’d go to local people with what they wanted. And that was done regularly and it was very useful.
Joan added, ‘I don’t throw books out, no’ and Winnie, by this stage surrounded by towers of books that Kathryn had brought downstairs to show us, concludes
I think it’s important because it’s lovely to have them there and, you know, suddenly it comes back to you and you can search through and find what you’re looking for, can’t you? Come back to things. And you read them very often afresh, each time.
by Mary Grover