HOLLEYMAN AND TREACHER/COLIN PAGE
The closing of a book shop is a regrettable event, all too common as book dealers switch to Amazon and Ebay. Perhaps the childrten in a reading family have had quite enough of books around the house, and see careers for themselves other than selling books to a largely undeserving public. A wife, abandoned partner or widow, might bravely defend the business from counter, supervising a diminishing stock.
When a major antiquarian bookshop ceases to be, the impact feeds dreams and nighmares and means redrawing the mental map of daytime wandering. It is as if a station on the Metropolitan line had vaporised and you have to return to old maps to check it ever existed.
Holleyman and Treacher had been closed to the public for nearly a year while the stock was boxed and sent off to Dominic Winter’s sale rooms. On that final morning Oriole was on hand to load boxes. I rang the shop to hear a crash explained by David Plumtree that it was Oriole landing on her coccyx. My son Sam and his mate Tom carried boxes into vans, and a skip was placed near the shop’s door in Duke Street, which by that time, was pedestrianized. It had been filled half way with discarded books and pamphlets. A wizened obsessive book fan/dealer sat cross legged among the hymn books, crossword puzzles and holiday guides, his initial enthusiasm visible shrinking as he burrowed further into the pile.
click here for a picture gallery of the Last Days
If there was a replacement in my mind for my favourite posh book shop in Norwich (Thomas Crowe and Son) H&T was it, run by David Plumtree and his business partner, Michael Cadwell. The building had been a Temperance Hotel in the Nineteenth century, retaining that sense of dark labyrinths of room and staircase. I suggested to one Graphic Design student that she could make a worthwhile visual record of the place. She needed no more than the discovery on the first floor of a lavatory and bathroom, the former rusted up, and the latter filled to the brim with odd volumes from sets.
I never found out who Mr Treacher was, but Mr. Holleyman was one of the Godfathers of the Book Trade. And a local archaeologist of some repute. A photograph in an exhibition at the Hove Museum revealed him sitting with a guitar in a chalk fissure, playing the guitar to a circle of admiring women. By the time I found the shop he had retired, the stuff that legends are made of.
Michael with his watercolour cakes sat at the table within the door the model of decorum. Only towards the end of the business did he seem to relax within the emporium. At my last visit he greeted me from the shop's threshold as I approached booming out a very public enquiry whether I had had my nipples pierced. This caused much merriment in the street and news of which got back to the University studios by lunchtime. Holleyman and Treacher customers, included Dennis Healey, Maggie Smith and Dudley Sutton .
I have told about my meeting with the Cinematographer David Watkin elsewhere. His encounters with Michael were a rare treat as as linguistically they would circle each other, firing out waspish one liners in the search of debating points. Michael denies this but I do remember the joy of the encounters. Some of the references were then beyond me, before I absorbed Brighton Patois, and with a minimum of Polare.
One day, Michael came backto the shop from lunch with two clerical gentlemen with whom he wasgoing on holiday to the North Norfolk coast. Never turning down an opportunity to show off my learning, I reminded the holiday makers that the landscape would that of M.R.James, and the atmosphere that of his short stiory, Whistle and I’ll Come to You. “It’s warning to us,”I said in all innocence, “never pick up something on the beach and blow it.”
“Very wise advice Michael,” said one of his ecclesiastical companions with a smirk. Michael presided over the music books and scores, while applying watercolour heightening to steel engravings for framing.
Essential constituents of the theatricality of a visit to Holleyman and Treacher, were Peter and Perlita, assistants in the shop. Peter stood to the left of the hatch staring straight ahead ready to advise a customer, which he did with a grave nod of the head. On my first two visits I don’t think I ever saw him move, in charcoal grey suit and horn rimmed glasses, a veritable Cigar Store Indian.
Perlita Neilson busied herself more actively around the shop. Having been alerted by David, I watched Norman Wisdom’s film Trouble in Store which I’d seen in Handforth when it came out in 1953. And there she was, the shop assistant Mabel, uncredited in the film. Life followed her Art, she was perky and charming, H&T her place to ‘rest’ when not in theatrical employment.
David Plumtree was of course the driving force behind this antiquarian establishment celebrated among London, American and European book dealers, possessed of a fund of complex bibliographic information deployed in quick fire delivery when prompted, substantiated with the very book which he knew to be at the top of the shop, probably under Holleyman’s in house bed. He actively enjoyed showing books to friends, and sharing their delight. I held the Duke of Wellington’s copy of Don Quixote in my hands one summer lunchtime, and David glowed with pleasure.
