Bookshops in Kent
© Kent Life http://www.kent-life.co.uk
Kent is packed with great bookshops, so we’ve highlighted four at key locations and given a summing up of their stock and services, as well outlining details of many more.
We’ve concentrated on mainly second-hand/antiquarian bookshops rather than sellers of new books. Please don’t treat this as a comprehensive guide, and apologies to anyone missed out by mistake.
Bookshop owners are usually extremely interesting people who enjoy chatting with customers, and will search for an out-of-print book, make suggestions if you have a special interest, and bring to bear their experience and contacts to help you find virtually whatever you want, including rare first editions. Remember, the majority also buy books – indeed this is frequently their major source of stock. For many bookshop owners the internet is a valuable search, sales and networking tool, but it’s also an enemy, reducing personal shop visits. Internet buying is a poor substitute for chatting to a shop owner about your hobby, rifling though packed shelves, or the excitement of discovering that beautifully illustrated copy of Tintin’s adventures you adored when you were eight. Nor can it give you the smell or the sensation of touching old leather or the sheer thrill of handling centuries-old volumes.
Printing all addresses and websites would waste space, so we’re giving only the town and phone number. Those with websites are indicated by (w), and we’re suggesting you google the name(s) you want.
(w) The Chaucer Bookshop (01227 453 912) CANTERBURY
The building dates back to the 1700s and was originally two houses on three floors, and is centrally located near the cathedral; it is best described as an ‘attractive welcoming warren’. Specialities are art, architecture, history, literature, topography, travel, food, wine and railways, illustrated books, children’s, biographies and ephemera, plus original prints, maps, first editions, bindings and unusual greetings cards. Mostly antiquarian or second hand, the only new books being Kent- and Chaucer-related, and prices for the majority vary from £5 - £100.
Sir Robert Sherston-Baker has run the shop since 1976, and it was established in 1956. After an early life as a jackaroo and ranch-hand in Australia, he found a job with a London family bookshop, where he learnt the rudiments of the book trade.
Sir Robert says:
“Our most expensive books are generally old and scarce books on Kent, those with fine colour plates, fine bindings or else scarce and collectible first editions. I first became interested in illustrated books in the early 70s, buying my first old book – ‘Rip Van Winkle’, illustrated by Arthur Rackham – for £17. What I love about old books is that they not only inform us about our history, they are also part of it. My wife loves books as objects in their own right, for instance illustrations, including those on dust jackets and book covers, plus the variety of paper, all provide a reading experience that goes far beyond the text. There are even wonderful 19th-century illustrated books with ‘fore edge paintings’ – if you turn the book on its side and look at the front edges of the pages and push just slightly to one side, a painted picture appears. The joy of old books is that they continue to give pleasure and learning to the next person and the next generation. Customers are all hoping to find the next book they are longing to read, even though they don’t know what it is yet.”
(w) Baggins Book Bazaar (01634 811651) ROCHESTER
Described as the largest second-hand bookshop in England, Baggins is close to the castle and city centre. The front part of the building is 18th century, with a large 1960s extension on the rear. There’s a huge range of stock on two floors, lots of space and the building has what’s described as a ‘labyrinthine’ layout. Prices range from £1 to £1000, and there’s a large selection of local/Kent history, ordnance survey maps, natural history, military, marine, fine art, literature, travel, children’s and fiction.
Having worked in the (new) book trade, Godfrey George opened the shop in 1986, launching Baggins with the original intention of putting Rochester on the map as a ‘book town’, which, he admits, hasn’t quite materialised, apart from his own part of it. He chose the Tolkeinesque name because it sounded friendly and welcoming.
“We cater for the real bibliophile. My personal interest is in illustrated books, and the subjects of modern art and local topography, plus I have a tremendous comprehensive collection of books illustrated by local artist, Donald Maxwell. I may not be rich in financial terms, but I’m rich in useful knowledge and trivia, gleaned from the thousands of tomes which pass through my hands each week. Every year we hold several book-signing events, for local, or Kent-interest titles. Coming soon will be ‘Haunted Rochester’ and the re-issue of ‘The Chatham Scandal’. (dates not yet fixed – contact us later). We intend to re-start poetry readings and talks on the premises at some stage too.”
