Friday, 8 June 2018

Farewell to Penn

Last Saturday saw us making our last family trip to a secondhand bookshop that has been part of our lives for many years. The Cottage Bookshop in the little village of Penn has been attracting book lovers from far and wide for over 60 years but is now closing. 

When I first went there over thirty years ago the shop was still being run by the original owner, Fred. Books were piled everywhere, it was freezing cold and you could buy Puffin First Editions for 10p. I now have hundreds of Puffin Firsts and they've been joined on the shelves by lots of other collections, many of them started by a chance find at Penn.

My children have been going to Penn all their lives - oh the joy when you used to be able to spend book tokens there. They would save their birthday tokens for our next visit and come away with a pile of books. My son spent many hours in this little room ...

As a teenager he read almost only Fantasy books. Now he's more likely to be found searching for old Everyman's Classics to add to his collection. My daughter bought many books of animal stories at Penn and, of course, I always gravitated to the Crafts section. 

Our tastes in books may have changed and developed over the years but we all love children's books and are constantly buying new ones. Last year saw The Great Picture Book Divide when we shared out our huge collection of picture books. It was surprisingly easy to do and led to us re-discovering so many old favourites. Of course, since then, we've each been looking for replacements for books that weren't in our share. Here are the picture books at Penn ...

... well, some of them anyway. Then there are more children's books upstairs ...

... another section of children's paperback fiction ...

... and, a particular favourite of us all, children's books from the past.

Last Saturday my daughter found an interesting book here, illustrated by one of the sisters of Joyce Lankester Brisley, the author and illustrator of the Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories.

So, I expect you're wondering what we bought on our last visit to such a wonderful shop? Here they are, 154 books all together (it helped that all the stock was half price).

And here's my share of that total - a mere 45 books.

Looking at this picture I seem to have got a bit of everything, which is rather nice. I thought you might like to see a few of my favourites so let's start with some children's books.

Two more Puffin Firsts to add to my collection; I absolutely love anything by Walter de la Mare so that one was an easy choice. Mary Norton is perhaps best known for her series of books about The Borrowers (wonderful books) but 'Bedknob and Broomstick' gained new readers when it was turned into a popular Disney film in 1971. It was Disney who turned both words into plurals; recent editions of the book are now called 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks' too. 

I bought 'The Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse' mainly for its beautiful yellow cover, designed by Stephen Ross. By the way, 'contemporary' in this case refers to poetry published between 1918 and 1960. Mind you, this selection was made in 1962 so that's fair enough.

How about a few picture books next?

I love the Teddy Bear series of books which are getting hard to find now. In each book the teddy bear of the title does a different job and the gentle text and illustrations take the reader through his day. At no point do any of the other (human) characters notice that they're dealing with a teddy bear. At the end of this book, after looking after the stock, going to market and all sorts of other grown-up activities (yes, that's him driving a tractor on the cover), Teddy Bear Farmer goes to bed ... and looks at pictures in a book. Isn't that lovely? 

This next book was published in 1968 and written by Jane Thayer, an American author I hadn't come across before.

'The Cat That Joined the Club' is about a cat called Casey whose nose for fine food leads him into adventure. The illustrations are by Seymour Fleishman, a prolific children's book artist in the second half of the twentieth century. 

This little book is a small hardback, not much over six inches square.

'The Little Green Book' by the artist Cherry Denham has a strong environmental message as it follows the life cycle of the tree. Each page is beautifully illustrated and the artwork is complemented by quotations from poets ranging from Andrew Marvell to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

To mark our last visit to Penn I bought my son and daughter a special book each which I wrote in and they bought me one. This is the one I chose for myself.

'Lavender's Blue', a Nursery Rhyme collection, compiled by Kathleen Lines and illustrated by Harold Jones. It's a beautiful book.

I see that you can buy a paperback edition of this book from the Oxford University Press where I learn that it has been in print for over 60 years.

Time for a some more poetry I think.

A late and very long poem on the nature of time by Walter de la Mare (told you I liked him), a collection chosen by Malcolm Saville, author of the Lone Pine series and a tiny hardback from the 1040s called 'Rhymes for Young Nature Lovers'. 

It may not be great literature but I'm a sucker for a book with pretty pictures.

This one was bought to replace the copy that my son got in the Great Picture Book Divide.

'Ragged Robin' is an alphabet of poems by the great James Reeves, published in 1961. The illustrations are by Jane Paton. I was so pleased to find exactly the same edition as our original copy.

I bought this collection of three books purely for sentimental reasons.

