The Crime Readers' Association

Bookseller of the Month – September 2022: The Oundle Bookshop

1st September 2022

Joanna Patterson-Gordon of The Oundle Bookshop

Talks to William Shaw

You’ll find The Oundle Bookshop behind an impressive line of Georgian pillars on Market Place, which is where it’s been for a remarkable 99 years. It’s a traditional bookseller and one with a rich history. Originally established by the local public school, the owners approached Joanna Patterson-Gordon and her family 12 years ago to ask if they would be interested in taking the shop over.  Joanna is part of the Coleman family, who have been running stationers’ shops in the area for over 80 years. She admits she had no experience at all of running a bookshop, but was very tempted by the offer. “I felt I’ve always been a good customer of the bookshop and loved books, so we thought we would give it a go,” recalls Joanna. “And it’s been the most serendipitous experience for me.”

They took over the shop at the absolute nadir of the fortunes of local independent bookshops. In the 1990s, there had been about 2,000 bookshops in the UK. By the time that Joanna took over the shop, that number had halved. Northamptonshire was about to lose what would have been its last real indie bookshop.

“We are now the last independent bookshop that sells new titles in a county that used to have one in every town,” says Joanna, conscious of how they were taking over a business at a time when so many others were failing.”

As with so many other shops, events have been key to its success. The Oundle Bookshop, with the local Oundle Festival of Literature, runs events throughout the year – plus the shop codes book launches and runs three annual wine and canapé book events. This has helped to galvanise a community around the shop.

“People will travel to find a lovely independent bookshop and so we like to give them a welcome when they get here – and they keep coming back.”

What also helped, maybe, is that Joanna also inherited the bookshop’s manager, Karen Burton, who had been working in the shop since she was 16. Amazingly, this year will be Karen’s 50th in the shop.

CRA member Charlotte Williams, who runs the book group Oundle Crime and who nominated the Oundle Bookshop to us, points out that crime is just a part of what the shop sells, but they’ve done events with Mark Billingham at the festival, and the new Reverend Richard Coles book has sold extremely well.

“He’s Northamptonshire born and bred and recently mentioned us in one of the national newspapers as his favourite bookshop. He’s been a great customer of ours so it’s nice to see his success as a writer now.”

They also sell a lot of books by Adam Croft, one of the self-publishing world’s great success stories. Adam sets many of his books locally, in Rutland, and there’s usually one of his somewhere in the window. “Peter May, Elly Griffiths, Anthony Horowit,z and Susan Hill are also big local favourites,” says Karen Burton.  After 50 years, she retires this year.

“What am I going to miss most? Oh, I think the books – and the people! It’s been a wonderful life.”

The Oundle Bookshop, 13 Market Pl, Oundle, Peterborough PE8 4BA

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