Category Archives: Exeter

Looking Back: April 2008

Phil Groom writes:

Thought it might be a worthwhile exercise to look back at how this month panned out last year. These are the reports that I’ve tracked down, most recent first, Dave Walker posts courtesy of Cease & Desist unless otherwise indicated. (B) = Blog post, (N) = News report:

If nothing else, it highlights the need for vigilance: as we saw with Exeter, the moment Brewer thinks he can get away with a bit of dodgy dealing through the back door, one of the other remaining shops is sure to go to line his back pocket — or his retirement fund, whatever it was he used that half a million for…

Exeter: More Missing Pieces – and Threats of Violence?

Phil Groom writes:

Discovered two rather interesting posts yesterday, excerpts below. Click through the titles to read the complete posts. From employment by ‘genuinely lovely people’ to unemployment after learning of threats of violence towards former staff members in just ten days. Is this a record? And was this a one-off or has anyone else been subjected to, witnessed or otherwise encountered threats of violence by the Brewers?

A word to the wise: when considering a new job, run a Google search on your prospective employers first; you may save yourself a lot of grief…

31/10/2007: Wherein Indiana_George Gains Employment… 

Having been unsuccessful in a number of job applicaitons lately, I have been employed by the genuinely lovely people at the Christian Bookshop on the cathedral green. 

Good god it’s unorganized though!

The lady who was supposed to be training me, only started yesterday, and the girl who trained her, quit after three days. 

The other have all been there less that a month. I’m not kidding. No one knows how to use the computer system, except for fairly basic stuff, but no one is bothered because they’re getting new software in a week or two anyway, and everyone will be trained then…

9/11/2007: In Which Indiana_George is Sad

It was nice while it lasted. 

Lovely job, bad bad bad situation. 

Remember previously, I said that everyone had been there less than a month, and that the whole place was badly organized but that it didn’t bother me?

Well, there was a whole lot of stuff that none of us had realised but that actually turned out to be rather important. 

Fistly, it all starts with this.

Which none of us had known when we were all hired. This I found out when one of the previous employees came into the shop briefly to see if the previous manager (actually one of the owners of the whole thing) was still there, to inform him, and by the way us, that the police were now investigating after they were threatened with violence by the owners after trying to get the pay they was owed, but hadn’t been given (along with the rest of the staff, hence the walk out)…

Exeter: The Incomplete Story (Part 4)

Phil Groom writes:

“Part 4?” you ask. Yes: Part 3 wasn’t labelled as such: it appeared earlier this week as Welcome to GemStar Jewellery and Gifts, Exeter. Since then SPCK have kindly furnished me with a copy of the Land Registry documentation pertaining to the transfer of properties to St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT).

The covenant contained in that document, and cited in my letter to Exeter’s Planning Services Dept (sent today, copied in full below) applies specifically to Bradford, Canterbury, Exeter, Truro and York.

I’d like to emphasise at this point — as stated in my letter — that I know of no cause for concern about the new tenants, GemStar, as a company: on the contrary, their presence is no doubt an asset to Exeter and I wish them every success. Unfortunately, like so many others caught up in this mess, they may find themselves unwitting victims of the Brewers’ innovative business practices; and in that, they have my sympathy.

Full details of the Planning Application along with drawings and other documents are available on the Exeter City Council Planning Pages:

The deadline for comments or objections is 21 days from 12/12/2008, the date of the Planning Application Notice as displayed in the shop window.

From: Phil Groom
Subject: Comments re. Planning Application 08/2291/07
Date: 19 December 2008
To: Rachael Durbin, Exeter City Council, Planning Services Dept    

Dear Ms Durbin,

I wish to comment on Planning Application 08/2291/07 re. the proposed “alterations to existing fascias to provide non-illuminated hand painted lettering on south east and south west elevations, hand painted vertical lettering on south corner of building and projecting sign on south west elevation”.

Having studied the proposed signage, I believe that its installation would be in further direct breach of the seven year covenant pertaining to the use of the property at 1-2 Catherine Street which restricts such use to Christian bookselling. I say “further direct breach” because the current usage of the shop as a jewellery store is also, unfortunately, in breach of that restrictive covenant, which states:

The Transferee hereby covenants with the Transferor that for a period of seven years from the date hereof the Transferee will use the Properties hereby transferred as bookshops which will serve a broad Christian tradition and sell books, bibles, church and parish stationery and resources, music, software, cards, gifts and other associated products which adequately reflect the range of theological views held within the broad Christian church including those of the Church of england, the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist and Baptist churches as well as the Orthodox Church and will not use or permit the property to be used for any other purpose.

That citation is taken directly from the Land Registry form TP3, “Transfer of portfolio of titles”, certified copy dated 12/01/07, (copy available on request: please ask) whereby a transfer with “limited title guarantee” took place between the former occupants, the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) and John Mark Brewer, Sandra Kay Brewer and Karen Ellen Brewer (the Brewers) who were “to hold the Property as Trustees of the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust” (SSGCT).

Whether the Brewers had the right to dispose of the property is another matter (restrictions on disposition are imposed by Section 36 of the Charities Act 1993, and I am referring this matter separately to the Charity Commission) but even if they did have such right, the restrictive covenant remains in place and is binding upon any subsequent owners, and is in fact twice referred to in the current Land Registry files relating to this property, which also note that a copy of the covenant is filed:

Under “B: Proprietorship Register”, part 3:

(31.10.2008 ) A Transfer to a former proprietor contains a covenant to observe and perform the covenants referred to in the Charges Register and of indemnity in respect thereof.

and under “C: Charges Register”, part 1:

(06.05.2008 ) A Transfer of the land in this title and other land dated 29 November 2006 made between (1) The Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge and (2) John Mark Brewer and Others contains restrictive covenants.

