Category Archives: Salisbury

Comparing Notes: What a Bookshop Shouldn’t Look Like, and What It Should

Phil Groom writes:

Thanks to asingleblog for permission to repost these pictures from the Durham Cathedral Shop:

Holy Week in Durham Cathedral Shop, 1 and 2 Durham Cathedral Shop, Holy Week 2009, 3 and 4

This, then, is how the shelves were looking during Holy Week this year in what was once described as one of the UK’s finest theological bookshops; and these “are just a few photos,” says asingleblog. “Some shelves are entirely empty.” 

As asingleblog asks, How bad does it have to get? Instructing staff to lie to suppliers about the company’s liability for its debts, trading without a valid Certificate of Employers’ Liability Insurance and failing to keep the shelves adequately stocked — not to mention the question of how much of this remaining stock is in real terms stolen property, belonging to unpaid suppliers! This is now Durham Cathedral’s heritage, this is what Durham Cathedral now offers to its visitors courtesy of J Mark and Philip W Brewer.

At the time of writing our petition calling upon the Dean and Chapter “to take decisive action now to rescue the shop from further decimation” runs to 364 signatures. Alan Parker, the 357th person to sign it, asks:

Is the North East going to be the forgotten region for access to vital Christian literature? This is in fact the cradle of Christianity in England!

For comparison, I offer you these pictures which I took at the beginning of Lent, during a visit to Sarum Books, Salisbury, a fine example of how a Christian bookshop ought to be stocked, making the most of every inch of shelf space:

Ready for Lent at Sarum Books, 1 and 2 Ready for Lent at Sarum Books 3 and 4

Letter from a Decorator

Phil Groom writes:

Received the message below over the weekend via a comment left on My Story. I have no way of verifying Nigel’s story, of course, but to my mind it has the ring of truth about it:

Dear Sir
My name is Mr Nigle Blakemore and i am writing because i did some decorating on the 27th of january 2009 to the 30th of january 2009 it has been a month now since i have not received my cheque.

the decorating i had done for , ENC SHOP MANAGMENT COMPANY SP1 2PE salisbury ST Johns Street.
was finished on the 30th of January, i gave the shop assisent whos name is Val an invoice on the 5th of February 2009 , she has told me that she sent the invoice off to you in Bradford because you were the main ofice but she would not give me your phone number so that i could get in touch with you on this matter. plaese could you help me sort this matter out .

many thanks
yours sincerely

Mr Nigel Blakemore

I’ve replied as below, but if anyone else has any advice or suggestions for Nigel, please leave them in the comments on this post — and if anyone from Salisbury reads this, please invite your local media to get in touch to help raise awareness of this latest Brewer outrage.

As I’ve suggested with Worcester, I think the most appropriate response is a complete boycott of the shop. If we can get the local media on the case and gain the support of Salisbury’s churches, hopefully the Brewers will get the message that their ways of doing business and dealing with people are not acceptable.

Thanks for copying us in on your message, Nigel — presumably you’ve sent this to the Bradford shop? If not, you’ll find their contact details on their website here, Third Space Books – Bradford, but it might be worth contacting J Mark Brewer directly via his office in Texas: Brewer & Pritchard – Contact Us.

Sadly, you are but one of many victims of J Mark and Philip W Brewer’s tendency not to pay those who work for them and I’m sorry to learn that you’ve had to find out about that the hard way.

I suspect that the only way anyone can be sure of being paid by these guys is to insist on full payment in advance; or in your case, having already done the work, to seek legal advice: your local Citizens Advice Bureau might be a good place to start. It might also be worth contacting your local paper: sometimes public embarrassment seems to work. Would the Salisbury Journal be interested in your story?

Salisbury Revisited

Shop With No Name, Salisbury, 10th Feb 2009

The Shop With No Name, Salisbury, 10th Feb 2009

Phil Groom writes:

Took a day trip to Salisbury on Tuesday. The sun was shining, shoppers galore out and about, but the Shop With No Name was closed. The notice on the door said Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but I can’t remember the exact hours.

Looking through the windows I wondered how much of the stock on display was in real terms stolen property from unpaid suppliers. Lots of cards and candles, a token Lent book in the window, a Valentine’s Day display table inside: someone’s on the ball there, I thought… 

Sale On Selected Items

Sale On Selected Items

I was pleased to see that the ‘Sale’ notice has been changed to one that doesn’t mention SPCK, and whoever changed it was clearly paying attention to detail: the SPCK name and logo have been obliterated from the sale stickers on the books. But nothing to say who the shop’s owners are, no contact info anywhere to seen.

