Foxed Bookshop of the Quarter: Bailey Hill Bookshop

Bookshop of the Quarter: Autumn 2019

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Bailey Hill Bookshop

Bailey Hill is the well-loved independent bookshop in Castle Cary, a town that lies between the Somerset Levels, Mendip Hills and the Blackmore Vale. This haven for booklovers encourages browsing and buying with a wide range of contemporary fiction and non-fiction and children’s books for all ages, as well as local and natural history, walking guides, topography and maps, as befits its beautiful location.

The bookshop caters for every bibliographical demand; if they don’t have the required book in stock at the time, they’ll endeavour to order it for next day delivery. And, happily, well-behaved dogs are welcome in the shop too.

It was a pleasure to speak to owner Claire Brooker and bookshop manager Alex Ballinger about life among books at Bailey Hill.

Please tell us about your bookshop. What makes it special?

For over forty years we have been situated at the centre of the bustling historic Somerset market town of Castle Cary. We have wonderful loyal customers and visitors who are drawn to our carefully curated selection of books. Upstairs, the light-filled atrium is a delightful space in which we house our broad range of second-hand books and where readers can sit and contemplate.

We are geographically and emotionally at the heart of the community, selling tickets for local events and displaying brochures and literature for attractions and activities.

What inspired you to become a bookshop owner, Claire?

My introduction to the bookshop came after I had filled my diesel car with petrol – for the second time in as many months – and I walked into Bailey Hill Bookshop to ask the then owner for a job to help pay the garage bill. Lynn gave me a job on the spot and I spent ten happy years working alongside her, becoming hooked on the life of a bookseller.

When Lynn sadly died of cancer, she bequeathed her share of the bookshop to me and while the income from an independent bookshop does not cover many large garage bills, it is a role that I enjoy immensely. As an avid reader, I always thought being a bookshop owner would be stimulating and rewarding – and so it has proved.

What are your all-time favourite reads and why?

On the classics shelf we have Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner; in more contemporary fiction we recommend Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese and Fup by Jim Dodge; a favourite biography is The Africa House by Christina Lamb; and finally, straddling both nature- and travel-writing, Findings by Kathleen Jamie. All great stories, and well written.

Who would be your dream bookshop party guests?

Kate Bush, Davids Bowie and Attenborough, and author and Slightly Foxed contributor Simon Barnes would all be very welcome.

What is your favourite bookshop anecdote?

We have so many special customers who in addition to buying books will do the most thoughtful things, from bringing in bunches of flowers to providing take-away coffees, edible gifts from their holidays or treats at Christmas time. If there is only one of us in the shop, a customer will often oversee things to allow us to take a short comfort break.

A constant happening in the life of the bookshop is what we call Book Magic, when we take a book from the shelf which we have not touched for weeks, only for someone to walk in minutes later and ask for the self-same title.

Conversely, we also chuckle over the game of Guess the Title – something all booksellers will identify with – in which a customer will give you a colour or one word from the title from which to identify the exact book they are hoping to purchase. The best enquiry from a customer has to be ‘Can you suggest a book for someone who does not like reading?’ Any thoughts?

But to illustrate the soothing atmosphere of our second-hand section I recall we once managed to lock an elderly customer in the shop whom we failed to notice had fallen asleep in the sun-filled atrium. The alarm was only raised by passers-by when he woke up in a deserted shop and had to bang on the front door to be released.

What are your top picks for autumn 2019?

On our reading lists as the nights become longer:

Surfacing, Kathleen Jamie
The Making of Poetry, Adam Nicholson
Second Sleep, Robert Harris
Islamic Empires, Justin Marozzi

We’re also hoping for a reissue of Daphne du Maurier’s Rule Britannia. And, in these uncertain times, how about The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency by John Seymour? Last but not least, to try and eke out any last days of summer, The Great Romantic: Cricket and the Golden Age of Neville Cardus by Duncan Hamilton. We bet it will win the Cricket Society Book of the Year.

Bailey Hill Bookshop
Fore Street
Castle Cary
BA7 7BG

Tel: 01963 350917

Bailey Hill Bookshop
Twitter @bailhill
Instagram @baileyhillbookshop


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