Monday, July 16, 2012

Hunting for the York Community Bookshop

Once I had worked out that my time as a student in York neatly marks the halfway point between the present day and World War II, I decided that there was not a lot of point in continually exclaiming over how much things have changed.

Mind you, they have changed and probably far more than I realise. Take a look at this 1980 photograph of Fossgate, a street that formed part of my walk from the university campus into the city. It seemed perfectly modern to me then, but now looks remarkably old fashioned.

In those days York had two significant independent bookshops: Godfrey's in Stonegate and Pickering's in The Shambles (with its invaluable box of pamphlets devoted to obscure chess opening variations). Both have gone and these days I am not sure even of which buildings they used to occupy.

Before you get to Fossgate on my old walk there is Walmgate, and I have found myself going back there both yesterday and today. Partly it is just for old times' sake, but it is a fascinating area in its own right.

It reminds me very much of the southern side of King's Lynn, which I visited three summers ago. Both areas were prosperous suburbs in Medieval times, had declined by the 19th century and have been the site of quite recent slum clearance and redevelopment. The result in both cases is that you find yourself going down streets of 1960s blocks to find hidden Medieval gems.

There was a bookshop in Walmgate too when I was a student. The York Community Bookshop, very much a child of its era, stocked a wide variety of socialist and radical literature. In fact, its success probably owed far mote to patronage by students from the university than it did to the local community.

Walking down Walmgate yesterday I was at a loss to remember where it had been. But York Stories came to my rescue last night, telling me that the York Community Bookshop was at 73 Walmgate.

I went back there today and found the premises to be occupied by a long-established dressmaker called Thimbelina. Perhaps is some sort of metaphor for the state of political disengagement we now live in, but if I stare and that shop window hard enough faint memories of its radical past begin to stir in me.


David Walsh said...

Yes, and the old Spread Eagle was a nearby decent pub after you had browsed at the bookshop

Lang Rabbie said...

Was it like most other left wing bookshops of that era and survived on the sale of Leeds postcards and copies of Marxism Today in it radical chic days rather than socialist tracts?