Moor, fell, dale and majesty – we meander along Ribblesdale heading north on day two of our brief northern sojourn. Past the spectacular Ribblehead Viaduct and on by roundabout ways to Sedbergh, once in Yorkshire, almost in the sadly missed Westmorland, and now annexed by Cumbria. “England’s Book Town” it’s marketed as, although the idea never seems to have fully taken root. But booksellers there certainly are.
A quiet spot, nestling under the Howgills, but a cordial welcome from Chris Hollett (R. F. G. Hollett & Son) of Finkle Street as we make our first stop. Cup of coffee – bit of chat. The business (now by appointment only) was founded back in the 1950s by his father, Ronnie Hollett (1919-2011) – and Chris (at one time also a nurseryman) joined him as a partner in 1980. We reminisce about that earlier generation of bookmen – perhaps a bit rougher and tougher than their modern counterparts. And by ‘perhaps’, I mean absolutely definitely. Times were harder – men were flintier – certainly this far north. He asks me what became of the ABA sound recordings made about thirty years ago – interviews with the older booksellers.
He recalls someone coming up from London and spending a morning taping his father – his father a touch regretful later at perhaps having said too much, been a bit too frank. Well, wouldn’t we all like to know? Who else was interviewed? Where are the tapes? Was this genuinely an ABA initiative? – brilliant if it were. Does anyone know anything? Can light be shed? Are they locked in a sealed box only to be opened on the death of the last surviving past president ever? First hand accounts by that golden post-war generation so full of characters? Please get in touch if you know anything.
In any case an idea worth reinventing. But work to be done too – three floors of books to examine. Good solid stock, stock in real depth, interest everywhere. Collectors’ stock, with obvious strengths in natural history, travel and sporting books, North Country history and topography – but something too for every kind of taste – some good literature, etc. Very much enjoyed looking around and came away with a decent haul, which arrived promptly and well-packed a few days later.
Onwards a short walk away to Westwood Books in Long Lane. Mark Westwood not around, but so much to see in any case. The building used to be the town cinema, which gives a measure of the size. Some 70,000 books – antiquarian, secondhand, and new (the last mostly at much reduced prices) – and, get this – none of them listed on the internet.
Open seven days a week and listed as one of the top ten second-hand bookshops in the country by The Guardian – here’s what they had to say – “In a once Yorkshire Dales town cinema, positively no muzak, no corporate branding, merciful peace and big enough space to get lost and dreamy in, huge range of books on two floors, plus a back warren of delights, stuff on every conceivable subject, and coffee, comfortable sofas, views south and west over Western Dales fells, sunsets spill in through the front door, and above all, booksellers on hand in love with their space and stock”. All true and can’t improve on it.
Not in truth a vast amount of stuff for me (although I suspect I may well have missed a room or two) – but very, very pleased indeed with what I did find – scarce early Arnold Bennett, scarce early Somerville & Ross, etc. Exhausting work this, looking for books. Time to head off. Different route back and a stop for tea in pretty Kirkby Lonsdale. Market day and plenty of choice – but we hit on the right one. Tea at the Royal Hotel – generous, magnificent, right proper. Could scarcely waddle uphill back to the car.
Such a pity he did not get to Penrith