Bring Back The Bookstalls!

London, Reading & Writing

London is a strangely severe city. Our architects like trees in parks, not on pavements. We don’t do frills and fripperies (you only have to compare park benches in Paris and London to see the difference in styles) and seem drawn to barren open spaces. Paternoster Square at St Paul’s was named after the priests who chanted the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer as they walked behind the cathedral, but until WWII it was filled with bookstalls – as it had been since medieval times. The Blitz took care of that, and the square languished, ugly and unloved, for decades.

When Prince Charles intervened to soften the proposed plans for the square (which were astonishingly nasty by anyone’s standards) hands were thrown up in horror at the old buffer’s interference – but now the square seems to have attained a peculiar kind of grace. All it needs to complete it are the rows of bookstalls that adorned it for so many years. But a secondhand bookseller tells me that he is the last of his generation – there will be no more such stalls in decades to come, because the young don’t have the arcane habit of collecting old books. More disturbingly, they apparently don’t know what to do when they enter his shop. They stare at the spines, poke the odd book but they don’t take them down from the shelves, as if they were alien, untouchable objects!

And so we reach an end to the time when the city provided what its residents wanted – walk through the streets around the Bank of England now and you’ll find nothing except offices interspersed with the odd sandwich shop. If more was wanted, wouldn’t someone provide it? If a book market was truly needed, wouldn’t it appear? Apparently not.

3 comments on “Bring Back The Bookstalls!”

  1. Shuku says:

    Oh that’s really sad. It’s a telling sign of the times too – I think of late, anything older than Twilight has been relegated to toilet paper usage. It used to be my dream to open a bookstore full of old books, actually. Might not be a bad idea after all!

  2. Helen Martin says:

    Doesn’t your bookseller have an oddments bin? You know, “anything on this table only 50p!” Once you’ve picked up a book there is no turning back. Or is it only text addicts that feel this way? As long as there are printed books there will be a market for used ones. They may have to share market space with something else, ‘records’, ‘tapes’ and ‘CD’s perhaps, along with the technology to play them.
    Play is an interesting word in that context. Why didn’t we use “work” or “operate” or even “use”?

  3. Anne Hill Fernie says:

    When I worked near Fleet Street in the late 80s-early 90s I remember there were still 4 to 5 2nd hand book ‘barrows’ in Farringdon Road. They were the last of a really old tradition of stalls that used to line the road. Finally it was down to one and then he was gone. I now live in Manchester and in a similar vein Shude Hill used to be the place for book barrows. Up until very recently, there was one solitary lean-to left. When I saw it empty and surrounded by wire mesh last week I was so incensed I stormed into the town hall (shamefully) had a bit of a rant. Was told it was being ‘regenerated’ and would be reincarnated in a shiny, weatherproof unit. No doubt the rent will be sky-high too. They couldn’t understand why I felt so strongly about it and even said: ‘What is it you like about markets and stalls?’. Ho hum………….

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