I spent a few hours today studying in the University of Leeds Brotherton Library. It’s a very different experience to MMU. No lifts loudly and endlessly announcing the floor numbers. The quiet study area was…wait for it…quiet! The books very well-worn. The atmosphere, slightly over-warm, but studious! Eccentric lighting between the stacks.

It’s a cylindrical 1930 building, so the book racks are spread out like the spokes of a wheel, which is both fun and confusing, especially when one is looking for the way out! I was instantly comfortable, though I was being stared at continuously by a young lady half a dozen desks away. Whether this was because of my boyish charm or she was actually looking at the young man working at the desk behind me I didn’t discover.

Getting my SCONUL card was effortless, and I walked out with four useful tomes. I also discovered a real gem, a reference to the Handbook of the Daily News Sweated Industries’ Exhibition of 1906, which I was then able to download as a pdf from the Smithsonian library.

This unlikely-sounding volume contains a number of photographs of working class interiors which will be hugely useful in the coming months. They appear to confirm something I’ve been mulling over recently – the difference between working-class life as reported by observers (who often had political, religious or aesthetic axes to grind) and the reality of everyday life for many.

The interiors, though of small rooms, nevertheless show a reasonable amount of furniture and, importantly for my thesis, varying numbers of ornaments ranged on mantelpieces and shelves. One illustration that particularly demonstrates this, of two women making cardboard boxes against a background that includes two shelved crowded with bric-a-brac, is above text that describes a box maker living in “two wretched rooms.” Yes, life was hard, homes were often also overcrowded workplaces, but it seems that many working-class people collected non-utilitarian objects to decorate their lives. Grist to my mill!