Biblio-Text: Kirkdale Bookshop and Gallery

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 108 months ago
Biblio-Text: Kirkdale Bookshop and Gallery
Outside the Kirkdale Bookshop and Gallery
Outside the Kirkdale Bookshop and Gallery
Littlest Londonists can sit on the zebra chair and browse
Littlest Londonists can sit on the zebra chair and browse
Second hand books downstairs...
Second hand books downstairs...
Shiny new books, gifts and Moleskines
Shiny new books, gifts and Moleskines
Utterly gorgeous second hand books
Utterly gorgeous second hand books
Gift corner
Gift corner
Tiny volumes of Shakespeare and Tennyson
Tiny volumes of Shakespeare and Tennyson
Kirkdale's very own book!
Kirkdale's very own book!
... in the labyrinthine basement
... in the labyrinthine basement
Edwardian ladies should be sipping tea in this gallery, right?
Edwardian ladies should be sipping tea in this gallery, right?

Continuing our amble round London's independent bookshops

The Kirkdale Bookshop is not just a bookshop. Oh no. It's the cultural heart of Sydenham and the local area, with a gallery, soothing refreshment area, arts festival and events coming out of its ears. And some books thrown in for good measure.

Opened in 1966, it's gradually expanded over the years to include an art gallery in a Victoriana-vibe conservatory with seating and tea and coffee (make it yourself, but don't forget to leave a contribution) and a hideaway basement packed full of second hand books. Their events are a bit more special than your usual author reading-and-signing. Plays have been performed in the shop, they throw regular birthday parties and once even built a beach on the pavement outside.

They hold regular Storytime readings for children, book groups and writers' groups. The output of the writers' groups can be read in 42: Life, the Universe and Everything, an anthology published to mark the shop's 42nd birthday last year.

If that weren't enough, the Kirkdale Bookshop is also the force behind the Sydenham Arts Festival. Running between July 3-12, it will see performances of drama, dance, comedy, jazz and poetry, film screenings, art exhibitions and, of course, book events.

Owner Geraldine Cox paused from her whirlwind life to talk to us about Kirkdale, books, and everything...

What kinds of books do you sell and why?

In this climate it's not easy to buy lots of unusual new stock but as we sell second hand books as well it means customers can always find something unexpected.

Why did you become a bookseller?

When the opportunity came to open a bookshop with my father 42 years ago, it seemed a good idea. I'm still here...

What's the weirdest or most serendipitous thing to happen in your shop?

Not particularly serendipitous for us, but to the burglar who hid in our basement when we closed, it was. He drank our coffee, read our books and hours later stole £600 worth of book tokens and smashed the front door to break out! (We now have an alarm!)

What are you reading right now?

Just finished Netherland. I'm not interested in cricket in New York, but I couldn't put it down. Beautifully written. Just started Carter Beats the Devil - so many customers have enthused about it.

What's your hot tip for our next read?

A Case of Exploding Mangoes by [local author] Mohammed Hanif (paperback out in June)

Which up-and-coming authors should we watch out for?

From our children's buyer: “For young adults and sci/fi / Buffy fans, Sarwat Chadda.”

What's your favourite book about London?

Peter Ackroyd's London. For Get London Reading 2006 staff and customers did 15 minute shifts reading the whole of this book over a 24 hour period. They didn't have any idea whether they'd get a bit on drains, flowers or prostitutes. The memory of bleary eyed customers trotting down to the shop in the middle of the night to do their bit will never leave me. And coffee and croissants for breakfast!

If you were a book, which would you be?

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I didn't want it to end.

Independent bookshops: the future?

With thousands of second hand bookshops closing and taking their business online, I worry about young people growing up who may never experience the thrill of browsing through old books - finding that book they didn't even know they wanted. They won't even know what they're missing.

As for new books... I have to believe there will always be people who will value the experience of browsing, chatting and buying in an independent bookshop, otherwise... well, it doesn't bear thinking about!

Kirkdale Bookshop and Gallery, 272 Kirkdale, Sydenham. Images author's own. Know a good bookshop? Let us know on tips(@)londonist.com.

Last Updated 17 February 2009