An Insider’s View of north Derbyshire Libraries around 1950 – part 2 (Buxton)

Last week, Roger shared some stories from Dora Axon relating to her experiences as a librarian in Whaley Bridge and Chapel-en-le-Frith; this week, we hear about her experiences in Buxton, where she started work in 1949.

At this time the library at Buxton was the responsibility of the borough council, in contrast to the libraries at Whaley Bridge and Chapel en le Frith which were Derbyshire County Council establishments.  After having failed to secure appointment to the chief officer’s post of librarian and museums officer at Buxton Dora Axon accepted appointment as first assistant.  Her letters include much detail of her thoughts about whom to approach for testimonials; about the conduct of the interviews, and about the merits or otherwise of other candidates.  After three weeks in the new job Dora Axon writes of enjoying the experience.  She writes approvingly of the recently appointed chief librarian.  She lists her responsibilities, believing that she might have more accurately been designated deputy chief, rather than first assistant:

I am consultant on administration and policy, and responsible for the Staff. I have never met so small a staff that required so much looking after in my life.  Three in number, they are free, untrained and uncurbed: they have never met a rule about librarianship and when introduced to one quite forget to carry it out – or don’t – the whole place is chaos.

Dora Axon records her hope of achieving an improvement within two months.  Her duties also included classification and cataloguing, book selection and ordering, and even acting as understudy to the borough meteorologist.  She anticipated that a large proportion of her time would be spent in her office and that she would not achieve the familiarity with readers that she had known in her previous job at Whaley Bridge.

Six months or so later improvements appear to have been elusive:

It is usual for a successor to deplore the shortcomings of his predecessor, but surely there has never been a place like Buxton.  Everywhere we found chaos, and no method of dealing with it except falsifying records and tearing up the evidence!  Worse still the staff trained on this happy-go-lucky lack of principle and system are incapable of recognising system – or even the need for it. … Our young and capable and enthusiastic new librarian is a thwarted and disgusted man, regretting, I think, his move to such an unprogressive hole.  You would term it Bumbledom at its worst. 

Dora Axon goes on to criticise the actions of committee men: appointing a qualified person, only to block every improvement he tries to make; and seeking to employ staff and stock a library service on the cheap.  Such improvements as were being made involved hard work:

The up-hill task, training the stupid glamour girls, is mine, and in all my work I have never encountered such a gradient.

Dora Axon felt further burdened by the presence of a young wealthy volunteer discovering whether she might like to pursue training as librarian:

So far as we are concerned she is an additional blot; she doesn’t want to work, won’t work, “downs” a job she dislikes, and objects to doing anything as told, or accurately.  She is with us for three months: I had had enough after the first morning.

In July 1950 Dora Axon wrote a long letter while on holiday in Ilfracombe – she includes her observations of the libraries in Ilfracombe and Bideford.  In relation to Buxton it seems likely that she was correct about the regrets of the recently appointed chief librarian: in less than a year he had left.  Her application for the chief’s post was not successful:

Though I had the backing of my own Committee, they were over-ruled by the Mayor. … who shouted “No women” and flung the six applications [from women] aside without consideration. To an appeal made by the Library chairman, who said: “She’s capable and she’s qualified – what more do you want?” the Mayor said: “She’s a woman and we can’t have a woman head of department.”

Three weeks after the successful candidate had started work Dora Axon submitted a claim for salary re-grading.  The salary claim was pursued for many months: Dora Axon accuses the town clerk of presenting, at the ultimate hearing, “lies and evasions.”  She was ultimately successful:

I have crashed into the Admin. Profess. And Technical Grades where no woman in Buxton has ever got before!

Having been in post for two years Dora Axon was able to list positive achievements:

The staff are “falling to” when given a job.  And I am getting an increasing number of people who introduce themselves with “I’ve been advised to come to you – I wonder if you can help me …”.

An Insider’s View of north Derbyshire Libraries around 1950

Nearly 40 years ago, the record office purchased a small bundle of letters primarily sent to Charles Kay Ogden, the founder of the Orthological Institute which was concerned chiefly with the development of Basic English. 

Cataloguing volunteer, Roger Jennens, has recently listed all the letters and here he writes of the rich observations they contain from a librarian working at in north Derbyshire around 1950 . 