Silent Witness

Silent Witness

I looked up, to the ram above the door: a silent witness to the wrongs done here. “He must know,” I thought, “and the tales he’d tell if he could talk…”

For now we see through a glass, darkly...

'For now we see through a glass, darkly...'

I pointed my camera through the window in the door, and wondered when the windows had last been cleaned.

Although “for now we see through a glass, darkly,” the day is coming when the light of truth will dawn. Brewer beware.

Brewers Still Faking It In Salisbury

Congratulations to J Mark Brewer on winning the much coveted Mr GAFCON 2008 award. Mark, you are truly a hero and I can think of no one else so deserving of this trophy: well done, sir, well done!

Phil Groom writes:

Is it ENC? Is it SSG? Is it Third Space Books? No: it’s SPCK!!

Thanks to one intrepid photographer (you know who you are: thank you) we can reveal that despite a Trading Standards investigation requiring the removal of their illegal SPCK signage, as of 18th December 2008 the former SPCK Bookshop in Salisbury was still using an SPCK Sale notice in its window:

Salisbury, 18th Dec 2008

Salisbury, 18th Dec 2008

Salisbury SPCK Sale Notice, 18th Dec 2008

Zooming In: Salisbury SPCK Sale Notice, 18th Dec 2008

Have to say, I was rather taken by the ‘Window Pictures by Icon Art’ backdrop to the sale notice. Very fetching; and I do hope someone closer to hand will check — and if they’re still displaying this notice, that someone will fetch Wiltshire’s Trading Standards back again…

Somebody remind me, please: how long ago was it that the licence to use the SPCK name in connection with the bookshops was withdrawn? And what did Mark Brewer himself say about wanting to dissociate SSG from that name? Something about “traditional Christian values”? One wonders which tradition he had in mind…

“It is important that the people who work for this charity want to work for it and are devoted to supporting its work because it is not ‘just a job’; it is a mission,” he said. Brewer added that he has no intention to sell off stores. “I did not agree on behalf of Saint Stephen the Great to acquire 23 brilliant locations in great cathedral cities throughout the country, only to sell them a year later,” he said.

“These shops are like the talents the Lord spoke of in the parable, and to earn His favour as ‘good and faithful servants’ we must invest these talents for His glory. That is why I have taken a bold e-commerce initiative to become the dominant online Christian bookseller. I have also opened two new shops since the acquisition.”

Splendidly said, Mark, splendidly said

Church Times Report on Salisbury

Matt Wardman writes:

Yesterday I mentioned that the Church Times was due to publish an article about Mark Clifford’s new bookshop in Salisbury. It also has a good roundup of recent developments in the case of St Stephen the Great. The piece is here and is reproduced below.

A NEW Christian bookshop opens in Salisbury tomorrow. The owner is Mark Clifford, a former manager of Church House Bookshop, who was recently made redundant from the Sarum College Bookshop.

Mr Clifford lost his job in a col­lege cost-cutting exercise, having seen sales rise by ten per cent between September 2007 and June 2008. He had taken over a struggling shop with declining sales, and described his three years there as “tough”. Sales rose despite staff cuts last year, and the shop was said to be picking up a great deal of the business of the former SPCK shop in Salisbury after its new owners, the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG), started bankruptcy proceedings in Texas (News, 13 June 2008). The college’s shop is now being run by its librarians.

The SSG shop is still trading in a limited way in Salisbury, managed by a member of the Brewer family. Mark and Phil Brewer are directors of SSG, an Eastern Orthodox charity based in the US. Many UK suppliers will not deal with SSG, but the Salis­bury and Chichester stores are re­ported to have taken in remaindered books from shops closed by the Brewer brothers. Trading Standards have instructed that SPCK signage is to be removed from the shop front at Salisbury.

Sarum College tried twice to sell the college bookshop to SSG, a move Mr Clifford opposed. The trustees gave him the option last summer of leaving or buying the business him­self, or of someone else’s buying it. It was not prepared to negotiate about the rent. After Mr Clifford announ­ced on 11 August last year that he was going to open his own business, he was given an hour to leave, he said.

