Today, in the light of the opening of The Word, we continue Robert E Owen’s affectionate look-back at South Shields’ former Ocean Road library.
Having become a school librarian at Stanhope Road Secondary Boys School (even though he wasn’t particularly keen on literature) Robert went on to discover the delights of the old lending library, something which he is keen to share with readers.
“During my early teenage years, a visit to the library became a Saturday ritual,” explains Robert, who now lives in Yorkshire.
“At first I would borrow books on various topics and then, while an apprentice at Reyrolles – the former large engineering works at Hebburn – borrowing text books for evening classes which I couldn’t afford to buy.
“I recall returning to the library every two weeks to have the books re-stamped to avoid paying any fees.
“A new job took me away from my home town in 1965, and I missed the historical event of the library moving into new, more spacious premises.
“With local authority changes it became South Tyneside Central Library.
“Situated nearby St Georg Square, the new building was officially opened by James Mitchel, the writer of many television programmes, in April 1976.
“It was not until I retired in the 1990s that my literacy desire was reborn.
“Someone sent me a copy of the Shields Gazette which included an article by Janis Blower about Frederick Street where I used to live.
“This motivated me to put my memories on paper, and a follow-up article appeared in the local paper. Unexpected at the time, this led, in later years, to an autobiography and seven other books.
“None of this would have been possible, however, without the help of personnel in the library’s local history department, namely the stalwart of local history Doris Johnson and her assistant Keith Bardwell.
“Under their guidance, after travelling from Huddersfield, I used to spend hours researching various topics in the rather unpleasant, ‘dungeon like’ basement where they worked.
“It took over 30 years before the department was moved upstairs and merged with the more environmentally-friendly reference department.
“On one occasion, long ago, when leaving in haste after an afternoon’s research, I forgot my cap.
“Doris knew where I had been working and sent my cap on in the post, with the answers to the list of questions I had been working on!
“In 2005, after producing my autobiography Two Rooms and A View, I met another stalwart of the library.
“She was responsible for purchasing books then, and took a number of Two Rooms and A View, but is much better known for starting the popular Wednesday Heritage Club in 1997. I’m referring to the well known Hildred Whale.
“Two years later, after writing The Reyrolle Story, she asked me to do a presentation at the Wednesday afternoon club on the book.
“I was amazed to find the library lecture theatre full, with many ex-Reyrolle employees in the audience.
“Of all the libraries I have visited during my working life in education, never have I found such a library so actively involved with the community as South Tyneside Central Library via the Wednesday Heritage Club.
“The range of topics, speakers, films and activities is a credit to all concerned.”