Please note that I have no concerns whatsoever about the new tenants, GemStar, as a company: on the contrary, their presence is no doubt an asset to Exeter and I wish them every success. I fear, however, that they may find themselves unwitting victims of the Brewers’ innovative business practices.

My concerns relate to the use of these particular premises for purposes contrary to an established covenant and, specifically with reference to this planning application, by proposed signage that fails to promote the covenanted usage during the seven year period throughout which the covenant applies. Please do not hesitate to ask if you require any further information: this issue is but one small part of a much more extensive and ongoing scrutiny of the Brewers and their business dealings.

Please also note that a copy of this letter will be posted on the ‘SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info’ blog.

I thank you for your attention to this matter and I look forward to receiving your response soon.

Yours faithfully,

Phil Groom

Phil Groom
SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info

Welcome to GemStar Jewellery and Gifts, Exeter

Phil Groom writes:

Took a day trip to Exeter yesterday. Wanted to buy my wife some ear rings for Christmas, you understand, and I’d heard about this new jewellery shop: it opened late last week. Found lots of bling but nothing quite suitable…

GemStar Jewellery and Gifts, Exeter, 15th December 2008

GemStar Jewellery and Gifts, Exeter, 15th December 2008

Zooming in on GemStar Jewellery and Gifts, Exeter, 15th Dec 2008

Zooming in on GemStar Jewellery and Gifts, Exeter, 15th Dec 2008

Zooming in Closer on GemStar Jewellery and Gifts, Exeter, 15th December 2008

Zooming in Closer on GemStar Jewellery and Gifts, Exeter, 15th December 2008

GemStar Planning Application for New Signage

GemStar Planning Application for New Signage

Excerpt from the Planning Application Notice for New Signage

Excerpt from the Planning Application Notice for New Signage

I’ve no idea where this leaves the Covenant that was supposedly in place to ensure that the premises would remain in business as a Christian bookshop. In the meantime, anyone who wishes to comment formally on the proposed new signage has 21 days from 12th Dec 2008, the date on the Planning Application Notice: zoom in to read the whole notice here. By my reckoning, that’s until the end of this month…

Advent in Exeter?

Phil Groom writes:

I’ve just stumbled across a rather challenging post from Paul Collings, a Methodist Minister in Exeter: Has Advent become a non-event?

Recently, a long established Christian Bookshop in Exeter, UK has closed and I sometimes wonder if I had to anything to do with its demise, by once suggesting to the manager that he should sell a different kind of Advent Calendar.

In the UK, we share the German Lutheran tradition of Advent Calendars where children of all ages open one door each day to receive a chocolate treat. I merely suggested that the bookshop should create calendars with empty compartments into which we place thoughts, gift promises and prayers. Perhaps it did not catch on! Or is it that today’s society is actually saying, “It is better to give than receive, as long as I’m still on the receiving end.”

Paul’s challenge is there for all of us: will we ever learn to give purely as givers, without expecting some sort of return? What effect would it have on our nation’s economy if everyone started giving without expecting to receive? 

I don’t think Paul’s suggestion had anything to do with the shop’s demise, but I was struck by how accurately his idea seems to sum up the problem with the Brewers’ attitude to the former SPCK Bookshops: as if they see the entire chain as their own personal chocolate-filled advent calendar from which they can take, take, take, but never put anything in…

Exeter: The Inside (Incomplete) Story: Part 2

Phil Groom writes:

At the end of Part 1 we left Philip Brewer, having successfully driven out his entire staff team, attempting to run the Exeter shop by himself. The situation had to be good for something, and it was: for Neil’s blog stats:

…this blog is about to have more vistors this month than any other month since its conception!

I am sure this is partly to do with the SPCK postings, and the press coverage that a mass resignation gets. I can confirm that the craziness continues at SPCK, but I won’t say anything on here to protect my sources, some of whom still work in the shops, and some of whom are (or rather were, but no doubt hope to be again)suppliers to the shops. I have not actually been into the Exeter shop since I left, but might make a little trip up there next week.

From: Record breaking…: Neil’s Slightly Random Wiblog: 27/10/2007

Naturally it didn’t take the Brewers long to realise that if they were going to keep the shops open they would need to recruit some staff. They advertised on the Orthodox Jobs website, singling out York and Exeter as examples of where vacancies existed:

Team Members (Bookshop Staff)
Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust – Westminster, London, England

There are several job openings in Cathedral cities such as York and Exeter at the SPCK Bookshops. Staff is needed to operate the retail bookshops: greet and assist customers; operate the cash registers; open and close the shop; and maintain specified stock levels and content.

While the positions are paid, this is a Christian charity and its work is missionary in the true sense of the word…

From: Team Members (Bookshop Staff) :, November 2007

One can only speculate on what “the true sense of the word” ‘missionary’ might mean to the Brewers: presumably if the example of their patron St Stephen the Great is anything to go by, it would be some sort of convert-or-die policy. One can also only wonder at what point they planned to explain to would-be recruits how the current vacancies had arisen. Such explanations probably weren’t needed, however, and nor was a missionary commitment, since in the end Exeter was staffed with agency workers:

Very glad to be out of the whole SPCK situation, popped in there earlier this week, shelves are empty, the shop looks a mess and talking to one of the staff there the place is being run by agency staff who don’t know one end of a bible from another. My annoyance with “St Stephen the Great” has died down now, I have realised they are just religious fundamentalists who will never be able to see other peoples point of view and any opposition they get will be seen as fuel to keep what they are doing. The blame really lays firmly at the door of SPCK, who made the transfer possible in the first place, then failed to provide support to their former staff. Anyway, certainly the ex-staff down here all seem to have moved on, and these things have a habit of working together for the best. Tonight we are all meeting up for a drink, we may not work in the shop any more, but friendships will long continue.