The writer of the letters, Dora Axon of Buxton, returned to work in 1948 following the death of her husband.  A qualified librarian who had previously worked in Manchester, she had not been in paid employment during the fifteen years of her marriage.  She was appointed to a post at Whaley Bridge library but in the interval before that library was ready to be opened she was asked at short notice to assist at the library at Chapel-en-le-Frith.  At the time this was a busy centre for library provision in north Derbyshire, including a mobile library.  Dora Axon records her enjoyment of the work: she found every one of the staff welcoming.  Perhaps her assessment of the library users has a hint of condescension:

The borrowers are not bad – all kinds, but extremely friendly with just two or three intelligent ones. The library is a meeting ground for all the villagers and there appears to be no rule against talking, which everyone does, out loud. We never “shush” then as we used to do in Manchester; it’s awfully funny and delightful.”

Dora Axon was impressed by the mobile library service:

Extract of letter from Dora, 28 Sep 1948. Ref: D2313/2/58

She was, however, hopeful that she would not be required to go out on a round:

Some rounds are terribly hard going: the issues reaching 700 a day and  a handful of special requests that all need looking up and securing for the next call.

Early in 1949 a branch library was opened in the windowless basement of council offices in Whaley Bridge.  The library was open from 2pm to 8pm daily, with a half-hour closure at 4.30pm. The new provision soon proved popular: the initial book stock of 5,000 volumes was soon increased to 6,000. In the first few weeks 800 readers were registered:

They clatter down the stairs at 2pm prompt and only reluctantly do they clatter up at 4.30pm and 8pm. …  They are a nice public, the “Whaleys” from labourers to professional men, from country women who call me “luv” to nice middle-class “ladies” and from nice laddies of 14, (we don’t cater for younger), to university and college students. 

Dora Axon was kept busy, particular on days when no assistance was forthcoming from another library:

All my nice borrowers apologise for troubling me and some offer to help.  360-500 issues a day; new readers to enrol and help; a postal service to attend to and all the ordinary routine work – it would keep 3 staff occupied at all times and it’s all supposed to be done by one!

Before long, mindful of the potential impact of winter weather on her daily bus journeys between Buxton and Whaley Bridge, and reluctant to remain working in a basement Dora Axon applied for a post at the library in Buxton.

Whaley population has lapped me up and will, I know, be sorry to lose me.  And I shall never again have such congenial borrowers, nor such  a splendid collection of books, every one asking to be read.

Next time: Dora describes her experience in Buxton.

See the new catalogue in full under reference D2313.

Laugh out loud

Each month Derbyshire Libraries run a special promotion and for the month of August the theme is ‘Laugh out loud’.  The world news just lately has been a little grim to say the least and I’m sure we could all do with something to put a smile on our faces, so I thought I’d investigate our Local Studies collection to see what  Derbyshire comedy connections I could find.

There are many comedy actors with close links to the county.  Arthur Lowe, the pompous Captain Mainwaring in the classic comedy series Dad’s Army was born in the north of the county at Hayfield. Robert Lindsay, who I remember as ‘Wolfie’ in the 1970s comedy Citizen Smith was born and grew up in Ilkeston.Arthur LoweRobert Lindsay

James Bolam, best known for roles in ‘The Likely Lads’ and ‘Only When I Laugh’ was educated at Derby’s Bemrose School. He moved to Derby as a 13 year old, joining the 3rd year at the all-boys school.  He initially trained as an accountant in Derby – but he also joined the Derby Shakespeare Company, appearing at the Derby Playhouse with them.

As a child growing up in the 1970s another TV favourite was ‘The Goodies’.  Who can forget the three-seater bicycle and Kitten-Kong? Tim Brooke Taylor, one member of the famous threesome was born in Buxton and at one time was honorary Vice-President of Derby County Football Club.

Dirk Bogarde appeared in more than 60 films with a career that lasted over 50 years. His early film career included the Doctor series such as Doctor in the House and Doctor at Sea, which made him one of the most popular British film stars of the 1950s. Before this, during the second world war however, he enlisted in the army, and was sent for training in the interpretation of aerial photography at Smedley’s Hydro in Matlock, now County Hall. His training in 1943 helped him in his role in the D-Day landings where he worked with the Army Intelligence Photographic Unit.

