It’s hard to believe that over two and a half years have passed since we left Upton Park and anyone who’s visited the area since will tell you that a certain part of Green Street sadly looks very different these days.
While some local businesses didn’t survive the exodus of West Ham United one very tenacious enterprise that enjoyed a longstanding relationship with the club and our fans is still hanging in there just around the corner in the Barking Road.
Newham Bookshop celebrated its 40th birthday this year, which is no mean feat in the current literary climate; sadly over half of independent bookshops in the UK have closed in the last 12 years due to the growing competition from supermarkets and online booksellers. The bookshop was originally established by a group of local parents to provide an educational resource in the area and today it is a non-profit organisation owned by an educational charity and has a very strong relationship with the local schools. It was founded as a community bookshop and obviously a huge part of that community for 38 years were the fans, players and staff of West Ham United.
Over the decades Newham Bookshop has hosted many West Ham players, managers and related authors at events and signings to promote their books. The list includes the illustrious (and not so illustrious) names of Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Danny Dyer, Steve Bacon, Brian Williams, Jeremy Nicholas, Robert Banks, Iain Dale, Cass Pennant, Tina Moore, Brian Belton and Pete May. I’m sure that many of you have queued outside for the chance to meet one of your West Ham idols and to read the tales of their exploits and achievements; while for other bibliophilic Hammers browsing the overflowing bookshelves was no doubt a part of your match day routine.
During a recent interview for an article on The Spitalfields Life blog to celebrate the bookshop’s 40th year Vivian Archer, the shop’s manager for the past 33 years, said:
“When the West Ham ground was across the road, it was rammed here on a Saturday afternoon with football fans before and after the match. You couldn’t move in the shop for about two hours and we always did big signing sessions with footballers like Geoff Hurst and Trevor Brooking. Five hundred people came for Clyde Best last year.”
In May 2016 Pete May also interviewed Viv for his Hammers in the Heart blog for her views on West Ham’s departure from Green Street and what it would mean for Newham Bookshop. Viv recalled:
“The biggest signing was John Lyall just after they failed to renew his contract. They were hanging off the ceiling and he was a really nice man. Trevor Brooking spoke to everybody. Jimmy Greaves was lovely, but we had more Spurs fans than West Ham. The most unusual was Frank McAvennie before a Millwall game on a Sunday. He was a little late as he’d been out the night before, but it was a good signing even if it was a bit hairy because it was Millwall.”
Inevitably the shop has really missed our custom since we left Upton Park but evidence of the link between us is still there on the shelves as even now the sports section is heavily weighted with claret and blue tomes. There’s even a ‘timely’ clue that Upton Park was once the home of the Hammers above the till in the children’s section of the shop.
By now I’m sure you’re wondering where this article is leading. My reason for writing is to ask West Ham fans for your support for Newham Bookshop’s ‘Two Doors Down’ fundraising campaign. The adults’ section of the bookshop currently occupies 747 Barking Road and the landlord of that part of the premises is developing the flats above the shop and part of the shop itself into offices. This would mean that Newham Bookshop would lose one third of their space and it would cause huge disruption.
Fortunately serendipity stepped in when number 743, the shop adjacent to the other side of the children’s section, became available and the adults’ section of Newham Bookshop is now going to be relocated two doors down and relaunched this Christmas. However, before that can happen they need to raise £25,000 to cover the refurbishment and fitting costs because the empty shop is in a poor state of repair.
As I’m sure you can appreciate, this is a huge sum of money for a charitable organisation to find, so on Sunday evening the ‘Two Doors Down’ fund raising campaign was launched with a book auction at The Wanstead Tap in Forest Gate. The book lots were generously donated by authors and publishers and many of them were signed copies, including a copy of the recently published ‘An Irrational Hatred of Everything’ by Robert Banks which contained the signatures of all but two of the 1980 FA Cup winning West Ham squad. The auction raised over £3,000 for the cause, which was a great start but there’s still a long way to go.
In addition to the auction a Crowdfunder page went live on Sunday night so I’m appealing to those of you who used to frequent Newham Bookshop on match days and all the other book lovers among you to consider making a donation to an organisation which served our community for 4 decades. If you’re feeling especially generous there’s an opportunity to have a shelf dedicated in your name, which would mean that you would be immortalised in Upton Park just a football’s throw from the statue of our 1966 World Cup Heroes ….. not bad company to keep.
You can find the link to the Crowdfunder page here:
Thanks for reading.