Saturday 7 August 2021

 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.

A suggestion for you: if you are from this region please visit  number 14 Newgate Street and take away books for yourself to treasure. Or you may drop some off to share them with others. If you are not from this region check out Global Education Trust 

Find Debora Robertson at





  1. GetFreeBooks is a great idea especially when our libraries are being closed and underfunded.
    I hear of councils exploiting lockdown by reducing library hours, just to make savings.
    Without women of the character and vision of Gillian Wales, how can we nurture a love of reading in the young? You can't blame children for preferring their smartphones.

    I am reading a Yale paperback edition (annotated) of Hamlet.
    The editor, Burton Raffel, took his first English class at Yale in 1948.
    In half a century of teaching he has seen *a powerful paradigm shift in literacy* as millennial students spend much time on their devices.
    Professor Raffel believes that post-war students were uniquely literate, and that students with that level of skill in reading will never come again.

    This is why I think we need to see a new movement, and this will mean nurturing the next generation of women like Gillian Wales.
    So far, with the exception of reading groups, there are few encouraging signs.
    Government ministers think in terms of the next five years. So the movement will need to be led from the ground up.

    Incidentally there are places in Toronto where people can pick up books for nothing, and may leave books behind. These book boxes were discovered by a book YouTuber *emmie* which I recommend. Emmie (lower case for YouTube) shared her first reading of War and Peace.
    A writing vlog, Shaelin Writes, is rather good too.
    Shaelin lives in Vancouver.

    I am delighted to read your posts after such a long absence.
    Your descriptions of Bishop Auckland are engaging.
    I have not left Scotland these last years because of Covid. I miss the Cotswolds + France.
    John Haggerty, Glasgow, Scotland.

  2. I also haunted Spennymoor library. I couldn’t wait to be 7 years old and be allowed to join the library. I even remember the first 2 books I borrowed.
    In the 50s and 60s there was no reserving of novels other than a list of specific authors. I remember reading the Whiteoak series by Mazo de la Roche and visited the library almost every day in order to check the shelves in order to try to borrow the next book in the series.
    The library opened the door to a world of wonder and imagination. AGW

  3. Wendy, you overlook something. Like the Bishop Auckland library, you are a pillar of inspiration, learning, and resource within yourself, inspiring all around you young and old. Do you know what it makes possible to young minds who look along their terraces and then gaze across the digital abyss to the insurmountable heights of literary success? They think, Wendy Robertson walks these streets as I do, my dreams are possible too.

  4. Thank you, we are so glad you enjoyed your visit to 14. If anybody is looking for a current list of our shops, you can find them on the pinned post for our charity's shop page and in the comments the links to their Facebook page.

  5. i, too, was a daily visitor to the Clyde Terrace library, with a weekly treat of a Saturday bus ride to Bishop Auckland to explore what seemed to be their even more extensive collection. A book a day was my reading diet, often consumed surreptitiously by torchlight under the bed covers. As a lonely, only child, books were my escape, my salvation and my entrance to alternative realities. Thank you Wendy for rekindling precious memories.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...