Midhurst has one of the greatest privileges a small market town can have – an independent book shop. We not only have such a rare treasure, it is a very good one.
Wheeler’s Bookshop is in Red Lion Street, right in the heart of medieval Midhurst.
The feeling is somewhat Dickensian, but in a good way. You know you have stepped into an old-world biblio-paradise as soon as you walk in the door. But the selection of books is interesting, quirky and bang on trend, combining local interest with history, novels and a really interesting selection of new publications.
In fact, although the shop-front is more recent, the building itself significantly pre-dates Dickens: it is at least 400 years old, probably closer to 500, with original beams, a Tudor fireplace and romantically uneven floors. Although you will not see these, built into the cellar wall are two ancient sculptures, one of them thought to be Celtic. It is possible that they were plundered from the nearby St. Ann’s Castle, as it fell into ruin after its Norman hayday.
In fact Wheeler’s is two businesses under one roof, brought together ten years ago. One, owned by Alma Wheeler, has been here since 1997. She deals in new books. She has plenty of the classics and is also very current with key new releases.
In 2002 Alma was joined by her son Simon, who up till then had been trading in Knockhundred Market, just up the road. He has built up a really interesting collection of old and out-of-print books on a great range of topics. It took him six weeks to pack up his collection, and carry it down the road, box by box, on a hand-cart.
Both sides of the bookshop have many items on West Sussex and the South Downs: novels, artworks, guides, maps, histories etc. – just the kinds of things that visitors want. And there are several books by and about Richard Cobden and H.G Wells, two of Midhurst’s more famous sons (after whom the Two Rose Cottages Bed and Breakfast rooms are named).
Alma also has an extensive and very popular children’s section with a lovely rocking horse, beautifully renovated with a flowing mane and tail (which children love to plait!).
Being browser heaven, the books are laid out invitingly, and there are comfortable chairs in cosy corners.
In 2004 the Wheelers acquired two upstairs rooms, which were converted (with much hard work in renovation and the building of bookshelves) into a very restful space. Here most of the secondhand collection is housed. With a sofa and convenient table to rest your book upon, there is a distinct feeling of the “drawing room”.
And having made your purchases there are terrific places nearby where you can go to discuss and enjoy them – that essential conclusion to every episode of biblio-philia: Comestibles deli and coffee shop just next door (and home to Friends of Midhurst), Gartons Coffee House across the road in the old Town Hall or the venerable old Spread Eagle Hotel.
According to Virginia Woolf, she and Leonard loved to “debauch” themselves in the many bookshops of Charing Cross Road when they visited London. I strongly suggest a bit of biblio-debauchery when you visit Midhurst, and Wheeler’s Bookshop is the very place!
Well worth a visit!
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