The Lilac Beech

Some history

Rookpot had been a city since before the eleventh century. At first there had been a wooden stockade around the straw-strewn streets and thatched houses, then there had been stone walls – remnants of these can be seen in the modern city.  Outside of the walls other settlements sprang up as people were drawn to trading and employment opportunities in the city.  These settlements consisted of crude stone houses, and these were passed on and renovated over several generations.  By the sixteenth century there were small leaning houses with hearths and two storeys. Sixteenth century maps of Rookpot show that the medieval city had broken free of its stone walls, and the tor was becoming more populated and more affluent at this time.  Narrow streets branched off from the centre, Dameg Square, up and down the hill.  One of the areas that was on the rise was what would become EassenBren Square.

According to the microfiche records of The Rookpot Chronicle (1420-1643; 1645-1801; 1811-1833; 1840-1922), which are available in the Local History section of Rookpot Library, Greta and Alun Collins purchased one of the leaning houses in a street above Dameg Square and opened a “store fore the sellings of informatione” in 1510.  This store was called The Boke. 

The original shop was a ramshackle affair. Advertisements in tiny print in the newspapers boast of a store for informatione in worde, printings and hearsayings. Come hither, booksellers, buyers, distributors, experts in knowledging, the fantastical, the travelles.  We welcome your enquiries

The Boke was the first, and for a long time, the only bookshop in Rookpot.  It employed agents who travelled over the mountains to the rest of the country, and beyond Britain’s shores to Europe and Scandinavia, and occasionally to the Americas: all to gather information, and, increasingly, to buy books.  The books were brought back to sell in the bookshop: curios, popular texts, anything related to Farynshire, particularly anything written about the Peoples (a rare subject outside of Farynshire).  The Boke also took orders from those that could afford to purchase books, and the agents would be tasked with procuring volumes for prestigious clients.  It was said that it was a Boke agent that brought the Cathedral’s Tyndale Bible back from Europe at the request of a rebellious priest.  The University also made use of the intrepid agents to bring back academic and radical tomes for their own libraries.  The agents also took catalogues with them that contained titles published from the printing press on Eassentor, Rookpot University Press, and for sale from The Boke.  The bookshop’s reputation and business grew exponentially.

During this time Rookpot itself had grown.  It was the capital of Farynshire, the county’s largest city.  EassenBren Square had also swelled to house the burgeoning population, especially those who could not afford to live in the Cuts around Dameg Square.  EassenBren was not as ordered or impressive as Dameg Square – in fact, it was a squalid over-crowded slum, with no management or planning to the haphazard and precarious housing.  It was primarily known for being a cesspit of crime, disease and frequent, sometimes accidental, fires.  It was also home to the city’s theatre, which ended up being the Square’s saving grace.  When the old wooden theatre burned down for the seventh time (almost certainly caused by a playwright who had resented the poor reviews his latest offering had received in The Chronicle) it was re-built with brick and mortar and called Ye Reven.  The fire also wiped out a lot of the wooden slum houses, clearing space for new growth.  After the fire, The Boke was one of the largest properties left standing.  It too had grown to accommodate its business, and by the time Ye Reven was built it had numerous extensions that made a higgledy piggledy place filled with nooks, crannies, hidden rooms, and thousands of uncatalogued books.  The fire saved EassenBren, and essentially created the artistic hub we know today, with the new theatre and the ancient bookshop at its heart.

The Boke had always had a good relationship with the theatre, even before the fire. In its rooms many a playwright worked on their latest piece, and the shop would sell copies to actors and theatre-goers, and promote the plays for the theatre.

In 1727 Ye Reven was bought by Sir Edward Ayres, head of the wealthy philanthropic family who would have such an impact on Rookpot over the years, right up to the present day.  Sir Edward invested heavily in renovating EassenBren.  In particular he wanted spacious and suitable accommodation to house his affluent friends who often visited Rookpot for a night at the theatre. He proposed knocking down the ramshackle stone houses that had survived the fire, and building in their place a terrace of beautiful new houses. He also planned to install a fountain with clean water, and an area for artists to work and display their creations.

There was huge protest at this proposed destruction, not least for the two hundred year old bookshop at its heart. But Sir Edward gave assurances that anyone who owned property in EassenBren would automatically be given the lease and rights to one of the new terraced houses. Once he showed the suspicious and disgruntled owners the architectural plans, all protest ceased.

By 1737 the terrace was built. The Boke moved into a central, five-storey house, and was renamed The Beech (the Lilac was added in 1836 by a new owner) for the indomitable purple-leaved tree that had survived the growth of EassenBren, the squalor, the fire and now its resurgence and reconstruction (one of its descendants resides in the back yard of The Lilac Beech to this day).

