Saturday, May 7

Thirty-eight years of bookings for West Ham at the Newham Bookshop

The Newham Bookshop is the best independent bookshop in London and a pre-match institution for many West Ham fans. The teetering piles of books give it a pleasingly Dickensian feel and manager Vivian Archer is a one-woman literary encyclopaedia. It’s a salon for the soccerati before West Ham games and my daughters, when they were younger, used to love the children’s section. It veers from high politics to local history, via football, fiction, horror, humour, hooliology and cups of tea for the favoured.

Over the years the Newham Bookshop has hosted every conceivable West Ham signing in Barking Road. “The biggest signing was John Lyall just after they failed to renew his contract,” recalls Vivian Archer. “They were hanging off the ceiling and he was a really nice man. Trevor Brooking spoke to everybody. Jimmy Greaves was lovely, but we had more Spurs fans than West Ham. The most unusual was Frank McAvennie before a Millwall game on a Sunday. He was a little late as he’d been out the night before, but it was a good signing even if it was a bit hairy because it was Millwall.”

The Newham Bookshop was set up by a group of parents in 1978 and is still a non-profit organisation. Archer has been managing the shop for 28 years, having previously worked as an actress in the 1970s, including TV work on the likes of Z Cars. “I decided I didn’t want to be out of work and someone in Hackney said can you help in a bookshop and that was it. I’d always loved reading and loved talking to people so then I started working here. I couldn’t work in any other environment now. I have complete control over what I order. We do events most nights. I could have retired a while ago, but I love doing it.”

Trevor Brooking signs for Newham
Vivian Archer’s style was described aptly by writer and publisher Iain Dale in the Bookshop’s 35th anniversary booklet: “Vivian greets every customer that walks through the door, always seems to know where the book they’re looking for is, and there’s usually a recommendation to come with it. This isn’t just the lost art of customer service, but a commitment to her community which can also be seen from the events Newham Bookshop participate in, to people doing work experience in the shop.” Indeed, she’s a difficult woman to interview, as while we speak she’s constantly stopping to chat with locals and direct customers to books.

Other West Ham related signings that Vivian has organised over the years include Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Danny Dyer, Steve Bacon, Brian Williams, Jeremy Nicholas, Robert Banks, Iain Dale, Cass Pennant, Tina Moore, Brian Belton and some bloke called Pete May. The Cockney Rejects “were great, really nice guys, and big anti-racist campaigners.”

The shop has never been scared to stock tales from the days of football violence. Books by the likes of Cass Pennant and Bill Gardner can be seen mingling with high politics, philosophy and sociological tomes. “Cass’s book tells a really good story and he can write well. Writers like Cass feel comfortable in here, if you’re a local bookshop you have to make it welcoming to everybody,” says Archer.

The players tend not to be book browsers, “but Robert Green’s mum came in saying ‘my son’s just having his medical’. She bought some quite literary titles.”

Actor Terence Stamp was once a regular, Phill Jupitus comes in and Russell Brand has been spotted too. But there’s been no sign of Super Slaven yet, says Vivian, though former West Ham chairman Terry Brown used to buy a lot of books on local history and “the Icelandic guy and his wife bought a lot of books.”

A lot of overseas supporters frequent the bookshop too. We’ll miss the Saturdays. We’ve had the Belgian Irons all coming in off their coach, Swedes, Norwegians and a lot of Australians…They email and I order a load of books for them.”

Hopefully the Newham Bookshop, where Archer’s colleague John Newman runs a great children’s section, will continue to prosper even after the stadium move, as it knows its customers so well.

“We’ll miss the Saturdays, but we don’t rely on football, it’s a bonus. We’ll have to see who moves into the new flats too,” says Archer.

Her successful formula for the shop is simple: “Know your audience and listen to them. When the reps come in I can say I’ll buy one of these for a customer who likes books on buses from the 1950s or volume three of the history of Romford FC. The bookshop listens to people and reflects the area with all the diversity and changes. The dictionaries tell us who’s moving in. We used to sell a lot of Asian language dictionaries but now they’re now second and third generation. Now we sell a lot of Portuguese and Eastern European dictionaries. I love the diversity of the area and it should be celebrated.”

Although she’ll miss the statue of Moore, Hurst and Peters that lies across the Barking Road. “It’s a shame they’re moving the statue it’s the last link, because they achieved it all here.”

Hopefully a lot of fans will still combine a trip to the Olympic Stadium with a visit to the Newham Bookshop, because Vivian feels her independent bookshop can offer more than the shops at Westfield. “Stratford is full of chain stores, but the independents really know the area, so please do come and see us again next season.”


Prince H said...

My favourite book shop! Vivian my favourite! Keep up the good work! 🌹

Pete May said...

Yes really enjoyed my signings there and the Christmas shopping evenings...

Chrisj said...

My bedside table is under risk of collapsing due to the weight of books recommended by Vivian She always remembers what you bought last visit and recommends something else. The combination of a visit to the Millers Well and Newham Books always results in more purchases. I've got plenty in stock to read but will be back next season

Pete May said...

Glad to hear you'll still be shopping there next season Chris. Vivian's recommendations always good...