Monday, 17 June 2013

The Bookshops of Bath - A Dedication Part 4

George Bayntun

George Bayntun
Manvers Street, Bath

I have perhaps left the greatest bookshop in Bath – in my opinion – till last. I should mention here that I purposely avoided Good Buy Books in my dedication because I rarely went in there. But, here is a small dedication now, recognising it as one of the many bookshops in Bath, which is worth a dedication itself: Good Buy Books is good for your cheap, new books: the kind of books found in supermarkets, The Works and bookshops like Parkside Books. With less emphasis on trains.

This dedication will come in two parts, as the bookshop I will talk about is also an impressive and historical bindery, of which I had the privilege to visit last year.

George Bayntun lies not far from Bath Spa train station, opposite the eastern entrance to Debenhams. It is housed in a building that is fronted by Gothic arches: along this road it is probably to most impressive building. Like the majority of Bath, a lot of George Bayntun lies underground, and from the pavement a passer-by is able to see windows below their feet and within, stacks and stacks of books. Climb steps and ring a bell: be buzzed in: welcome to George Bayntun.

A step back in time.

Sitting in museum stillness on dark wooden floors, books mutter and live. They are the books that live in glass cases that are as old as themselves. They certainly know their worth: they shine in the sunlight through the windows, the gilt on their leather proudly polished.

Here can be found the most ordinary book in an extraordinary guise. Alice in Wonderland sits proudly on her own shelf, beautiful green leather making her figure of gold stand out. Beside her, like a personal body guard, the price: £3000.

But it was not always so. It is likely that she once was dishevelled, her shine dull and her words faded. This is a book of restoration: she has had quite a spectacular makeover.

Her companions are just as grand, even the smaller, rougher volumes, presented as they are in their abundance. Some have managed to keep their complexion for a hundred years without needing an Alice-degree makeover.

Dark wooden counters support piles of complimentary literature, shining brochures containing glamorous photographs of the inhabitants of the shelves. A guest book – in-house bound, of course – contains the dedications of the visitors of the books.

There are other things residing in the room, under and over counters: divine, bookish wrapping paper – several sheets of which are adorning my walls – stationary, book-related advertisements and a recent tenant: a small selection of bookbinding equipment: scraps of leather waiting to be re-homed and specialist glue.

Looking around the first floor
The books whisper from glass, glinting luxuriantly in the daylight.


Through a small green door you are introduced to fantastic curving steps, worn into shape by many feet. What is encountered at the bottom of those stairs is completely different to what lays above. Books stream on shelves from the doorway, books of all different shapes and sizes and all of them very definitely second hand and delightfully affordable, without losing touch with its worth in publication history.

The second-hand basement is a cavern of wonderful delights, holding books that are mainly over fifty years old and very special: various and intriguing. Real treasures can be found upon the shelves and several have made their way to the Isle of Wight.

General fiction in the second-hand basement
I owe three of my growing Andrew Lang collection to George Bayntun: The Blue Poetry Book (1891) The True Story Book (1893) and The Red True Story Book (1895). They are all first editions are beautiful enough (in my eyes – relatively simple bindings but still) to make a bibliophile swoon. Their smell reminds me of rainy days and old paper – delightful, to my nostrils. Including fantastic prints by H.J. Ford and Lancelot Speed, they are positively charming books, depicting on their covers a great war banner, a pirate saluting to a ship int he moonlight, and a man strumming a lyre to an audience of animals. My editions are scruffy, most likely from too many eager hands fingering them off the shelves. Their gilt fore-edges still shine, and their pages promise great escapes.

Literary criticism, music and jouranls
There are not only late Victorian books to savour – tucked underneath the staircase are more modern paperbacks, in the kind of quality you would expect to find in a charity shop. These may be first editions, I am not sure. Further within the basement Folio Society editions of books can be found, as well as more general fiction, and even a ‘£2 or less’ shelf which holds many obscure, commonly printed volumes.

The second-hand basement holds a great number of delights and covers nearly all subjects, though it does dedicate several stacks to children’s books from the 1900s with fantastically illustrated covers.

Perhaps the most fascinating shelves in the second-hand basement holds books most people would throw away: these are the most crumbly of books, missing covers and revealing binding secrets. These books have obviously been rejected from the bindery and are mostly over one hundred years old – sad, dilapidated books that want to be loved again, perhaps by a budding bookbinder or restorer looking for some practice. Alas, I never plucked up the courage to re-home one myself.

George Bayntun spans thee floors including the basement and the upper-most floor is like stepping into a museum – small rooms and offices crammed along a short corridor that leads to a room that wouldn’t look out of place in a 1930s building. It includes a vast green-leather topped desk, complete with ancient telephone and ledger, a sofa behind. This is truly the antiquary room and I can imagine quite easily bibliophiles discussing their purchases.

Of course the room does not lack glass-covered shelves, holding a selection of specialist antiquary books. I picked up from here Rob Shepherd’s Handmade Books, which I am currently making my way through for my binding projects.

George Bayntun provides books for everybody. Do not be put off by the bell you have to ring to gain entry. Rather realise that when the buzzer sounds, you step back in time: a time where books were respected and prolific. Bayntun caters for many tastes and is truly a dedication to old fashioned bookshops.

I miss visiting!

To be continued...

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