BOOKS: It reflects badly on the town when I go to book festivals and other Arts and Culture events to have to admit that of bookshops in Dumbarton we are completely bereft

By Bill Heaney

I have often thought I would like to open a second hand bookshop in Dumbarton.

I think it reflects badly on the town when I go to book festivals and other Arts and Culture events to have to admit that of bookshops in Dumbarton we are completely bereft.

That says something about us, something of which I am not proud.

Are books something we do not have a great deal of interest in here?

Or could it be something else; something to do with our SNP Council’s lack of vision, which is staring us in the face when we consider so many other matters, such as I have mentioned in a previous Notebook?

It couldn’t be because the Council are putting obstacles in people’s way that we do not have our own little versions of Hatchards or Foyle’s in London.

Or Shakespeare and Company in Paris, James Thin in Edinburgh, Hodges and Figgis in Dublin, or Charlie Byrne’s or Kenny’s in Galway?

But then again, ask yourself, what puts a lot of people off going into any kind of business, not just bookshops.

Inevitably, the answer is money. The cost of setting up.

And that usually starts with the rent of the premises and the stock.

And charges like licenses to operate, which we are referring to here.

One local woman’s ambition to own a bookshop or some other outlet for artwork is Carolynn Bowman.

She was dismayed when Ben View Antiques appeared on her social media site to tell her they had just had a visitor from West Dunbartonshire Council come into their shop to tell them they need a second hand trader’s licence, which lasts three years and has to be paid in full.
For this West Dunbartonshire Council impose an eye-watering, astronomical charge of £1423 per annum.
Comparable prices are: Argyll and Bute, less than two miles away, £414 a year.
This reduces by a third each year; Falkirk Council charges £255 for three years, and Stirling Council £132 a year.
Ben View’s owner says this reflects the fact that what the Council says in public does not reflect what it does in practice.
Their post states: “So we want to promote local businesses and start up?
“I don’t think so. West Dunbartonshire Council, that’s a joke.”
It may be a joke to the Council, which is only now recognising the fact that AJ Cronin, one of world’s most successful authors of popular books, much of them about Dumbarton, by naming a few streets after him along the banks of the Leven. And not before time.
But no one is laughing, at least no one I am in touch with.
Carolynn Bowman, who used to be a leading light in the Save Dumbarton High Street campaign, said: “This is another example of the Council ripping people off and wondering why our shops aren’t full.
“A bookshop might not quite save the High Street, but [these licensing charges] could be putting someone off having a shop in Dumbarton.
“This is something I would love, love, love to do. Why so expensive?”
West Dunbartonshire Council’s attitude to books and other forms of Art and Culture is puzzling.
On the one hand, they have been renovating our libraries in Dumbarton, Clydebank and Alexandria.
But they have also cutting back on the basic services which were designed to lend books and to provide a place for people to do research and study subjects such as local history.
Bumptious Bailie Denis Agnew, who wears a gold chain and sits drinking tea with the Tories and votes with the SNP administration to keep them in power, is the Arts and Culture Committee convener.
Bailie Agnew is an enigma, having failed to turn up to welcome AJ Cronin’s granddaughter, Diana, on a visit she made to the town last year to talk about the great man.
He wrote Hatter’s Castle, The Citadel, Dr Findlay’s Casebook, the Green Years, the Spanish Gardener and much, much more and is said to have been one of the principal influences behind the founding of the NHS with Nye Bevan, the fiery Welsh politician.
Rose Harvie, the well-known local campaigner for progressive initiatives in Dumbarton, told the Bailie that it might be a good idea to do something to honour the fact that Charles Rennie Mackintosh was married to a local woman in St Augustine’s Church in the High Street, but he thought the great architect of The Hill House in Helensburgh, Scotland Street School and the Glasgow School of Art wasn’t sufficiently famous for that.
Yet, we have a story in The Democrat this week about the Council rolling out the red carpet for the Mayor of Letterkenny in Donegal in Clydebank Town Hall.
Now, doubtless the Mayor of Letterkenny is as fine fellow and I would not begrudge him for a moment a wee dram or a cup of Clydebank tea, but I don’t believe he will ever appear on the same page in history as Charles Rennie Mackintosh or AJ Cronin.
Bailie Agnew, wearing the gold chain and the £20,000 price of the piece of political horse trading that goes with it, was also in the group who pushed the boat out in Clydebank for a visit by the Polish Consul.
Does anyone believe Clydebank receives preferential treatment from the Council in exchange for that precious but somehow sullied vote which keeps the SNP in power in West Dunbartonshire?
Let’s have your views in a note to the editor of The Democrat from


  1. A second hand book shop is a wonderful thing. Living in Wales, I often go to the capital of the second hand book shop, Hay on Wye and delight in poking around the shelves of its many outlets. Hay has become a global brand with its Book Festival. I do hope Dumbarton officialdom thinks again and reconsiders how it wants the pubic space of the town shaped in the post-Covid world.

    Cronin had an international reach. I remember working in the NHS in the early 1980s and sitting in the ‘mess’ , an appropriately name for the common room of the live-in staff where a small informal library had been built from books people had finished. A young doctor who trained in India picked up a book (can’t remember which one) and said ‘Aj Cronin, everybody read him at medical school.’ I was please to tell him I was from his home town, and delighted in the affectionate diminutive he used.

    1. Yes, unfortunately, David. Maybe, instead, of the curriculum now in place, the schools could concentrate on the three Rs. That would help. Harry Potter and David Walliams have been tremendous in rekindling interest in reading.And maybe if they put some social history into the secondary curriculum thar would create interest. I wrote two books, All Our Yesterday and Two Minute Silence, about local places and people. 150 chapters or thereabouts. The Council showed little or no interest And bought only a few copies of each. There was no political spin to them but everything from football to the last hanging in Church Street to the Battle of Glen Fruin and tge sinking of the Lusitania.

Leave a Reply