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. 


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