History in Kent => Personalities => Topic started by: Leofwine on June 21, 2017, 16:09:37

Title: Walter Powell, Bookseller
Post by: Leofwine on June 21, 2017, 16:09:37
I don't remember him myself, but many people I've spoken to remember him as a great character.

Chatham News 1st April 1966


“Ask Walter Robert Powell about his books and he talks about the history of the Papacy. Ask him about his life and he talks about war pensions.
Mr Powell runs that fantastically jam-packed book shop in Brompton High Street that every observant person in the Medway Towns must have noticed when passing in a bus from Gillingham to Chatham. It’s called the Alton Book Store, just down the road from the bus stop.
As the entire shop is filled with books, books and more books, 84 year-old Mr Powell spends most of his time on the pavement outside, coughing badly from his bronchitis and fiddling around with second hand girlie magazines which sell at half-price to workmen and soldiers from the nearby barracks.
This shop is an Aladdin’s cave of knowledge. A multitude of divers masteries (sic) lie hidden in pages which fill the shop from end to end and from top to bottom.
The millions of volumes make the shop no place for a book browser who suffers from even the slightest twinge of claustrophobia.
Stop for a moment in the doorway, take in the immensity of the books towering in haphazard stacks around you, then plunge into the single foot-wide canyon that leads through the multi-coloured volumes to the back of the room.
Don’t be put off by the thick carpet of decaying newspaper and fallen books on the floor. Turn left where the New English Bible is embraced at eye-level to a yellowed Modern Physics, watch your shoulders as the canyon narrows and arrive at the centre of the store. Here find a chair and a table, a little lamp and Mr Powell’s notes on the Popes.
He has a theory that the British royal family is directly descended from the Papacy, that the Papacy was even more desolute (sic) than modern historians imagine, and therefore modern Roman Catholicism is based on myths and is invalid.
He keeps complicated notes on this subject, written in ball-pointed copperplate, in a stamp album, and recounts lurid anecdotes about the intrigues of the more infamous clerics.
One day, when he gets the time, Mr Powell is going to write a book about it all.
The other great passion in his heart is the problem of war pensions. He spent 20 years in the engine-rooms of the Royal Navy to be invalided out at the age of 38 after the Cameroon campaign. He had a long-service medal, the rank of Chief Mechanician, and a tropical disease.
When he applied for a war pension, Mr Powell became so entangled in a mass of official laxity and red tape that, after fighting to get his own rights and pension, he took up battles for other ex-servicemen and service widows who were finding it difficult to get any financial assistance out of the state.
He reckons that he helped several hundred souls with their pension difficulties.
Mr Powell took over the Alton Book Store soon after he left the Navy. But this was not his introduction to the world of books – he was born into the trade.
‘My dad was a newspaper and book wholesaler in North London and I worked for him when I was a boy. I was a half-timer at school, splitting my time down the middle between learning and doing the rounds with a horse and cart for my father’, he said. ‘But I learned just as much as the other children who went full-time to school, and I have always had an inkling for books and reading’.
Buying his books in lots from whole histories of contacts in London, Mr Powell makes a small living, but manages to keep his old frame warm in muffler, overcoat and gloves.
He says there is only one thing wrong with his trade. It’s the problem of pilferers, mean people who creep up to his shop and sneak away with stolen books tucked in their coats.
‘I reckon that perhaps nine out of every ten people who want to go into my shop intend to steal something. I can normally tell the dishonest ones by their eyes, and I don’t let them go in’.”
Title: Re: Walter Powell, Bookseller
Post by: smiffy on June 21, 2017, 19:08:15
Here it is (in part) from 1958. I wonder if he ever found the time to write his book?