Monday, December 7, 2020

Edward Carpenter: Activist and Philosopher

Edward Carpenter was a renowned, writer, activist and philosopher who became nationally and internationally recognised as a key socialist thinker of his age by his contemporaries. His works have been published in numerous editions and printed in multiple languages. More recently he has also been recognised for his key contribution in the progressive understanding of the homosexuality and sexual equality.  

As a philosopher he was particularly known for his publications Towards Democracy and Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, in which he proposes that civilization is a form of disease that human societies pass through ( over 18 editions were published in his lifetime).  An early proponent of women’s rights, he argued for gender equality and Women’s emancipation (including the introduction of birth control) and supported the Suffrage movement.  Openly homosexual, he was an advocate of sexual freedoms for both men and women, and had an influence on both D. H. Lawrence (particularly his works ‘The Rainbow’ and ‘Women In Love’) and Sri Aurobindo, and inspired E. M. Forster's novel ‘Maurice’. At a time when being gay was illegal and Oscar Wilde was in prison, Edward Carpenter made a stand for equal rights, publishing books on gay liberation and living openly with his male partner. He was a champion of workers’ rights and the Labour movement, as well as an accomplished poet and produced musical works such as those found in Chants of Labour: A Song Book of the People. A noted vegetarian and anti-vivisectionist, he wrote extensively on the subject of animal rights, as well as advocating for a more ‘Simple way of life’ which recognized the benefits to physical and mental health of working with nature and escaping the bleak, smoky and unhealthy environs of the industrial cities.  

Despite his influence and forward thinking, Carpenter still has far less recognition than he deserves. Sheffield City Archives and the local Friends of Edward Carpenter group are both keen to increase awareness of this fascinating man and show the impact his progressive thinking and activism has had at both a local, national and international scale.


Carpenter was born at Brighton in 1844, into a middle-class naval family. After his education at Brighton College and Trinity Hall, Cambridge (where he was a Fellow from 1868 to 1874) he took Orders. But he was already forming opinions similar to those of the advanced freethinkers of his day, and after emotional and intellectual struggles which made him ill, he decided, in 1873, that he could not conscientiously remain in the Church. He joined the staff of the Cambridge University Extension Movement and lectured in various subjects including astronomy and the history of music. As part of the University Extension Movement, which was formed by academics who wished to introduce higher education to deprived areas of England, he moved to Leeds where he hoped to lecture to the working classes, but found that his lectures were attended by middle class people, many of whom showed little active interest in the subjects he taught. Disillusioned, he moved to Chesterfield, but finding that town dull, he based himself in nearby Sheffield a year later in 1879. Here he finally came into contact with manual workers, and inspired by their work ethic and physicality, he began to write poetry, in which he acknowledged his sexual preferences were also for working men: #

"the grimy and oil-besmeared figure of a stoker" or "the thick-thighed hot coarse-fleshed young bricklayer with a strap around his waist”. 

Continuing to lecture, Carpenter’s approach and charm drew audiences from many walks of life, not just academia.  In Sheffield he embraced the Socialism of William Morris and John Ruskin. He found ready support in Sheffield’s working populous and became one of the founders of the Sheffield Socialist Society.  You can read more about his experience with the political group in his essay Sheffield and Socialism, which was first published in 1916 as part of Edward Carpenter's autobiography My Days and Dreams

As well as promoting workers’ rights the group launched a successful campaign to increase the relief paid by the Sheffield’s Poor Law Commissioners and protested high rents in the city by encouraging non-payment. Unfortunately, following their own policy led to them losing their building, and a decline set in as the group failed to respond to rising Trade Union militancy.

When Carpenter suffered from stress and reoccurring ill-health, he joined a working man's family at Bradway. It was during this time that he began work on one of his most famous publications Towards Democracy, a long poem expressing Carpenter's ideas about 'spiritual democracy' and how he believed humanity could move towards a freer and more just society. Towards Democracy was heavily influenced by the poetry of Walt Whitman, as well as the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita.  In 1891 he Travelled to India and Cylon to experience other cultures and further explore the philosophies that so influenced him.

