Category Archives: Bookshop Ramblings

No Signs of Change in Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral: View from the riverPhil Groom writes:

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.

Durham Cathedral: Shop EntranceI 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.

Cathedral Shop gifts and booksI 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.

Durham Cathedral: This SPCK book and gift shop...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.

Durham Cathedral Shop: gift item with SPCK price labelI 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.

Durham Cathedral Shop: SPCK label by the tillI 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.

Durham Cathedral Shop: Local Interest Section

Durham Cathedral Shop: Local Interest Section

Lease Excerpt

Excerpt from the SPCK-Durham Cathedral Lease (see below)

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.

Durham Cathedral: Chapter OfficeI 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.


Naughty Thoughts about Durham Cathedral Bookshop

Matt Wardman muses:

Where is Very Rev Brandon Jackson when you need him? He’d sort out Mr Philip Brewer Esq in short order, probably borrowing the Bishop’s sword for the occasion:

The sword is presented to each new Bishop of Durham on entering the diocese of Durham for the first time at Croft Bridge.

It gets better. The tradition is this:

It is a great ceremonial tradition in which the a local dignitary declares: My lord bishop I hereby present you with the falchion wherewith the champion Conyers slew the worm, dragon or fiery flying serpent which destroyed man, woman and child in memory of which the king then reigning gave him the manor of Sockburn to hold by this tenure that upon the entrance of every bishop into the county the falchion sould be presented.

It is the one time since 1642 when we need a Civil War in a Cathedral, and he appears to have gone back to being a Vicar somewhere, or retired.

I say translate The Very Revd Brandon Jackson to the Benefice of Sockburn.

I write with happy memories of a baptismal service in Bradford Cathedral in about 1985 where the Very Rev Jackson delivered a lecture about how the “Holy” water was

“ordinary water, not special water, not different, not transformed, just H2O set aside for a special purpose”.

One other possibly relevant lesson that we should remember from Bradford Cathedral is that even if someone does sue a Cathedral, it is damned difficult to actually collect any money unless the Cathedral wants you to. That would give plenty of time for the legal authorities to catch up with our friends Mark and Phil.

Alternatively, we could wish that it was 1831 when the Bishops of Durham still had their own private army.

In the meantime we will have to remember that in the village of Romaldkirk not so far from Durham, there still exists a set of stocks on the village green. They even have four armholes, so we could do both Brewers at once.

Romaldkirk Stocks

Romaldkirk Stocks (Photo: BBC)

“Cowboy hat” shy with rotten tomatoes while drinking a pint in the local pub across the street, anyone?

Free Food, Free Drinks, Free Books…

and I guess I ought to mention free admission, courtesy of Speaking Volumes, sponsors and organisers of the UK Christian Book Awards. I’m referring to my day at CRE, the Christian Resources Exhibition: catching up with people, collecting catalogues, meeting publishers and authors… all in all, a day of serious networking and a lot of fun along the way. If you’re one of the many people whose paths I crossed on Wednesday and you don’t get a mention, please don’t take it as a slight: it was simply one of those days where it’s impossible to talk about everyone and everything. My thanks, however, to everyone who conspired to make it a very worthwhile visit.

I arrived just in time for the Award Presentations, being given by Adrian and Bridget Plass. Adrian and Bridget entertained us with a sketch about Anglicans and Free Churches attempting to work together and eventually discovering that the one thing they had in common was — UKCBA Winnersbut I’m not going to say because that would ruin it if ever you get to see them in action. Typically spot-on Plass humour that takes the lid off the  Church and its pretensions to leave you amused and squirming uncomfortably at the same time as you recognise some of your own follies…

And the winners, pictured here along with Paula Renouf (in the blue dress), who ably co-ordinated the whole event, and various others from the Speaking Volumes Board, are:

  • General: Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference (9780340909089, Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Biography: Richard Taylor, To Catch a Thief (9781903725573, New Wine Press)
  • Children’s/Youth: Jonathan Brant, YP’s Guide To Knowing God (9781853454073, CWR)

Congratulations to the winnersSharp-eyed readers may wonder about Philip Yancey’s gender reassignment; fear not: Philip himself couldn’t be with us, that’s a publisher’s representative accepting his award. Congratulations to all concerned, and commiserations to the runners up (not losers, please note: runners up).

Cliff's 50th Anniversary BadgeEveryone who attended was given a bag full of goodies including a selection of books, a stack of publishers’ catalogues, a couple of bookmarks (“Praise the Lord,” I hear you cry, “he’s got his bookmarks!”) and, since no Christian event can be considered complete without an appearance from the blessed St Cliff, a Cliff Richard Badge! Thank you, Lion-Hudson. I think…

Authentic Author Cafe

Next on the agenda was the Authentic Author Café, with sandwiches, fruit juice and coffee courtesy of Authentic Media and personally served by none other than STL’s Pete Barnsley. Thanks, Pete! Nick Battle told us something of his life story as recounted in Big Boys Don’t Cry (watch this space for a review), then interviewed fellow authors Chris Rogers (9781850787822, A Monkey’s Orientation), Peter Meadows (9781860245688, The Book of Y), David Cowan (9781932805727, Economic Parables: The Monetary Teachings of Jesus Christ) and Anona Coates (9781860247019, I Wish I Was).

Then came the real highlight of the day: a trip down Esher High Street to The Bear Pub to meet up with a group of SPCK’s dispossessed booksellers — Phelim McIntyre amongst others, who organised the get-together — and the ineffable Dave Walker whose blogging has kept us all up to speed on the Brewers’ misdemeanours. It was an honour and a privilege to be able to use some of the money from the UKCBD Save the SPCK Booksellers Fund to help some who came with their travel expenses: thank you to those who have contributed to that.

I had a fairly long chat with Alan Mordue (SPCK’s Sales and Marketing Director) afterwards. He assured me that SPCK have not washed their hands of the situation: it is in the hands of their solicitors. I’ll say more when I know more. In the meantime, let’s hope and pray that the forthcoming Employment Tribunals bring some justice for those whom the Brewers have treated so appallingly…

Finally: on departure from CRE, a bottle of mineral water for the journey home courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse as part of their Turn On The Tap appeal: it’s so easy for us to take water for granted here in the UK. Let’s spare some change to bring about a change in the lives of our brothers and sisters elsewhere, where water is not so simply obtained.