Frank Westwood

Owner of the Petersfield Bookshop


Frank Henry George Westwood, bookseller: born London 31 January 1929; married 1956 Ann Johnson (two sons, one daughter); died Portsmouth 19 January 2006.

Most English country towns used to boast a bookshop combining a decent stock of new books with old books picked up locally. Alas, the cost of space and the pace of modern life have taken their toll, and the Petersfield Bookshop in Hampshire is one of few survivors. It was founded in 1918 by an East End doctor, but for the last 50 years Frank Westwood was its genius loci, first as manager and then, since 1958, as owner.

The son of a London bus driver, Westwood owed a long and happy life to the accidents of the Second World War. Evacuated to Hertfordshire, the family boarded with a cowman. The cowman went to Gloucester and young Frank went with him, there picking up a lifelong love of the country and rural pursuits. He then rejoined his family, in Harrow. Leaving school at 13, he got a job as a boy at the Oxford University Press, recently bombed out of Amen House. It was his first taste of the book trade, but his task was to look out on the roof for V1s, the relatively slow "doodlebugs", and sound the alarm for the staff to take cover.

He was just about to take a job as a plumber's mate, when his uncle told him that there was one going at Francis Edwards, the famous bookshop in Marylebone High Street. There his passion for books came into its own. He learned much from R.V. Tooley, the great expert on maps, and with Reg Remington, another lifelong friend, played cricket in the long thin basement - the surplus stock acting as nets.

Called up just after war ended, he served in the Navy as signaller; he also learned to type, which would come in useful for book cataloguing (he later took as easily to computerising his stock).

Back at Francis Edwards, he met Ann Johnson and they married in 1955, when she was just 18. On a day's outing to Petersfield, they fell in love with the town, and then the managership of the bookshop fell vacant. The shop was at 1 The Square, a rather constricted space, but soon after the Westwoods arrived Mrs Field, the owner, moved it to 2 Chapel Street. When she decided to sell the business, Frank took his courage in both hands (and a new baby as well) and bought it. In 1958 he moved it to 16A Chapel Street, and there it has been ever since, although it has gradually spread into neighbouring buildings, including the abattoir.

New books were in the front, older books under the beams on tight-packed shelves above, second-hand stock wandering off in other directions. Nominally, the Petersfield Bookshop specialised in travel and fishing (when not selling books Frank was off fly-fishing on the Itchen and Test). But in fact they cheerfully took in everything, from colour-plate books to second-hand paperbacks.

As well as maps and prints, Westwood provided mounts and frames. In 1988 he was granted the Queen's Royal Warrant for artists' materials and picture framing, to which was added the Prince of Wales's in 1993.

Frank Westwood was proud of his forecourt shelves, open 24 hours a day, with an honesty box beside them, the delight of the insomniac bibliophile, and prouder still when the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association honoured him in 2002 for his 50 years' service in the trade - presenting him with a bookrack at the hands of Joanna Lumley.

Nicolas Barker

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