Thousands sign petition to save London Book Barge

Paddy Screech at Word On The Water, London's only floating book shop. Picture: Polly Hancock

Paddy Screech at Word On The Water, London's only floating book shop. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

More than 2,500 protestors have signed a petition to save London’s only floating bookshop from being pushed out by a property company.

The owner of the Word On The Water London Book Barge says it cannot survive after being “evicted” from its mooring outside Paddington Station by the charity which runs the waterways.

Following a tender process, the Canal and River Trust has handed the lucrative spot to multi-billion pound property company British Land, for a floating coffee shop and tourist centre.

Paddy Screech, 48, who has run the “palace of secondhand books” on the barge for four years, was shocked to lose the tender and fears his business will collapse.

“I am crestfallen and really worried. We have become a centre of the local community, as well as a mecca for book-lovers from all over the world. If we have to keep changing locations and cruising around, people will not know where to find us and we cannot keep going,” he said.

His petition to the Trust already has 1,784 signatures

He added: “Why would they choose a coffee shop over us, with 23 coffee outlets nearby?”

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The Oxford English graduate, buys his stock from charity shops.

“We rescue books from the huge unwanted piles that would otherwise would be pulped,” he said.

His customers include rail commuters, local parents and children and eminent authors such as Ben Okri. The barge also holds live jazz, poetry readings and book launches on its roof.

Author Elizabeth Speller said: “It is an absolute gem. I love it. I have seen a number of authors in here. It will be so sad to lose it. I love sitting in a chair and pottering around and never leave without buying some wonderful book.

“The trust should be preserving something of such public benefit and not maximising capital investment,” she said.

Writer Michael Bywater said: “We are losing something authentic and real for something manufactured and fake. That is not in the public interest. Its disgraceful for a charity to do this.”

The Canal and River Trust said in a statement that the Paddington spot was “the most valuable trading boat mooring we have.”

It said the book barge was just one of nine businesses who had sent in tenders. The statement said: “Not everyone could win and we had to select the bid which offered the best deal for the canal and its visitors.”

“The book barge has a roving trader licence allowing it to travel within our system, something we hope will continue.”

But Mr Screech said when they had previously travelled around to other places including Camden Lock, trade had suffered “We have tried cruising around, but it is not viable.”