The new shop will eventually have two trading floors, he says. “Salis­bury needs a city-centre Christian bookshop, and I think we’ve got the knowledge and experience to pro­vide a really good service. The book trade has got excited by it, and I have tremendous support from publishers and suppliers.”

Restricted covenants limit former SPCK shops to bookselling with a broad Christian tradition. The Brewer brothers tried unsuccessfully to sell many of the shops in April 2008. They sold the Exeter shop in September 2008 for £507,000. It is now GemStar Jewellery and Gifts.

Thirty former employees of SPCK Bookshops are taking their cases to an employment tribunal (News, 12 September 2008). Pensions, treat­ment of staff, payment to creditors, responsibility for leases, and legal threats are all issues as yet unre­solved in what one former employee has described as a “trail of damage and despair”. The SPCK mission society is no longer involved with any of the business of the SSG shops.

Here’s hoping for a LOT of media coverage for our campaign in January.

New Christian Bookshop launched in Salisbury by Mark Clifford: Sarum Books

Matt Wardman writes:


Rubies in the dust are becoming more common, and we now have at least five new independent bookshops set up addressing the market niches previously occupied by SPCK (Leicester, Norwich, Lincoln, Cardiff and Salisbury) and often run by ex-SPCK staff.

There are also a number of other independent initiatives that I don’t know enough about to add to this list.

The ex-Manager of the bookshop at Sarum College Mark Clifford is opening a new bookshop in Catherine Street in Salisbury. There is a report in the Church Times tomorrow.

Mark Clifford is chairman of the Booksellers Association’s Christian Booksellers Group.

Sarum Books on Catherine Street, Salisbury

From a previous Christian Marketplace report

“Clifford told Christian Marketplace that he had secured premises in Catherine Street in the city and was hopeful of being able to open by the middle of October. “I am currently finalising all the legal details with the lease etc. and hope to have everything completed in the next couple of weeks.”

The new shop is to be called Sarum Books and Clifford’s aim is to serve the whole community of Salisbury and maintain the supply of a wide range of Christian books across the theological spectrum.

Clifford said he had received a lot of support, particularly from his two main financial backers, and also from a number of Christian publishers and distributors alike. “I’ve also met the suffragan Bishop who has also been very encouraging and supportive of what I am trying to do and I also know that local clergy will prefer to have a shop in the main shopping area.”

In fact the new shop officially opens on January 3rd.

My Comment

These new independent shops in locations where SPCK bookshops previously existed are preserving the “broad” emphasis of the old SPCK chain (and in my opinion are far more strategic for inter-communal relations than certain Prime Ministers carrying Korans under their arms when the media are around), so I’m keen to encourage them.

In Salisbury, I think it is likely to end up with the Sarum College Bookshop as a specialist academic shop, and Sarum Books on Catherine Street catering to a more general market in the City Centre.

The shop which used to be part of the SPCK chain is the one at 51 High Street, Salisbury and this may soon be called “Saint Stephen the Great” or “Third Space Books” or “ENC Ltd” or “SSG LLC” or whatever the name (or alleged name) is this month, after action by Trading Standards to – I am told – make them take down the SPCK name that they lost the right to use around 14 months ago. I think the sign finally came down about a week ago. I encourage you not to use the Saint Stephen the Great bookshop for all the reasons I have posted previously.


So, in summary:

  1. Please take a look at Sarum Books in Catherine Street, Salisbury.
  2. Avoid the Saint Stephen the Great Christian Bookshop in the High Street in Salisbury. Remember,  it is run by unethical bullies.
  3. The Sarum College bookshop has changed in some ways but is still run by the college. Check this shop out too.

Don’t forget to order your secular books at the Christian bookshop too, if the service fits.

Signs of Change in Salisbury?

Phil Groom writes:

Received the message below from a contact in Salisbury this afternoon. Wonder what else Trading Standards are looking into? Hopefully more than just the signage! I’m guessing this is a result of SPCK’s legal bods pushing the name licensing issue, but it might equally well be following up a private complaint; whichever, it’s a step in the right direction:

I understand that the Salisbury shop has been visited by Trading Standards and has been given a number of weeks in which to remove all SPCK signage and replace it with SSG information. As of this morning, the SPCK lettering on the fascia board has been taken down. 

