Grace Communion International

…and another thing  by John Stettaford

I took the opportunity to visit one of the bookshops I have haunted down the years. This one is the TLC Bookshop, located at The London College of Theology at nearby Northwood, run by a husband and wife combination. I made some purchases and then the wife told me that they were closing at the end of January. They had reached beyond retirement age but had found no one who was willing to take over their shop, so it was closing.

At the same time she told me that later in January the CLC theological bookshop, now located near St Paul’s cathedral in London (it used to be on High Holborn), will also close.

Again, at both those London locations, a happy haunt for me down the years during my lunch-time break.

Solomon said of the making of books there is no end. But theological books in particular have only a limited market and rarely make any money. Because of their short runs, they have become expensive to produce and sell. I’m afraid we have to chalk up another win for Amazon and Abe on-line booksellers. For years now it has been cheaper to buy a book in the States and have it shipped over to England. Ridiculous but a fact.

From the 1800s to the turn of the 1950s, Britain was leader in producing and printing theological books. Think of the Samuel Bagster family, producers of Bibles and other books without number. But all that changed after that date and today it is the USA which largely supplies theological books.

I used to frequent two libraries, one in the Bishopsgate Institute, near to where I worked in London, and the other my local library reference section. But that all ended years ago when the Institute sold off all its books that were older than 50 years. None of their modern books was of any interest to me. I still mourn their loss. And much the same thing happened in my local library. They had one of the Bagster masterpieces, the Hexapla. Fortunately I was able to buy my own copy some years later. It contains perhaps the best exposition concerning how the Bible in English survived down the centuries. For material about early Bibilical history, it remains unrivalled.

And then, again in my early years of collecting, the Huntingdon Library at St Albans cathedral, held many books of interest. Interestingly, their stock of books has remained largely untouched while mine increased to those I hold today. They now have no books which I do not have or in which I have any interest.

Pendlebury’s still remains, the largest theological bookshop in the UK, at Stamford Hill. With over 26,000 volumes to search within, the place is a little daunting.

For me the main attraction in visiting a bookshop is serendipity—finding a book you’d never heard of, or locating by chance a lost masterpiece, legendary among aficionados but unloved by shop keepers who have long despaired of selling the offending book. But that pleasure of rummaging among the stacks is largely history now. Books are sold on line and only books that sell are listed.

My annual trips to Hay-on-Wye also fell into that category—of rummaging through the stacks. But today all of the bookshops have been tidied and clutter discarded. And many of the books that I was searching for probably were discarded too. Still, the books I have I probably will never get around to reading them all before I peg out!

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