Alnwick’s railway gem

Sarah Palmer makes a delightful discovery in a Northumberland bookshop.

Barter Books in Alnwick on the Northumberland coast has the theme of railways running through it, just like the rusty swirls that run through the stone of the town’s famous castle, which, after Windsor, is the second largest inhabited castle in England.

One of the bookshop’s founders, Stuart Manley, is involved with the Aln Valley Railway, director David Champion is president of the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, the bookshop is housed in Alnwick’s former station, and oh, there’s a sizeable model railway snaking its way across the top of the bookshelves.

The bookshop is housed in the former Alnwick railway station.

Its very credible railway heritage and stock of up to half a million books mean that up to 370,000 visitors a year visit Barter Books, which makes it one of the top tourist destinations in the North East. It can also lay claim to being one of the largest second-hand bookshops in Europe.

The Victorian station that is now home to this remarkable place was originally the termination of a three-mile branch line that came off the East Coast Main Line a few miles away at Alnmouth, and is roughly halfway between Newcastle and Edinburgh. Originally part of the North Eastern Railway, it opened in 1887 and was closed in 1968, and was then used as a warehouse, with many areas becoming derelict until Mary and Stuart opened the bookshop in 1991 and progressively renovated the building.

I spoke to David Champion who is one of the directors of the shop as well as the current president of the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust.

“Much of the original station structure survives, and the restored waiting rooms are now used by customers of Barter Books’ coffee shop, The Station Buffet,” he says.

Isle of Man Railway Caledonia by Accucraft operated every day for 21/2 years, running close to 7000 real miles, (about 150,000 scale miles). It has its original motor and wheels throughout, although LGB stock usually has its wheels replaced every three months or so.

“Stuart had a business in a small part of the old station manufacturing building and scenery kits for model railways under the Linka system, but he found that business to be quite seasonal – it did well in winter, but not so well in the summer, so he needed a way to bolster his income to make it into a year-round business. So his wife Mary suggested that they open a bookshop, and after six months it was so successful that they gave up the modelling business to concentrate on books.

Once the bookshop had expanded into the rest of the building then Mary had the idea of putting a model railway on top of the shelves as she wanted to create something that would visually link the large number of shelves together. It’s a Gauge 1 model railway that runs on three separate circuits: “It’s in use every day from nine till seven, except Christmas Day, and each circuit does about 3000 miles annually,” he adds.

For the full article, see February’s edition of Modelling – available now!

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