Monday, 25 January 2010

A closer look at Sheffield Central Library, part 2 (by Mike Kazybrid)

In the first installment of my findings about Sheffield Central Library (read about it here), I mentioned that the library opened in July 1934. When I visited with Wooders, I was taken aback by so much that obviously remained of the original: the oak and walnut library furniture with its custom designed wooden shelves and fittings, not to mention the beautiful art deco lights that greeted us in the foyer.

After we had left the ladies loo - (er, you do remember that Wooders and I were only in there to check out one of the many ghost stories ... don't you?) - we wandered beneath ground to the area I was looking forward to most, namely the Stacks.

It's a wonderful maze, consisting of what appears to be miles of shelving, two book lifts and a chute which is used to transport books from the Stacks to the main library. Six strong rooms protect the rare and old valuable books, anything from world-renowned volumes on patents to detailed tomes on metallurgy. White lines can be seen leading to the strong rooms so that if there is a fire, the valuable books can be quickly removed.

It was in this area that yet another paranormal appearance took place, but nothing in Victorian garb. The strange dark mass which appeared to librarian Eunice somehow contained light and energy, but didn't give the same sense of welcome that the other spectral visitors seemed to offer.

Another ghostly encounter moved me to dig more deeply into its possible origins. As already mentioned. Eunice and another staff member recalled that they were working in the main reception area when they were suddenly interrupted by a voice clearly calling to them by name. Having quickly established that one hadn't called the other and that they were equally alone, a sudden strong and wonderful scent of flowers seemed to fill the room.

Attempting to locate the source of the beautiful odour, Eunice had checked outside the doors, but that revealed nothing. All that continued to remain was the smell of a bouquet of flowers which could not be readily named.

‘The game's afoot, Wooders old chum!’ said I when we recounted this story to each other after our library visit.

We realised that following this up required a different approach to our normal methods. Wooders agreed that our usual equipment - consisiting of a wind-up torch, variety packs of crisps, various choccie bars and a well-chewed biro - would not suffice. I was just grateful it was winter so I wouldn’t have to endure my hay fever!

Having knocked on the doors of various companies and individuals, seeking information on popular flowers of the Victorian period, that veritable wizard of floristry, Shaun Lawrence, kindly mentioned that primroses or violas would be popular in spring through early summer, and possibly lavender later in the summer.

If you remember, the site of Sheffield Central Library used to be home to a thriving music hall. Imagine in the grand old music hall days a lady in Victorian dress about to leave, following a wonderful evening of entertainment. To complete the evening, her husband rushes to purchase a bouquet from the young girl selling flowers outside.

Could the good folks at Sheffield Central library have caught a glimpse of past events? Could the barrier between then and now somehow have weakened in the vicinity of the library? Do the people from the past somehow glimpse the people from now, and vice versa?

I was both pleased and grateful when leading parapsychologist, Rosemary Breen in Australia, offered encouragement and advice. She was introducing us to the subject of clairalience ('clear smelling') which is the alleged phenomenon of sensitive people smelling the odour of a person not on the same plane as ourselves. This could cover items such as tobacco, food and flowers. Some even profess to smell the places where the deceased person worked - ie, a factory, the docks or a mill.

(For more on Rosemary Breen, visit her here.)

The spectral visitors at Sheffield Central Library somehow break the rules: ghosts that appear during the daytime; ghosts that seek to interact. Whatever their reason, it doesn't really matter. Their presence only adds to what is truly a beautiful building with a depth of history freely offered to the city of Sheffield.

But how will Wooders and I feel when left alone in the Stacks with only a Twix and a wind-up torch between us? For that, you'll have to wait for the next part of our library adventure…

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

A closer look at Sheffield Central Library, part 1 (by Mike Kazybrid)

Late last year, we were invited to check out certain paranormal events at Sheffield Central Library. Why do ghosts walk amongst those engaged in the daily life of the library? To read the account of our visit, go here. Since then, Mike has been doing some research on the history of Sheffield Central Library. Why has he been doing this - and what has he discovered? Here are some of his findings!