From: Christmas looming…: Neil’s Slightly Random Wiblog: 08/12/2007

The situation in Exeter continued to attract snippets of media attention and was eventually picked up by the BBC Radio 4 Sunday Programme, partially transcribed by Dave Walker. Neil comments again on the issue of staff departures:

Good to hear so many friends such as Aude, Dave and Richard being interviewed, just a shame about the reason they were being interviewed. Brilliantly and eloquently put guys!

There was a lot of rubbish too, such as Phil saying they had “Increased the variety of their stock…” Not the impression I get from going to the Exeter shop and seeing all the empty shelves, also he makes it sound like we left just over management style, but that was just one factor amongst many for people leaving, although he seems to deny that people have left because of them. Staff were not poached by bigger companies, we desperately looked for other jobs to get away from the bookshops! I also found it interesting that no one from SPCK would comment because of ongoing legal proceedings.

[Edited to add that this was my resignation letter, and that Phil received scores like it from our shop and others (I saw them). How he can say that people left for retirement or been “recruited away” is beyond me, they simply take only the bits that suit them, and live in a world far far from reality]

From: Radio 4 again…: Neil’s Slightly Random Wiblog: 16/12/2007

After this things were quiet on the Exeter front until February 2008:

The whole SPCK saga has had a few developments, a few shops suddenly closed with sackings by email. In Exeter there has been another resignation (she posted a note on Facebook today) and opening hours have been vastly cut (ironically they are shutting Sundays… I am speechless!) and stock is still very very low with no new titles on display (apart from a handful of scary anti-Islamic books). 

From: Time Flies: Neil’s Slightly Random Wiblog: 07/02/2008

In April 2008 news emerged of plans to sell off four shops, including Exeter:

Beleaguered Christian bookseller St Stephen the Great is to sell four of its stores in an auction next month. Freeholds for the Bradford, Canterbury, Exeter and York shops will be auctioned off by real estate company Colliers Cre on 13th May.

From: SSG to sell four shops: Graeme Neill, Bookseller, 21/04/2008

THE US Orthodox charity St Stephen the Great (SSG) has put four of its former SPCK bookshops up for sale. A number of its other bookshops have been closed, including the Westminster branch at Faith House.

The Bradford, Canterbury, Exeter, and York shops are to be auctioned by Colliers CRE in London on 13 May. These properties are believed to be four of the five that SSG owns freehold. They were given to SSG in October 2006 by SPCK, the Anglican publisher and mission agency, complete with fixtures, fittings, and stock.

From: Former SPCK shops to be auctioned: Dave Walker, Church Times, 25/04/2008

Exeter For Auction

Exeter (Not) For Auction

Colliers listed the Exeter shop with a guide price of £500,000 and advertised it as a freehold with vacant possession (screenshot opposite). One can, again, only speculate at what the Brewers intended to do with the proceeds, as one can only wonder at SPCK’s apparent folly in giving the freehold away. The sale, however, was not to be: the Brewers seemed to have forgotten their covenanted obligation to maintain the store as a Christian bookshop:

THE four former SPCK shops that were due to be auctioned by their new owners, the troubled bookshop chain, the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG) (News, 25 April), have been withdrawn from sale. 

The freehold shops, in Bradford, Canterbury, Exeter, and York, were to have been auctioned in London on 13 May. Estimates ranged from £500,000 for the Exeter shop to £150,000 for the Bradford shop.

There are thought to be two reasons for the halt. One is that the transfer of ownership to SSG has not been completed. The other is that the Brewer brothers, who run SSG, have been reminded of a seven-year restrictive covenant that accompanied the transfer of all the freeholds from SPCK in October 2006. This states that the shops can be used only as Christian multi-denominational bookshops. The covenant would apply to any prospective purchaser.

From: Bookshops withdrawn from sale: Church Times, 09/05/2008

The four shops SSG Bookshops due to be auctioned by Colliers CRE in London on 13th May were withdrawn from the sale a week before. It is believed the shops were withdrawn due to covenants in the deeds for each freehold restricting the use of the buildings in Bradford, Canterbury, Exeter and York.

Simon Kingston, General Secretary and CEO of SPCK Publishing, told Christian Marketplace, “I am surprised that these freeholds were publicly being offered for sale now, since very recently the Land Registry still didn’t show that SSG had yet registered the transfer of the freeholds to St Stephen the Great. That is no doubt in process, though.”

He added that any sale would not “represent any immediate loss to Christian bookselling” confirming in the process that there was indeed “a covenant on the freeholds limiting their use for some time to that of Christian bookselling with a broad multi-denominational stockholding.”

From: SSG Shops pulled from auction: Christian Marketplace, June 2008

Exeter - reopening soon

Exeter - reopening soon

June 2008 also saw a notice appear in the window at Exeter:

The shop is due to re-open soon. Please watch this space for further information.

