"The books that help you the most are those which make you think the most.” Theodore Parker


Radical Bookselling History Newsletters

In 2019 we – Dave Cope, John Goodman, Rick Seccombe and Maggie Walker – organised a conference on the history of radical bookselling 1970-2000. Our aim was to celebrate the phenomenon of radical bookshops and begin to assess their impact, record their history and preserve what records remain. We invited as many people as we could trace who’d worked in the 100 or so radical bookshops and distributors that existed over that period, plus a few who were still in the much-reduced trade. In February 2020 we published an illustrated report of the conference in pdf format. It is DOWNLOADABLE HERE.

At the conference we undertook to produce an occasional newsletter. In this post you will find newsletters one and two. We hope you enjoy reading it. Its future depends on your reactions and what you send us. We need snippets of news, queries, notes about any existing appropriate websites, blogs, archives, obituaries, publications, short biographies, notes on bookshops, reviews, works in progress and so on. Information on new shops would be most
welcome. While the emphasis will be on bookshops we welcome material on publishers, distributors, printers, typesetters, designers, cartoonists, photographers, libraries and archives.


Newsletter Issue 3, October 2021

Publications Distribution Co-operative: The Early History
A PDC Day – Repping in Birmingham
PDC – A Bookseller Remembers
My Time at The Independent Bookshop – Sheffield
Richard Carlile 1790-1843
Trouble at Mushroom
Review: The Radical Bookstore: counterspace for social movements
Bits and Bobs
News and Links


Newsletter Issue 2, April 2021
Buying New Books Online
News Items, Old Items, Obits And Odd Bits
Days Of Hope
Books About Radical Bookshops
Housmans: 60 Years Of Books And Activism
In Other Words
Grass Roots


Issue 1, August 2020
• Editorial
• Photographs
• Oral histories
• Records and archives
• Bookshops listing
• Bookshop (and distributor) histories
• New items, old items, obits and odd bits
• Branching out
• Thomas Spence: A history


Nine new bookshops join the ARB!

Its very cheering to see so many new radical bookshops not only opening but thriving. We’re happy to announce nine new members of the ARB, with the latest member Lockdown Books literally opening its doors for the first time today (23/04/21). If you’re ever in their area do pop in and give them your support – and of course many have well-stocked online shops too.

The Nine:

Bookish Type an independent queer bookshop in Leeds https://thebookishtype.co.uk

Category Is Books are fiercely independent Queer and LGBT Bookshop in Glasgow https://www.categoryisbooks.com

Lockdown Books is a bookshop in Kington, Herefordshire with a focus on radical politics alongside some poetry, letterpress work and a small amount of art. https://lock-down-books.com

Portal Bookshop in York with a focus on Science Fiction, Fantasy and all of the LGBTQIA books we can source from the UK, the US and beyond. https://the-portal-bookshop.square.site

Rubicund in Falmouth is a radical bookshop, vegan cafe and lending library. https://www.rubicund.co.uk/

Shelflife Books and Zines in Cardiff are not-for-profit booksellers focused on making space for marginalised voices, stocking books from independent, micro- and self- publishers. https://www.shelflifebookshop.com/

The Feminist Bookshop is an independent bookshop, vegan cafe and event space based in Central Brighton. https://thefeministbookshop.com

The Second Shelf in London is a snug independent bookstore focusing on works by women, including rare & first editions. https://www.thesecondshelf.com

Wrecking Ball Music and Books in Hull is a record and bookshop with a focus on literary works, especially the often neglected poetry and short stories, and an ever-expanding stock of left-wing political books and pamphlets 

How best to buy books online and support independents

With bookshops closed for much of the last year many of us have turned to online book-buying. New platforms such as hive.com and bookshop.org have sprung up as rivals to Amazon and some independent booksellers have their own online sales web pages. We thought it would be useful to look into how we can best support radical booksellers in this online world.

The best thing you can do is to buy direct from an ARB member. Most of them have websites and many of those have a ‘shop’ tab or similar for online buying. The shop will send you your books in the post and some have a click & collect option for customers who can come to the shop. Where the shop doesn’t have a website, ring them up to order (and pay) over the phone.