The music hall

When we first became aware of one of the library ghosts, Wooders and I stood in the place which all men hold to be a great mystery … namely, the ladies’ loo! The enchanting story of Eunice, a staff member, suddenly coming upon a lady dressed in full Victorian outfit in this very room, sparked off my imagination. Not only that, but the first of a number of questions that were to haunt me in the following weeks.

In order to begin our journey, we'll have to travel back in time to 1823. A number of memorable events were happening that year.

On 13th April, we find an eleven-year-old Franz Liszt who, having come to the end of a concert, is congratulated by Ludwig Van Beethoven.

15th July sees the Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome almost totally destroyed by fire.

On 22nd September, the world of religion is introduced to Joseph Smith Jr, who declares that God has directed him through the angel, Moroni, to the very place where the Golden Plates are stored. These were purportedly bound and engraved metal plates that would become his source for the Book of Mormon.

And while all these things were taking place in the world, a music hall was being built on Surrey Street in Sheffield, England, in the exact same place that the Sheffield Central Library would be located a century later.

It was the clear description of the ghost of a Victorian lady, standing with her back to Eunice, that provoked various questions in me. The first was: What exactly was she staring at? Whilst she might have been occupying the same space, maybe she wasn't occupying the same time.

What also made these ghosts very interesting … though I’m not by any means suggesting that some ghosts are boring … what I mean by that is, I don't believe we'll ever encounter the ghost of a stamp or envelope collector. Oh great, now I've put my foot in it. As I can't dig my pit any deeper, I'll move on... (Apologies to readers of our blog who engage in the act of philately.)

My meaning is that these ghosts would freely interact with certain members of library staff. They would walk down the back stairs, sharing greetings or bidding someone goodnight.

Had our Victorian ghost come to the end of a very enjoyable concert? After all, the music hall was used as a venue for a great deal of variety shows, as well as oratorios and concerts performed by local choirs. Perhaps she’d had the pleasure of seeing luminaries such as Paganini or Liszt, who had once appeared there.

Who knows what her social standing was? The hall wasn't there just for the middle class audience; thanks to reduced prices, it also allowed the working class of the day to enjoy the same music.

It wasn't just a concert hall. It was a building that provided rooms for the Mechanics Institute. It was also a place where the local Literary and Philosophical Society would meet, inviting the greats of the day, such as Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins to perform readings.

Graves mail order company

I'd spent so much time considering the possible connection of the library ghosts to a bygone musical era, that I had to remind myself of a very important man who, if not looked into, would make my research incomplete.

The man was John George Graves, who was born in Lincolnshire in 1866. It wasn't the fact that he had once been one of Sheffield's Lord Mayors, nor that he had once received the Freedom of the City in 1929, that makes him so memorable.

It was the fact that in Sheffield he established one of the first mail order businesses in the country, selling a wide range of goods. At its peak, he employed 3,000 staff, producing an annual turnover of £1 million. After he died in Sheffield in 1945, the company was absorbed by Great Universal Stores.

Sheffield Central Library

Things were changing, and the building that housed the music hall and the Mechanics Institute was to take on a new life as the original public library. Although the Mechanics Institute had its own private library, Sheffield became the first place in Yorkshire - in fact the 11th in the country - to create its own dedicated lending library for the use of the public.

Graves was a very keen art collector, and certain monies of his - almost £60,000 - were donated towards the development of art galleries in Sheffield. This would include Sheffield Central Library.

The small cutlery works in Surrey Street’s neighbour, Tudor Square, contributed to this area developing into the city’s cultural quarter.

And then, in July 1934, the proud new building of the Sheffield Central Library was opened.

If by now you're thinking you’ve logged on to Two Men and a Local History Book by mistake, you'd be wrong! It's not enough to blog about the ghost in a Victorian dress. (Nope, I'm not referring to my great grandmother!) In order to understand what this represents, you've got to check out the past … their past.

(You’ve also got to check out part two of Mike’s findings, to be posted in the next few days…)