After his father’s death and subsequent inheritance Carpenter finally gave up lecturing and joined his friends in running an orchard and market garden at Millthorpe, near Dronfield. He took a fair share of the work and devoted his spare time to writing, until he became well enough known to give up gardening and make a living by writing. He lived openly at Millthorpe with his partner George Merrlli, a Sheffield labourer, 22 years his junior, who stayed with him for the rest of his life. It was here that he wrote his key works on sexual identity and equality with the essay ‘Homogenic Love and its place in a free society’, which was later published as a book entitled The Intermediate Sex: A Study Some Transitional Types of Men and Women, in 1903. The work was in many ways ground-breaking, Carpenter argued that homosexuality was an expression of temperament, and not a morbid disease, to be punished or hidden. Published at a time shortly after Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment and the resulting public hysteria, Carpenter produced an essay that presented his beliefs in a reasonable and intelligent manner. Obviously, his arguments remained shocking to some and there were even attempts to ban the book from the British Library. However, the work was unique and progressive and deserves to be recognised for its bravery. The Gay Times recently described The Intermediate Sex as the foundation stone of gay liberation, and it is no wonder that through Carpenter attempts to ventilate the subject of homosexuality, both through the printed word and his own lifestyle, that he is now being championed as ‘The Godfather of Homosexual Equality’.

Carpenter moved to Guildford in 1927 and died there in 1929.

To sum up Carpenter’s philosophy is not easy; for he never set out to be a "man with a message," but sought for and found an opportunity to suit his own tastes ; but in trying to express his own individuality he voiced the needs of many others in society. He wanted for others what he found for himself. He looked to Socialism to release the labouring classes from overwork, grinding poverty, and ugliness of environment; he urged upon the middle and upper classes (especially their women) a wider and freer education, and a more intelligent treatment of the emotional problems involved in friendship and marriage. He sought to lead no party; he looked upon himself primarily as a writer, putting before his readers, in simple and graceful prose, a new and progressive viewpoint.

So, as we can see, Carpenter was a man of many talents, fervent enthusiasms, and attractive personality. He had a singular capacity for making and keeping friends, making a deep impression on everyone he met. Many of his ideas have become so much a part of modern thought that they now seem almost commonplace, and even his books are only pale reflections of the vivid spirit for which he was known and loved. It is fortunate that his library has been preserved with sufficient approach to completeness to give some idea of the extent of his interests and the interrelations between his ideas and those of contemporaries. The contents of the Carpenter Collection, which was donated to Sheffield City Archives in 1933, falls into two classes. The first contains over 1,000 books and pamphlets from his own personal library (as well as the famous sandals, for which he developed a fondness for whilst travelling in India, which he then started to produce for mail order customers). The second consists of many editions and translations of Carpenter's own works, copies of almost every periodical to which he contributed, and 2,280 papers, including the manuscripts of nearly all his books, letters from friends and publishers, and hand-written notebooks. Correspondence included letters from Sigfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Marie Stopes, William Morris, Mahtma Ghandi and John Ruskin.

The Contents and extent of the Carpenter Collection held by Sheffield City Archives can be seen by viewing their online catalogue . If you are interested in finding out more about the life and works of Edward Carpenter, the biography Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love by Sheila Rowbotham is available from Sheffield Library Service.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Calling all Kids! Join the Winter Mini Reading Challenge

If you enjoyed taking part in this year’s Silly Squad Summer Reading Challenge why not join the Everyone Is A Hero Winter Mini Challenge
The challenge will start on Tuesday 1st December and last until Friday 15th January. 
All children have to do is read three books of their choice and then rate and review them at  

Books added to the website during the six week Mini Challenge period will unlock special rewards including a certificate and virtual badge.  

