Tuesday 22 October 2013

There's no place like home

A weekend at my parents’ house was supposed to be an easy one to satisfy my bookshopping needs as it would be the perfect opportunity to re-visit the town and indie bookshop of my teenage years.

However, as it’s been more than 15 years since I visited Wellingborough in Northamptonshire I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that W D Wharton had closed down. And so I had to face up to the fact that I suddenly had just one day to find myself a bookshop to visit in my parents’ home county. I turned to the internet.

We’ve already established that this isn't necessarily the most helpful of places to go bookshop hunting, but eventually at about 4.55pm on a Friday - and not long after I had almost printed out directions to a bookshop in Northampton, Massachusetts - I found myself on the phone to a friendly woman from The Old Hall Bookshop in Brackley.

I had no idea where the small town was and so, to ensure I didn’t end up driving to America, I’d decided the safest option was to call and ask for directions. The woman seemed a little surprised when I admitted where I was driving from, but when I explained I was visiting family (saying nothing of my bookshop stalking tendencies) she soon gave me simple directions and reassured me about parking in the Market Place, right outside the shop’s front door.

And The Old Hall Bookshop really is easy to find from the A43, about a ten minute drive from the M40 (near Banbury), or half an hour from the M1 near Northampton, Brackley is clearly signposted and you’d be hard-pressed not to stumble into the (free) car park even if you tried. The bookshop then takes pride of place in a beautiful Georgian building, set back from the road behind an equally lovely garden, and on the day of my visit this was filled with a rather tempting plant sale.

The front door opens into the entry hall of what can only be described as a home for books, and I immediately new I was ruined as their entire recommended display called out to me. Telling myself at least I wouldn’t have to go hunting for something to buy (like that’s ever happened), I began my exploration.

Essentially, the ground floor of the house is filled with bookshop, each room furnished with bookcases and offering a different delight, all centred on the main hall where the till is nestled under the large staircase. From a room for children (which I thought of as the playroom), to a varied secondhand selection (in my head the workroom or maybe kitchen, pictured) and even what must have been a large cupboard converted to display some quite special older books, there was a room for every taste. My favourite was what felt like the living room, which was alive with colour and new books, and I soon found myself ‘lost’ behind a bookcase, engrossed in another must-read as one of the factual books leapt from the shelves and into my greedy hands.

In an attempt to stick to my one book per bookshop rule I found myself happily passing in and out of rooms and shelves, pausing to read and forcing myself to be harsh as I whittled down the pile of six I’d accumulated, eventually settling on American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld because it felt like the biggest departure from my recent reading choices. (And which also currently has me so engrossed that I'm running out of time to sleep.)

Slowly making my way to the till, I once again weaved between the shelves, enjoying the bright and welcoming atmosphere and appreciating the finer details, including the ABC of Scrabble mugs above the new fiction (if anyone wants to buy me a gift then I’d love an E please).

Saying hello as I paid, the conversation naturally turned to bookshops and Brackley as I needed somewhere to go for lunch (ask for directions to The Courtyard Café, the food there is delicious), and before I knew it my planned half-hour pitstop on the way to my parents had happily more than doubled in length.

Don't be mistaken, I'll always regret the loss of my teenage haunt, but everyone has to move out of their childhood home eventually, and I certainly felt at home here.

The Old Hall Bookshop
32 Market Place, Brackley, Northamptonshire, NN13 7DP
Tel: 01208 704146


  1. I love directions to a bookshop in Northampton, Massachusetts.

    1. I'm not sure I did! Although I do now feel I have to add it to my list of bookshops to visit, one day...

  2. Wow- that bookshop looks AMAZING.

    1. it really is, I wish I'd taken more photos (another good excuse for me to return)

    2. I'll definitely be going if I'm ever in the area!

    3. Great! I'd love to hear what you think of The Old Hall Bookshop when you do get there

  3. Great to hear you on Radio 4 this morning (#BookshopDay) and have now just spent ages browsing your blog. So many bookshops :-) And including the one I worked in every summer holiday for about 10 years (to say nothing of the odd half term, Easter break etc) - loved that shop, it is indeed a home for books. And pleased to hear it is still going strong.

    1. Hi Julia, thanks for your comment. I'm very envious to know you worked in such a lovely bookshop setting. This bookshop is often recommended to me on my travels (and came up in conversation off air at Radio 4).


Thank you for your comment. I've unfortunately recently been targeted by spammers, so I've had to put a limited amount of moderation on comments for the time being. If you're a human, your comment will be uploaded soon.

Best wishes,