Undiscovered Trifles

Article in Leeds Library magazine, Speaks Volumes, 2021

Even as a child I was a library addict but I had been back in Yorkshire for some years before I discovered the Library. It was Martin Banham, then Professor of Drama at Leeds University, who introduced me to the Library, having met when we both campaigned from 1968 for the establishment of a Leeds Playhouse. In those days membership was limited strictly to 500 “Proprietors” and even the later concept of “Associate Members” without voting rights had yet to be envisaged. One had to buy an available share and there was often a waiting list - hence the notice board still in the main room. As it happens I slid in very swiftly and bought share 412 in October 1973.

The then patrician style of administration was embedded in a time warp. The great and the good of Leeds were very much in charge and the concept of contested elections for the committee clearly did not impinge too vividly on the existing members - as I discovered when I quixotically stood for election in protest at the 125 year commercial lease without a break clause that we were lumbered with in 1976. The then president, Dr Trevor Hall, informed the members in rather hurt tones  that “because Mr Meadowcroft has put himself forward we have had to have an election”. Presumably the fifteen retiring members standing for re-election could not be held responsible for the contest. There was a decided sense of glee in Dr Hall’s voice as announced the expected derisory vote I obtained and “declared all the candidates elected - except for Mr Meadowcroft”!

Early on whilst still bemused by our Aladdin’s cave of books I was struck by the many books on familiar subjects that I was unaware of. It was not, of course, easy to spot them given the curious system of classifying books based on shelf marks. The globally known and hugely familiar Dewey Decimal system only arrived in Commercial Street somewhat later. It was also a long time before the catalogue was available on line and it was a case of wading through the boxes of cards to discover what undiscovered trifles were somewhere on the stated shelf.

I was already much interested in Leeds political history and in 1975 I embarked on my MPhil studies in “Transition in Leeds City Government 1903 to 1926”. Amongst the treasures I discovered were the four bound volumes of “Morrison’s Blue Book and City Record”. These contain comprehensive election details from the first town council contests of 1835 and a hoard of other municipal material. They were only published from 1904 to 1931 and must be extremely rare as in my fifty years of book collecting I have only ever found three copies! As long as no-one else wanted these volumes I was allowed to keep renewing them and I had them out for some two years!

The other jewels I eventually came across were the volumes of the annual “Leeds Record of Current Events” published by the redoubtable Fred R Spark, newspaper publisher, magistrate and Liberal alderman, who was also secretary of the Leeds Musical Festival for fifty years. These annual volumes followed on from the three volumes of “Mayhall’s Annals of Yorkshire” which concluded in 1874. Spark filled the gap with his well indexed and invaluable publications providing an easy reference point for local events until William Benn took up the task in 1880. I was rather tardy in discovering Fred Spark’s work because they are bound within a number of different volumes with the rubric “Leeds Tracts” on each spine. For years I assumed that these “Tracts” contained within the variably bound collections were religious and, not wishing to pursue theological exegeses, I passed them by. It was only when librarian Anna Goodridge pointed me to the appropriate Tracts volume for an item within the catalogue that I discovered the eclectic cornucopia of pamphlets and other items within. I have returned to them on many occasions since though I very much feel that Fred Spark’s five annual volumes should really be brought together in a single dedicated volume.

I have books on every floor of my former mill house in Bramley, including the cellar, and I have a pretty good collection of material on my various highly eclectic interests, not just politics and history, but also Jazz and French Classic Philately! I don’t think anyone starts out with the aim of having a “library” - it just happens as the books take over. I happen to believe that there is no need to buy clothes when one can buy books but, as over the years I became increasingly financially embarrassed, I began to use the Library more and more. Now after almost fifty years of membership, I appreciate it more than ever.