The website will also feature activities, recommendations for great winter reads and competitions.  Find out more by visiting the Winter Mini Challenge website 

Remember, all our libraries are open for an Order and Collect service.  

You can also download free eBooks, eMagazines and eComics from our eLibrary.  

If you're not yet a member of the library, join online today.  It's free.


Friday, November 27, 2020

The Can in Can't - Poems by Sheffield Children in Care Council

On November 12th, 2020 a celebration took place to launch a quite incredible anthology of work created by young people from The Sheffield Children in Care Council, 'The Can in Can't'. There wasn't a dry eye in the house, as children and guests read poems from this very special book which was the result of a collaboration between organisations and, of course, the talents of these young people.

Some of these poems are now proudly displayed in shop windows along Pinstone Street and you can also listen to the young people read their poems, with thanks to Vicky Morris on the Hive South Yorkshire Podcast.

Scroll down to download and read a digital copy of this remarkable collection of poems. But first we welcome a few guests to introduce the book:

"It is with absolute pride that I would like to introduce ‘The Can in Can’t’. Who knew that when Sheffield Year of Reading offered to run a few writing workshops, that the project would end up running in such extraordinary circumstances. Undeterred by a global pandemic, our wonderful young people from Sheffield Children in Care Council and Care Leavers Union, worked virtually with Sheffield Year of Reading Writer in Residence, Nik Perring and spoken word artist Dom Heslop, to create this amazing anthology of writing. The poems and writings express in ways we can understand what it's like to be in another individuals' shoes, a glimpse of understanding and empathy that connects people and hearts is so needed and important in times like these. 

This partnership not only cements Sheffield Libraries as a corporate parent but also shows how important libraries can be in people’s lives. They not only offer a plethora of reading materials, but offer a space to escape and get lost, allowing creative thoughts to flow and demonstrating that with the help of Sheffield Year of Reading, Sheffield Libraries huge digital presence is just as important, spearheading the way forward for new ways of working!"

Carly Speechley

Director of Children & Families

"The poems and writings convey a depth of experience of what it's like to be in care, its the young people's view on their lives, open, proud and real. A great piece of art needed by us all at this time to remind us of our humanity."

Nick Partridge

Head of Sheffield Libraries, Archives and Information Service

"Honestly. jumping onto Zoom with those amazing and inspirational humans was the highlight of lockdown. Not only did we write some incredible pieces of work, I got to know some incredible people."

Nik Perring
Sheffield Libraries Writer in Residence

So the long and short of it is, if you only read one book in 2020, read this one! 

Click the picture to download The Can in Can't (PDF).

Please leave your comments (subject to moderation).

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Sheffield Children's Book Award - Young Adult

The Sheffield Children's Book Award is brought to you by Sheffield Libraries and is a celebration of our favourite children's books of the year! This Award is a way to share with you books that children will love to read, whilst also promoting inclusion, diversity and empathy in great stories.

Right about now we would ordinarily be counting up your votes for this year's shortlisted titles, readying for our ceremony in November, but like many things, Covid-19 has meant a change of plans. Don't fear, the book award is still happening. Watch this space for more details.

However, we still have an exciting bunch of beautiful books that we want to promote and enjoy on this year's shortlist so for the next few weeks we'll be blogging about each category of shortlisted titles and giving you a closer look at each one.

Vote for your Favourite!

Why not read the books for yourself and let us know which is your favourite?
Then submit your vote via our online form.

Young Adult Novels

Our final category is the Young Adult Novels. These books mean business, embracing diversity, excitement, and storytelling that can't be beaten.

The Black Flamingo

Written by Dean Atta 

Illustrated by  Anshika Khullar

Published by Hodder

A fierce coming of age verse novel about identity and the power of drag.
This is not about being ready, it's not even about being fierce or fearless, it's about being free!

Michael Waits in the stage wings, wearing a pink wig, pink fluffy coat and black heels. One more step will see him illuminated by spotlight. 

He has been on a journey of bravery to get here, and he is almost ready to show himself to the world in bold colours ... 

