YOUR starter for ten – name one of the six most popular books borrowed from Worcestershire’s mobile library service in 1953? Clue – what happened in that year? And I don’t mean Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation.

The answer – two mountaineers finally climbed the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest in the Himalayas. They were the New Zealander Edmund Hillary and local sherpa Tenzing Norgay, but they didn’t write the book of their achievement.

That was penned by the expedition’s leader Henry (better known as John, later Sir John) Hunt and it was Hunt’s Ascent of Everest, which ranked in the top half dozen books loaned out to Worcestershire’s rural readers in Coronation Year. Along with Under the Red Sea by Hans Hass (remember wife Lotte!) and Old Men Forget by Duff Cooper

Today there is still a mobile library service touring the highways and byways of the county, albeit in considerably reduced form, underpinning the importance of the observation in the Worcestershire County Library annual report of 1953 by county librarian RR Lawson: “The vast improvement in the quality and quantity of reading in the areas served by the mobile library service is proof that the rural dweller is a no less discriminating, nor less voracious, reader than his brother in the town, provided similar facilities are at his disposal.”

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That Worcestershire has a county library service at all owes much to a lady called Miss SF Fergusson, who was tasked with the job of setting it up in 1923 by the county’s director of education. It was a pioneering idea to publicly loan out books to the hoi polloi and the initial brief was just to supply schools. However, the remit soon extended to adults as well and for this, on a tiny budget, Miss Fergusson had to buy books and find suitable locations out in the sticks that would serve as “local libraries” where there were no compliant village head teachers.

A story in Berrow’s Worcester Journal in January, 1974, marking 50 years of the County Library Service, said: “Some of the buildings Miss Fergusson used are almost past belief in modern times. In places where there was no school or an uncooperative head, she had to use whatever building she could find. As late as the 1940s and 50s, the library at Charlton, near Evesham, was described thus: ‘Pigs, poultry and library shared the same set out outbuildings.’ While on Castlemorton Common an old railway saloon coach was used for the library. It was also the librarian’s home. In one village the local library was run by the vicar who kept the stock of books in the vestry and anyone who came to borrow one was told: ‘Just help yourself!’. The mobile library service, working from a purpose built van, was set up in 1949 with Strensham, Naughton, Baughton and Kinnersley being the first villages served. By the 1970s there were six mobile libraries covering Worcestershire.

Miss Fergusson initially travelled her large parish – all 750 square miles of it – by train and bicycle and it was not until 1935 she bought her first car. She retired to her home town of Cheltenham, her cat and “a good Agatha Christie thriller” in 1954.