Bid to spread the reading bug

Grand opening of the bookshop – (left to right) Councillor Gordon Bambridge, executive member for growth, Breckland Council; Wisbech mayoress Mrs Janet Tanfield; Charlotte Gilsenan, new chief executive officer of Bankside Open Spaces Trust; Mr Peter Clayton, chairman of Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Trust; Wisbech mayor Councillor Peter Human

A new bookshop teeming with titles is helping to perpetuate Octavia Hill’s determination to spread the word about the joy of reading in the town where she was born.

The Octavia Hill Society, a registered charity dedicated to promoting awareness of the ideas and ideals of the town’s most famous daughter, has established at 4 Post Office Lane, Wisbech, the Clock Bookshop, which draws its name from the newly refurbished Clock Tea Room at the Birthplace House nearby.

Everything from biography to cookery titles is set to tick the boxes for book lovers and bargain hunters, and the crowded shelves include novels and antiquarian works, books on crafts, nature, health, military matters and travel as well as titles tailor made for children and adolescents.

Octavia Hill, the Wisbech-born social reformer and co-founder of the National Trust, was the driving force and treasurer of the influential Kyrle Society, which was founded by her sister, Miranda, to bring beauty home to the people and which spawned 13 daughter branches.

One element of the Kyrle Societies’ campaign was a ‘Books for all’ enterprise, when public library provision was still in its infancy in the Victorian era, and in 1877 the societies’ literature branches started sending books all over the United Kingdom to communities which had requested them.

In a bid to demonstrate that Octavia Hill’s methodology is not only achievable but also valid today, the society has taken a lease on the premises for six months and it is hoped that the shop will become a clearing house for second-hand books for the whole of Wisbech and the surrounding area.

Readers can donate books to the shop and at the end of the period any good quality volumes left unsold will be offered to applicants free of charge.   Money raised by the sales will be considered as donations to the Octavia Hill Society, which is the primary friends’ support group for Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House at 7 South Brink.

The shop was opened by Charlotte Gilsenan, the new chief executive officer of Bankside Open Spaces Trust, which runs Red Cross Garden, a key part of the most important Octavia Hill site in London.   Wisbech mayor Councillor Peter Human welcomed the valuable addition to the town.

Volunteer Carol Scott, one of a three-strong team currently running the shop, said:  “Our hope is that the people of Wisbech will welcome this additional service to our community and it will enable them to donate their books to a good cause as well as giving, as Octavia Hill did, access to books for people of all ages.”

She added that people interested in helping to man the store would be asked to do two-hour slots and that those wishing to be involved should leave their details at the shop, which opens on Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to 4pm.