Last night I was thinking about my favourite bookshops in Brighton. When I was a teenager I loved sneaking away from school to go shopping there. I'd trawl the second hand shops, hunting for cheap science fiction and horror novels. I've never been interested in antiquarian books – all I wanted was to fuel my reading with as many novels as I could get for my money.
Brighton has changed a lot since the 1990's. There are many good things about the changes, but I miss the places I used to visit when I was younger. Inspired by my nostalgia, here is a list of some of the great lost bookshops of Brighton:
- I discovered Savery Books, at Fiveways, in my second year of university. The shop was a converted house, with shelves on every available section of wall space. Both floors were full of cheap books on every subject you needed. It's probably the best bookshop I've ever visited, and its closure was a tragedy. I think Savery Books are still in business, but the old shop is now a bar.
- The Queens Road bookshop always looked chaotic, with books piled everywhere. The huge windows at the front displayed what looked like a landslide of books, hopelessly disordered. Many visitors were overwhelmed by the task of finding what they wanted among the shelves and stacks. But the owner, who was usually smoking at the front door, would know if he had the book you wanted, and could lead you straight to it. The shop closed suddenly and the owner was said to have vanished.
- On the other side of Queen's Road was a smaller bookshop. I think it was connected to the other one and contained the science-fiction and horror section. I spent a lot of time in there chatting with the owner, a friendly American man. I've no idea what happened to him.
- The Komedia was built on the site of the old Jubilee Market. This was a wonderful place, like a nursery for shops – Reservoir Frogs was one of the stalls that graduated to its own premises. Downstairs was a warren-like space filled with more stalls, including Jabba's Hut. This sold old toys, games and comic books. To some people, Jabba's Hut might have seemed filled with tat, but the shop contained some fantastic treasures. It was the most comic-shop-like comic shop I've ever been in.
- Unicorn Books was open between 1967 and 1973, before I was born. Unicorn Books was famous for being involved in an obscenity trial in 1968 for publishing the JG Ballard booklet Why I want to fuck Ronald Reagan. The trial resulted in significant costs and fines for the bookshop's owner, Bill Butler, eventually resulting in the shop's closure. The linked article makes it sound like a bookshop I would have loved.
Sadly my Drif's Guides from the 90's are in storage, so I can't check to see if there are any obvious ones I've missed. Please leave a comment if you can think of some.
Nowadays I don't have enough time to read to justify the trawls I would make as a teenager. I remember feeling overworked during my A-levels, but somehow managed to read an amount that amazes me. Still, I really should take the opportunity to tour Brighton's current bookshops.If you want to follow what I'm up to, sign up to my mailing list
6 thoughts on “The Lost Bookshops of Brighton”
Rainbow books in Trafalagar street sounds a bit like the one you described in Queens road with the owner smoking outside …
I remember the Queens Road bookshop in the late 90s. A riot of books seemingly in totally random order, but not to the smoking bloke that apparently ran it. He knew where everything was and if he had what you were looking for, he could go straight to it. Baffling lol. Really miss that old place.
Can anyone remember what the science fiction bookshop in The Lanes was called? I think it had already shut down by the 1990s, though.
I’m not sure, but I best place to look would be John Shire’s incredible book on Brighton bookshops. It’s an incredible bit of research, and great fun to read.
Thanks for the reference — it looks interesting — but buying a whole book to find the name of a single bookshop, just because I’ve forgotten it over the years, is maybe going a bit too far 🙂
True, it’s extravagant, but it is a very, very good book!