Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

A book lover’s delight

on April 11, 2012

I thought I’d mention that I’ve been today to Barter Books, an enormous second-hand bookshop in Alnwick, Northumberland.  It’s housed in part of the former Victorian railway station and is crammed full of second hand and antiquarian books (with many more in storage and available on request).  You can call in to browse or buy, exchange your own old books for different ones (hence “Barter” Books) and treat yourself to a coffee and a cake by the fire (there’s always been an honesty box for the coffee and cake in the front room, although they have more recently opened the “Station Buffet” tea room), or just stand and gaze at the model train which rushes around the edge of the ceiling through the centre rooms!

It is certainly the largest second-hand bookshop I have ever visited and they are constantly adding new features.  There’s a room for children’s and teen books with a bookcase in the shape of a truck in the middle (with a cab you can climb into).  The children’s classics (think old editions of Arthur Ransome, Angela Brazil and Anthony Buckeridge, to name but a few – some more battered than others but all of them gorgeous) are just outside the entrance to that room, alongside the classic adult fiction and crime.  In the front room (with the coffee, cakes and open fire) there’s literary fiction, modern women’s fiction, historical, war-era and SF/fantasy fiction.  There’s a large area for history books of various kinds with the audio books by the cashdesk.  And then there’s the Big Room – row upon row of shelves of every genre you can think of (including overflow areas for some of the afore-mentioned) plus glass cases around the edge containing some of the more precious books.  If you’re looking for anything from a cheap old paperback of a novel you once borrowed from a friend and would like to read again, to a first edition for a relative’s significant birthday, you can find it here.  (A few years ago, for my sister’s 30th, I bought her a Twinkle annual from the year of her birth and a first edition Topsy and Tim, also published in her birth year.)  The best thing about being there is that nobody cares if you just sit there lost in a book – because most of the other visitors will be doing the same!  I was there with 9 members of my family today and, apart from my one-year-old niece (who was enjoying an afternoon nap), we each immediately drifted towards the section which most interested us and regrouped about an hour later clutching our various purchases!  I got two suitably old-looking hardback Georgette Heyers (as a sort of post script to yesterday’s post), including one with a dust jacket in very good condition, and a much more recent Melissa Hill which was just a bit of a bargain!

Another interesting piece of information about Barter Books is that it was here that the now ubiquitous “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster was rediscovered.  The poster was designed during WWII, like so many others (e.g. “Make Do and Mend”, “Careless Talk Costs Lives”, etc), but apparently it was decided that this particular one should be put aside in case of a more severe emergency, such as enemy invasion or occupation.  As this eventuality didn’t occur, the slogan was never used and was eventually forgotten.  In 2000 a rare copy of one of these posters turned up in a box of books donated to Barter Books.  The owners put it on display and it attracted such interest that they commissioned facsimile copies to put on sale in their shop, and with that a craze was spawned.

Personally I can’t help wondering how much longer we can go on with these posters/mugs/t-shirts/etc, and more particularly the spoof messages which have followed on from this one (have you seen this, for example, or tried the Keep-Calm-o-matic?), before we start to tire of seeing them everywhere and they fall out of fashion.  At Barter Books, where mugs, cards and posters of the original “Keep Calm” image are still being sold, customers can also purchase items carrying the two other images designed at the same time (the very start of the war, much earlier than the “Make Do” etc): “Freedom is in Peril: Defend it with All Your Might” and “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory”.  I find it interesting that although these two were both distributed and displayed up and down the country from the start of the war in September 1939, they are not immediately recognisable to people of my generation and younger who would not have been around to witness the war, and yet the “Keep Calm”, which only a few insiders ever saw in wartime, is now such a part of everyday life.  My feeling is that if “Keep Calm” has a valid significance in modern times, these two are equally significant – in addition to the fact that, if anything, they are even more a part of our history than “Keep Calm” itself – and I’d like to see more of them around, as society’s interest in all things Vintage grows from year to year.  They may well not end up so popular, though – after all, they’d be a lot more difficult to alter.  “Cupcakes are in Peril: Defend them with All Your Might” just sounds a bit silly!


One response to “A book lover’s delight

  1. fionamerrick says:

    Love this! And am very excited to learn that I might augment my Jennings collection, which always rendered me helpless with laughter as a teenager. I have a fridge magnet with the “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory” slogan, procured from the Shildon Railway Museum. You’ve now inspired me to get up to Alnwick at my earliest convenience! xxx

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