The other white horse: Wiltshire landmark completes its renaissance after game changing philanthropy
Two years after The White Horse Bookshop was saved by two local philanthropists, and after a nine month building programme, this independent bookshop has completed the final part of its transformation. The historic building has been expanded with the addition of a gallery and an event space at the rear of the bookshop and art shop - launched on its unsuspecting friends at a star-studded grand opening party (May 12).
[All photographs copyright Niels van Gijn of Silverless with thanks.]
After buying, renovating and reopening The White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough two years ago, local resident Robert Hiscox (who is Life President of Hiscox Insurance) and Aldbourne entrepreneur Brian Kingham (the chairman of the Reliance Security Group) said they were ‘drawing a line in the sand’.
They wanted to roll back falling book sales, the encroachment of digital and the continual decline in the numbers of independent bookshops.
At the time the number of independent bookshops in Britain had just fallen below 1000, ebooks were taking over the market and internet sales were booming. Brian Kingham said "Our aim is to defy gravity by making profits in book selling!" And, under general manager Angus MacLennan, defy gravity they have: sales have nearly doubled.
The existing Art Studio (which holds over 100 day courses a year) has been enlarged and improved. The gallery-come-event space will add a new dimension to the shop's role in the community.
And thinking of the potential buying-power of the up and coming generation, at least one third of the bookshop's ground floor is now devoted to a bespoke children's area.
The shop has also launched a new website which sells the shop’s entire catalogue and an additional 250,000 titles, which can be shipped direct to customers within two-to-three working days. This is a development almost unprecedented in the independent sector.
Since The White Horse re-opened two years ago, independent bookshop numbers have fallen to just above 800 yet physical book sales are rising again. In Angus MacLennan's words: "The shop’s new remit - to be a cultural and artistic centre for the community, catering for all interests and sensibilities, both traditional and modern - could be seen as a model for the future of the independent sector."
"The new spaces will be a venue for Marlborough's Jazz and Literary Festivals as well as holding more than 50 evening events and a series of exhibitions for local artists and retrospectives - including this year Eduardo Paolozzi and George Dannatt."
It will also be available to businesses and societies in need of a state-of-the-art, yet affordable venue.
Brian Kingham: "Robert and I have been hugely surprised and inspired by the depth of encouragement we have received from customers, complete strangers, who bother to write and eulogise about the shop."
"We have, to our surprise, found a large number of people with a genuine love for the shop and the building."
"We share their sense of The White Horse as a very special place: somewhere in which people refresh their thoughts, nourish their interests, caress their minds and lift their spirits."
Robert Hiscox emphasises what the shop can do for customers: "‘Come and find the book you wanted and discover two more you never knew existed’.
Angus MacLennan: "We are a unique mixture in the context of the bookselling world, being a beautifully and sympathetically designed environment in a historic building (which predates the Great Fire of Marlborough) yet we are capable and willing to embrace modern technology."
"Our bedrock remains our stock and our service, but both these things benefit from a mixture of the traditional and the modern, which enables us to reach out to potential customers across the country and perhaps the world."
"We look forward to our future as a cultural centre which no one knew would exist - and it wouldn’t have done without Messrs Hiscox and Kingham."