My Mum read this series of books and I remember seeing just these editions on the shelves as a child. Lillian Beckwith based this entertaining series of books on her time living on a croft in the Scottish Hebrides and she certainly tells a good tale. There are more than these three titles in the series but, be warned, her later book 'The Small Party' is a thinly disguised tirade against Trades Unions - not such a good read.

By now you might be wondering where the craft books are. I've bought many treasured knitting and sewing books at Penn over the years but this time I got just one new craft book and that's really a children's book too.

First published in 1956, this book is described as having 'over fifty easy things to do for boys and girls'. The wallpaper beads are right up to date but I'm not too sure about wire animals covered with papier-mâché - they look like a lot of work to me.

A few more pretty books and that'll be enough children's books for today.

I seem to be building up quite a collection of what I can only call old, pretty children's books. I like the bright covers and simple illustrations; here's a spread from that doll book on top of the pile.

Or how about this from 'My Who's Who of Pets and Animal Friends', published in the 1950s.

See the heron on the right hand page? We saw one of those just after leaving the shop but more about that later. I've left my most exciting finds till last (or nearly last). Do you remember the Fred Wild book I showed you that I bought a few weeks ago? Well, I found his other two books at Penn.

You can imagine how excited I was when I spotted these on the shelves. They're just as good as the seaside book, full of details of life in the 1920s and 30s. I particularly like this picture in 'The clatter of clogs in the early morning' of the Sale of Work - well, I would, wouldn't I?

I love the combination of art and social history in this sort of book. Another series of books like this are those by Helen Bradley She began to paint pictures of her Edwardian childhood at the age of 65 to show her grandchildren what life was like when she was a child. Her first book 'And Miss Carter Wore Pink' was published in 1971 and became a great success. Here's one I bought earlier (probably at Penn) ...

The book is full of the daily life in a Northern village at the start of the twentieth century, shopping, outings and visits to friends. The author's three maiden aunts, Mary, Frances and Charlotte appear often, as does their friend Miss Carter (who wore pink). I think this picture of a visit to the cemetery is particularly touching. Death would have been close to many families then.

Here's part of the text that goes with this picture:
Everyone brought spring flowers to the cemetery and George and I looked at our favourite angel whilst Mother and the Aunts made Grandfather's grave look gay with flowers. Miss Carter (who wore Pink) had a large grave to keep nice, for both her parents and brother were dead.
Anyway, as you've probably guessed, I found two more Helen Bradley books at Penn last week. 'Miss Carter Came With Us' tells the story of 1908, including the suffragette meeting (where Miss Carter faints) and a trip to the seaside.

Throughout the books it is apparent that Miss Carter is rather taken with Mr Taylor the Bank Manager but, on this occasion, he pays more attention to Mrs Maitland's daughter Emily.
It was growing dusk and the tide was coming in, and Mother, the Aunts and Miss Carter thought it very kind of Mr Taylor to come to escort us home. Emily Maitland was just behind him, and as he turned, he took her hand, and Aunt Frances told Mother afterwards that she was sure he had said "My Dear", but whatever it was that he said, Emily went Bright Pink. Miss Carter looked hurt, and never spoke a word all the way home.
Poor Miss Carter.

The third Helen Bradley book, ''In the beginning' said Great-Aunt Jane', is slightly surreal. It's based on the stories Helen Bradley's aunt told her about God when she was a small child, including the one about him living in a shed on the moors and making it rain by turning his tap on and off. The pictures are a mixture of real life and the child's Helen's dreams. This one of Jonah's whale appearing in the park is typical.

This a just a small selection of the books I bought on our last visit to Penn. We spent all morning in the shop, emerging in search of lunch, weighed down with all our books. Penn has a lovely village pond and, as he often is, the heron was on duty.

You can't see him in this picture but, when we were there, he was lurking behind that little island. There are always ducks on the pond and last week there were lots of ducklings too. On one visit to Penn years ago we watched the ducks stage a traffic protest. They solemnly marched across the road, stopping all the traffic, then flew back to the pond and lined up to cross the road again. It was very entertaining to watch; they must have done it three or four times in a row.

I hope you've enjoyed yet another book themed post. If anyone can recommend other good secondhand bookshops in England, the Brown family now has a Penn sized hole to fill.


  1. Dear Frankie, thank you for this beautiful post....I love reading all your posts. x

  2. Thank-you for leaving such a nice comment. I sometimes feel like I'm talking to myself.

  3. Thank you for sharing I enjoyed the post very much.....other people’s books tastes are always interesting

    1. I'm glad you liked it. I could talk about books for ever (as you might have noticed!)