Watch Dean Atta performs The Black Flamingo here:


Written by Sue Cheung

Published by Andersen Press

Jo Kwan is a teenager growing up in the 1980s Coventry with her annoying little sister, too-cool older brother, a series of very unlucky pets and utterly bonkers parents. But unlike the other kids at her new school or her posh cousins, Jo lives above her parents' Chinese takeaway. Things can be tough - whether it's unruly customers or the snotty popular girls who bully Jo for being different. Even when she does find a BFF who actually likes Jo for herself, she still has to contend with her erratic Dad's behaviour. All Jo dreams of is breaking free and forging a career as an artist.

Told in diary entries and doodles, Jo's brilliantly funny observations about life, family and char Sui make for a searingly honest portrayal of life on the other side of the takeaway counter. 


Written by Sarah Crossan

Published by Bloomsbury

Allison has run away from home and with nowhere to live finds herself hiding out in an abandoned house. But the house isn't empty. An elderly woman named Marla, with dementia, lives there and she mistakes Allison for an old friend from her past called Toffee.

Allison is used to hiding who she really is and trying to be what other people want her to be. And so, Toffee is who she becomes. After all, it means she has a place to stay. There are worse places she could be. 

But as their bond grows, and Allison discovers how much Marla needs a real friend, she begins to ask herself - where is home? What is a family? And most importantly, who am I, really?

You can watch Sarah Crossan read from her novel Toffee in the video below:

Discover More

To discover all the shortlisted titles download our new Recommended Reads Booklet (PDF).

Join the discussion, tell us your favourite over on our social media pages:
Instagram @shefflibraries

Please leave your comments (subject to moderation).

Friday, November 13, 2020

Annie Bindon Carter and the story of Painted Fabrics, Sheffield, 1915-1959

Developing from occupational therapy for men who had lost limbs during WWI, Painted Fabrics was a unique enterprise which combined the physical and psychological rehabilitation of ex-servicemen with the artistic and entrepreneurial talents of a small group of Sheffield women. The company they founded went on to produce fabrics and clothing of fashionable design and high quality for over thirty years. 

The establishment of Painted Fabrics Ltd was almost entirely due to the imagination and energy of one woman - Annie Bindon Carter (1883-1969) who, in 1915, volunteered to help at the Wharncliffe War Hospital at Middlewood. With the help of a few women who had trained with her at the Sheffield School of Art, she organised painting classes as a form of occupational therapy for men who had suffered horrific war injuries, including amputation as well as associated psychological effects. 

One man in particular, who had lost both his right hand and his left hand and forearm, was in a state of hopeless despair. With characteristic determination to help, Mrs Carter hit on the idea of tying a brush to his bandaged stump to enable him to do some simple stencilling on scraps of material. 

Phyllis Lawton, one of her friends, wrote later 

I guided his arm from the saucer [of paint] to the material and gently dabbed it over the stencil until completed, and when I removed it he was astonished at the result.” 

Soon after this Mrs Carter had a special leather strap made for him into which three or four brushes could be screwed, that by twisting his arm around he could use several different colours in turn. The realisation that he could actually do something after all marked the start of his recovery. That case inspired Mrs Carter to develop the idea into a proper business model. Providing work to men who otherwise, faced a bleak future without employment or purpose. Starting with small items such as tea cosies and table mats the range of goods was eventually extended to dresses, scarves, lingerie, furnishing fabrics and leather goods. Although hand stencilling using paints remained a mainstay of production, screen printing, block printing and spray painting with dyes were also used.

At the end of the war Mrs Carter and the committee she had formed obtained premises at West Bar in the centre of Sheffield which were converted and equipped as workshops for a few men, with financial help from local people. It was only after a visit from Earl Haig, however, that the authorities began to take serious notice of the possibilities of employment for severely disabled ex-servicemen that the enterprise presented. In 1923, land and hutments at the old WAACS (Women's Auxiliary Army Corps) camp at Norton Woodseats on the southern edge of Sheffield were purchased by the United Services Fund and leased to the newly formed company Painted Fabrics Ltd. Some of the huts became workshops, while others were converted to homes for some of the men and their wives and families, thus realising Mrs Carter's ambition of including housing on the site. 

