A couple of weeks ago I visited the Alnwick area of Northumberland and, the weather being decidedly inclement, I paid a visit to the famous Barter Books, situated in the old station building in Alnwick.
It’s certainly the biggest secondhand bookshop I’ve ever visited (and is possibly one of the biggest in the UK) and I can recommend all booklovers to have a good browse inside.
Dubbed ‘The British Library of secondhand bookshops’ by the New Statesman magazine, the shop started from very small beginnings when Mary and Stuart Manley began their bookshop based on the barter system in a tiny room in part of the old Alnwick station building.
The idea was that customers could bring their unwanted books and get credit to spend on books in the shop.
The system is the same today, but far more people simply spend money on the books they find on the shelves rather than bringing their unwanted books along to the shop, which is how the business expanded.
Today the shop stocks around 350,000 secondhand books plus the antiquarian and rare titles. There are also DVDs, audio CDs, both popular and classical and even tapes and vinyl .
Although it was just a terminus at the end of a branch line, Alnwick station had a large building and the shop now occupies most of it.
The shop is divided into three main areas. The first room has popular paperback fiction and biography with comfortable seating and, on cold days, a roaring fire.
The next room, about twice the size, has popular non-fiction categories as well as hardback fiction. Along the tops of the shelves in this room is a fully operational model railway. Just off this second room is another room devoted entirely to children’s books.
Going further into the shop you come to the main room containing the largest part of the stock for sale. Books are shelved according to categories and around the sides of the room in glass cases are antiquarian and rare books plus first editions.
The shop has disabled access and free parking. If you want to take all day to browse, the ‘Station Buffet’ serves hot drinks, snacks and light lunches, so there’s no need to leave until closing time.
If your family or friends are not so keen as you to browse the shelves, then there’s plenty to see and do in Alnwick and the surrounding area.
For starters, there’s Alnwick Castle, which featured as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films and the Alnwick Garden, billed as the World’s most extraordinary contemporary garden.
Only a few miles further away to the East are lots of sandy beaches, and over to the East the rugged scenery of the Northumberland National Park is well worth a visit.
As well as being one of the largest second hand bookshops in the UK, Barter Books has one other claim to fame – the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ Poster.
It was Stuart Manley, co owner of the shop with his wife Mary, who found an original copy of the World War 2 poster in a box of books bought at auction. The poster was framed and displayed in the shop in 2001 and then customers began to ask if they could have copies of it.
As the poster was out of copyright, it was decided to print copies for sale and since then the “Keep Calm..” slogan has gone viral, not just in this country. You can read the history of the poster at http://www.keepcalmhome.com . For more about the shop in general, go to http://www.barterbooks.co.uk/.