A new chapter for South Shields library

Miss Elsie Ord, schools librarian, looks at some of the new books to arrive at South Shields library in 1968.

Miss Elsie Ord, schools librarian, looks at some of the new books to arrive at South Shields library in 1968.

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The recent opening of Word in South Shields has prompted reader Robert E Owen to get in touch with his memories of the town’s former library in Ocean Road.

His recollections begin when he was just a schoolboy, who at that time, had little interest in literary things.

This is his story.

“‘I want two responsible boys to run the school library every Friday morning.’

“That was Charlie Adamson speaking. He was the deputy head of the former Stanhope Road Secondary Boys’s School at the beginning of the academic year in 1948.

“He was talking to our form master Arthur Yoeman, but speaking loud enough for the 40-plus class to hear.

“Hands of interested volunteers went up by the dozen. With no hesitation and in my belief that he had been briefed of the question in advance, the form master called out the names of James Nelson and Robert Owen.

“The disappointed sigh could be heard throughout the school.

“Looking back I don’t know why the form master chose me because I was never literary minded or good at English.”

But despite this, young Robert, who now lives in Huddersfield, soon discovered that his new role had some distinct benefits.

“One of the perks of my new job was having the first choice of new books,

“And this, on one occasion, exposed my ignorance,” reveals Robert.

“For seeing a new book entitled Cricket on the Hearth’ I made sure I was the first borrower.

“Being a keen cricketer, I thought it was about cricket in front of the fire ... not a chirping insect!”

Robert explains that the deputy head supervised the lads’ work each Friday morning, which “I thoroughly enjoyed”.

“By talking to him, I discovered that the town had a large public library, in Ocean Road.

“I made a hasty visit the following Saturday morning and thought Christmas and my birthday had come together.

“The choice of thousands of books to borrow, for a maximum of two weeks all for 2d (1p) for two years, along with numerous reference books, newspapers to read, free of charge, and a large museum upstairs was wonderful.

“I recall the layout of the building, with the nonfiction department on the left, when entering, with the fiction books on the right.

“As a student and keen to learn, I used only the nonfiction department, and could not understand why the other section was so popular even though I was a keen reader of newspapers and remember the self-contained newspaper room at the rear of the building, which contained most national and local publications.

“However there was no seating provided, and the disincentive to the monopoly of certain papers was standing-room only.

“Also gamblers were not welcome, with the horse racing details blanked out in each paper.

“I certainly pondered why nobody had told me about this wonderful place before now?”

l There will be more from Robert tomorrow.