Nothing is as uplifting as a browse in a pretty bookshop.

As the high street collapses around us, you might have thought that independent bookshops would be among the rubble. On the whole, happily, you’d be wrong.

In spite of Covid, the internet, business rates and Brexit, independent bookstores are thriving in the UK. In 2020, The Booksellers Association reported a third consecutive year of indie bookshop growth. The trade body’s MD said: ‘It is very heartening. This is testament to the creativity, passion and hard work of our booksellers, who continue to excel in challenging circumstances.’

There are three things these booksellers all have in common: a nose for a great read; a knack for selling delectable cards, wrapping paper and stationery; and an excellent instinct for stimulating events.

Laughing in the face of their online competitors, here are nine of the best indie bookstores in the land.

Much Ado Books


East Sussex


Based in the pretty South Downs village of Alfriston, this bookshop is everything its customers could possibly want it to be. It offers private browsing appointments, an inspiring events programme and talks by top authors. Conde Nast Traveller calls it: ‘One of the most enchanting independent bookshops in the country.’ Discover more here.


Heywood Hill


London


This Mayfair stalwart has been selling box to the upper crust since 1936. Its booksellers’ charm and knowledge is legendary. When Nancy Mitford worked here during the second half of WWII, she set the literary and social tone that endures today. The team says: ‘If we have a specialisation it is in our devotion to customer service and in striving never to let our customers down.’ Discover more here.


Winstone’s


Dorset, Devon And Somerset


It isn’t an exaggeration to say that this trio of award-winning independent bookshops – one in Sherborne, one in Sidmouth and one in Frome – enhances the southwest. With 30 years experience in the book trade, Wayne Winstone opened the first of his mini-chain in Dorset in 2012 and has managed consistently to expand since. We like their slogan for the pandemic: ‘stay well; stay well-read’. Discover more here.


The Old Electric Bookshop


Hay On Wye


This beautiful emporium, which offers mostly non-fiction books, is part of a café and bigger general store selling pretty things. This sanctuary stands out in a town bursting with books. Hannah Burson, the owner, says she stocks: ‘The books we want to read, to look at, to give, for us, our friends and our children.’ Discover more here.


Jaffe And Neale


Oxfordshire


In 2006, the Cotswolds town of Chipping Norton was given a great gift: Patrick Neale and Polly Jaffé opened a café and bookshop in the market square. You may find yourself browsing the excellently informed selection of books on offer, as well as the carefully chosen gifts and accessories, for hours on end. Warning: you will not be able to resist the locally made cakes. Discover more here.


Lutyens & Rubinstein


London


This place is as smart and refined as you’d expect a bookshop in today’s Notting Hill to be. Set up by two literary agents in 2009, it sells excellent fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children’s books (as well as particularly glorious cards and wrapping paper). They say: ‘Every book stocked has its place because somebody loves it and has recommended it.’ Discover more here.


The Suffolk Anthology


Cheltenham


This whitewashed bookshop and café has sat peacefully in a Grade II listed building in Cheltenham since 2015. Owner Helene Hewett, who has loved reading all her life, decided to leave her 24-year career as a GP and open a bookshop once her four children had grown up. She remarks: ‘Customers say that they love the shop for its calm, welcoming atmosphere; many tell me it’s their ‘happy place’.’ Discover more here.


Walter Henry’s Bookshop


Devon


This lovely bookshop in Bideford looks from the outside like it could have been around since the Victorian era. In fact, it only dates back to 1998 when it was opened to celebrate the centenary of Chopes department store (which is now closed). Years ago, The Guardian claimed: “Staff are convinced the place is haunted, with books falling off shelves for no reason and footsteps echoing in the empty flat above.” We don’t know about that but we do know that a love of good books oozes from the staff’s every pore. Discover more here.


Nomad Books


London


This happy haven opened its doors on a bustling little stretch of the Fulham Road in 1990 and has stood firm ever since. As in all the best bookshops, browsing is encouraged. Nomad goes a step further than most, though, and even has sofas dotted around for your perusing pleasure. Discover more here.


Becky Ladenburg
July 2021

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Becky Ladenburg

Features Editor

As the GWG's features editor, Becky has her discerning finger on the cultural pulse. She's also our go-to expert on the property market.

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