From: Former SPCK bookshop closures: Dave Walker, Cartoon Church, as reposted at ‘Cease & Desist’, 11/06/2008

The shop opened sporadically after this. Neil posted a photo and some brief comments in July:

Last Saturday though I did meet up with some of the guys who I used to work with at the former SPCK bookshop in Exeter, 3 previous managers came along as well and we had a nice time catching up with the SPCK news (the Exeter shop is as good as closed now) and what we have been doing since we left. For those interested in what became of the shop there is a blog ( that gives up to date news, but warning, some of the commenters are very bitter and it does not make very happy reading!

From: SPCK Exeter and the rain: Neil Denham, Exeblog, 06/07/2008



What looked like the shop’s final demise came in September:

It looks like the shop that I spent many years working in, and was much loved by its staff and customers over the years has finally closed closed down.

Of course it was only a shell of a business in the last few years anyway, with no new stock and terrible mismanagement and sporadic opening hours (and weeks on end of being closed), but still, it is a sad sight to see it stripped bare of stock. I hope my former colleague won’t mind me quoting from an email she sent me yesterday (edited to take some names and local context out).

“I saw a notice declaring a Closing Down Sale with an offer of 40% off all stock. However, whatever staff they had employed were told this morning that the shop was closing today… later there were two men there and cartons (presumably of books) stacked waiting to be loaded. They said they had had instructions to clear everything… the entire stock was being transferred to York.”

She goes on to say how upsetting she found the sight, and I have to agree (as I sure you can from the pictures) that seeing the shop looking this way, when it was once a thriving hub of activity in the Cathedral area and wider community in Exeter is very sad.

From: SPCK Bookshop Exeter – R.I.P.: Neil Denham, Exeblog, 19/09/2008

An advertisement in the Bookseller for the shop’s fittings and fixtures looked like the final nail in the coffin — but the story wasn’t quite over: a passer-by, seeing the shop being refitted, asked what was happening and was told that it was to become a jewellers, prompting a flurry of questions from asingleblog:

Turned into a jewellery shop? Owned by who? And with what money?

The covenant restricting use of the premises as a Christian bookshop is, as far as we know, still in place: Exeter – a jewellery shop? 

Thanks to asingleblog for this final photo — what’s going on behind those whitewashed windows? Watch this space…

SPCK Exeter - watch this space...

SPCK Exeter - watch this space...

Exeter: The Inside (Incomplete) Story: Part 1

Phil Groom writes:

This post is my attempt to pull together the Exeter story. There’s rather a lot of material so this will be in two parts, second part to appear at some point over the weekend. Thanks in particular to Neil Denham, who has kindly given me permission to reuse his old wiblog posts for this; other sources are acknowledged as and when cited. Links in reposted items may be defunct: I’ve marked these [*] where known. Enough preamble, however: let the story begin:

David Chings old SPCK Exeter website

David Ching's old SPCK Exeter website

Once upon a time there was a Christian bookshop in a quaint English town called Exeter. To the people who worked there and to its customers, it was a special place and even now, after the shop’s sad demise in September 2008, its ghost lives on in a dedicated website.

But this is no fairy story: unfortunately the shop’s owners, SPCK, found that they were unable to keep the shop going. It was one of many that they owned, finances had become tight and they couldn’t bring themselves to make a decision over which shops were viable and which weren’t: it had to be all or nothing.

Staff were thrown into turmoil, but salvation was at hand, it seemed, in the form of Wesley Owen, another leading chain of Christian bookshops:

SPCK and Wesley Owen discuss Bookshop Collaboration
The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) and the Wesley Owen Retail Group (WORG), the Christian retailing arm within Send The Light Limited (STL), announce today (Friday 17 February) they have begun discussions which may lead to the combining of their bookshop networks during 2006. 

Both organisations emphasised that the discussions are at an initial stage but said that this collaboration would create a network of Christian bookshops in more than 60 major cities throughout the United Kingdom. 

Christian retailing represents a core part of the mission within both SPCK and STL. This collaboration would create a one-stop shop for the Christian community and others seeking Christian resources on their journey through life. 

From: SPCK and Wesley Owen discuss Bookshop Collaboration: Diocese of Exeter, 21/02/2006

But the dream was not to be: the two parties were unable to agree a way forward and the deal fell through. Staff were notified by email, despair was rife, but then, out of the blue, a new rescue package appeared under the auspices of the now infamous Messrs Philip and Mark Brewer. Neil Denham, who worked at the Exeter shop, takes up the story:

…All SPCK Bookshop staff were sent a letter and a press release this morning, regarding the future of the SPCK Bookshop chain.

It was announced yesterday that the entire SPCK bookshops chain will transfer to the Christian Othodox charity St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust as of the 1st November this year.

Full press release here

It is obviously good news that this has happened, as SPCK were unable to support the bookshops themselves, and more closures were certainly in the pipeline. SSG have assured staff that it is their full intention to keep all the shops open using the name SPCK, and they have the vision of making a diversity of Christian materials available which is shared by SPCK.

It is quite a relief that one of my jobs is secure for the time being, and as I was hoping to do more hours there over time perhaps I should become an Orthodox Christian to help my chances of promotion…

From: SPCK Bookshops Press Release…: Neil’s Slightly Random Wiblog, 21/10/2006

Within only a matter of days concerns began to emerge about the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust: these new partners had evidently been less than transparent about their intentions in their overtures to SPCK. Neil continues his tale from the inside:

…After the news about the SPCK bookshops a few days ago there has been a bit of debate about what this means for the future of the chain. Dave has commented Here [*] and Here [*], a commenter who wants to be a priest (or something…) has written a few thoughts Here [*], and there are worried voices appearing all over the net hourly, such as Here.

