Bookcase, Carlisle: the bookshop that got me into secondhand books

In 2003, long before I became a volunteer in charity bookshops, my first exposure to secondhand books was here in Bookcase in Carlisle. This 4-floor emporium supplied me through 2 degrees and a stint in research. It can help with reading lists, for sure, but its magic is in providing the unusual, those niche books that give an unconsidered angle through a subject, or angles that have been overlooked or just simply forgotten.

If a library is a memory decided on by publicly appointed professionals, then Bookcase is a parallel memory that twists and turns around it according to the choices made, over the years, by the locals who wanted to clear their shelves for whatever reason, and the customers who responded with their interests.

This process has shaped what is undoubtedly the most overwhelming secondhand bookshop in the North West region of England. True, Barter Books in Alnwick is quite large. And Westwood Books would stand out in a town, let alone a village like Sedbergh. But a visit to Bookcase is a project. The gallery here is only a glimpse. In sympathy, the place has a distribution of comfy chairs, and a filter coffee machine downstairs. These help you to soak up an atmosphere that’s quirked by meandering floor-levels and then electrified by chance discoveries.

The owner is one of the people behind Borderlines, Carlisle’s own book festival. The 2015 festival starts 3rd September. This year’s contributors include Jenny Uglow and Owen Jones.

Click anywhere in the gallery above to get a slideshow.


If you’re visiting Carlisle, then you can also buy secondhand books from the equally excellent, only much smaller Oxfam Bookshop. You might even bump into my good self!

The other specialist secondhand outlet in Carlisle is the Eden Valley Hospice Bookshop. For new books, Carlisle sports Bookcase’s sibling, Bookends, and a large-ish Waterstones.

There’s a Discover Carlisle site for anyone interested in non-book attractions, such as places to stay, and most importantly, pubs!

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35 Responses to Bookcase, Carlisle: the bookshop that got me into secondhand books

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Looks and sounds like the perfect bookshop…..

    Like

    • Jeff says:

      Incredibly, all that vastness has order. The alphabetisation is next door to impeccable.

      Like

      • kaggsysbookishramblings says:

        If only I wasn’t at the other end of the country!

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        • Jeff says:

          The West coast line has great deals if you book in advance. You’ll be in Hadrian’s Wall country. Less crowded than the Lake District (though you can pop down to visit there too). A day-trip away from Newcastle and those Whitley Bay bookshops I’ve posted about. Newcastle secondhand bookshop posts upcoming too. Stay tuned.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Thom Hickey says:

    Thanks. Next time I’m in Carlisle! Thom.

    Like

  3. Makes the idea of a trip to Carlisle worthwhile!

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  4. bellarah says:

    Why do you English get all the awesome bookshops?! And charity bookshops? Why is this not a thing here? Damn it sucks being a convict castaway sometimes.

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    • Jeff says:

      Beats me. At Oxfam, we get orders from the EU and ROW, but I don’t know what the setup is in other countries. Maybe there’s just few people publicising secondhand bookshops?
      Looks like you’ve got some choice in Sydney:
      http://www.elizabethsbookshop.com.au/
      http://gouldsbooks.com/
      http://www.sapphobooks.com.au/

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      • bellarah says:

        Elizabeths is very good, but definitely not as cool as this bookshop! Gould’s is hyped up, but I’ve found it to be full of a lot of rubbish and very highly priced. Sappho is lovely but unfortunately nowhere near where anywhere I tend to go. We do have Ampersand and Berkeleows, which I 100% recommend if you ever find yourself in Sydney, but again they’re really nowhere near me! My local second hand bookshop is a hit and miss book avalanche waiting to happen 😉

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        • Jeff says:

          Maybe not all secondhand bookshops are worth shouting about. I’ve known a couple of local ones that were structured around potential avalanches. A real mess. If they’d’ve survived I wouldn’t blog about them. As it was, they folded. Maybe it’s just me, but more stock isn’t more when its piled in the way of other stock.
          Pet peeve out of the way, I’d say we have a good few gems in the North of England. When I’m back in paid work, I shall travel further afield to report from elsewhere.

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          • bellarah says:

            The guy who runs mine barely speaks English and has absolutely no clue what he has in there. Sometimes I’ve found awesome stuff, other times it’s all rubbish. Goulds is chockers full but everything seemed to be poor quality and much higher priced than Ampersand, Elizabeth’s and Sappho, despite being in a similar location (though Goulds is massive). I must get to the North of England, it looks positively beautiful and always captures my imagination!

