The confession book of Mary Wilkinson — Mary Grover — 1st November 2021

Mary Grover is a lady with wide ran­ging interests.  After retir­ing from Hallam University in 2011, she has been a lead­ing figure in “Reading Sheffield”.  Reading Sheffield is a linked group of pro­jects con­nec­ted to the exper­i­ence of read­ing books.  Her talk stems from her stud­ies into the period from 1925 to 1955.

Whilst inter­view­ing Sheffield ladies in their nineties, she learned about a group of Sheffield girls and boys that wrote “Confession Books” in the 1930’s.  By study­ing these “books”, Mary was able to follow the changes in think­ing of young people in the lead up to and during the last World War by noting the authors being read at the time.

Mary Wilkinson was 16 when she wrote her first “Confession Book” in 1937.  Her father was a printer but became unem­ployed in 1935 and she had to leave school and train as a sec­ret­ary.  In her spare time, she learned dan­cing at stu­dios on Psalter Lane and read books.  It was the time of big bands and she and her friends had def­in­ite pref­er­ences for the dif­fer­ent stars at the time.  Listening to the wire­less was an import­ant leis­ure time activ­ity not only for the music but Dickens plays were very pop­u­lar.  Her con­fessed favour­ite authors besides for­got­ten nov­el­ists included Charles Dickens.

Mary Grover felt that young people in Sheffield in the early 1930’s were not too inter­ested in inter­na­tional mat­ters but this changed in the more imme­di­ate pre-war years.

John Lee was a teen­ager during the lead up to the war.  Whilst he lists his hobby as table tennis and his favour­ite com­poser as Duke Ellington, his favour­ite polit­ical writer was Mosley.  This shows that fas­cism was a sub­ject that was being openly dis­cussed by young people in the mid-thirties.

There is some evid­ence that more people star­ted to read news­pa­pers.  The father figure would read the news­pa­per when he got home after work and chil­dren would want to learn how to read it as well.  At the onset of war, Joseph Lamb of Sheffield Libraries played a blinder by buying thou­sands of copies of pop­u­lar fic­tion for the city’s lib­rar­ies before books became in short supply.

Mary’s talk revealed how a person’s read­ing choices reflect the issues of the day and the pre­vail­ing social struc­ture.  More can be learnt from the Reading Sheffield web­site and from her book to be pub­lished next year!