So do I still feel positive about the “takeover”? I am not sure, when I first looked at the St Stephen foundation website I noticed things like ‘They are persuaded to join “Feel-Good” churches where they are told they will be saved by making a donation and saying a few simple words. Unfortunately, many of these are “feel good” churches are established just to make the management rich’, which I agree is the case, but failed to give proper attention to ‘One hundred and fifty thousand souls convert or revert back to the Roman Catholic faith each year in the USA. In their misguided belief, they assume that this is the true Church of Christ.’ and then going on to say the orthodox church is in fact the only true church.

Now I may be in the awkward situation of having no churchmanship (and so believing there is no such thing as the true church of Christ), but I have always seen SPCK to stand for unity in the wider and extended church, even often embracing groups that may may be termed by some as heretics and certainly but others as liberals. I have also always backed SPCK for its support in promoting things like Peacemakers, an initiative to foster understanding between Christians and Muslims, and one their long term aims has been ‘To encourage Christians from different traditions and cultures to learn from one another.’ Sadly I can see no evidence from the St Stephens site thats they share these aims, although much of the site seems to have changed from when I looked on Saturday morning!

I still hope it is going to be good for the chain, and if need be I will contact the charity myself to talk through any worries I have, and will be talking to my manager tomorrow about the situation as it stands.

From: SPCK Bookshops again…: Neil’s Slightly Random Wiblog, 23/10/2006

There’s a gap in the Exeter records now until May 2007, when Neil continues his story:

…Someone rang me at work yesterday to ask if we are ready for our stocktake on Monday. What stock take? I replied. Seems that they planned a stocktake without telling us, on a week the manager is away and when we are already short staffed. It really is going to be a disaster.

From: Disaster in the making…: Neil’s Slightly Random Wiblog: 18/05/2007

… Handed in my notice just in time, I have found out that our owners want to run each shop with just one person, and as they presented us with an unsignable (by which I mean only an idiot would sign it, not that it is printed on ink-proof paper) contract they will be lucky if they have enough staff left to run any shops at all. It has nearly been a month since we have been allowed to place a stock order and the shop is running out of stuff. In fact I predict that in a few months the shops won’t exist at all, hundreds of years of bookselling torn apart in one year, very sad.

From: How not to run a bookshop and deal with people…: Neil’s Slightly Random Wiblog: 29/09/2007

Through October and November 2007, things became more and more unpleasant as the Brewers’ misanthropic management techniques made working for them increasingly difficult. The national media began to pay attention and honesty became an early casualty in the Brewers’ dealings with those outside their organisation, not to mention those within. Neil’s resignation letter hints at the difficulties:

There is something satisfying about the resignation letter, it signifies new starts and hope and a control of individual destiny.

I am writing to you to officially tender my resignation from the Exeter SPCK Bookshop and giving 2 weeks notice.

I enjoyed working for the shop under the management of the SPCK, as I shared their aims and ethos, I have been increasingly uneasy with the aims and direction of the organisation under the management of Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, and would not be happy signing a new contract with them.

I will be accepting a position as _____ with _____. I have worked with the best possible team here and while I will miss my friends here at SPCK, I feel that it is time for a fresh challenge and experience.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

From: Resignation…: Neil’s Slightly Random Wiblog: 01/10/2007 

Concern rising over SPCK bookshops

I especially like…

However Brewer is quoted in the Church Times article where he claims that “the morale of the SPCK Bookshops could not be better.” It is difficult to verify this statement due to the constraints placed on SPCK Bookshop staff regarding talking to the press.

Wow, what an astounding statement, the morale of all the staff in other shops I have spoken to has never been lower, what world is he living in?

From: SPCK again…: Neil’s Slightly Random Wiblog: 02/10/2007

As if to prove Neil’s point, the rest of the Exeter staff followed his example:

At work all the staff resigned last week (I know, I am such a trendsetter) and we have mostly been cleaning and tidying the shop ready to hand it over to whoever may be working here next week, if they can or want to get anyone at all to take it on.

From: The week so far…: Neil’s Slightly Random Wiblog: 10/10/2007

From the Express and Echo in Exeter:

One of Exeter’s oldest shops is facing upheaval after all its staff resigned in a row over new contracts. All seven employees with the SPCK bookshop, in Catherine Street, handed in their notice and are due to work their last day on Saturday.

From: The staff of SPCK Exeter resign: Dave Walker, Cartoon Church, as reposted at ‘Cease & Desist’, 11/10/2007. Dave’s original post is unavailable due to threats of legal action issued by Mark Brewer and the report Dave cites, which appeared in both the Exeter Express and Echo and the Western Morning News, has either been taken down or expired. Ruth Gledhill of The Times and The Bookseller both picked up the story:

The staff at one of the country’s best-known Christian bookshops have resigned en mass in a dispute over new contracts in which they were asked to work on Sundays and do cleaning duties. All seven employees at the SPCK bookshop in Exeter handed in their notice and worked their last day on Saturday. The store, which specialises in Christian literature and has been established for 47 years, is one of 23 in a chain which was last year acquired by the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust…

Staff were told speaking to the press could be a sackable offence. A regular customer of the SPCK shop said the staff were “demoralised”.

“It’s one of the only bookshops in the area that keeps serious theological books. Exeter is going to potentially lose a really valuable resource. It’s a key shop in the city.” A current worker at the shop, who asked not to be named, said: “The shop is not closing. It’s just existing staff who are going. We would like to thank all of our loyal customers. We are sorry to be saying goodbye to them.”

