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13 April 2021
Some of you will already have seen in the last Letter that we are not publishing any books this April – for the first time for twenty years. The reason is pandemic-related: we could not be sure that there would be enough of us to send out all the orders that flow in after a new Biannually has arrived. We have been managing well with one of us (Lydia, Emily, Sophie, Nicola or Lisa) going in to the shop each day. But it would only need someone to be unavailable and the system would collapse. So we made the decision to postpone what were to have been the two April books until October.
But there was another reason for not publishing two new books in April, and telling you about it is the purpose of this letter. After twenty years in Lamb’s Conduit Street, Persephone Books is on the move. To Bath!
As you can imagine, this was a very, very difficult decision for us. We love Bloomsbury intensely and are deeply loyal to it and to our street. But we had the option to renew the lease or to move and eventually, after much agonised to-ing and fro-ing, have decided on the latter. The reason is this: Persephone, as you know, emerged from the underworld in the Spring, having been rescued by her mother Demeter (one of the reasons which made the name appropriate for us, since so many of our books are to do with families and domesticity). But after twenty Springs in Lamb’s Conduit we felt a slight restlessness. We felt a change would be energising. We felt we wanted to emerge somewhere different.
But why Bath? Well, obviously it is very much associated with Jane Austen, the ancestor/tress of every woman writer, but also with so many other writers who have stayed there over the centuries; it is still stunningly beautiful; there are scores of interesting small businesses and creative people we shall be excited to have as neighbours; many Persephone readers live in Somerset and the neighbouring counties and might not have wanted to visit us in London but certainly do go to Bath; a corner of our heart is already there, which is why, a decade ago now, we published The Sack of Bath as a Persephone book; two Persephone girls, Fran and Jess, already live there; finally, Bath was the birthplace of a couple of our very favourite things, the Bath Oliver biscuit and the Anglepoise lamp!
Of course our loyal customers in London will be sad we are leaving Lamb’s Conduit Street and we think, if it’s not immodest to say so, the street will not be the same without us. But we are predominantly a mail order company (and hence have been SO lucky during the pandemic, with our business affected but not ruined). Yet Bath is very accessible from London by train (it takes an hour and twenty minutes from Paddington) and when you get to Bath station you can walk everywhere.
And we shall be welcoming travellers with coffee or a cup of tea or even a glass of madeira (very Bath, we think) and in the first year will be giving them a memento, a small Persephone jug or mug designed and made for us by Cambridge Imprint.
Then there is our new street, Edgar Buildings. We feel extremely fortunate to have found this. It’s the street where the Thorpes lodge in Northanger Abbey and, to quote a 1798 ‘house for sale’ ad: ‘The situation of this house is particularly cheerful, it commands a view down Milsom Street; though not near so populous a thoroughfare, it is elevated and airy.’
Nowadays traffic goes past Edgar Buildings but it is still airy, and not that much has changed from the 1935 photograph above (we are the second shop along from the little alleyway). It faces south, but because it is on a raised pavement is somewhat removed from the hustle and bustle: ‘at a slight angle to the universe’ as the novelist E M Forster said about the poet Cavafy.
And 8 Edgar Buildings itself? Well, it is more modern than 59 Lamb’s Conduit Street, fifty years newer to be precise, having been built in 1761. Yet in many respects it is exactly the same as number 59 – we shall recreate the ground floor with the shop at the front and the office at the back. Happily, the basement is in better condition than the one at 59, and we are pleased that it still has the original flagstones, dresser and fireplaces (including a kitchen range and bread oven).
And then at Edgar Buildings we have the first floor! Among the possible uses for this wonderful space are a place for Persephone readers to meet their friends for the aforementioned cup of coffee, for people to work (Bath lady novelists are you listening?), for the Persephone book group, for lunches with speakers, and for seminars. Oh there are so many possibilities.
Meanwhile, instead of the Spring/Summer Biannually we shall be sending a few emails and, for those who do social media, will try and be more active on Twitter and Instagram. We hope that Persephone Books will become part of the Bath landscape over this Summer and we look forward to welcoming you to Edgar Buildings. We plan to open in mid-May although, because of the pandemic, do not expect to be back to normal until the Autumn.
Finally, we want to reiterate that none of this – the move, the expectation that we shall have ten years in Edgar Buildings, the continued flourishing of our little business – would be possible without you, our readers. Of course we know that it is the brilliance of our authors that really makes things flow along. But it is our readers who buy their books and we want to remind you that we hugely appreciate your support and send our warmest thanks.
Very best wishes from all at Persephone Books
59 Lamb's Conduit Street
Below: Edgar Buildings in 1910 (before our shop front was built in 1923)
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