Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Bookshops of Bath - A Dedication Part One

Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights
14-15 John Street  Bath

For three brilliant years I lived among grandiose history and a heritage that I felt was important to preserve.

The city of Bath lies in its own Basin, surrounded by green hills and trees like a fortification. On approach to the city you only just appreciate the sprawling architecture, the buildings of yellow stone that permeates the encroaching green. Church spires stand out from the rest and it’s easy to pick out the landmarks of the city – the Abbey, Pulteney Bridge.

But it is on the streets with those buildings towering over you that you feel an overwhelming sense of history. The uniform yellow of the buildings is not oppressive, but merely a statement of the city’s endurance: even the modern buildings somehow blend in, especially the luckier ones whose features mimic Georgian architecture. Walking through the centre of Bath is like stepping into a Jane Austen novel, and the people there are caught in the comfortable bustle of a small city, some unaware of the provenance towering above them. If they only looked up they would see the shadows of the past, an echo of what it once was. Pasted on old buildings containing new establishments are advertisements: Jamie Oliver’s is a Circulating Library and reading room, and if you look at a building on Pulteney Bridge you will see a painting of a view inside the building, and a Georgian gentleman perusing shelves of books. 

It is not hard to imagine, when wondering past buildings like this, the Georgians and Victorians at work within, especially in the museums, preserving the very essence of history. And it is this essence that I feel is captured in Bath’s brilliant bookshops. 

Any student of Bath Spa University will probably hear the name of a shop in Bath, located behind Waterstones. The university has deals with the shop that means a while pack of course books can be bought at a discount price. The name itself is intriguing. For one, it doesn’t sound like a bookshop at all.

Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights sounds like a magic shop, straight out of a Dickens’s novel. It sounds like a place that can transport it’s patrons to an entirely different world, a place of grandeur and comfort.


As soon as the shop display comes into view a visitor will know it’s special. A number of extremely interesting looking books sit on shelves in the window, a display that changes regularly – enticing people through the white doors. Is that a bath tub full of books?

A little entrance way with a mat to wipe feet upon and a bucket waiting for umbrellas greets shoppers, and on my first visit, I fell in love. The initial room with service till is crowded with books on every surface, beautifully presented and intriguing. This is just a hint of what is to come. Contained on these shelves is literature. Hanging underneath are flag-like pieces of paper with curling script giving the customers hand-written book recommendations from Mr B’s dedicated staff. The whole place is airy and light with ivory bookcases. A hint of royal purple runs throughout the whole place.


The children’s room is a delight: here is a bath tub full of picture books, and on a pin-board drawings by grateful children 
 are hung, praising the adventures
Mr B has taken them on. It is so full of colours and interesting things to enrapture every eye.

Up the narrow and curvaceous staircase eyes are drawn to the wallpaper. From the bottom of the stairs it is easy to assume it is blue and patterned, but on closer inspection a familiar, round faced character with yellow quiff speaks in bubbles, another speech bubble below that as a bearded sea-man replies, accompanied in almost every frame a rectangular white dog. Yes – these are pages of Tin Tin, used as wallpaper. It is intriguing and quaint, and a reader of the walls is at risk of blocking the stairs.


The room immediately from the stairs contains arts and crafts – gorgeous coffee table books, huge and majestic. Step through into the next room with shelves bearing Literary Criticism, Travel and Foreign Languages, and a great fireplace with cosy armchairs. 

Mr B’s offers a unique service, by sitting a reader into a chair and heaping piles of books beside them, talking about books for hours and hours. In the corner sits a booth for private book readings – a book therapy. At Bath Spa University the English Dissertation with the highest mark won a ‘Book Spa’ session and Mr B’s, right among brilliant expertise and a passion for books. 

Down the staircase again, through children’s and literature, and down a narrow and short corridor with shelves dedicated to the classics, opposed by stationary, another staircase lies. You are greeted by another comfy armchair as you descend, and here history books mutter and argue with religion: here biographies shout out their secrets.


A visit to the small toilet at Mr B’s is just as worthy of a visit as the shop is. The walls are pasted with newspaper articles about books and bookshops – this is Mr B’s media scrap book – many of the articles praise the ingenuity of the shop, which I will mention at this point has won various ‘Independent Shop of the Year’ awards. It is a shop well-stocked and beautifully presented: almost every book is beautiful, and there is no uniformity to the shelves: every book is different.

It is intended for a customer to spend hours in this shop. Jars of water with glasses offer refreshment on every floor, and the paraphernalia on the walls themselves offer an excuse to lurk on staircases and in corridors. There is something about the smell, the very aura of the place that oozes passion, dedication and a deep knowledge that would be worthwhile tapping into.

Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights is full of character: full of the voices on the shelves, singing out its praises, for the books are looked after well. It is a shop of Bath that mimics the feeling of shops back in the Georgian times, the kind of shop where people spent hours socialising and learning. It’s a place where hours could be spent in contentment, hours that will slide by as you are lost in comfort, in a place that loves customers as much as it loves its books. Mr B’s is a place that makes you want to read.


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