Where have all the bookshops gone?
Posted by Thomas Young
at 18:58 on 15/02/2023
I have lived in London for most of my life, which means that it is easy for me to view and buy books on railways and other transport topics. Or at least it was. We used to have at least two specialist bookshops (Ian Allan and Motor Books), lots of model shops that also stocked some books, and many branches of W H Smith and Menzies (particularly those at main railway stations) often had a good selection. On top of that, there were a handful of shops selling second-hand stuff, such as the marvelous Smokebox at Kingston.
Things now are not so good. The specialists, and most of the model shops, have all closed, and railway books are increasingly hard to find in even the largest general bookshops. There are some huge branches of Waterstones, Foyles, W H Smith and others in London, but it is very rare to find more than a tiny range of books on railways, and these tend to be the more general titles, the sort of thing that are of no interest to you but which your Aunt will buy for your birthday because she knows you like trains! As far as I can think, the only shop left that has a decent range is that at the London Transport Museum, though even that is focused (unsurprisingly) on London Transport! A friend recommended the Tornado bookshop and that looks to be ideal, apart from the fact that it is in Birmingham!
I don't think that this reflects a reduction in the quantity of railway books being published. In fact, judging by adverts in magazines, the number seems to be as high as ever. So perhaps it is down to people buying on-line. Admittedly, when I heard that the Hugh Longworth book on DMUs had been re-issued I had to resort to getting it from Amazon. The delivery was quick and free, and in fact I paid almost GBP10 less than the GBP35 cover price. The thing is, this is a book I knew I would want (based on the quality of his other works). But what about other titles? What if you really want to see the book before deciding whether or not to buy it? A good example is one written by David Monk-Steel on BR Hopper Wagons last year. Based on the author and the subject, this is probably something I would want. But it is GBP40, and for that I really want to be able to see it before I buy it. It can be bought on line but the information and reviews are scant to say the least. When I review a book on this website, I try to include a few sample pages and a detailed overview of the contents, to help inform buying decisions.
I also have an on-off interest in aircraft, and I was saddened to find that the Aviation Hobby Shop at West Drayton had closed recently, though this was due to the death of the owner. There are some similar shops around London but they seem to mainly sell models of airliners, which I like but not at GBP50+ each.
It's not all bad though. I recently discovered a second-hand book seller only a couple of miles from my home. The Falconwood Transport and Military Bookshop has been running for over 30 years, but is only open on Saturdays (they also sell through e-bay). They have an extensive collection of second-hand books on 'trains, planes and automobiles' (and buses and boats) and it is the sort of place where you actually have to browse. You might not find a specific title that you are looking for, but you will almost certainly come across something else of interest.
Then there are events and open days, at which you will often find several stalls selling books both new and old. But there don't seem to be many events in London these days, and you can't have a loco shed open day when there are no loco sheds left!
Am I missing something? Do you know of any 'secret' railway bookshops in or near London?
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