Just last month, the independent booksellers Topping & Company relocated to new premises on York Street, fulfilling all our bookshop dreams. Toppings were formerly located within The Paragon, known for its many examples of gorgeous Georgian architecture, designed by local architect Thomas Warr Attwood. The new premises on York Street affords the independent bookshop much more space and just the right atmosphere for a good afternoon of browsing the shelves.
Known as Friends Meeting House, the new premises occupied by Toppings is a Grade II listed building, dating between 1817-1819. It was designed by William Wilkins, architect of the building currently housing The National Gallery, and the leading designer of architectural Greek Revival in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It was originally built to be a Masonic lodge, although the Freemasons quickly discovered that they could not afford the upkeep of the property, and had been the home of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) since 1866.
The building itself has a limestone ashlar front, with coursed limestone walling on its sides and rear. The building is rather impressive when viewed from the ground, and those who may have seen old photographs of the building will notice an entrance has been created at the front to replace the original 'blind door'. The bookshop hosts a variety of events each month alongside its primary focus of providing an extensive collection of literature for sale, including talks with novelists, academics, chefs and even sporting personalities.
In recent years, the building has struggled to find its place in modern society, with several attempts to repurpose it falling through. Although met with objections from Bath Heritage Watchdog and Bath Georgian Group, Toppings were successful in their bid to occupy Friends Meeting House because of their respect for the building and approach to making it a space that will still serve the community. As their application stated:
“Set with the Grade II-listed building it will be one of the most beautiful, striking and well-stocked bookshops and will draw people to Bath from all over the country. The proposal to open up the building for commercial use will be of great public benefit and safeguard its future."
If you are on your way to visit us at The Jane Austen Centre, do make a stop at these wonderful new premises and take a look around. We think it is another noteworthy place for literature lovers, and we really wish Toppings all the best in their new home.
For those who are unable to make it to Bath at this time, why not take a look at some of our beautiful editions of Jane Austen's work, such as our Luxury Hardback Persuasion. Bath looks quite special when decorated for the holiday season, so channel a little of its Georgian spirit with our Jane Austen Christmas Collection!