By Caroline Marchant-Wallis
The library of my youth is not a glamorous one. No ornate domes or wood panelled rooms – grandeur never made it to Peacehaven in the 1980s (or ever in fact) – but to little Caroline, Peacehaven library was THE place to go on a Saturday morning whilst my Mum did the weekly shop.
Located inside the Meridian Centre in the middle of the town (also home to what I was proud to hear Chloe Dobson describe as “the biggest Co-op I’ve ever seen”), the library was perfectly positioned for my Dad to be able to take me and my big sister whilst Mum did the food shop. Reflecting on this I realise now this meant that my Dad got out of having to do the food shopping, and my Mum got some much-deserved peace from her children.
I don’t have a photograph of Peacehaven Library from back in the day, and in all honesty when I sat down to write this I couldn’t actually remember where in the Meridian Centre it was located. I can shut my eyes and remember where everything was inside the library, but not how to get into it. I rang my Mum and she couldn’t remember either. We debated over various locations but nothing seemed quite right, so I texted my sister. Usually I wait an age for a reply, but clearly she knew this was important business, as she replied straight away. “Where the Citizens’ Advice, meeting rooms and police office/station is, entrance next to where the newsagents was.” Thanks big sis, it is all flooding back to me now…
It was a small space, counter on the left as you walked in, where I would return the previous week’s reading, straight ahead a huge table (probably wasn’t that big, I was just very small) which always had lots of old blokes (probably weren’t that old) sitting around it reading newspapers. Around them were shelves, and the right-hand side of these shelves formed a barrier between the grown-ups and land of children’s books. A couple of steps down, and you were surrounded by Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Raymond Briggs, the Ahlbergs, Michael Rosen (claim to fame – he visited my school when I was 5), Judy Blume and Paula Danziger (I still have a letter she sent in response to mine, and the stickers). I truly loved that space; I would come out with a stack of books which I would spend the next week losing myself in, going on adventures, and solving crimes.
My Mum has always said that I read that library dry, it couldn’t keep up, and I do remember when I started to struggle to find something new to read. I was very clear that I didn’t want to read the books my teenage sister had progressed onto, apparently stating I didn’t want to read any stories about ‘yucky romance’, so my lovely Dad stepped in. He took my hand, led me to the grown-up fiction section (a place I had not dared to step before) and introduced me to an author by the name of Agatha Christie – and I’ve never looked back.
The library has changed quite a bit since my youth, and the one my nieces now enjoy is huge in comparison, with the children’s section taking up two thirds of the lower floor. My Dad sadly isn’t around to witness the joy they get from reading, but it is because of him, and my wonderful Mum, that trips to the library are as much a staple of their worlds as they were for me and my sister.
Caroline’s nieces with their favourite books: