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Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Barter Books

During our visit to the north-east, we popped in to Barter Books, in Alnwick, one of the largest second-hand bookshops in Britain. Over the years, I’ve been there a few times. It’s a cornucopia of literature for readers and collectors.

Ten years ago, prior to moving to Spain, I deposited a number of books with them and received a credit to spend there. At the time, I naturally didn’t want more books (we already had 34 boxes to transport to Spain as it was), so I kept the credit for a later date. A few years passed and then I searched their website online and identified a number of Time-Life books in the Old West series. I ordered them and they were retained until such time as I could fly to UK and collect them.

Barter Books can be found in the old Alnwick railway station, which was built in 1887 to a high standard to impress royal visitors to Alnwick Castle. Passenger service continued until the Beeching cuts closed the station in 1968.

In 1991 Mary Manley decided to open a second-hand bookshop, based on the swap system, and called it appropriately Barter Books. Her husband Stuart suggested she open the shop in the front room of what was his manufacturing plant in the old Alnwick Station. In time, the bookshop grew and grew.
 Victorian Station - Barter Books
Opposite the station, there’s the 83ft-tall Tenantry Column topped by the Percy lion. The story goes that the column was erected by the Duke’s tenants in 1816 in appreciation of his having lowered their rents during the depression caused by the Napoleonic Wars. So impressed was the Duke to find his tenants were able to afford this, he promptly raised their rents…!
Tenantry Column
You enter the shop through the doorway under the Victorian three-bay glazed canopy which served to protect passengers alighting from horse-drawn carriages. Once inside this entrance (which formerly led into the station’s Parcels’ Room), you’ll be amazed at the number of books.
Books, books and more books
There is a self-guided historical tour of the station, relating its opening in 1850, and its replacement (designed by architect William Bell) in 1887. You’ll see the station clock, made by Potts of Leeds (at a cost of £12.50 (old money £12.10s.0d). On walls and plaques you’ll find lines of poetry that connect the book columns. The Little Train, a miniature railway system, runs on top of these poetry lines. The trains are to a scale of 1:22.5 – actually on three separate tracks – and run all day every day.
Little Train

There are three huge murals commissioned between 1999 and 2006: The Famous Writers, painted by local artist Peter Dodd, depicting over 30 life-size portraits; The Railway Mural shows the names of almost 450 railway staff who worked in Alnwick Station from its opening in 1850 until its closure in 1968; and The Tennyson Installation was inspired by the work of artist Mark Handforth – Barter Books’ version illustrates the first lines of Tennyson’s great poem, ‘Crossing the Bar’.
The Famous Writers Mural - Barter Books
Definitely worth a browse. Don’t expect to make a flying visit, though. Besides the vast range of books – children’s, crime, antiquarian, humour, music and dance, poetry, politics, fiction, science fiction, thrillers, military history and much more – you’ll find so much to see, including Long Playing records, CDs and DVDs. Fair prices, too.


Nancy Curteman said...

I really miss bookstores.

Nik said...

Hi, Nancy, glad you managed to comment. I'm sorry you don't have a bookstore near you; it's a shame, really. Here in Spain we have several close by; not huge, but always worth a browse (most in Spanish, however!)