Keep Calm and Go to Barter Books

Keep Calm and Go to Barter Books

In Alnwick, Northumberland, there is a very large secondhand book store that occupies the former train station. It’s called Barter Books, and anyone who loves books should put it on their bucket list.

The store houses hundreds of thousands of books, meticulously categorized by genre or topic. They range from modern best sellers to books a hundred years old or more, on every topic under the sun. Boards with literary quotes span the aisles to create a makeshift archway under which you can stroll.

barter books alnwick northumberland
In addition, there are plenty of cozy places to sit and read.

Barter Books Alnwick northumberland
I loved this quote that I found in one area of the store:

beater books alnwick northumberland
There’s even a restaurant on site, so you could conceivably spend an entire day there. Seems like it could be dangerous for us bibliophiles!

But let’s not forget that the book shop is inside a Victorian train station. In a nod to the building’s history, a model train whizzes around the tops of the bookshelves in one room. You can catch a glimpse of it here, in this photo I took of the large mural.

barter books mural alnwick northumberland
The folks in this mirror look like they are having a great time, and that may be because they are all famous authors. To name a few: Jane Austen (far left, blue dress), Ernest Hemingway (center bottom, yellow shirt), Mark Twain (center bottom, white suit), Charles Dickins (top right, hand raised), and Oscar Wilde (top center, swathed in blue fabric).

But more than the books, the quotes, the train, and the mural, there’s this:

You see, without Barter Books, we might never have known about this iconic WWII poster.

In the beginning of Britain’s involvement in WWII, graphic artists designed posters for distribution to the public. The posters were to be uniform in design and morale-boosting in content. As a result, the government printed three different designs. One said Freedom Is In Peril – Defend It with All Your Might. A second said, Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory. And the third is the now iconic Keep Calm and Carry On.  The first two hung in shop windows all over Britain. The government printed nearly 2.5 million copies of the third poster, but never distributed it. They held back on releasing it; waiting for an invasion or other cataclysmic event. Most of those printed copies were later destroyed in a paper salvage campaign.

In 2000, the owner of Barter Books bought a box of books at an auction and found one of the posters in the box. He liked it, so he had it framed and hung it in the store. Customers loved it, so he made prints and began selling them. Of course, you know how the story goes from there.

Some would say it’s been done to death by mass marketing, and they may be right. But to me, the poster is quintessentially British. I often wonder about life in the UK during World War II, and how difficult it must have been. London children sent to relatives in more rural areas (if they were lucky… sent to total strangers if they weren’t), covering windows with blackout paper at night so there would be no lights to show enemy warplanes populated areas, and living with a constant fear of being bombed. I don’t think that most people in the US now would be able to keep calm and carry on the way the British did then.

In conclusion, if you find yourself in Alnwick, be sure to stop by Barter Books.  It’s a great store, and you never know what you might find.

Barter Books is in Alnwick Station, Northumberland NE66 2NP.  Telephone 44(0) 1665 604888.  They are open daily from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm.  


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