Moving away from the silver screen and on to the printed word, children around the globe for generations have laughed at the tales by the wonderful Roald Dahl.  Roald Dahl.jpg

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda are just two of his creations, but who knew that Dahl, born in Wales to Norwegian parents was educated for a time at Repton School?

Another author whose writings have often reduced me to tears – is Chesterfield born Derek Longden.  I remember him reading his comic pieces on Radio Derby when I was a child – always hilarious.

His books on his life, starting with ‘Diana’s Story’ about the loss of his wife after years of her suffering with ME and followed by ‘Lost For Words’, about his mother had you one minute crying with laughter and the next with sorrow. So popular were they that they were adapted for television, with ‘Lost For Words’ winning a Bafta for actress Thora Hird.

Instead of words, cartoonist Bill Tidy is famous chiefly for his comic strips.  ‘The Cloggies’ appeared in Private Eye from 1967-1981,  a parody of the popular television series of the time The Forsyte Saga, but set in the industrial north instead of a genteel upper class society. Born in Cheshire, Bill now lives in Boylestone, near Ashbourne.

It’s not only people that have a comedy connection to Derbyshire – but places too.  Most of these memories seem to centre on my childhood, but bringing us more up to date we have Royston Vasey. The village in cult comedy The League of Gentlemen is actually Hadfield in Derbyshire.  The television series ran from 1999-2002 the brainchild of Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. It attracted a cult following and expanded into a full length film in 2005.

Other locations used in the series were Glossop and Hope Valley. If you knew the area you could spot:

  • Hilary Briss’s scary butcher’s shop (J.W. Mettrick & Son)
  • The old fishmonger’s became a veterinary surgery
  • The empty estate agent found new life as the Attachments dating agency
  • The little handicraft emporium was transformed into a joke shop one day and a video rental shop a week later

So here we have just a few of Derbyshire’s claim to comedy fame.  Your local library will have plenty on offer to put a smile on your face over the coming month, so why not pop in and have a look.

 

Advent Calendar – Day 24

Almost there…

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Christmas card painted by John Chaplin, with Edgar Osborne, sent from Palestine in 1917, during World War One (Ref: D5063/3/3)

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Inside the card reads:
Palestine 1917
Christmas 1917
Two campaigners send you Greetings, dear Lill
Edgar
John Chaplin

 

 

 

 

Born in Bournemouth in 1890, Edgar Osborne was County Librarian for Derbyshire for 31 years (1923-1954). During World War One Edgar served on the Bulgarian Front and in Palestine, from where he sent this card to Lill, possibly his future wife Mabel Jacobson, whom he married in 1918, not long before the end of the war. Other papers of Edgar’s from this time are available to view online via our catalogue, as part of our WW1 digitisation project. Although not available to read online, this series of papers contains a very moving story about Edgar’s experience in Palestine, including how he spent Christmas Day 1917 (ref: D5063/3/2).

After the war, Edgar resumed his career in librarianship, becoming County Librarian of Derbyshire at the age of just 33. During this time, he introduced new services, such as mobile libraries, and developed his own interests in literature, especially in children’s books – an interest featuring heavily in his archive collection, which also includes Edgar’s diaries written during World War Two and papers relating to his retirement in 1954.

National Libraries Day

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This Saturday, the 8th of February, is National Libraries Day – an opportunity to celebrate libraries and library services across the UK.

Visitors to the Record Office will have seen the exhibition in our reception –  ‘I Didn’t Know You’d Got That!’ – showcasing the range of material held in the County Local Studies Library collections.  From sale catalogues to stereo cards, periodicals to postcards, the display will be available to view until 8th March.

There are also talks and workshops happening in libraries around Derbyshire – see the ‘National Libraries Day Events’ listing available here for more information.

Local History Fair

Calling all local history enthusiasts… this Saturday we will be holding a fantastic local history day at Chesterfield Library. The event includes talks, workshops, old films of Derbyshire, and the chance to find out about our new local studies and archive centre.

The event is FREE, but booking is required for some sessions – please call 01629 533400 for more information, or to book a place… don’t miss out!!