Category Archives: York

Former SPCK York to become a Restaurant

York Press, 05/10/2010: "Christian bookshop in Goodramgate, York to be sold for restaurant use"

York Press, 05/10/2010: "Christian bookshop in Goodramgate, York to be sold for restaurant use"

Phil Groom writes:

According to a report published 5th October 2010 in the York Press, the fate of the former SPCK Bookshop in York is now sealed as businessman Ian Loftus has secured permission to turn the premises into a restaurant:

A FORMER Christian bookshop in the centre of York is poised to come up for grabs to restaurateurs after plans to transform it were approved.

Businessman Ian Loftus has secured permission to revamp the disused Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) store in Goodramgate with the aim of attracting a high-profile dining-out name to the city.

The owner of Stonegate’s Evil Eye Lounge and House of Trembling Madness bought the building following the closure of the bookshop two years ago and hopes its availability will help revitalise the street.

The site is expected to go on the market within the next week following the approval of the plans, which involve turning the ground floor of the three-storey structure into a restaurant area, by City of York Council.

York was, of course, one of the freehold premises which was subject to a seven year covenant — full details here (pdf, 745kb) — restricting use of the the premises to trading as a Christian bookshop:

Restrictive Usage Covenant

Restrictive Usage Covenant

As suspected just under a year ago when the For Sale sign was spotted (Nov 2, 2009), it appears that the Interim Manager did not regard the covenant as binding. One can only hope that the monies received for sale of the premises has been used to pay some of the company’s creditors…

The Way It Was: SPCK York, July 2008

The Way It Was: SPCK York, July 2008

Freeholds For Sale at York and Bradford: Where Next?

York - Freehold For Sale

Former SPCK Bookshop, York - Freehold For Sale

Phil Groom writes:

Thanks to the intrepid asingleblog for these photos of the York shop, now up for sale; and thanks to David Ormondroyd for the original tip off when he spotted the sign going up on Friday October 30th.

Interestingly, the company handling the sale is none other than DTZ, which readers with good memories will remember from the notices posted on the shop doors when the Charity Commission started seizing control: Changing the Locks: Official Notices as seen in Chester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Worcester. At the time of posting, this property does not appear to be listed at

Would purchase include fittings, fixtures and stock, I wonder? Judging from the photo below there’s actually quite a bit of stock left.

The other freehold properties are Bradford (For Sale sign spotted by Bradforddian), Canterbury, Exeter, and Truro. Exeter, of course, is history, but all five properties are still, if SPCK have the gumption to enforce it, subject to a seven year covenant — full details here (pdf, 745kb), excerpt below — restricting use of the the premises to trading as Christian bookshops. I wonder if the Interim Manager, having inherited the covenant, will insist upon any subsequent purchaser abiding by it?

Restrictive Usage Covenant

Restrictive Usage Covenant

York - Freehold For Sale

Former SPCK Bookshop, York - Freehold for Sale

Photos taken on Sunday evening, November 1st, 2009.

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

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…

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.

SPCK/SSG News Round-up in Christian Marketplace

June’s Christian Marketplace magazine provides a fairly comprehensive round-up of recent news relating to the ongoing SPCK/SSG shenanigans.

Industry News starts on page 6 and first up is SSG Shops pulled from auction featuring Simon Kingston, SPCK Publishing’s General Secretary and CEO, expressing surprise that the shops were even being offered for sale. Whatever may happen to the shops concerned, however, he confirmed

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.”

Next comes New Bookshop for York: the closure of SSG in York certainly doesn’t spell the end of Christian bookselling in the city as St Paul’s have announced the opening of a new store in September, “making St Paul’s the largest chain of Catholic bookshops in the country.” (Not to mention, of course, the continued presence of the Barbican Bookshop/Wesley Owen on Fossgate).

Moving on to page 7, Beware – Google picks up on my report here warning people of the potential danger of visiting SSG online. Astonishingly, as I write exactly two months since the problem was first reported by a contributor to Dave Walker’s blog on March 31st 2008, SSG still do not appear to have got their house in order and Google’s warning remains in place today (sorry, did I say ‘astonishingly’? My typing finger must have slipped…).

The Dawkins DelusionAlso on page 7 we have SPCK Publishing off to a record start announcing “the best monthly sales in the history of the company” during January this year, “despite the company no longer having the advantage of their own chain of bookshops, following the transfer to SSG…” Part of that sales boost is, of course, due to the McGraths’ riposte to Richard Dawkins, The Dawkins Delusion.

Finally, page 9, Ex-SPCK Bookshop staff get together reports briefly on the meeting for former SPCK booksellers and others held in Esher on 14th May, which I was privileged to attend.

All in all an excellent round up of news and related stories: my thanks to Clem Jackson, Christian Marketplace’s Editor, for giving me and this blog more than a few honourable mentions along the way, and I suspect I speak for many more when I say particular thanks for helping to keep the SPCK/SSG situation in the spotlight.

If you, gentle reader, are not a subscriber to Christian Marketplace may I encourage you to consider signing up? At only £25 per year (monthly: 12 issues) it’s excellent value for money and will help keep you up to speed with both the world of Christian retail and the world of Christian publishing: never again will you need to ask “What’s new?” — you’ll know already.

May those booksellers still working for SSG find the strength they need to face an uncertain future, and may those whom the Brewers seem to have cast aside so carelessly find justice in their forthcoming employment tribunals: grace and peace to you all.