Like a wood-pannelled, Edwardian curiosity shop, the UK’s oldest booksellers P&G Wells hides in the higgledy streets of Winchester’s Kingsgate village.
This quiet Cathedral of the mind has tended to the intellect and imagination of the city’s great, good (and let’s hope slightly wicked) people for over 250 years: it is one of Wykham’s very best kept secrets. The children’s section is particularly special — more on this later. And yes, history pedants we’re talking different venues here.
Head beyond Cathedral, over the green, past Tudor houses with their milky window-glass and graphic timber.
Under a wooden arch and bear left onto College Street, towards Winchester College. The air is rarefied now: earnest young Wykhamists in their cloaks, an occasional cleric, the more discerning tourist. Jane Austen’s last house is nearby and Keats wrote his Ode to Autumn in the water meadows a short hop away. It is wonderful, and not entirely implausible, to imagine these behemoths of English literature browsing P&G Wells for some nineteenth century ‘inspo’.
Into the bookshop itself, piled high with joyous tomes: history, literary fiction, crime.
True to the shop’s country roots (remember those water meadows close by) travel and nature writing are given pride of place by the front door. The whole ethos is Indy with ‘I’ in caps, absolutely opposite to the faceless, pile em’high tactics of online and high street sellers where media buzz is everything. P&G Wells isn’t much interested in online, or social media —it wants its customers to visit in person and talk to the booksellers with their deep knowledge of all things literary.
Upstairs to the children’s section, visiting is one of my seven-year-old’s favourite Winch treats.
It’s a warm welcoming space hunka munka with beautifully illustrated picture books and the very best early readers all curated by the Children’s Manager, Clare Maltby. Clare’s background is in publishing and she is the ex-Children’s Section Manager for Waterstones so she genuinely knows her stuff. Read her top children’s book recommendations here. You’ll find her in the children’s section so be sure to pick her brains and mention Muddy Hants sent you.
Two mornings a week Clare runs charming pre-school reading and singing sessions (Wednesdays for under-3s, Saturdays for 4-9 year olds) and the main shop runs creative writing sessions and lots of book groups with names like The Kitchen Dancers and The Carousing Browsers, my kind of people.
Once you’ve made your book choices (it’ll be tough to whittle down, be warned) cosy up in next door’s The Wykham Arms for hours of heavenly wine and reading.
P&G Wells Booksellers, 11 College St, SO23 9LZ, (01962) 852 016, bookwells.co.uk