Creativity Corner Inspirational People

the book barge

March 26, 2012

I was all prepared to blog about the guardian open weekend at kings place which i attended thanks to the incredibly knowledgeable and resourceful nicola. Don’t worry, i am still going to blog about it later on in the week.

While at the festival i stumbled upon the book barge. Yes, really, a barge which houses and sells books. Now, some of you know how much i love books and so i was compelled to go in and investigate. I knew immediately what i wanted this post to be about. Meet sarah henshaw, the brainchild of this creative venture.

In the true nature of slow living, i asked sarah if i could spend some time interviewing her for my blog. Although rather busy with customers, she generously agreed and we spent a lovely afternoon chatting and eating on her barge. Thank you lovely sarah.

I am intrigued. How did you come up with the idea for a book barge? Before this i was a journalist. The only drawback was i was writing celebrity stories. I’ve always loved books.  As a child i wanted to own my own bookshop and so decided to give it a go. We all know that independent bookshops on the high street are closing down rapidly. I didn’t have much money but felt passionate about doing something my way. The idea of a canal boat seemed economically viable, really romantic and aligned with the principles of the slow movement. I wanted people to be able to browse, take their time and even have a cup of tea if they so wish. I suppose it is what i would like in a retail space. Something different, less pressurised and the opposite of online shopping.

When did you start the book barge? I opened the doors in june 2009. So it’s coming up to 3 years. This was the first boat i saw and i bought it straight away. It was black, the colour i really wanted. That was back in february 2009. I spent all the rest of my money on boat fittings and decorating it. I had a little money left to buy some new books. The rest were second-hand books generously donated by the public, after i had put an ad in the local paper. I liked the fact that i offer both new and second-hand books that sit next to each other on the shelves. There is something lovely about people choosing the book they like independent of the price.

Where are you normally stationed? Well i started with permanent mooring in staffordshire. Then last summer i decided it’s time to go further afield and took the barge round the uk in a figure of eight. This summer i will travel to leeds, manchester and oxford.

Do you sleep on the barge? How do you deal with the winters? In staffordshire i am living in a flat and during the winter i am usually moored there. When in transit i live on the barge and have swapped books for the odd meal and a shower. I am just too happy to barter so when in need of a mechanic i pray that they like books.

You have a very personal style and i really like all the details of the interior. I’ve always loved decorating. I like collecting things like typewriters and it was fun kitting out the barge as a bookshop but also a place to hang out in. The cushions and little stools serve for people or children to take their time while browsing. It’s fun to have things around me i love and that have sentimental meaning. Except for a shower and toilet i have everything i need.

I’ve spotted some lovely vouchers. Tell me about them. I decided to try some out for christmas and embarked on hand stiching them. They were really popular so i found myself spending nights catching up with making more and more, as they take forever. People seem to really like them.

So, what’s next for sarah and the book barge? Having now ventured within the uk, i’ve set my eyes on paris and then further afield within europe. At the moment i’m still getting used to the really long travelling times. To get from birmingham to london took me 10 days at 12 hours each. It is indeed slow travelling. I enjoy it but i would need to work out how to go beyond the uk. I’m thinking of getting some sponsorship and relying on the barter system i’ve got in place. Any ideas out there, please feel free to get in touch.

How long are you staying in london, how can people find out where you’ll be next? I just spent 2 days at the guardian open weekend and will be in broadway market next saturday. I’m also stopping in angel this week. The best way to stay informed of my whereabouts and generally what’s happening in the book barge is to visit my website. I’m constantly updating it. Alternatively follow on twitter. Oh yes, if anyone wants to sell their books, give me a shout.

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  • Reply Holly March 26, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Wow! What a nice story for a sunny Monday morning. Thanks Tina!

