Islington’s lefty bookshop Housmans is pride of London
PUBLISHED: 10:32 09 March 2016 | UPDATED: 08:03 10 March 2016
A radical independent Islington bookshop has been named best in London at the British Book Industry Awards.
Housmans Bookshop in Caledonian Road, which celebrated its 70th anniversary last year, beat five other shortlisted shops across the capital to take the industry gong.
Jim Jepps, co-manager of Housmans, told the Gazette: “It came as a big surprise and we’re very happy. The other bookshops on the shortlist are beautiful, so we weren’t necessarily expecting to win.
“I think one of the things that gave us that added value is the fact that we are connected to social movements and community groups – so our bookshop is really part of the community.”
Events at the bookshop, whose speakers have included former London mayor Ken Livingstone and social activist Naomi Klein, range from socialist book readings to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) and anarchist events.
The shop prides itself on its broad range of radical literature – including books, pamphlets and magazines dealing with a full spectrum of campaigning issues.
“It’s not all dry history and politics,” says Mr Jepps. “There’s also lots of poetry, arts books and novels. I think we’re the only left-wing bookshop in the country to have a science fiction section.”
Opened in 1945 by Laurence Housman, a sponsor of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), Housmans’ founding principle was to promote the union’s goals of peace and human rights. It moved premises several times before finally settling in its current spot in 1958.
One of the reasons given by judges for their choice was the “amazing turnaround” of the bookshop, which hit a new peak last year.
“I think it’s partly because there is a backlash against Amazon, so independent bookshops seem to be doing quite well,” said Mr Jepps. “Amazon is all well and good if you know exactly what you want to search for. But if you want something on Peru, for example, and don’t know what, then you come into a bookshop and browse.
“We often get people coming into the shop saying: ‘Oh, I’m surprised you’re still here.’ But, actually, in terms of the book trade, things are going well.”