Roger Davis of Lavender Fields Books was inspired by the recent talk about the early days of Churchdown Book Fair to write about his memories of the fair over the years and how it has changed. Roger writes:
It was Ken Fergusson who started it. Was it 1989, 1990 of 1991? I’ve found an advert in an old Book and Magazine Collector for “The Gloucester County Book Fair” on Sunday 7 April 1991, 10.30 am – 4.30 pm, with 35 exhibitors. Back then we were only part – time and did a couple of fairs for Kerry Tombs at the Cheltenham Parish Centre, Suffolk Square (now Zizzi’s restaurant) and Malvern Foley Arms (now Wetherspoons). Keith Smith also held a couple of fairs at the Beeches in Cirencester and one at Witney Green.
We booked up for the first Churchdown and I think there were five fairs the first year. Regular dealers included the Midland contingent of John and Rosemary Foort, John Marks, John Shaw, Martyn Davies and George Harris. Laurie How came from Cardiff (once arriving on top of an AA breakdown transporter). Ken Fergusson was the frontman while his partner Jill handled the nuts and bolts of the fair. Woe betide anyone who dared to pack up 30 seconds before 4.30 pm, Jill would notice. More exhibitors used the bar in those days and smoking was allowed. There was a strong military bias towards stock at that time but first editions and children’s books were also popular as were local and countryside works.
Some of the original dealers and some of the early trade visitors have sadly passed on. Its good though to reflect that people like Robert Wilson, Mike Goodenough, June Slaughter and Chris Garrett were there visiting at the start. Another welcome regular visitor over the years has been John Saunders forever ferreting around for bargain tomes on his beloved Forest of Dean.
Early Churchdown however had a rival, a local rival from the same stable. On Sunday 5 May 1991 Ken Fergusson unleashed a second Gloucester County Book Fair at Puckrup Hall Hotel near Tewkesbury. This was monthly fair with 30 dealers every second Sunday of the month. Puckrup flourished and Churchdown faded. It was not regular enough and a lot of dealers and customers preferred Puckrup, they knew it was monthly, Churchdown was not even bi-monthly ( just 5 a year). Puckrup flourished for around 3 years and Churchdown came to an abrupt end, after about 18 months.
The mid 1990’s were the heydays of book fairs . Locally David Pott started up QBF at Charlton Kings and Watson Hall Tewkesbury and H D had a regular successful fair at Cheltenham Racecourse. PBFA fairs were held at Cheltenham (two days) and Cirencester. Puckrup had by now had its best days, alterations to the hotel and moves to Tewkesbury park Country Club and Gupshill Manor brought an early demise. Then around 1997 Keith Smith revived Churchdown as a monthly fair (the first Sunday of the month) and it has remained that way ever since, latterly with Terry Sims, originally aided by Dave Walton and now by Ruth and Ron of R and R Books.
Around five or six years ago the fair moved temporarily to Chosen Hill School for around six months whilst refurbishment took place at the community centre.
The first Sunday we moved back, Phill Robbins and I were accosted by an irate local busy-body who came bustling through the door and informed us that it was a total disgrace that people were using the newly refurbished hall to make profits. Phill looked at him and said “profit! We don’t make any profit, we do it for love”. Exit stage left local busy-body. Sometimes in the afternoon especially in the Summer it can get a little quiet and on one such day David Salt of Salsus Books, Keith Smith and I were talking when David suddenly commented “I don’t think I can stand this for another twenty years or so if it’s this quiet”. David is a mere whippersnapper compared to Keith and me and I said “David I’d love to do this for another twenty years”, Keith burst out laughing trying to imagine his 90 year old self wheeling trolley loads of books into the hall.
Catering has always played its part at Churchdown and these days especially with the smoking ban, a number of people gather in the refreshment area to meet their friends and make the fair a mini social occasion.
There have been more than 200 Churchdown fairs, I’ve done around 180 of them.
Long may Churchdown thrive!
If you have any memories of Churchdown Book Fair that you’d like to share, or if you’ve got an opinion about how the secondhand book trade has changed over the years, do comment below.
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