Mixing dyes in the workshop

Painted Fabrics was officially opened in 1925 by Princess Mary (the Princess Royal) who became the company's Royal Patron. This was the first of several visits she and other members of the Royal Family made, and on this occasion she was presented with one of the painted shawls by two of the men - Taffy Llewellyn, who had the most war decorations, and Mr Hardy, who had the longest service with Painted Fabrics. By that date 29 men were employed. They were paid a minimum of 1 shilling an hour and guaranteed 30 hours work a week. The houses and gardens were let at 6 shillings a week. Both the living accommodation and workshops and equipment were adapted to the special needs of these former servicemen. In 1928 ten houses in a two storey block were built as Haig Memorial Homes. Over the next fifteen years as many as 67 men were employed at Painted Fabrics, some staying for quite short periods, others remaining there all their working lives. Most had suffered amputations of arms or legs or both, some also had neurasthenia or gunshot wounds, not to mention PTSD. The scale of their disablement can be gauged from the distressing statistic given in one publicity leaflet - "47 men with only 56 undamaged arms and 50 undamaged legs between them".

Painted Fabrics clothes being modelled

Through her compassion and activism Annie Bindon Carter became a champion for the disabled and created national awareness of the issues they faced. Her work forced the authorities to take serious notice of the possibilities of employment for severely disabled ex-servicemen that the enterprise presented. Painted Fabrics offered dignity, rehabilitation and recognition for injured veterans and promoted hope for all disabled people.

Discover more...

Delve deeper into the history Painted fabric Ltd by reading our Research Guide produce by the Sheffield Local Studies Library.

Annie Bindon Carter features on our timeline of local activists and rebels.  Download the timeline and discover more about Sheffield's long history of rebellion and resistance.

Check out the full list of events and recordings to accompany the Sheffield rebels season

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Mary Anne Rawson & the Sheffield Ladies Anti-Slavery Society

Mary Anne Rawson (nee Read) was born in 1801 to wealthy parents who encouraged her involvement with good causes.  She became actively involved in a number of philanthropic campaigns, including better conditions for chimney sweep boys, and better education for the poor. Her abiding interest from the mid-1820s onwards was championing the campaign for anti-slavery in both Sheffield and at a national level.

In 1825 Rawson became a founding member of the Sheffield Ladies Anti-Slavery Society, which campaigned for the rights of the slaves in the British Empire. The Sheffield society was one of the first Anti-Slavery Society to campaign for an immediate end to slavery, rather than the gradual and managed end advocated by more conservative abolitionists. 

Through lectures, public meetings and pamphlet campaigns, the society raised awareness and successfully brought economic pressure to bear on plantation owners by implementing boycotts of goods produced by slave labour such as coffee, cotton and sugar. Featured is a pamphlet produced by the society, campaigning for a boycott of sugar produced by slaves in the West Indies, and advocating that people switched to buying East Indian goods instead, which were produced by paid workers.

Following the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1833, the society formally ended, but it was later re-established in 1857 to continue campaigning against slavery in other parts of the world.  Anti-slavery organization’s run by women, such as Mary Ann Rawson and Lucy Townsend of Birmingham, were sometimes dismissed as of marginal interest, but recent research has revealed that these groups had a significant national impact.

Rawson corresponded with key figures in the abolitionist movement such as George Thompson in Britain, as well as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison in the United States. Prominent campaign visitors to her home included Lord Shaftesbury and William Wilberforce.  She was one of the few women to attend the world's first International Anti-Slavery Conference at Exeter Hall in London in 1840, which attracted delegates from America, France, Haiti, Australia, Ireland, Jamaica and Barbados. She can even be seen in the painting of ‘The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840, by Benjamin Robert Haydon’ (Mary Anne can be seen in a bonnet in the front far right of the painting).

