Bookshop of the Week: Red Lion Books, Colchester

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Red Lion Books, Colchester
Image via Violet Daniels

Nestled in Britain’s oldest recorded town, Colchester is Red Lion Books – an independent bookshop in the heart of the high street. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the school run and shoppers, Red Lion books provide the town with not only books but is a significant community hotspot. Although Colchester is known for its Castle, Roman walls, and being attacked and destroyed during Boudica’s rebellion in AD 6, it is also known for this thriving little bookshop.

As a lost and confused 17-year-old studying English literature here at college, I was bound to stumble across this bookshop at some point. I first went there as a Sixth Form student to buy my course books but have always frequented since. They have an impressive range of genres that spreads through two floors – including a basement section.  If you’re visiting the town, frankly, it shouldn’t be missed.

When we think about bookshops, it is easy to associate them as primary places where you go to buy things – as that’s their focus. But bookshops are more than this as they are often at the heart of the communities they serve. They are places to go to, to meet likeminded people, and support the community in a variety of ways, and Red Lion books are no different. At the heart of this bookshop are its book groups, events, and support of local authors. Book groups at Red Lion (outside of Covid times) are held for children and adults alike and are incredibly popular. Therefore, this little bookshop is at the centre of Colchester’s community and is a crucial meeting point for residents and readers alike. Of course, it is a shop, but it is also more than that.

For a relatively small town, Red Lion books make a remarkable difference. They also have strong relationships with the local schools (for which there are many in Colchester) and supply them with books. At the heart of their ethos is a reverent belief in the power of the physical book – which is essential during these strange times. I, for one, have felt the constant lure of being on social media and have struggled to control my screen time. Thus, the prospect of reading a physical book is a chance to give your eyes a break from the screen – and Red Lion books have such a selection to choose from. As well as having an abundance of books, their displays are always beautiful. From visiting the store, you know it’s a space that has been crafted with love and care.

Red Lion blooks was founded in 1978 by Peter and Sarah Donaldson, and it was originally opened in Red Lion Yard, in a small unit converted from the stables of an old coaching inn. Nowadays, shoppers and residents of the town will know this as Red Lion Walk, the popular side of town known for its independent shops – at Christmas time – it especially looks inviting, with the rows of twinkly lights and old, beamed buildings. Red Lion books moved over to the High street in 1985 and converted the basement to make way for more books in 1989.

If you do visit Colchester or are local to the area, make sure to stop off at Red Lion books and show your support. If you are unable to do so, you can browse their website where they have a small selection of stock to choose from – or you can even email them to order directly. They are also on bookshop.org, a website set up to support Independent bookshops during this difficult time. On their shop page, are some specific recommendations for books you should read – if you are stuck on finding something.

Independent bookshops are a crucial part of many high streets across the country. Still, with big chain stores like Debenhams on the decline, soon they may make up what’s left of desolate towns and cities in the UK. It’s been a challenging year for bookshops in general. Still, independents more so, so please think about supporting Red Lion (online or in-person) or any independent bookshop that is local to you – they need it now more than ever.

You can follow Red Lion books on Twitter here.

Words by Violet Daniels

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