The hidden stories of Trelissick's bookshop
As a bookshop, Trelissick’s second hand emporium is packed full of stories, and with four rooms filled to the rafters this is hardly surprising. But what is unusual about this bookshop is that these stories seem to have difficulty staying between the covers. Whether that’s the stories the books contain, or the hidden stories they bring with them…
Books come to Trelissick from all over Cornwall and an amazing array of volumes has passed across its shelves. Collector’s editions to comics, rarities 400 years old to the latest paperback, all have been donated, not one has been turned away and every penny raised has gone into funding conservation work across the estate. And there have been a lot of pennies: last year the bookshop raised £60,317 towards looking after this special place.
None of this would have been possible without the hard work of a small, dedicated band of volunteers who manage the bookshop. These volunteers are the friendly faces that greet you as you enter the door, but they are also delivery drivers collecting donations from house clearances across the county, savvy book dealers and, most importantly, detectives. Every book that enters Trelissick passes through the volunteer’s hands, and over the years particular books have piqued their interest. Perhaps it’s a message written within, a unique subject matter, or something forgotten left in its pages, but through these snippets the Trelissick volunteers have become specialists at uncovering the hidden and fascinating stories of their donations.
Stories from far and wide
Like the tickets to the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final (yes, the one England won) left inside the front cover of a book which they managed to reunite with their owners. Or the peculiar discovery of a hickory handled golf putter left amongst a box of donations. The putter was fitted with a silver plaque announcing that this was the ‘City of Newcastle Winner: 1911’. The volunteers got in touch with the Newcastle golf club and discovered that for a long time, the club had sat in a cabinet in the club house. Prior to the First World War it had been offered as prize to members, and digging in their own archives the club managed to unearth pictures of the putter with its original owner who had sadly died during the conflict. Nobody was quite sure how it had found its way into a box of books given to a house in the far tip of Cornwall, but they were delighted to be able to reinstate the putter back into its original home.
But the journey of Trelissick’s books can be further still. On behalf of Trelissick, bookshop volunteer and ex-journalist Steve Ival runs an eBay store for some of the more specialist or unusual books that are donated. From this bookshop in the heart of Cornwall Steve has sent books to the Vatican, across the continent and is in regular contact with the owner of a book counter in the densely packed streets of an Istanbul souk. Passing through hand after hand, all over the world, these books take on a life of their own.
Sometimes though, these books already come with a life attached. As part of a house clearance donation from Redruth, Steve once collected an enormous stack of brown paper packages parcelled with string. Within each of these packages the team discovered a pristine copy of the Beano: over fifty years’ worth of birthday presents. This wonderful collection passed to a new owner, but occasionally books come up that deserve more spotlight than even Steve’s eBay store. Donations such as the photo album of pre-World War One alpine skiers, documenting an age where ladies climbed mountains in ankle length dresses and petticoats. This item sold at auction for £3000, every penny of which went back into the conservation of Trelissick.
However, a photo album can be an important family document, and sometimes such personal things belong back with the people whose history they record. The bookshop volunteers are currently using ancestry websites to track down the descendants of another photo album in the hope that after 100 years they might be able to reconnect the family with the images of their grandparents and great-grandparents. Using these methods they’ve also returned lost family bibles and discarded school prizes back into the families they came from, reuniting a family with a little bit of its story.
Perhaps this thought is most poignantly captured in the tale of small, ordinary looking book which at first glance the volunteer who found it thought nothing of, until she noticed it was self-published. Opening the cover she found two photographs printed: a young woman in a 1940’s dress, and a young man in a World War Two uniform. Intrigued the volunteer took the book home and over the course of the next few days read the devoted account of a young man’s life, written by the woman he met during the war, fell in love with, married and had a daughter with. Theirs was a story like so many others, a touching account of love and life in the war years, but sadly just like so many other love stories of that time it did not have a happy ending. The young man was killed in 1944, and without ever knowing his wife was pregnant with their second daughter.
More than paper and ink
Using the photos and the information from the book, the team were able to track down the daughters of the woman who had written this moving account. They discovered that the book was one of three produced, but this particular copy had somehow been lost out of the family some time ago. They were overjoyed to be reunited with it because their mother had found the death of their father so painful that she never talked to her daughters of him, so to them these books represented much more than just paper and ink. Such was the impact of being reunited with it that a reunion was held in London, bringing a family together over a book they’d thought lost.
So in so many ways, Trelissick’s bookshop is full of books that not only hold stories within their pages, but also tell stories, are part of stories and are themselves, stories. Pop in next time your passing, and see what stories you'll discover.