Popular for its regular slam poetry events and jazz music that dances over the waters of London, Word on the Water is an alternate, utopian experience to conventional bookshops; quietly creating a subculture of literary expressions. Customers inhale the whiff of second-hand books in the unconventional environment, enjoying the tranquil of the river and feeling the Earth move gently below them.

 

Word on the Water, London’s unique floating bookshop, was finally given a permanent mooring and it’s all thanks to the overwhelming support of the public who managed to keep it afloat.

It is no surprise that people were not willing to let go of the iconic wonder. Popular for its regular slam poetry events and jazz music that dances over the waters of London, Word on the Water is an alternate, utopian experience to conventional bookshops; quietly creating a subculture of literary expressions. Customers inhale the whiff of second-hand books in the unconventional environment, enjoying the tranquil of the river and feeling the Earth move gently below them.

After bobbing at various locations of Hackney and Paddington, via Camden and Angel, and King’s Cross, since 2011, the Canal & River Trust’s (CaRT) verdict for a permanent spot to the book-barge at Granary Square, near King’s Cross Station was a breath of fresh air to the owners. Due to rising costs for floating businesses, cacophonic canals and difficulties in logistics, the owners, Paddy Screech and Jonathan Privett, decided to apply for a permanent spot in Regent’s Canal as the bookshop could sail only for two weeks at each mooring.

CaRT put the concept out to tender for an auction but the owners were outbid by a major property company, British Land, which already owns several development sites around Paddington and wanted to open a floating coffee shop. The owners feared that they might have to shut down but the bibliophiles of Great Britain, including authors Michael Bywater and Elizabeth Speller; signed a petition to keep it adrift.

It was a collective ambition that made this bookshop possible. Jonathan runs a book stall in Archway Street and Paddy, who was looking to get out of his day job, is now the frontman of the business. When the duo first saw the barge on rent, the owner (Noye or “The Captain”) was willing to part with out, provided he was a silent partner in the business. His artistic and mechanical flair helped refit the boat and equip it with shelves.

Soon, the homely coal barge, with a statue of Buddha at the entrance, paperback and hard bound books curated from charity houses stacked in neat piles and antiques like a typewriter or an old telephone nestling in odd spaces drew people in schools of fish as bookshop began swimming against the current.

But more than a store, the visual treat and treasure trove of collections are testament to culture and independent voices. And if not just for the books, the star of the experience is definitely Star, Jonathan’s friendly collie.

 

Anushka Sivakumar

Anushka Sivakumar

Anushka Sivakumar has been a journalist with The Deccan Herald. She received B.A. in English from Christ University, Bangalore, and her postgraduate degree in journalism from the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.

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