Where that’s not possible, the next best option is the independent https://uk.bookshop.org/, (a ‘B Corp’). What’s crucial, however, is to choose a shop first from the ‘choose a bookshop’ tab. You will find many of the ARB members there. Once you’ve done that the shop will receive 30% of what you pay. If you don’t choose a shop first and instead go straight to browse, find the book and order it, ‘your order will contribute to an earnings pool that will be evenly distributed among independent bookshops’.

Hive, another alternative to Amazon, is less generous to booksellers than bookshop.org. It is part of Gardners, the UK’s dominant wholesaler of books and related products. As an incentive to customers wanting to support independent booksellers, after you’ve bought something from them, you choose a bookshop and they give the shop a percentage of your money. They’re rather coy about the percentage, but it’s never more than 8%, well short of bookshop.org.

We’d be pleased to hear from our readers if you know of other ways to buy remotely from radical booksellers during lockdown – and once it’s over too, because we hope that the habit will persist for those of you who for whatever reason can’t visit a radical bookseller in person.

John Goodman

‘Changing the world, one book at a time’

Ross Bradshaw, activist, publisher and writer, was recently invited to Haarlem in The Netherlands to speak about radical bookselling. He knows his trade, which is why Nottingham’s Five Leaves Bookshop, which he founded in 2013, was named Independent Bookshop of the Year at the 2018 British Book Awards.  The following article was the basis for the talk that he gave.

Changing the world, one book at a time

by Ross Bradshaw

In 1984, the Federation of Radical Booksellers published Starting a Bookshop: a handbook on radical & community bookselling. The radical booktrade in Britain was in its pomp, with its own regular printed journal, The Radical Bookseller, and a reviews journal, News from Neasden. The book exuded confidence. The cover featured logos of bookshops across the country — York Community Bookshop, SisterWrite, First of May Bookshop, Lavender Menace (surely the best bookshop name ever), Oakleaf, The Other Bookshop, Single Step, The Smiling Sun, Mushroom, Lamp, Bookmarks …  One chapter missing from an otherwise detailed book was on how to close a bookshop. All the shops and distributors on the cover would come to that point, save for Housmans and Bookmarks of London and News from Nowhere in Liverpool, the great survivors.

Six years later, I wrote an article in Tribune, at the time a weekly Labour Movement newspaper, expressing concern about the number of bookshop closures, caused by political defeats of the Left during the 1980s, and radical territory having been co­opted by the main chain, Waterstones, selling feminist and environmentalist books. I reported some bookshops having difficulty recruiting staff due to low pay for a job involving long hours, poor conditions and weekend working. There were some shops doing well, particularly those which had moved on from being the pole of attraction for ‘a few lefties who have been buying obscure Trotskyist or anarchist material in dowdy premises for years might find it difficult to understand why bookshops had sold out by having carpets and books that people actually want to read’. The remaining bookshops were leaving behind the ‘assorted whiffs of squalor and self­righteousness’ and widening their stock and reach.

Read the rest of this page »

Dorset Radical Bookfair

Back for its third year – anarchy in the sticks!
Full details here:

New member: Connolly’s Wee Bookshop in Carlisle

A new member to the Alliance is Connolly’s Wee Bookshop, run by Christopher Connolly. Christopher used to jointly run The Besotted Wretch in Sheffield but the rent was too much to survive so he has started again inside Carlisle’s historic Market Hall.

A small second hand shop, the specialist subjects are football, politics, history & philosophy. Absolutely no chance of finding any right wing polemics, war stories or books about hunting!

Connolly’s Wee Bookshop, Unit 1, Market Hall, Scotch Street, Carlisle, CA3 8QX
Open Tue, Wed, Fri & Sat. 20% discount for customers in receipt of Universal Credit.

Help repair the Cowley Club

ARB member The Cowley Club in Brighton is a much-loved, long-established and well-used co-operatively run bookshop, cafe, social center and music venue.

Their building is over a hundred years old, and is facing some costly and urgent repairs. They need to raise enough money to hire contractors, put up scaffolding and pay for materials.

They are aiming to raise £11,700 to repair the crumbling plaster on the front on the building, the leaking roof, and the cracked chimneys.

Once the plaster is repaired, we will create a permanent memorial to Anna Campbell (Hêlîn Qereçox) in the form of a mural visible from the busy London Road.

Before travelling to Kurdistan, Anna was a valued volunteer and organiser at the Cowley Club. She was tragically killed while fighting with the Kurdish Women’s Protection Unit in 2018.

