Ken Spelman Books in York awaiting planning permission.

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An historic bookshop in central York that ceased trading earlier this year will become a rare book haven once again after being bought by another local business in the trade.

The shop at 70 Micklegate had been known as Ken Spelman Books for more than 70 years, and prior to that a bookshop had traded from the site for at least 30 years.

It shut earlier this year after owner Tony Fothergill and his wife Nicki decided to focus on digital sales and fairs.

However, it will now be run by Lucius Books. Owner James Hallgate has long admired the shop.

“Ken Spelman Books is where I bought my first rare books,” he says. “When an opportunity to buy the building came up it was too good to be true. Spelman is a York institution and I wouldn’t be a bookseller today without Spelman Books and [former Ken Spelman Books owner] Peter Miller.”


Lucius Books’ current shop in York.

Hallgate founded Lucius in 1993 and has dealt from shops in York since 2003. Having bought the freehold of Spelman’s former premises, a Grade II* building, Lucius is seeking planning permission to update the interior.

He continues to trade from its nearby shop at 144 Micklegate until the move, and plans to hire more staff for the four-storey building. Redevelopment plans include opening up the interior to increase daylight and create a gallery space.

News that the premises will return to selling books is welcome in a city that has lost a number of bookshops in recent years.

Upcoming closures include Fossgate Books. Owner Alex Helstrip is semi-retiring and will close his shop at 36 Fossgate at the end of the year. Having traded from the location for 30 years, the dealer plans to launch a website and sell his stock online.

The landlord is considering options for the premises.

Helstrip said: “It is a shame York has lost bookshops. Some people think bricks and mortar stores are not viable but they certainly are in York. I have been doing this for 30 years and have been successful and made a living. I would happily give advice to any younger person wishing to start out selling rare books here.”

Coincidentally, Lucius Books had also been based in Fossgate but moved to the much higher ground of Micklegate after devastating floods hit York in 2015 – and deluged the bookshop.

Encouraging signs

However, there are encouraging signs that younger book sellers are keen to join the trade.

The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association’s York Antiquarian Book Seminar reported a record number of students (38) for the event earlier this autumn, demonstrating a “real focus on young people showing interest in the trade and potentially starting their own business.”

Family business

Meanwhile, the town of Skipton, nearby in North Yorkshire, has welcomed a new bookshop.

Keogh’s Books opened its first shop in Leeds in the 1980s but later moved to the Cotswolds and traded online.

Carmel Keogh took over the business after her father died in 2020 and, following a move from the Cotswolds to North Yorkshire, has decided to return it to bricks and mortar.

She grew up surrounded by the rare books business.

“I was nearly born on a bookstall as my mum went into labour while they were setting up the bookstall at Bantry fair,” she told ATG. “I worked with my dad since I was about eight or nine.”

After some time in a different field, she returned to the trade in 2019 when the management of the business started to be passed to her.

She adds: “My dad had a great eye for particularly interesting or unusual antiquarian books, and I’ve tried to maintain the same focus on quality and not be too swayed by fads or fashions.

“We also spent a lot of time talking about what we enjoyed reading and so I can appreciate modern first editions too. Equally, books are also aesthetic objects, as well as being valuable for their historic or artistic content, so I’m continuing to expand our stock of fine press books and fine bindings.”

The business sells from 71 High Street, Skipton, and online.