In 1841, Rawson and her sister, Emily Read, arranged for a day school to be created in the chapel on the grounds of their home at Wincobank Hall. The school was open to local children and became very successful.  In 1860 the sisters created a trust to provide for its future financial endowment and management. The school continued until 1905.

Mary Anne continued to campaigning for the rights of fugitive slaves as well as other local charitable causes up until she retired from public life in 1875.  She died in August 1887 at the age of 86.

To discover more, take a look at our Slavery and Abolition Research Guide.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Rebellious Sheffield

Sheffield has always had a reputation for being a little bit rebellious.  In fact they've been causing trouble round these parts for a thousand years.  In our new season of events, blog posts, and podcasts, we’ll highlight some of the stories that make Sheffield what it is today.     

We’ve fostered one or two troublemakers in Sheffield over the years.  They include the activities of the radical Chartist, Samuel Holberry and his fight for voting reform, and the violence of the Sheffield Outages, where a series of murders were committed by militant Trade Unionists.  But they also include the more peaceful protests of the poet Ebenezer Elliot, also known as the Corn Law Rhymer, who led the fight to repeal the Corn Laws which caused such hardship and starvation among the poor in the North.   

Yes! We have many protesters, rebels, and activists within our city’s history. To remember these individuals and the political movements they championed, Sheffield Libraries will be producing a series of blog posts, podcasts, and online events in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This will run in parallel with the British Library’s ‘Unfinished Business’ programme, which through a series of digital events will examine the ongoing fight for women’s rights. From bodily autonomy and the right to education, to self-expression and protest, these events (and the London based exhibition) will explore how feminist activism in the UK has its roots in the complex history of women’s rights. 

But back to Sheffield!  We have produced our own timeline, looking at the key rebels, trailblazers and mischief makers associated with the city. It spans nearly a thousand years of history from 1075 to the 2010’s looking at a variety of activists, campaigns and protests. Our earliest featured rebel is Waltheof, Earl of Northumberland. He was the last Saxon lord of Hallamshire (which covered the parishes of Sheffield, Ecclesfield and Bradfield), and for taking part in the ‘Revolt of the Earls’ against William the Conqueror in 1075, was condemned for treason and ultimately executed. 

Sheffield Tree Protesters, 2018 Courtesy of the BBC

The timeline then goes on to explore some of the significant dates in Sheffield’s past, including the destruction of Sheffield Castle, due to the city’s role in the English Civil War. Via the jail break and riot of 1791 in opposition to the introduction of the Enclosure Act, and the infamous Flour Riots of 1812. Through to more modern history, including a look at why the Sheffield region became known during the 1980’s as ‘The Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire’, as well as the recent Sheffield Street Tree protests which garnered international attention in 2017/2018.                              

Reflecting the themes of the British Library exhibition we will also focus on some of the, perhaps, lesser know female activists from Sheffield’s history. These include abolitionist Mary Ann Lawson (who founded the Sheffield Ladies Anti-Slavery Society and fought on both a local and national level to bring about an end to slavery in the British Empire);Adela Pankhurst (sister of Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union) and the Sheffield Suffrage movement; Ann Eliza Longdon (Sheffield’s first female Lord Mayor), and Annie Bindon Carter (founder of Painted Fabrics, an arts charity that provided rehabilitation and employment for disabled ex-service men who had suffered catastrophic injuries in WWI, becoming a national champion for disabled workers rights). All four women broke new ground in society and championed causes that have affected the city to this day.

We will also look at some aspects of Sheffield’s women’s rights campaign, the role of women during the miners’ strike, the campaign for sexual equality and the history of the Sheffield Feminist Archive.

So please come and join us to find out more about Sheffield’s rebellious past and the significant role these Yorkshire Men and Women have played in the city’s history.