Around and About in Victoria: 90 Years of the CTS Bookshop

 Around and About in Victoria

90 Years of the CTS Bookshop

Like many areas of central London, Victoria has seen enormous change in the last century, but the Catholic Truth Society Bookshop has been an almost constant presence. On the 31st of December 2016 we celebrated our 90th birthday as an independent bookshop in the heart of Catholic London, and we have been digging through our archives to bring you the story of our ministry here.

The Catholic Truth Society itself is approaching 150 years since its founding in 1868 by Cardinal Vaughn. The society has distributed its publications in our famous Church stands and on the streets throughout that time,but in the 1920s it was decided that a proper retail premises was needed to cater to London's Catholics. The lease for 28a Ashley place was taken up on the 31st of December 1926, the yearly rent costing £100 (around £5,500 in modern terms).


As this advert from 1953 shows, Victoria then was very different to the still developing Victoria of today. At the time of Westminster Cathedral's construction, English legislation prohibited any Catholic Church from facing onto a main road. Instead Ashley Place was the road which ran along the front of the Cathedral, parallel to Victoria Street, and through what is now Westminster Cathedral Piazza.  

The CTS Bookshop ran a successful business in this location for 45 years, its stock consisting (much as it does now) of the complete CTS catalogue, Catholic books by other publishers, devotional items and church fittings. The Bookshop staff during these years was a fairly large team of  8-10 people, including a messenger boy, a typist and a bookkeeper.

The fantastic shop windows proved to be a bit of a problem when the blackout restrictions came into play, and in 1942 the bookshop had to limit its opening hours in order to avoid violations. However, the bookshop also played a role in supporting British and American Prisoners of War: the manageress Miss Dunne was in charge of selecting books which were parcelled up and sent out prison camps in Germany. Several of our current regular customers have fond memories of the shop at this time, and the refuge and comfort it offered.


The Bookshop seems to have survived the war without sustaining much damage, and in 1955 was completely re-fitted to make more space for increasing business. However, in the 1970's plans to redevelop the local area moved ahead, forcing the bookshop to re-locate as the premises at Ashley Place was demolished.

                Finding a new location for the shop was not easy and several locations were considered, including one opposite Buckingham Palace. The most favourable site was no. 201 Victoria Street, owned by the Mssrs. Fortes. However, the gentlemen owners initially refused to allow the premises to be used for anything other than a ladies dress shop. Catholic Truth Society minutes from this time show that the Trustees placed the matter in the hands of Saint Teresa of Avila, and a novena of masses was offered that the owners might change their minds. Presumably it worked, because in January 1971 the lease for 201 Victoria Street was finally signed.

This new location was almost directly opposite Victoria Station, and after initial refurbishments business was reported to be 'excellent'. However, the new bookshop was far from perfect. Its basement storeroom regularly flooded meaning that all stock had to be stored at least 2ft off the ground, and staff venturing down there were first issued with a sturdy pair of wellies.

                Luckily for the staff's podiatric hygiene, the CTS only remained at no.201 for a few years, and in 1977 returned to the premises addressed 25 Ashley Place (the road itself now only a ghost in the mail system whose sole purpose seems to be to confuse delivery drivers) where it still stands looking out onto the bustling open square of the Byzantine Cathedral - a popular space for visitors and a busy working and shopping environment. 

Walsingham – England’s Nazareth

 On the 17th of September we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham. Walsingham is the most visited Christian shrine in England, and a place where Catholicism and Anglicanism meet on equal ground in devotion, but what is the story behind England's national shrine?

Back in 1061 Our Lady is supposed to have appeared in a dream to a wealthy widow named Richeldis and taken her to Nazareth, to the house where she was living when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. She told Richeldis to measure everything carefully, and build a replica near her own home at Walsingham.  Richeldis did what she was told.  The Holy House which was constructed to her specifications was made of wood.  It became a place of pilgrimage, and a large abbey church was later built round it – the ruins of which we can see today.

At the time Richeldis had her dream, the Holy Land had been under Muslim rule for several centuries. Although Mary is held in honour by the Muslims (and we know that her house in Nazareth was still there in 1061) it was very difficult to go and visit it.  Setting up a replica shrine in a more accessible part of Europe enabling people to gain the graces of the pilgrimage, with a reasonable chance of returning home safely afterwards would have been seen as a great sign of God’s mercy and love.

What is so important about the Holy House?