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          • Jeff says:

            It’s good to see such familiarity. A lot of people don’t know what’s in their locale. I have to explain to people in Hexham (which is about 40 miles away) where Bookcase is. So many secondhand bookshops go unnoticed.
            I can recommend researching the secondhand bookshops whenever you visit somewhere outside Sydney. It’s not an obvious thing to research when going away from home, but it does open up extra nice things to do when going away.
            Have a look in my secondhand bookshops category and you’ll see more from Northern England and just over the border in Scotland:
            https://recentitems.wordpress.com/category/secondhand-bookshops/
            If more book bloggers did this and posted about their visits then it would really help enliven the secondhand market. Secondhand is the only retirement plan that new books have!

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  5. Stefanie says:

    Four floors? It’s like a little slice of heaven 🙂

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    • Jeff says:

      Aye, and not so little: there’s at least a dozen rooms not included in my photo gallery. I tried not to intrude on customers’ private reveries with my camera as they wandered around the labyrinth. I hope I’ve done the place justice – Carlisle too. I’ve just obtained clearance to post something about the city library, which has a superb non-fiction floor.
      What secondhand bookshops are there in your area?

      Like

  6. Lucy says:

    Damn! Why does this have to be so far away?! It’s time the government stopped dragging their feet and developed an affordable teleportation device.

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    • Jeff says:

      It takes a trip, so I’ve added other Carlisle book and non-book related links at the bottom of this post. I have another post or two up my sleeve too. Once I’ve posted on Newcastle’s secondhand bookshops, I’ll make a page with everywhere I cover, which will consist of: Carlisle, Newcastle, Tynemouth, Keswick, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
      In terms of North Scotland, are you aware of Leakey’s in Inverness?
      http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/gallery/2014/oct/10/weird-and-wonderful-bookshops-worldwide-in-pictures

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lucy says:

        Oo, I wasn’t aware of Leakeys 🙂 Inverness is exactly 100 miles from my house, which I think is kind of cool, with regards to round numbers. I’ve been looking more into book fairs, as there’s not much going on in Aberdeenshire shop-wise, so I’m hoping to find some fairs.

        Like

        • Jeff says:

          Book fairs are a great introduction to new bookshops as well as a browse. They can also be a lifeline that breaks the distance barrier. Festivals can also be a condensed experience: I’ve just had a browse of Wigtown, just over the border. They have an upcoming festival:
          http://www.wigtownbookfestival.com/
          It’s a couple of weeks after ours in Carlisle. It is, like anything that involves travelling, down to money and other personal circumstances of course. Oh, and planning!

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Julia Lund says:

    Your photos capture the magic of this amazing shop. I’ve picked up a few treasures in the Carlisle Oxfam shop too. I’d like to share your post on my blog, but don’t see a reblog option. Am I just not looking hard enough?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff says:

      Thanks, Julia. I’ve conducted some experiments with the WP settings and can only conclude that the ‘Press This’ button is the one in question. There is supposed to be a re-blog button according to my settings. There’s something else not behaving itself too – could be the template. There’s also FB and Twitter buttons available.
      Another secondhand bookshop to try in Carlisle is the Hospice Bookshop, which I’ve also posted about now. Why not post pictures of your secondhand finds sometime?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Maaan… I got so excited because I live in a small town named Carlisle in Pennsylvania (USA) and I thought this might be near me, and now I’m sad because I SOO want to go to this bookshop!!! (Also, a bookshop just isn’t a bookshop without the assortment of cozy chairs.)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ste J says:

    I missed this one on my enforced hiatus…it’s always good to see the genesis of a love and to be inspired by all the arcane books that are stocked…it is interesting to view the local area in the type of books they have given away, this is book porn at its finest.

    Like

    • Jeff says:

      The shop is the genesis of a love for many people in Cumbria and the borders. Julia, below, is one of them too, and has kindly reblogged this post. The local interests that are reflected are deep and wide. I remember there once being a 32 volume set of Lenin’s complete works. I should think that the stock gets boosted by tragic circumstances such as when a deceased person’s estate is being wound up: there are often sudden and large influxes of narrow and similar subjects. But what a great place for people’s collections to end their days, i.e., getting a new life!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Julia Lund says:

        After my father died, a proportion of his book collection found their way to Bookcase. I often wonder if any of them are still there but have never looked. One day perhaps.

        Like

      • Ste J says:

        That is always the most noble excuse for buying more books, to give them a good home, I can’t house hundreds of puppies but I can do the books right enough. It’s extremely stimulating having my eyes opened by other people’s passions.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Bookcase, Carlisle: the bookshop that got me into secondhand books | Julia Lund

  11. Julia Lund says:

    Have shared this and commented on my blog. It didn’t reblog in the usual way but the share links back to your blog if people want to see your photos snd read your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff says:

      Thanks, Julia. I shall add to the Carlisle links above a link to my new post about public libraries because it has pictures of Carlisle library. All my Carlisle posts are connected so that anyone visiting the city can browse the book outlets.

      Liked by 1 person

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