Durham. I visited last Tuesday, April 21st: a beautiful spring day, a walk down by the river, lunch in the Cathedral Café. Magnificent. If you’ve never been to Durham, you really should take some time out to pay a visit. Click the thumbnails for bigger pictures.
I wandered on to the bookshop: the bookshop about which the Dean of Durham, the Most Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, has himself personally emphasised:
this “business within the Cathedral” is NOT managed, is NOT controlled and is NOT run by the Cathedral itself.
So who is running it? The sign at the entrance seems perfectly clear: “The Cathedral Shop”. There was scaffolding up when I arrived: were they about to change the sign to something less misleading? Unfortunately not: it was something higher up.
I walked in to be met by another couple of signs: “Cathedral Shop gifts and books” and “Durham Cathedral: This SPCK book and gift shop was opened on Monday 22 December 1997 by — ” I forget who: some historic personage; and perhaps that’s the point: the sign is part of the shop’s history, and Durham Cathedral is big on history.
But it looked for all the world to me like a sign declaring the shop’s ownership. I wondered if, as had once been planned, Jarrolds had taken over the shop, would it have been left in situ, boldly proclaiming for the avoidance of doubt that this is an SPCK bookshop? Somehow, I doubt it.
I wandered further in. You’ll notice a lot of wandering — and wondering — in this post. A friendly young lady greeted me with a smile at the till. I smiled back and nodded. I met several members of staff: they were unfailingly friendly and polite, which, given their plight — working for a minimum wage, employed via
an agency a third party organisation by two obnoxious rogues (yes, Messrs Brewer: that’s you I’m referring to) who treat their staff with complete contempt and their customers like cattle to be milked in some sort of cowboy’s power games — was quite astonishing.
I knew that stock was likely to be fairly thin on the ground in the shop, having seen asingleblog’s photos. I’m not sure that I was really prepared for how thin the stock was. The staff had done an admirable job of spreading it out, most books face out on the shelves and most shelves facing customers entering the shop almost convincingly full. But like the signs at the main entrance and the SPCK labels on the goods and by the till, this was a facade: once inside the Great Kitchen and looking back towards the entrance, the huge gaps were glaringly obvious.
The situation beggars belief. The terms of the original lease with SPCK, excerpted below, were very specific: a wide range of stock to be maintained in all areas. These terms have been comprehensively breached. Yet the Dean and Chapter allow the Brewers to continue trading; worse yet, they allow them to continue trading under the guise of an SPCK bookshop, bringing both SPCK and the Cathedral into disrepute.
Visitors have absolutely no way of knowing that the shop is no longer operated by SPCK: on the contrary, they are misled by out of date signage and SPCK labels still in use around the shop.
Given that in November last year the Dean was adamant in his denial of any responsibility for the shop, why does he allow this?
I need to state once again that the Cathedral Chaper [sic] does not manage the shop in its Great Kichen [sic]. This is run as a franchise subject to strict business law, as it was in the days of SPCK. Not all petitioners appear to be clear that a franchise is a formal, legal arrangement to which the parties to it are bound.
Strict business law that one side, it seems, is allowed to ignore with impunity; a formal, legal arrangement to which only one party appears to consider itself bound and which the other treats with utter contempt.
I finished my visit by calling in at the Chapter Office in the hope of introducing myself to the Dean and asking him a few questions. Unfortunately he wasn’t there. I left my card with the receptionist and wandered away, saddened, bemused and more than a little angry. There is a grim darkness — a Texan darkness — at the heart of Durham Cathedral, and the sooner it is excised, the better.
An Excerpt from the SPCK-Durham Cathedral Lease
SPCK hereby promise to stock…
(a) A wide range of books of interest to visitors to Durham and the Cathedral
(b) A wide range of cards, stationery, souvenirs and gift items likely to be purchased by visitors to Durham and the Cathedral. … so that both parties are satisfied that standards appropriate to the shop are maintained…
(c) A wide and diverse range of religious books, including children’s books.
(d) Adequate stockholding for parochial needs in the diocese.
(e) A wide range of theological texts appropriate to the needs of students and more specifically those theological texts required by the syllabus of Durham University and the Theological Colleges.