(w) Michael’s Bookshop (01843 589500) RAMSGATE
The oldest part of the premises in bustling historic King Street dates back to the 1700s, was partly built from ships’ timbers, and was listed as the Prince Coburg public house in 1823! It’s an attractive spacious premises on several levels with plenty of room and well organised large stock, on around 1000 shelves. Prices range from 5p to £500 and specialities are military, transport, esoteric, art, performing arts, true crime and it has one of the largest selections of quality paperback fiction in Kent.
Michael Child started the shop 20 years ago, the fourth such enterprise he’d begun, having left behind his professional life as a highly qualified engineer. As a dedicated Ramsgate-o-phile, Michael was inspired to start his own book publishing business when the old Ramsgate library burnt down and much local history collections were lost. He reprints old and antiquarian guides and histories, as well as publishing a few titles by living authors: approximately 120 publications about Kent, mostly concerning his beloved Isle of Thanet.
“I deliberately set out to have an ordinary general second-hand bookshop, aiming to appeal to those with a particular interest, as well as voracious readers of fiction, rather than catering for those who collect valuable titles. I like East Kent topography and read a lot of fiction, but I’m not actually a great fan of first editions – second editions can often be better. An advantage of buying from a shop rather than online is that it’ll be cheaper, there’s less chance of things going wrong, but chiefly you can’t browse through shelves from a computer screen, and that’s half the fun. And you might well get a bargain: I once priced a play at 10p and put it in our sale. My wife then discovered it was an ‘association’ copy, signed by several famous actors, which we subsequently sold for £80!”
Edenbridge Bookshop (01732 862180) EDENBRIDGE
Large attractive timber-framed Grade 11-listed spacious premises, dating from 1387, in a beautiful part in the centre of town near the church. With no particular specialities, the stock is general, a combination of second-hand and new, but no antiquarian books are sold.
Originally a nurse at a major hospital, Anna Griffin took over the 30-year-established shop ten years ago, because she felt that if Edenbridge lost such a good bookshop it would be tragic. She will order any book at all, regardless of price. An enthusiastic supporter of local charities, such as the Local History Society, Eden Valley Musuem and Cancer Research, profits from her donated second-hand paperback sales go to support these.
“I’ve always been a reader – I feel that books feed the mind just as food feeds the body. I read anything and everything, and I have a particular liking for historical fiction. There were always plenty of books in our house when I was growing up. I specially liked Walpole and Jane Austen, in fact any book really. When the shop came up for sale I was determined to save it for the town. We have a loyal core of customers who come here and buy, and even though they could purchase at one of the big chains slightly cheaper, they prefer to order from us. Two local authors who’ve had book launches here are Jean Pearce Edwards, who wrote ‘Little Jean’s War’ – an account of her wartime experiences here and in Limpsfield and Hurst. And Val Newton, who writes about donkeys.”
Some of the other bookshops in Kent:
(w) The Aviation Bookshop (01892 539284) TUNBRIDGE WELLS. Established 60 years, stocking literature on all aspects of aviation.
(w) Barely Read Books (01959 565854) WESTERHAM. Vast stock, mostly second-hand, all values, plenty of bargains. Specialities include Biggles, Enid Blyton and Churchill.
(w) Booksharp (01474 561101) GRAVESEND. Mainly second-hand paperbacks, huge and eclectic subject range, including erotic, occult etc..
The Canterbury Bookshop (01227 464773) CANTERBURY. Excellent range of general second-hand and antiquarian stock, including children’s, illustrated and topography.
Hooked on Books (01304 213862) DOVER. Large assortment of second-hand books.
Hythe Bookshop (01303 265666) HYTHE. Established 32 years selling general new books, began trading also in second-hand two years ago with emphasis on history, military history, topography, local and natural history, transport and travel, mostly hardback.
