Book Trade History; ‘Celebrating 200 years of Christian Bookselling’ – Part 1
It would appear that the very first UK Christian Bookshop opened in Derby in 1810 – exactly 200 years ago! The Derby and Derbyshire Auxiliary of the Religious Tract Society opened this shop in the Cock Pit area of Derby. It then moved to The Strand around 1900 (where it was renamed The Bible and Book Shop) and on to Irongate before finishing up in its present location in Queens Street. Subsequent owners have included; Scripture Union, Wesley Owen and now it is owned and operated by Koorong of Australia.
The next Christian bookshop was opened in Bristol in 1813 by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. SPCK as a society had been established much earlier in 1698 by Dr Thomas Bray, a clergyman. SPCK went on to open their second shop in London in 1836.
Quite a number of now well known Christian bookshops opened during the mid to late 19th century including, in 1852, George Muller’s ECL Bookshop in Park Street, Bristol. The Wesleyan Reform Union (1849) and the Faith Mission (1889) also started their bookshops during this period as did the Protestant Truth Society (London) and the Catholic Truth Society (Manchester), also in 1889.
Pickering and Inglis opened their Glasgow shop (1893), the first of a number of shops around the country. Nicholas Gray of RL Allan & Son Publishers (Chapter House Ltd), based in Glasgow, emailed me recently with more details of the P&I background;
‘The story of P & I is told in a book on the History of the Scottish Brethren by Neil Dixon. P & I started as a Brethren publisher and bookseller in the mid 1890s by preacher Henry (HYP) Pickering and his friend William Inglis who died in 1906, when John Gray (my grandfather) became HYP’s partner and Managing Director. The firm expanded by printing in Glasgow and later Cardiff and opening shops in Glasgow, London, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Dublin, Bournemouth (Keith Jones is ex-P&I), Manchester and maybe some others. They were a chain before such were known but tended to operate independently. That was their inherent weakness.
By the 1930s they, along with Marshall Morgan & Scott, were the two leading UK independent publishing businesses, both with strong links to Keswick and their speakers. The bookshops were a good outlet for P & I books and their printing output gave them an advantage over MM&S.
When the new centrally-run, charity-based SU and CLC shops came along, P & I found it difficult to compete and the shops closed one by one. The last to close were Manchester in 1966 and London in 1985. However the large Glasgow shop continued flourish and survived a company merger with competitors MM&S in 1981.
My wife and I bought and refitted the P&I Glasgow shop in 1985 and opened a coffee shop which became a hit immediately. The shop was regularly voted ‘Christian Bookshop of the Year’ and in 1995 appeared in upmarket Harpers & Queen magazine’s A-list of UK bookshops. It had an award-winning Chapter House coffee shop long before Borders latched onto the idea.
The Glasgow shop was bought by STL in 1999 and became Wesley Owen’s flagship store for ten years before being bought by Koorong in 2009.
P&I characters include George Gray (no relation) who managed the London shop in Ludgate Hill during the 1950s & 60s. He gave the unpublished manuscript of ‘How Great Thou Art’ to George Beverly Shea, now regarded as the most popular modern hymn’.
Parts 2 – 4 will follow shortly.
This brief history of the ‘Christian book trade in the UK’ is extracted from a lecture given to the Librarians’ Christian Fellowship (LCF) Annual Conference in London on Saturday 24 April 2010. For further information see www.librarianscf.org.uk.