But another staff member said: “I would have had to be mad to sign this new contract. I’m off.” He said he was fortunate to have another job to go to.

From: Christian bookshop staff resign en mass: Ruth Gledhill, Times Online, 15/10/2007. 

I think we can hazard a reasonable guess at who that latter member of staff was. And the bizarre remark, “The shop is not closing. It’s just the existing staff who are going” proved to be correct as Philip Brewer himself stepped into the breach his own folly had created. Dave Walker and Ruth Gledhill continue the story:

SPCK boss Phil Brewer is running the Exeter SPCK shop himself, according to this report in the Exeter Express and Echo website. This is, if you remember, all to do with the fact that the staff all walked out as they were being made to sign contracts that some staff members have described as ‘unsignable’. See the ‘Save the SPCK‘ category on this blog for the whole story over the last year or two.

I know that one or two journalists have been finding it difficult to contact Mr Brewer, the boss of SPCK. Well, here is your chance. Phone up the Exeter shop [*] with an enquiry about the latest brands of incense and it looks as if you might get to speak to the man himself. Actually, you would do well to vary your initial enquiry subjects a bit. Some of you could ask about palm crosses or bulk orders of ‘Two ways to live’.

From: SPCK boss steps in to run the Exeter shop: Dave Walker, Cartoon Church, as reposted at ‘Cease & Desist’, 16/10/2007 (as above, Dave’s original post is unavailable and the Exeter Express and Echo story referred to has either been taken down or expired).

A contributor to my last blog on the sorry doings at SPCK notes that if anyone wants to talk to owner Phil Brewer, they need only go down to the bookshop in Exeter, pictured here. All the staff have resigned, as we reported, after being faced with contracts that demanded they work on Sundays and do some cleaning. And so apparently he is running the show all on his lonesome. So if it is a book you want to order, or some information, or merely just a look, you know where to go…

From: SPCK: one man and his shop: Ruth Gledhill, Times Online, 17/10/2007

If you’ll forgive a Bushism, Ruth’s explanation misunderestimates the true horror of Mr Brewer’s employees experiences: the Exeter exodus was about much more than a spat over cleaning duties and the possibility of Sunday trading. Neil sets the record straight in this response to Ruth’s report:

It is hard to know what to say really, I am glad that the shop is open, for the customers sake (not that they can order anything much, as they are on “stop” with most major Christian publishers). I really hope a Chrstian/theological bookshop survives in Exeter, I really mean that.

I wuould also like to add that te staff resigned over more than just Sunday opening and church cleaning, it went far beyond that and involved factors of how staff were being treated, emails threatening dismissal if we did not follow them immediately and exactly, worries about getting paid, not being able to give good customer service because of the lack of new stock and also impossible ordering procedures, erosion of trust between the shops and the management team and I could go on and on…

The story does indeed go on and on; but at this point I need to come up for air. End of Part 1: to be continued…

Quest for Enlightenment

Menus Rearranged
The About page is now called Info and the Petition page is called Durham, which gives us space for Evidence… apologies for any confusion caused… 

Sunday Programme
The report we expected this Sunday has been postponed: probably next week.
Update, 25/9/2008:
not this coming weekend after all — watch this space…  

Petition Reminder
Our online petition to rescue Durham Cathedral Bookshop is still open: if you haven’t already signed it, please read it and consider doing so.
Thank you.

Phil Groom writes:

On Friday 19th September, Neil Denham posted some photos of the Exeter shop in its death throes: SPCK Bookshop Exeter – RIP. I’ve scaled a couple of those pictures down and reproduced them here, but it’s worth clicking through to Neil’s post to see the rest, though it makes for sad reading. Neil’s account reads rather like an obituary:

Of course it was only a shell of a business in the last few years anyway, with no new stock and terrible mismanagement and sporadic opening hours (and weeks on end of being closed), but still, it is a sad sight to see it stripped bare of stock.

Closure of SPCK/SSG Exeter, 19/09/2008

Neil cites an excerpt from an email he received:

I saw a notice declaring a Closing Down Sale with an offer of 40% off all stock. However, whatever staff they had employed were told this morning that the shop was closing today… later there were two men there and cartons (presumably of books) stacked waiting to be loaded. They said they had had instructions to clear everything… the entire stock was being transferred to York.

It’s this last half-sentence that has me puzzled and I’m hoping that someone can enlighten me. My sources tell me that stock from Birmingham was transferred to Durham; that stock from Norwich was transferred to Chichester; and now we learn that the stock from Exeter has been transferred to York.

But who, exactly, owns this stock that’s being merrily shuffled around the country? It’s a question that’s been niggling away in the back of my mind for some time now. Let’s rewind for a moment: in June the Brewers declared that SSG had “been terminated as the trading company to operate the bookshops formerly known as SPCK Bookshops” — instead, they would “be operated by ENC Management Company” (from: SSG files for bankruptcy; also at New Name for SSG?). So what exactly happened here? Did ENC buy out SSG? Or was the whole thing a deliberate fraud foisted upon the book trade by the Brewers in an attempt to evade their debts and avoid paying for this stock that’s now been reallocated to different stores?

As we’ve seen, fraud certainly seems to be within the purview of the US bankruptcy courts, with a weirdness quotient so high that it’s off the scale since the company that the Brewers declared to be bankrupt — SSG LLC — never existed in the first place and consequently could never have employed or dismissed anybody, never ran any shops and never owned any stock…

The reality emerging seems to be that the ENC Shop Management Company along with the Durham Cathederal [sic] Shop Management Company and the Chichester Shop Management Company are (or were: checking this evening I note that Companies House have ENC listed with the name ‘Sue Dawson’ and Chichester with the name ‘Bradley Smith’) all fronts for the Brewers which appear to have been set up for the specific purpose of transferring the assets of the supposedly bankrupt SSG in a way that would allow the Brewers — if the plan had worked — to simply sell the stock and… and… and do what with the proceeds? Pay their workers? Pay their suppliers?