    This is such an interesting concept, and Sarah is such a pretty and inspiring lady. Glad you found her and shared about it here. There’s something admirable about knowing what you like and choosing to experience life that way, no matter how nontraditional it may seem. Best wishes to The Book Barge … off to check out the website 😉


    • Reply tina March 27, 2012 at 8:34 am

      That’s exactly how I felt. Just to know, albeit unconventional, and go for it. Sarah told me that her parents were very encouraging so I guess that helps a little:)

      Who knows, she might pop up in Berlin. Just make sure you’re there…:) x

  • Reply annie March 26, 2012 at 10:49 am

    crazy! the ideas people come up with never ceases to amaze me. How different and brilliant. what a lovely way to live and it must be so relaxing.

    • Reply tina March 27, 2012 at 9:26 am

      Yep. There is another way to live…. mind you when you speak to Sarah, it’s not all romantic. Think of the winter….

  • Reply Nicola March 26, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Wow Tina, thanks for the shout at the top of the article, wasn’t expecting that.

    What a wonderful independent free-spirit Sarah Henshaw is and what a great idea. I wish her well.

    • Reply tina March 27, 2012 at 9:26 am

      Well deserved my dear!

  • Reply caroline March 26, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    Oh gorgeous!! What a gem of a find-fabulous idea. Your pics great too. Really lovely post. I need to find out when she”l be in Oxford so I can take the kids! Cx 🙂

    • Reply tina March 27, 2012 at 9:27 am

      Thanks Caroline. Yes, just keep checking her website for live updates OR follow on twitter… your kids will love it. There is a whole children’s section…x

  • Reply Chi @ Carousel March 26, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    What a superb idea! You’re certainly the offline answer to Erin’s internet sleuth, Tina – you have such a great “nose” for the most wonderful things, people and places! 😀

    I’d love to take L when The Book Barge is in Oxford – she absolutely adores books!!!

    Hats off to Sarah for turning the humble bookshop into something truly romantic and magical. Fantastic find – thanks for sharing it! 😀

    • Reply tina March 27, 2012 at 9:39 am

      Thanks Chi. Keep an eye on the website and twitter. L would love it.

  • Reply Lauren March 26, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    Great interview, Tina! I can see why The Book Barge stopped you in your steps and made you change your plans for the week! I could lose myself happily on the barge for days and days. I agree with Chi…truly romantic!

    • Reply tina March 27, 2012 at 9:41 am

      It did literally draw me like a magnet and when I went to say hi to Sarah I knew I wanted to hang out there….

  • Reply Theresa March 27, 2012 at 2:48 am

    What a really beautiful way to live and make a living. It is slow living at its finest and truest form. I’m glad you stopped and interviewed Sarah as it gave us a nice peek into her world. I agree with Holly that there is something admirable in knowing what you like and going after it. Thanks for sharing this with us, T.

    • Reply tina March 27, 2012 at 9:48 am

      Gosh, sorry about last night. I was overtired and so a mouse turns into an elephant:) at least I broke through a design dilemma!

      There is something magnetic about blogging. It’s that you want to share everything you know and find with your readers. I so enjoyed being on the barge and loved Sarah and her creative venture that I immediately wanted to blog about it. Truth be told, I didn’t get a chance to explore the books and browse like a customer. No sweat. Ha. Am going to see Sarah on Saturday at Broadway Market. Next on the list for blogging (great food market) so will kill 2 birds with 1 stone (Sarah, no offence:)… a busy woman has to plan like this. Anyway, Sarah knows this is the beginning of a friendship. Thanks Tx

  • Reply Toni March 28, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    Another amazing find Tina! I’m very romantic about book and find the concept of a book barge very exciting – need to go and check it out x

    • Reply tina March 28, 2012 at 5:22 pm

      T, Sarah is here until next Monday…look on her website. I know she was comin gto ANgel and in such glorious weather you could pop in. Maybe Friday before we meet. x

  • Reply Kelly March 28, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    What a great interview and story! It’s heart warming to read about people following their dreams and doing so well. Gorgeous boat and interior too, captured so well in your photos, looks like the perfect environment for choosing a book.