When colleagues repaired to the Pub in the lunchtime, I chose the Bookish solution. There was always a chair in the back office, and a chance to join in the fun. The saintly Cannon Wiggins would survey the scene while riffling though a tract or two. David Watkin did his best to ruffle the feathers of any customer within earshot. The Cannon did not turn a hair at references to blow jobs on the sea front, much to Mr.Watkin’s disappointment.
The book stock was constantly changing from acquisitions, purchases, remainders and, most wondrously, from discoveries in the five floors of the shop above the office. What eventually doomed the business was the cavalier attitude of several customers to the book stock. Theft was easily dealt with but enquiring fingers going from the bag of cold chips to the spines of books was another. The ice cream cone that drips on the stock became too much to bear.
I was to contribute more than I anticipated to David’s life by introducing him to Barbara Loftus, with Rachael Adams (see the Watkin Library section) my most talented and beautiful student. Turned down by the MA Fine Art staff -she was far too gifted as a figurative artist- she had sought to develop her sequences of paintings with the MA Narrative course, necessitating much research into her mother’s life in Berlin before 1939.
I suggested a joint trip to H&T (not exactly selfless tutorial advice this on my part). She was reluctant because theman in charge seemed grumpy and she was not a little afraid of him. However on our visit, David was on best behaviour scurrying about among the stock. Within a week he had been invited to her studio. Within a year they were married, with Oriole and me as witnesses at the Registry office.
Colin Page’s shop was at the other end of Duke Street and was always my second port of call. If H&T was tracked vertically, from basement to floor above floor, Colin Page was a horizontal mental mapping from shop to the outside storage building with a descent into the basement where the cheap books were. The correct numbering on the key pad opened the iron gates outside the shop for access to the courtyard. In the far corner was small wooden door to the Lock Up through which books waited for shelving.
Again the patrons were delightful, John and Stephen Loska (Colin having retired to his house in France) and always ready to gossip. Their assistants each brought to the Book Hunt well defined characterisation in this dramatis personae, Pete the Poet, Barry the Photographer, David the Locum. One melancholy soul who sat on a high stool in the early years gazing out onto Duke street, was the erudite Grahame White who I persuaded to join the MA course I was running. He made sure you knew he was a reformed heroine addict. I later learned how tragic his life had been at the University of Sussex. David Plumtree was a tower of strength for Grahame, but neither of us could help when he died not of the drug abuse, but choking over food in a local café. David organised his funeral and I played the secular celebrant at the ceremony. I have a tribute to him on my website, together with a selection of his academic papers on the Antiquarian Movement in the UK.
Grahame in my library, click for more
The Page Book Shop was largely unchanged from its distant past. Colin was a Bookbinder of great distinction and a collector too. I was introduced to one room in which glue was once prepared and the raw materials assembled for binding. I was eager to evoke in my PhD students a sense of pre-industrial book production, Happening to mention this rather airily in the presence of a technician I was forced to prepare a risk study of the site for visiting students based on fears of the temperature of the glue. In the end I ‘happened’ to meet the students informally outside the shop and we wandered in to explore the resources.
Surveying the presence of the two shops in my career I have come to realise that, given the inadequacy of the University of Brighton Library at St.Peter’s House, it was perfectly possible to acquire your own focussed research library by regular visits. It had been decreed that no book published before 1900 was to be acquired for St.Peter’s House, a decision made I suspect in a lunchtime drinking session. Every now and then skips would be filled with publications not matching the narrow and implicit curriculum of the Department of Communications. It was clear that the burgeoning database of the WWW would have serious implications for libraries and slide but you wouldn’t know it from the research committees at the University. But at local bookshops you enjoyed that sense of the serendipitous. So many visually orientated people worked in the area or retired to it, that anything might turn up. Holleyman and Treacher , for instance, acquired the library of the cartoonist Peter Kneebone. In Colin Page’s shop I found books from the library of the composer Bernard Herrmann. Many of the postgraduates returned from both shops with discoveries not even available on Inter-library loan.
Modular structures at the University (art school) had restricted the syllausesi and curriculums to the obvious and the conventional. Studio based PhD students were surprised to find that other artists had been reflecting on similar formal and conceptual decisions they were making, in books and pamphlets beyond the standard readers, Chipp, Herbert, and the Documentary Histories of Art.
I shall come back to this aspect of research in another place but want to pay tribute to what bookshops can contribute to the world view of the artist and designer.