Something happened in that house which was surely the most important event in all human history – something which was absolutely basic to everything else, because without it, none of our history would have any ultimate meaning.  This was the house where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, hailing her as the favoured one of God, and where she expressed her agreement – for God does not coerce people: it was only with the free consent of his creation that he, the Creator, would go ahead with his great plan for our salvation.  And so that house was the place where God became Man, where he chose to become incarnate as a human being.  For as soon as Mary responded to the Angel: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord,” Jesus was conceived in her womb.  From that moment, nine months before his birth in Bethlehem, God was among us in human flesh. 

What happened to the shrine?

During the English Reformation, pilgrimages were among the devotional traditions attacked and ridiculed by the so-called “Reformers”.  The Holy House was destroyed, and the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was taken to London in 1538 along with all our country’s other famous Marian images, to be burned on a bonfire. 

In 1893 Miss Charlotte Boyd, a devout Anglican, arranged to buy the Slipper Chapel in Walsingham (the place where the mediaeval pilgrims left their shoes before walking barefoot to the shrine) for £400.  It was in a terrible state.  The following year Miss Boyd became a Catholic, but the shrine itself was not revived until 1933.  The first Mass since the Reformation was celebrated in the Slipper Chapel at the Feast of Assumption in 1934, and the following Sunday the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Francis Bourne, led a pilgrimage of 12,000 people to Walsingham, travelling by train. 

The Marian images in pilgrimage shrines in England today are modern replicas, based as far as possible on illustrations and other records of what the original statues looked like.  Two successive statues of Our Lady of Walsingham were commissioned, but neither seemed quite right until 1954, when the present statue was made.  When it was solemnly crowned by the Apostolic Delegate at the Feast of the Assumption that year, in the presence of 15,000 pilgrims, two white doves appeared and settled on the statue.

Click here for a detailed history of the Shrine by Jean Olwen Maynard written for the Archdiocesan Pilgrimage to Walsingham for the Year of Mercy 2016.


Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls

A Wilder Adventure Story 

One of the duties of working in a bookshop is sometimes finding  new books to fill areas that aren't well represented, and we were excited to come across one at the start of the summer. In Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls, Raymond Arroyo has filled a hole in the Children's Fiction section (right next to Frank Cottrell Boyce and C.S. Lewis).

The story of 12 year old Will does for Catholic Traditions what Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books have done for Greek and Roman Mythology:  brought them dramatically into the life of a modern-day boy in a way that is both action-packed and enjoyable. Just like Percy Jackson, and Harry Potter come to that, Will Wilder is a kid who can see and do things others can't. In this case, it's fight demons who are threatening to bring the apocalypse to his home in Perilous Falls. Will and his friends, along with his Great Aunt (who has mystical ninja-like skills) have to solve ancient puzzles in an Indiana Jones/The Goonies kind of way in order to keep a relic of St Thomas from falling into the wrong hands.

Raymond Arroyo (best known for his work on EWTN and his books about Mother Angelica) has used the layout that works so well in books for children, focusing on a group of kids who are able to work with (as well as occasionally against) the adult characters, and take on the problems facing their world.

Despite the quick pace and constant danger, the monsters and mystical powers, Arroyo's characters are founded in their friendships and relationships, particularly the relationship with Will's father who refuses to accept the things his son (and God) are able to do. The story also makes great use of Catholic traditions and terms, and although many are explained, parents may also find  themselves asked about some of the more technical terms, and it may be worth having a Catechism of Christian Doctrine to hand. Hopefully, just as Riordan's stories teach a lot about Classical Mythology, Arroyo's may help readers to think about their Faith in a new way.

Being set in America, there are some things that might seem a little alien to an English reader, but the pace of the plot and the relationships of the characters carry you through, and as this is the first in a proposed series, we look forward to seeing how Will Wilder, his family and Perilous Falls deal with the challenges facing them. Reviewed by RP

Onwards and upwards

For many years the CTS Bookshop has hovered uneasily on the brink of the technological revolution, dipping the occasional cautious toe into the turbid waters of the interweb then beating a hasty retreat up the dry sandhills of traditional bookselling. But now we have abandoned caution, seized the main chance, girded ourselves manfully (and, inevitably, womanfully) and run full-pelt into a new website, like those mad people plunging into the Serpentine on Christmas Day (or whenever it is. Or is it Russians in midwinter through the ice of the Neva? Or was that Rasputin after he had been shot and poisoned? anyway...), leaving behind us a welter of abandoned scruples and hopelessly tangled metaphor.

In short, o readers, we now have a functioning website. Part of the website is this blog, where we will try to inform and entertain you with irregular but not too infrequent postings and, with luck, little of the elephantine humour of the preceding paragraph.

It's bookselling, Jim, but not as we know it.


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