    • Reply tina March 28, 2012 at 9:58 pm

      Hello Kelly. Ta. Welcome to blogging. Thank you so much:)

  • Reply Catherine Bedson March 29, 2012 at 5:17 am

    Hi Tina, Fantastic interview, I’ve always admired people who can actually create the kind of life they’ve dreamed of. The Barge Bookshop looks like a relaxing peaceful place to browse on a Saturday afternoon. Catherine x

    • Reply tina March 29, 2012 at 8:25 am

      Thanks. Yes, feel the same. It is such a treat to meet people like that. Hope you’re getting back into the swing of things. x

  • Reply Jennifer March 29, 2012 at 5:48 am

    Tina! Thank you for such a lovely interview on someone so unique and inventive. What an absolutely brilliant idea! I love the way the interior is decorated and that there are both used and new books for sale. It seems that so many of the used book stores here in L.A. have been shutting down and it always makes me so sad. And the hand embroidered vouchers – such a personal and sweet touch..its no wonder everyone wanted them. Wish Sarah could come visit California!

    • Reply tina March 29, 2012 at 8:36 am

      Jennifer, glad you enjoyed it so much:) I also really liked the idea of selling used and new books as it’s so rare to have that. London used to be full of second hand bookshop which have died a slow death. I used to spent hours browsing in them. One such bookshop still exists, albeit changing location. A few weeks ago I went in and lost a whole afternoon devouring the books. I came away with Terence Conran’s ‘The Essential House Book’ which is a must for anyone interested in Interior Design. This experience so reminded me of my student days…..

      I love you for mentioning the hand embroidered vouchers. I went potty over them. It’s that sort of detail that makes my heart sing!

  • Reply Erin March 29, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    I get nauseous even in the bathtub so I generally avoid boats and things that go on water (although I did take a cruise once and had limited sea-sickness, owing I think to how large the ship is) but I’d break my own rule for this bookstore! What a clever idea! I love people who go for what they want in life regardless of if it’s what someone expects from them. Kudos to Sarah for making her dream a reality. I love the little touches like pillows on the floor and the postcards for sale. Makes the entire venture really unique. Thanks for the interview, Tina!

    • Reply tina March 30, 2012 at 12:06 am

      Ha. I also was a little light on my feet when on the barge. Not used to being on them… but all was forgotten when I started interviewing Sarah.

      The small touches are indeed my favourite!

  • Reply Michael March 31, 2012 at 4:22 am

    Better business with words on water :-)) Thanx for this story and the interview. Must have been a pleasurable book-buying visit. Independent bookshop close everywhere and this may be an inventive way to promote and “survive”. Possibly the coolest bookshop in the UK and..yes seems to be cool in the winter….brr..
    Your style of creating stories is so lovely

    • Reply tina March 31, 2012 at 7:30 am

      Hello lovely. Glad you enjoyed! ‘Cool’ in the winter indeed:) Kisses.

  • Reply ursula (room to bloom) April 4, 2012 at 12:10 am

    Tina, we used to have a programme on television in Holland (when i was little) called ‘Paradijsvogels’ or ‘Birds of Paradise’ and it chronicled the lives of unusual people with unusual lives (snap shots really, through unhurried conversations with). Ahem. I think you need to pitch this to you-probably-know-best-which-channel over here. The timing is right. And you’d be amazing. I’ll be your side-kick. x

    • Reply tina April 4, 2012 at 12:15 am

      ‘Paradijsvogels’… I love it! I know we live in a time where people are creating the most incredible lives for themselves… creative, inventive and independent!

      TV program – you’re right… maybe this is the right time. There are more qualified people to fro these.
      You as a sidekick though will be worth the pitch:)

      Thanks love x

  • Reply The Book Barge – aventură cu cărţi, pe canalele din Marea Britanie | Bookaholic May 24, 2013 at 9:55 am

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