McConnell Fine Books – The Golden Hind (01304 375086) DEAL. Many fine antiquarian and second-hand books, amongst others history, literature and an excellent assortment of local history volumes.
(w) Oxford Street Books.com (01227 281727) WHITSTABLE. Vast stock of antiquarian and second-hand books of every variety. Open 7 days per week.
Pantiles Bookshop (01892 618191) TUNBRIDGE WELLS. Second-hand: local interest, topography, travel, railway, cricket, sports military, biographies etc. Also maps, antique prints, ephemera, papercrafts, stationery, games. Open 7 days per week.
Beau Nash Books (01892 547005) TUNBRIDGE WELLS. Similar stock to Pantiles Bookshop, same owner.
(w) Past Sentence (01795 590000) FAVERSHAM. Mainly second-hand, non-fiction plus plenty of fiction – well regarded sci-fi and fantasy list. Also stock first editions and have a bookbinding service.
(w) Periwinkle Press (01227 732522) CANTERBURY. Antiquarian books, antique prints and maps, also picture-framing service. A browser’s paradise, with books for all the family. Established 40 years.
(w) Portman Rare Books (01732 363235) TONBRIDGE. Buy and sell antiquarian, second-hand and out-of-print books. Subject range too vast to list, search service, valuations, and internet sales.
(w) Wadard Books 01322 863151 FARNINGHAM. Antiquarian and second hand, huge range of subjects (military history, science, local history, topography etc). A&C Black Colour books, notably the ‘Twenty Shilling’ series. Shop is run in tandem with a thriving online business.
City Books (01634 815565) ROCHESTER. Variety of popular and specialist books.
(w) Sevenoaks Bookshop ((01732 452055) SEVENOAKS. Co-owner, Valerie Glencross, recently celebrated their 10th anniversary of trading, although the shop was established in 1947. The bookshop is the centre of operations for the prestigious annual Literary Festival and was described by the Guardian as the ‘Best bookshop in the country’. New books only, but will always order second-hand and out-of-print titles.
(w) Halls Bookshop (01892 527842) TUNBRIDGE WELLS. A truly splendid shop, established in 1898, with two floors and a wide range of antiquarian and second-hand books. Relax and browse, with prices ranging from 10 pence to hundreds of pounds: art, children’s, classics, history, military, poetry, topography, travel et al.
(w) The Sandwich Bookshop (01304 620404) SANDWICH. With the premises restored exactly as it was in Victorian days, there’s a wonderful relaxed atmosphere for browsing, and many author events organised. New books, search service for second-hand/out-of-print titles, greeting cards, toys and games.
(w) Mr Books (01732 363000) TONBRIDGE. Brand new to very old books, over 15,000 in stock, constantly being replenished. Comprehensive search service via variety of trade contacts, friendly owner Mark Richardson organises the West Kent book fair, hosts famous author book signings, and is involved with the Tonbridge Arts Festival. Sells collectable books worldwide, increasingly to China, Russia and India.
C P Books (01732 300814) EDENBRIDGE. Owner Colleen Perry describes herself as a ‘Miss Marple book sleuth’, because of her passion for tracking down rare and out-of-print books. Mainly general interest books, plus a variety of local-interest publications.
(w) Marrin’s Bookshop (01303 253016) FOLKESTONE. Antiquarian books, maps and prints. Established more than 50 years, large general stock, specialists in Kent books, maps and ephemera and fine bindings, in fine Victorian premises.
Albion Bookshop (01843 862876) BROADSTAIRS. General second-hand, specialities literature and literary criticism.
Broadstairs Bookshop (01843 860824) BROADSTAIRS. General.
Crane Books (01580 713567) CRANBROOK. Predominantly new books.
Deal Bookshop (01304 366084) DEAL. General.
The Bookmark (01634 365987) RAINHAM. Vast stock, reasonable prices.
Books (01304 368662) DEAL Second hand, antiquarian, specialities arts and architecture,
City Books (07531 397407) ROCHESTER. Variety of specialist and popular books.