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Ten Go Christmas Shopping at Bluecoat

With just a couple of weeks to go now until Christmas, have some fun speculating about characters from literature who might be seen browsing for gifts in the plethora of independent shops that we are lucky to have surrounding us at Bluecoat.

No 1

Leopold Bloom, the central character in James Joyce’s Ulysses, would have loved to browse in Kernaghan Books. This lovingly curated bookstore is packed with vintage and antique books, rare and scarce editions sitting alongside traditional orange Penguin classics. Prices here are very affordable, so there is every chance of picking up a bargain.  Bloom, who appreciated everything from astronomy books to racy romances, would have revelled in the range of this bookshop.

Visit Kernahan’s Books here  and read Ulysses here  

No 2  

Lalligrass is a family business which sells items made and produced by artists and artisans in the Himalayas. One of the directors, Jay, lives in the foothills of this famous mountain range with his Nepali wife, Rama. Lalligrass’s suppliers include Tibetan refugees, who produce beautiful handmade rugs. A literary figure who realises the beauty and value of all things Himalayan is Hugh Conway, hero of James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon – we can imagine him buying one of the exquisite objects in Lalligrass to help him remember his time in Shangri-La.  Read all about it here

Phoenix Violins

In the garden, musical instruments are Mike Phoenix’s forte: violins are made and repaired in his studio, and instruments, strings and accessories are on sale. Speaking of which…

Probe  Records

Nos 3 & 4

Hans Castorp, hero of Thomas Mann’s 1924 novel The Magic Mountain ‘loved music from his heart; it worked upon him […] with deeply soothing, narcotic effect, tempting him to doze.’ He had five favourite records, but should have had a longer playlist to listen to while recovering from illness so what better remedy than Probe Records? Here he might bump into  the album-obsessive, record-shop owner Rob Fleming, from Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, there perhaps to check out the competition, and thinking no doubt about a few of his own Top Fives.

Probe is a music shop which has become a city institution over the past 40 years. It was also the base for some of the region’s best known musical talent, from Wah! Heat’s Pete Wylie to Dead or Alive’s frontman, Pete Burns.

Check out Wah! Heat here, Dead or Alive here , Nick  Hornby here and read The Magic Mountain here

No 5

Flaubert’s Emma Bovary is very discriminating and worships fine items:  she would do well to frequent the Bluecoat Display Centre where director Maureen Bampton and her BDS team are real experts at finding, exhibiting and selling some of the best work by professional craftspeople across the UK.  Bluecoat Display Centre has a long pedigree reaching back to 1959 and is a registered charity: by shopping here Madame B might have been able to avoid Lheureux, the unscrupulous merchant who brings about her ruin.  

Read Madame Bovary here 

Check out Bluecoat Display Centre here 

No 6

When Rachel Verinder’s diamond is stolen in The Moonstone, she would have been well advised to have sought a replacement in the treasure-trove that is the jeweller’s run by master silversmith and engraver, Bob Porter. Bob also designs his own jewellery and other items: all of which makes this special shop well worth a visit. This long-term Bluecoat resident, with the support of his wife, Joan, has engraved all of the winners’ trophies at Aintree for the Grand National for many years now.

Read Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone here   

Check out R & J Porter here 

J.H. Benson

No 7

J.H. Benson & Co have been producing finest men’s footwear since 1915. Vivian Sternwood in Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep wears a mannish tweed suit, shirt and tie, and ‘hand-carved walking shoes" – a description which fits perfectly the highly-polished and carefully crafted shoes on offer in Benson’s.

Check out J.H. Benson on  Facebook 

Read The Big Sleep here 

Myne Boutique

No 8

MYNE Boutique is a great place to shop for something a bit different. MYNE offers quirky gifts from a range of talented designers, and, if you’re looking for something special, they can customise, commission or create products, too. In this Aladdin’s caves of special items, there’s a good chance you’ll unearth some hidden gems, redolent of the magical tales of Scheherazade

Read the stories of The Thousand and One Nights here 

Check out Myne Boutique here


No 9

Bluecoat’s resident retailers can also help you save money, by sprucing up old clothes or furniture. Stitches, located in the front courtyard, can not only do repairs and alterations but also create outfits to order. The tailor who cannot repair a pair of trousers in three months, as emerges in a very funny story told by Nagg in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, should have come here for the very speedy and high quality service which would have covered up his deficiencies. But then he couldn’t have delivered one of the best punchlines in literature.  

Read Endgame and find out what the joke is here 

Check out Stitches here 

Painted Chair

No 10

Our last two ports of call are all about re-making things or yourself.

Also in the front courtyard, Painted Chair sells the famous Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, as well as running courses to show you how to renovate your furniture.

And if you’re looking to spruce yourself up for the festivities, then in School Lane you will find Spellbound Hair and Makeup, which provides hairdressing for both men and women, as well as make-up and semi-permanent make-up.

The presiding spirit of reinvention could here find its match in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, since the eponymous hero/ine not only spends some time considering how to furnish a mansion but also romps through history in various guises, male and female.

Read Orlando here 

So at this busy time, put yourself in the shoes of your favourite character and enjoy a  different type of Christmas shopping at Bluecoat. It’s heartening to be surrounded by such a range of fine shops and services and it’s a tribute to the quality and resilience of these retailers that they continue to flourish in a city with so many mainstream shopping options.

Independent outlets are in the frontline of stiff competition from online sales and more closed than opened nationwide in the first six months of the year, for the first time since 2012. So there’s never been a better time to support those individual traders who continue to make our city a vibrant and distinctive place.

And while you’re here, you could also avail of our three-course Christmas lunch in our Bistro or a coffee in our café, perhaps sparing a thought for all the ‘characters’ and Christmas times that have come and gone within our walls since the early 1700s.


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