In which case, why not simply talk to your suppliers and request extended credit? Who does own the stock? Does it still belong to the suppliers? Or have Mark and Philip Brewer assumed ownership of it themselves, either personally or under the auspices of these somewhat dubious companies, despite apparently not paying for it? At what point does stock that hasn’t been paid for become stolen property? Are we now looking at a scenario in which the remaining shops are dealing in stolen property? Is it time to call the police?

Of course, I could be wrong: it could simply be a case of total incompetence; but I do think the time has come for these questions to be raised publicly and considered seriously. Somebody, please, enlighten me; and as I said about Third Space Books: buyer beware.

Brewer on the Brink: Bad Faith Special

Phil Groom writes:

Update 20/09/2008: Message for Pauline Edwards from ‘a concerned party’

I’ve contacted both Usdaw and the Bury St Edmunds Employment Tribunals office to request reports on today’s hearings: will post an update when I hear from them. Whilst we wait for that, thought I’d highlight some recent comments:

From dyfrig, September 17, 2008, we have some further analysis of Brewer’s response to Randy Williams’ motion for sanctions. Seems to me that Brewer is well and truly on the brink:

(yes, the same dyfrig whose comments are linked to by Randy Williams’ deposition).

If case filing in the US is anything like the UK, what Brewer is doing is simply laying out his stall of how his case will generally go – quite often, you simply say “Defendant denies the insertion in paragraph 4 of the plaintiff’s case”, so that the court knows where the areas of dispute are. At this stage this look like a skeleton document – the full details of why Brewer disagrees will come later.

As noted above, Brewer does admit that the action was wrong, to the extent that it was “ill-advised”, and shouldn’t have been brought. The question is whether Randy Williams is satisfied with getting him to admit that and taking the financial penalty, or wants to pursue the points of principle. Of course Brewer won’t admit to those points right now, partly because they come with further financial and professional sanction, but also because they would affect the ETs and any action the Charity Comms in England are thinking about.

Speaking as a lawyer, his deposition is the right way to go about it. The trustee has to decide (based on his assessment of the strength of his case) whether to take it further than this and put it in front of a court.

I’m very puzzled by one statement – I’m not sure a Director of a Company can legitimately claim to not know what the assets are, especially as it is the Directors who sign off on the Annual Report and Balance Sheet before it is presented to the AGM – admittedly, Saint Stephen the Great is so new (16th Feb 07) that no Accounts are yet due. However, to be acting properly as a Director Mr Brewer and is colleagues are legally obliged to submit accounts to Companies House of the state of their company at 16th Feb 08 by no later than 16th December this year. As they are 6 months overdue with their annual return (a simple piece of paper listing the names of the directors), it does not appear that they are very good at filing documents.

I suspect that few here need any further convincing of the Brewers’ bad faith, but for any who do, I think Neil Denham‘s recent observation of the Exeter shop back in business, trading under the SPCK name, says it loud and clear. Remember, this is the shop that made the headlines in Ruth Gledhill’s Times Online report in October last year as all the staff resigned and left Philip Brewer ruining the shop single-handedly (also reported in Christian Marketplace and by Dave Walker; the original story in the Exeter Express & Echo seems to have vanished). It was then put up for auction … then withdrawn from sale… so I guess it’s hardly surprising that they can’t make their minds up whether it’s open or closed:

Exeter shop open this week with ageny staff, sign in the window says “closing down” and everything is 40% off. The girls knew a little of what had gone on in the shop, but I suggested a bit of googling for them to entertain themselves… I am sure they will have found this blog by now!

(Hello girls, by the way, if you’ve found us: do feel free to leave a comment.)

But by far the worst example of the Brewers’ bad faith is shown by this heart cry from Pauline Edwards:

WHY Mr Brewer, did you ring me up to say you would pay me?
WHY Mr Brewer, did you build me up , just to knock me down again?
WHY MR Brewer, do you think its ok to treat people like this?
WHY Mr Brewer, do you keep playing mind games?
It has been a week since you have rang me, every day I have checked my bank account, even this morning, you have made me feel the way you did when you sacked me by E-mail on June 4th, you have made me feel the way you did on june 25th, when I had no wages, I just feel very low and sick again. By the way as I said to you I would drop the case if I had my wages, you didn’t keep to your side, so the case still stands this morning in court.

Words do not fail me: it’s just that the words that come to mind are not fit for publication…


From: a concerned party, September 20, 2008 at 2:25 am

Please forward a message to Pauline Edwards. Could not find an email access for her from all the comments on this site.
Do not know all details from past discussions stated on this site, but regarding monies to be sent to Ms. Edwards last week. The reality of that specific deposit is that it was not forth-coming due to Hurricane Ike, which hit Houston, Texas on Friday 12Sept’08. The 130 mph winds, rain and flooding knocked out over 4,000,000 homes & businesses leaving them without power, water and other services for many days. Some of the services have been restored, but as of today, power still has not been restored to over 2.5 million people; one of which is the entity that would make the deposit into Ms. Edwards account.
Finally today, after finding power miles outside of Houston to do internet connections, including Ms. Edward’s deposit through Natwest’s (the funding bank’s) commercial online banking system……. Natwest is now doing some type of maintenance until further notice. Therefore, please advise Ms. Edwards that her deposit will be done as soon as Natwest allows access to their commercial systems.
Again, this explanation is strictly to inform Ms. Edwards of the disposition of her deposit and is not to justify or requires any further discussion regarding the past problems Ms. Edward’s has encountered.

