Blossoming Bishop Auckland - Mark One
I gave up on Enid Blyton when I was seven and graduated in the following years of childhood to Emily E Nesbitt, J M Barrie, P L Travers, Arthur Ransome Allison Uttley, Geoffrey Trease and Rider Haggard. And of course the immaculate sisters Emily and Charlotte Bronte. My destination of choice was Spennymoor library, located then in a converted double fronted house in Clyde Terrace at the end of my house in the street of two-up and two-down houses, where I lived with my three siblings and widowed mother.
By the time I was 12 I was reading five or six books a week courtesy of this wonderful library. I would go to the library for four or five times week both to change my own books and the change books for my mother, whose taste ranged from Ethel M Dell and Barbara Cartland to Charles Dickens.
So, coming from an apparently poor home, this library proved to be the oyster from which – more than my grammar school – I could access and savour pearls of wisdom and human insight which nurtured my innate intelligence and gave me the whole world.
Off one corner of one of the well-stocked library rooms there was a long narrow space – probably formerly a larder – with a long surface from end to end with a row of seats. This was specially installed so that children from crowded houses like mine could come to do their homework and their reading in peace.
This is the library where a librarian Marion would suss out my taste and find books and save them for me.
A generation later, after in a lifetime as a teacher and writer, my go-to library was in Bishop Auckland Town Hall, in walking distance from my home which is itself now is as lined with books is that Spennymoor library. For many years Bishop Auckland Town Hall’s splendid library – plus art gallery and theatre - was managed by librarian magician called Gillian Wales who became my friend. I spent many hours there researching and writing my novels, running a writing group and giving writing workshops and guidance to aspiring writers. It was always a most welcoming, civilised and inspirational space.
But that was then, this is now! The Town Hall has been closed during the Covid pandemic and subsequently – undergone refurbishment as part of some wonderful developments in the new emergence of Bishop Auckland under the benevolent aegis of the amazing Jonathan Ruffer.
Sadly, the whole building, behind its familiar Victorian façade, has now been modernised out of all recognition. Without the subtle leadership of Gillian Wales* the library has now been diminished into a negligible, less accessible space, among other fluidly unrecognisable spaces. I am left to wonder how many book-hungry twelve-year-old children like me from crowded indigent households would find this in any way enabling, engaging and inspiring as was the little Spennymoor library to me.
*My daughter reminds that the late great gardener
Rosemary Verey, is alleged to have said. ‘A garden never outlives its gardener.’ This seems so in the case of super-librarian
Gillian Wales and her Bishop Auckland Library.
Blossoming Bishop Auckland - Mark Two
Bu-u-t there are more optimistic signs in this wonderful town. After being locked down and virtually locked in in the last 18 months I am wondering Newgate Street – the main street of Bishop Auckland – I am having coffee with my daughter in the excellent new café The Fox’s Tale. It is full and quite busy, which is a nice thing to see. We sip our excellent coffee and look out of the window onto the marketplace which is at last regaining some of its former sense of busyness and occasion. A horse and buggy passes with three children aboard.
We make our way back down the street and come upon what looks at first glance like a bookshop. It is beautifully laid out with a whole range of well-organised books standing to attention with here and there is a chair to sit on. We choose some books which definitely meet our varied tastes but discover we are not obliged to pay for them.
It turns out that this shop, run by very friendly volunteers, is called
Get FreeBooks Bishop Auckland At 14. (Facebook Page)
It turns out that this wonderful place is part of the global educational trust which focuses on self-help within communities. It very much involves children and families.
Look it up at Global Education Trust
Our venture this morning certainly adds something of a balance to the sad downgrading of Bishop Auckland library in the context of upgrading lovely Bishop Auckland itself.
Inside the shop my own (now very grown-up) daughter picks up glossy books on France and French cuisine (to contribute to her research on her next book) and I pick up a novel set in Imperial Rome. And then she comes upon a novel of mine called No Rest for the Wicked, which just happens to be set in Bishop Auckland and features in the narrative the colourful Bishop Auckland Theatre. She holds it up in the air and gestures to me. I am pleased and slightly embarrassed, but delighted that someone may come and pick this up for free and take it home to enjoy reading it.
One of the very welcoming volunteers – who is also a ceramicist - tells me that they are short of my titles in their collection. So I make a mental note to walk along to donate a few titles. It is my community after all.
Now here I am, thinking that my 12 year old self would be very happy to be walking into this shop and picking up some favourite authors to take home to my narrow street house and to read it for free.
So you can see very clearly how happy I am that my lovely Bishop Auckland is blossoming yet again.