This July, medieval history enthusiasts from all over the world will descend on Leeds for the 25th annual International Medieval Congress. With a nod to this exciting event, we head north to the Ampleforth Abbey Bookshop for our Bookshop of Month. Despite the original 18th century edifice, the Abbey is steeped in medieval connections as the home to a host of Benedictine monks. We spoke to the bookshop’s manager, Georgie, about the Abbey’s past, their bestsellers and her dream customer…
1. You are situated in the beautiful grounds of Ampleforth Abbey, North Yorkshire. What’s it like to run a bookshop in such a stunning location?
Ampleforth Abbey is indeed an unusual location for a bookshop; we are definitely a destination shop. As I look out of my office window I can see some of the 3000 acres of land that was left to the monks in 1793 when Lady Anne Fairfax died. On a glorious summer’s day I can see cricket matches taking place on the beautifully manicured pitches. Visitors can also be seen strolling along Monks Walk; hopefully they will visit the Tea Room and come and purchase in the shop as part of their visit. There is a perpetual serenity to the place; time is marked by the bell tolling from the clock tower, which was designed by Joseph Hansom (of Hansom cab fame) in 1861. Winter can make it a little difficult to get to work due to the steep hills and narrow roads. On icy days I am very grateful to our internal customers – the Monastery and the staff at the College – as only the intrepid set out. I am captivated by the ever-changing sky and, if I am ever feeling bogged down with work, I only have to look outside for inspiration.
2. This month, Yale and a number of our Yale Representation clients will be attending the International Medieval Congress in Leeds. How does the Abbey’s medieval connections, as home to a community of Benedictine monks, influence your book buying?
People come to the Abbey for many different reasons, so I try to stock a range of books which everyone visiting will want to browse and buy. Visitors to the Abbey sometimes expect it to be an old ruin dating back to medieval times but they soon realise that it is still very much a working place. However, on looking into the various guidebooks and histories that we sell, they grow to understand the Abbey’s ancient roots. Monks originally came to England with St Augustine in 597, although they may not have been Benedictines. Ampleforth Abbey is part of the English Benedictine Congregation who first met around 1218. The monks of Ampleforth were resident at Westminster Abbey until its dissolution in 1540, but were led back by Abbot Feckenham in 1556 under Queen Mary. There is an awful lot of fascinating history, and I like to stock books that reflect as much of this as possible.
3. You stock a vast range of spiritual and religious titles, as well as books of local interest. What are some of your bestsellers?
Because of the broad range of people coming through our doors, I find our bestsellers are also very varied. Religious and Spiritual visitor top sellers are Saint Benedict’s Prayer Book and Saint Benedict’s Rule (of which there are many translations). Top sellers for retreat guests are books by CS Lewis, Tom Wright and Richard Rohr. For the more general public, books by Eamon Duffy, such as The Stripping of the Altars, Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition and Fires of Faith, have been very popular.
This spring we saw an opportunity to sell more books in themed ranges and have found the idea of pilgrimage very fashionable at the moment, whilst Martin Luther proved popular last year.
4. Who would be your dream customer and why?
My first thoughts on this question were the obvious: a visitor with a whole bookcase in need of filling, for whom money was no object! But then I think I would rather have my lovely regular or local customers who come in asking what’s new, and are up for a chat. Obviously last year when I had a Monastery email asking me to source 30 copies of all 3 volumes of the Divine Office I was very happy. Even more so when I realised it wasn’t a scam of any kind!
5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the shop that you’d like to share with us?
Currently Ampleforth is awaiting a decision on Heritage Lottery Funding, which involves us encouraging more visitors to the site. This would obviously be great for the shop, and it is possible that there may be an expansion of the bookshop to help service an increased demand. Whatever happens we are definitely looking forward to it!