From Salisbury to York

It’s that advert I’m talking about. The one spotted by Matt Wills in Salisbury, calling for volunteers to join

the UK’s most successful Church and Bookshop Charity. – Saint Stephen the great/SPCK bookshops.

A friend tells me they’re also using it in York, although apparently they’ve at last had the decency to take down the SPCK signage from over the door. 

I still haven’t entirely made up my mind whether the Brewers’ behaviour stems from arrogance, malice or sheer stupidity. Probably an unfortunate combination of all three, but whatever the case, if you’re the praying type, please spare a prayer for any unfortunate souls who may decide to respond to the adverts. I can’t think of a worse way to be introduced to the world of Christian bookselling…

Golden Orb Weaver Spider feasts on a finch

Golden Orb Weaver Spider feasts on a Chestnut-Breasted Mannikin Finch

And I’m sure continuing prayers would be appreciated by those unfortunate enough to be caught up in the tangled web the Brewers have wrapped around Durham Cathedral Bookshop. They’re probably feeling rather like this poor finch that found its way into the press this week.

Quite why the Dean & Chapter of Durham haven’t invoked the termination clause in the lease remains a mystery, but if anyone would like to become more closely involved on the Durham side, they’re still advertising for a new Chapter Clerk; not a bad salary, either…

Back to the tangled web, however:

As for the bird, Dr Atkinson said it probably died of fright, dehydration, or exhaustion from its entrapment, rather than direct spider attack. 

“However, it does appear that the spider has decided that good food shouldn’t go to waste and is therefore attempting to eat the bird, which I find entirely believable,” he said.

Looking at what remains of the bookshops, it seems a remarkably accurate assessment…

Lies, Damned Lies and St Stephen the Great

Phil Groom writes:

Or perhaps that should be “St Stephen the Grate”, because it’s a name that’s really beginning to grate on my ears…

The last time I used that headline, I put a question mark on the end. Today, judging from Matt Wills’ posting of the notice below, which he spotted in the window of the Salisbury shop this week, it’s clear that there’s no question whatsoever — we are dealing with blatant lies:

'Make it happen...'

SSG Salisbury: Make it happen...

Make it happen – volunteer with the UK’s most successful Church and Bookshop Charity. – Saint Stephen the great/SPCK bookshops. 

Looking for an exciting and interesting way to make a difference in promoting Christian Knowledge and the saving of our Christian heritage within our Churches? Whatever your interests or skills, we would love to have you be involved..

Learn new skills, meet new people, and work right at the heart of amazing buildings and locations. And not only work, but be involved in missionary work right in your own back yard.. Just imagine what you could do

Indeed. Just imagine what you could do. You could follow the company’s instructions to lie to your customers: you could use Third Space Books to process customer orders in direct violation of Amazon’s terms for affiliates: you could turn what few books you have in stock face-out on the shelves in an attempt to hide the gaps because you can’t actually order anything: you could offer customers discounts if they’ll fill in gift aid forms: you could work single-handed without being allowed to sit down whilst on duty: you could get an email telling you that SSG has been dissolved but, since you’re a volunteer, that won’t worry you… oh, yes, and you could try cleaning the windows: Philip Brewer’s pretty hot on window cleaning, and if Matt’s photo is anything to go by (zoom in here) those windows in Salisbury could certainly do with it… and, of course, you could pretend that you’re working for SPCK.

Yes, fantastic opportunity: if you’re a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But please don’t help the Brewers bring Christian bookselling or the church into any further disrepute: they’re doing a fine enough job of that in Durham.

Mark Brewer: I’m sure you’ll read this in due course. That may not be your fingerprint embedded in that blob of blu-tack holding that notice in the window. But your fingerprints are all over this sorry mess that you’ve made of the SPCK bookshops. Yes, we know they weren’t perfect, that changes were needed; the staff knew that and they knew that their jobs were on the line if they didn’t pull it together. But you and your brother went in like bulls into a china shop, completely clueless about even the basics of bookselling, completely lacking in anything even remotely resembling people skills — and you dare to call other people to serve as ‘missionaries’?? On behalf of Orthodoxy???

A while back you threatened me with legal action if I didn’t take down that earlier report bearing this report’s title. It’s tempting, very tempting, to hit back with similar threats in response to the allegations you made against me in that correspondence. But instead, I offer you some simple advice: take down that silly notice.

And hand the shop over to someone capable of running it rather than ruining it. Give it to them as it was given to you.

Thank you.

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.