Today

The present owner of The Lilac Beech is Nolwenn Hughes, possibly the most knowledgeable person on Rookpot Tor.  The bookshop has had numerous owners over the years, passing through several families and business owners. There was much excitement when Nolwenn’s mother bought the shop, as she was a direct descendant of Greta and Alun Collins, the original founders.  It was destiny.  It looks set to continue in the family, as Nolwenn’s daughters, Eira and Elwen, work there too when they are not studying at the university.  Like previous owners, they live on the fifth floor, and the other four floors make up the shop.

Nolwenn inherited Parry Gwent, who has worked at The Lilac Beech since the 1960s.  He is officially a sales assistant, but he is also a bookseller, curator, local history expert, recommender, shelver and tea-maker.  If you want a recommendation for a book on Farynshire history, Parry is your man.

The ground floor of the shop is open plan with displays scattered throughout. Every wall is lined with books, floor to ceiling, except at the far end where there is a large fireplace, around which gather a motley collection of squashy armchairs, wingback chairs, and a few beanbags. The children’s area is on the far side of the shop from the fireplace, strewn with cardboard books and toys on colourful fluffy rugs. Rising up from the middle of the shop is a wrought iron staircase wound tight like a corkscrew that twists up through the centre of the building. The door to the courtyard at the back of the shop is open in the summer, so that peopled can read their books under the whispering purple leaves of the tree.  Behind the counter with the enormous till is the main staircase and the backroom with a back store room and a small kitchen.  Next to the till are the cakes and treats that Nolwenn, Parry and the Beech’s regulars bring in. It is not unusual to find either Nolwenn or Parry sitting with their customers, or a reading group, or a group of children, discussing books, reading, history, unicorns, what’s on at Ye Reven, with thick slices of lemon drizzle and mis-matched cups of sweet tea. In the winter the ground floor of The Beech is a popular place to come and warm up in front of a cozy fire.  But those hoping for a quiet doze are usually woken rudely by loud and verbose arguments between Parry and a lecturer from the university or a historian from the Museum on obscure topics such as the disputed succession of a sixteenth century Meyrick, with each enthusiastic participant hauling battered leather-bound tomes off the shelves to back up their point.

If you want peace and quiet, the second floor is probably your best bet.  This is the Local History section, and it is crammed with guide books, biographies, histories, old editions, first editions, myths, legends, leaflets, pamphlets … anything to do with Farynshire.  Here you will find serious scholars, genealogists, maybe the occasional reporter, studying or researching at one of the few battered wooden desks – after they have removed the stack of books from them first.

The third floor is where the various local groups meet.  This floor also has a large fireplace, with a wood-burning stove in the hearth, a black iron kettle quietly whistling on the top plate.  There are noticeboards on the walls advertising various events and meet-ups.  Anyone in Rookpot can use this space to meet.  The most frequent users have been reading groups, the Local History Group (every second Wednesday at the Library in Dameg Square, every third Friday at The Lilac Beech),  Mrs. Hackett’s Knitting Club (examples of their work can be found scattered on the window seats), the Produce Rolling Steering Committee, and the Clean Up Rookpot Campaign.  It has also been the meeting place for many radical groups who have had to hide from the authorities and meet in secret; these range from religious sects persecuted by the Council, to the Censored Council of Rookpot of 1855, to Iver Morys and his supporters when the robbing magnates were after him.  There were even rumours that the third floor of The Lilac Beech had provided a safe place for refugee wolvern when the Council were looking to expel them from the city.

The fourth floor is the Map Room.  Some of the most rare and treasured maps and charts are now housed in the Museum vaults, but they still belong to The Lilac Beech.  The agents who brought books and custom to and from Rookpot when the bookshop was called The Boke either bought or created their own maps of their travels.  There are also shelves and shelves of Farynshire maps by wolvern and human cartographers, and possibly even one or two by seafolken too, charting the waters around Riversouth and Sylnmouth from an unique perspective.  This is the first stop for any Museum Digger planning an archaeological expedition anywhere in the county.  As any cartographer knows, maps are stories and histories as well as guides, and the treasure trove on the fourth floor tells the history and legends of Farynshire and its Peoples.

The Lilac Beech is the history of Rookpot in particular, and Farynshire too.  It welcomes the curious, the radical, the argumentative, the contemplative, and those who like to lose themselves in perusing shelves of obscure and popular books with a cup of tea and a slice of lemon drizzle.  People come in for the love of books and stay for the company and cake.

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