From Lower Marsh, to Lower Marsh Market… the story of local legend, Jane Gibberd and her love of books
To celebrate Local and Community History Month, we sat down with former Lower Marsh book shop owner (now Coleman Coffee Roasters) Jane Gibberd. Still trading, Jane can be found selling books on Lower Marsh Market on Saturdays. Find out what it was like to work on Lower Marsh in the ’70s, which celebs were regulars and why kindness has a home in Waterloo…
“When we first married in 1960, Graham and I lived in Vauxhall. After our first child was born, we moved to Stockwell, and after the second I decided it was time to earn my living. Before marriage, I had been a typist, which I didn’t enjoy. I decided the only way was to be self-employed. There seemed to be three main areas of opportunity – cooking, clothing or books. It was easy to choose.
Books don’t go bad; they just need to be dusted, dry and stacked. Also, I had very little capital - £200, which my parents-in-law had given us towards the children’s education. Simple, it was used as a deposit for a council shop in Newington Butts, and was perfect for the children who went to Henry Fawcett school at the Oval.
I was barely educated, I didn’t go to university – my only real education was a typing course when I left school. I learned to read late, but never stopped after that. I learn mostly from my customers through the books they asked for or what they bought.
I liked to browse the shops in Charing Cross Road when I was younger, but was profoundly shocked by the prices. Later, when I became a bookseller, I vowed I would make a great effort to keep my prices low. My motto: “the best possible books for the cheapest possible prices.” I was also determined that each book should have a purpose, that it might widen someone’s knowledge in some way, or lead them onto a particular path. My job is to find books. I need to recognise their worth, but not necessarily read or understand them. That is for the buyer.
In the 1970s our lease with Lambeth on the Newington Butts shop came to an end. Since our children were in the process of leaving home, it seemed sensible to buy a shop with living accommodation over it. One day, while standing at ‘Lil’s’ Stall, I happened to see a For Sale sign over No.20, Lower Marsh – that was it, Graham was in his seventh heaven (we never had a builder cross the threshold). Up came the floor, and down the extension roof joists to create the back of the shop screen and courtyard.
During the excavations, he found the remains of a Victorian bread oven (he used the bricks to pave the back area). Plants and cuttings were donated by friends and family – there’s a mulberry, pomegranate and more besides; the white jasmine was given in a small pot by a very great friend.
The street, Lower Marsh, was so lively during the lunch hour that it was often difficult to get across the pavement to the shops. Iceland used to be Woolworth’s, Little Marshans opposite use to be two separate shops and the past owners of our shop, Michael Bright, still had his electrical business. The bookmakers (William Hill) is in a building that replaced two very old shops, one of which was a fishmonger’s, where fish were smoked out back. There were two butchers in the street, one up where Pret is and the other in Travelling Through. There was a huge variety of stalls or barrows; notably a barrow that sold only greens and potatoes. Another sold just swimming costumes in the summer, and scarves and hats in the winter. Four Corners used to be two small shops, one of which was a photography shop, very popular with pro photographers (Linda McCartney was a regular). Later, it was taken over by William Prophet who, with his wife Lisa, made and sold silver jewellery. They lived over the shop with the whole family. Coming down the street towards us at No.17, Coopers set up their ‘Natural Foods’ and next to us, in the early days two elderly ladies ran Waterloo Sports Shop. It was very popular for its Doctor Martin Boots and people came from miles to buy them including several now famous popstars.
Generations of actors passed through my shop. Apparently, there was a tradition of giving each other books on ‘first nights’, to pass the time in their dressing rooms.
The greening of London is a wonderful thing. When we first arrived in Lower Marsh, there was not a blade of grass nor a leaf to be seen. Now, it’s very different. The noise, the hustle and bustle can be tiring but I believe it makes us all caring and kinder and every time we go out in Waterloo, we are met with boundless kindness and consideration.”
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