How can you help?

Every donation helps, no matter how large or small, and all money raised through this crowdfund will be used exclusively for the urgent repairs mentioned above.

They have some great perks to thank you for your generosity. You can also visit their website and learn how to set up a regular donation or invest ethically in the Club; this will form part of our regular income and reserves:

Please visit their crowdfunding page to find out more!


New ARB Member: Quaker Centre Bookshop

The Quaker Centre Bookshop is based in Friends House, Euston Road. Our stock is informed by Quaker faith and work, with books on peace, social justice, anti-racism, politics, LGBT rights,  activism, ecology, feminism and religion and spirituality, as well as a large selection of progressive and spiritual children’s books. We also sell books published by Quakers in Britain. Our adjoining café has excellent cake.


Five Leaves Bookshop wins the Independent Bookshop of the Year Award 2018

Ross Bradshaw who founded Five Leaves writes:
“Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham became the first radical bookshop to have won the Independent Bookshop of the Year Award at the British Book Awards, the booktrade equivalent of the Oscars.

The bookshop was presented with a cheque for £5000 and a trophy by author Benjamin Zephaniah at a “black tie” event at Grosvenor House in London in front of around a thousand people from the book trade nationally.

Ross Bradshaw, from Five Leaves Bookshop, said “It was not the most likely setting to find a radical bookshop, but we coped pretty well! By coincidence, Nottingham writer Jon McGregor won the very next award for Book of the Year, Fiction with his Reservoir 13. Jon was our first ever customer in 2013. We launched Reservoir 13 when it came out so we were able to celebrate together.”

The judges of the Independent Book Awards identified Five Leaves’ key strengths as including a sharp increase in sales in 2017, putting on around 90 events over the last year attended by over 6,000 people, having a politically-conscious outlook with initiatives including Nottingham’s first ever radical bookfair (which included a stand from the Morning Star) and an extensive in-house publishing programme.

Beyond all of that “Five Leaves creates a distinct identity out of its emphasis on political and social issues, a passion for diversity and a reputation for poetry” carrying a stock that is “finely tuned to its market”.

Five Leaves began life as a publisher in 1995, opening the bookshop in 2013, giving special interest to literature and to books advocating social change. This June the bookshop launches the national Feminist Book Fortnight, with the support of thirty other independents across the country.

Five Leaves is proud to pay a minimum of the Living Wage to all members of staff, which team includes people who used to work at Waterstones, Blackwells and Leicester University Bookshop, while owner Ross Bradshaw worked for many years at a previous radical bookshop in Nottingham, Mushroom Bookshop.

Ross Bradshaw added “Despite the setting, it felt like winds of change are blowing through the book trade. The winner of the non-fiction (narrative) book section was Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, while the joint winner of the children’s book of the year was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, whose main character is a black girl from a poor neighbourhood in the USA.”

Among the other winners, the publisher of the year HarperCollins was credited for “making great strides … on diversity” by increasing the number of Black and minority ethnic (BME) authors it publishes and for being the only publisher to feature in the Business in the Community’s Best Employers for Race list. Faber, winner of the Independent Publisher of the Year award, was also praised for its commitment to Black and minority ethnic internships and work with Creative Access, an organisation which aims to increase the number of BME workers in creative industries.

Before announcing Five Leaves’ award, Benjamin Zephaniah remarked that it was a small community bookshop – now long gone – Page One which published his work for the first time and it was at that moment that the Five Leaves team thought this year their radical and community-based stand would win through.”

New ARB member! Aye-Aye Books in Glasgow

Aye-Aye Books is an independent bookshop based within the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA), Glasgow.

We are an art bookshop with radical intent. We carry a range of books about art and by artists, particularly small-run and self-published titles, alongside books that look at the theoretical, social and political context. We have many books about radical thought and movements, left-wing and anarchist politics. We have magazines and journals, zines and pamphlets, experimental fiction and poetry, locally produced CDs, vinyl and cassettes, multicultural children’s books.

We don’t sell ‘gifts’, clothing or cards, and we steer well clear of coffee table art books.

CCA was originally the Third Eye Centre, set up by Tom McGrath (former editor of the International Times) in 1974 as a centre for the counter-culture in Glasgow. It is in this spirit that we operate.