I have forwarded this to Pauline. Whoever you are, thank you; my thoughts and prayers are with you and all others affected by Hurricane Ike: very much appreciate your concern and effort in taking the time to provide this information.

— Phil Groom

SPCK or SSG? Bookshop Photocall

Updated 20th Sept 2008

Earlier this month Matt Wills posted photos of the Winchester and Salisbury branches, still decked out in their SPCK colours and signage almost two years on from the handover. More to the point, it’s now almost a year since SPCK withdrew the licence to trade under the SPCK name:

SPCK Trustees' Report and Accounts, Year Ended 30 April 2008

Annual Report 2008

SSG (the former SPCK Bookshops)  

In November 2007, SPCK withdrew the licence granted to Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust to use our name in relation to the Bookshops in view of their failure to abide by the terms of our agreement. It has proved a very difficult and distressing year for the shops and staff, and the process has involved us in a considerable amount of activity. There are a number of significant legal issues between SPCK and SSGCT that have not been resolved at the year end.

SPCK Trustees’ Report and Accounts, Year Ended 30 April 2008 (pdf, 944kb)

Not wishing to be outdone, it seems, Mark Brewer put his own spin on the story: it wasn’t so much a case of SPCK withdrawing the licence but of SSG feeling uncomfortable with SPCK’s theology:

Book chain drops SPCK name

Bookseller, 07.11.07: Book chain drops SPCK name

Mark Brewer said that “with more and more SPCK [published] books carrying a decidedly ‘liberal’ agenda rather than traditional Christian values, [SSG] feel the time has come to distance themselves from SPCK”.

The Bookseller, 7th Nov 2007

Being a man of his word, of course, Mark immediately sent out a team of shopfitters and signwriters to dismantle all remaining vestiges of SSG’s association with SPCK. In fact, so worried was he by the possibility of SSG’s good name being tainted by association with SPCK that he immediately discontinued SSG’s use of the domain and rebranded the entire enterprise Third Space Books

That’s the fantasy version, by the way: the reality, as many readers will be only too painfully aware, proved a little different. Mark’s grasp of “traditional Christian values” (complicated things like honesty, integrity and paying your workers and suppliers, for instance) were evidently a bit much for an “exceptionally well trained” lawyer from Brewer & Pritchard to get to grips with…

Here, A-Z by location, to help illustrate that reality, we present Matt’s photos together with a few others from around the country, all pictures taken this year. If you click through the pictures to the original posts you’ll find most of the photographers asking much the same question: why are (or were, as the case may be) the shops still trading under the SPCK name so long after the licence was withdrawn and so long after Mark Brewer himself declared that he wanted to disassociate SSG from SPCK?


Birmingham, September 2008, courtesy of Pauline Edwards.

Birmingham, September 2008, courtesy of Pauline Edwards.

Pauline has posted more photos in facebook, but you’ll need to be logged in to facebook to see them…


Cambridge, 17th Feb 2008, photo by Jeremy (, retrieved from Dave Walker's blog as reposted at

Cambridge, 17th Feb 2008, photo by Jeremy (, retrieved from DW

For some more recent Cambridge photos, SPCK signage cleared but SPCK/SSG carrier bags evidently in use (albeit as rubbish bags!) see Shame and Disgrace: St Stephen the Great, Cambridge


Canterbury, 11th Feb 2008, photo by Dave Walker (retrieved from his blog, reposted at

Canterbury, 11th Feb 2008, photo by Dave Walker (retrieved from his blog and reposted at



Chester, 20th June 2008

Chester, 20th June 2008, photo by Peter Owen (with apologies to Peter for the delay in adding this)



Exeter, June 2008, courtesy of Neil Denham

Exeter, June 2008, courtesy of Neil Denham (with apologies to Neil for the delay in adding this!)

the Exeter shop stripped bare, 19/09/2008, courtesy once again of Neil Denham

And so it ends: the Exeter shop stripped bare, 19/09/2008, courtesy once again of Neil Denham

For more photos showing the now empty shelves — and an excerpt from an email describing what happened — see Neil’s report, SPCK Bookshop Exeter – R.I.P.


Lincoln, June 2008

Lincoln, June 2008, photographer unknown

Picture from Hodgson Elkington’s flyer advertising the premises to let.


Salisbury, 2nd Sept 2008

Salisbury, 2nd Sept 2008, photo by Matt Wills, A very ordinary title for a blog...



Winchester, 31st August 2008

Winchester, 31st August 2008, photo by Matt Wills, A very ordinary title for a blog...



SPCK Worcester, 26th July 2008

Worcester, 26th July 2008, photo by Doug Chaplin, MetaCatholic



Photo by Richard and Gill, Flickr

York, 22nd May 2008, photo by Richard and Gill, Flickr

York, 9th July 2008, photo by Peter Owen (with apologies to Peter for the delay in adding this)

York, 9th July 2008, photo by Peter Owen (with apologies to Peter for the delay in adding this)

Thanks to those concerned for permission to reuse the photos here. Any others out there? Please either send them in or point me towards where they’re posted to help complete the picture. Pictures taken this year, please.

– Phil Groom. Posted 08/09/2008; updated 20/09/2008.