Southport is always an interesting place. It has all the usual seaside details you would expect plus some features that mark it out as a little more dignified than the usual destination. Most notably these include the intricate nineteenth-century cast iron verandahs which adorn Lord Street.
But for me, for as long as I can remember, the one place that really stands out is the Shell Shop. You could easily miss it if you didn’t know it was there but it is a place I never walk past without going in.
Youthful visits to Southport with church and youth groups always included a trip to the Shell Shop. It was arranged as a museum around some rickety staircases and took the visitor on an eccentric journey to the South Sea Islands. A large and grubby looking plug from borstal hung near the end of the experience along with, I was recently reminded by Tony the current owner, a large model of a witch doctor placed there to discourage young visitors from shop lifting! Nowadays I don’t go so much for the shells as for the three floors of second hand books. I didn’t realise until a recent visit that the original Shell Shop and book shop were two separate businesses and indeed both were different to the current business, Parkinsons Books, but such was the demand from visitors for shells and other unusual items that the large stock of shells, fossils and curios from around the world remain very much a part of the display.
There is always a good selection of theology upstairs and it is always worth the hike to see what is there. But the shadowy passageway containing the 50p bargains never fails to yield some great finds. Not so long ago I purchased six random volumes of the original Dictionary of National Biography for 50p each. You might wonder why I wanted them since they are quite bulky and are, of course, available online these days, but you couldn’t leave them there for £3. Besides I only have to find 16 more and I will have the full set.
A Lord Street shop front
Victorian cast iron and glass shop canopies
The entrance to the Shell Shop
Getting nearer to the shop
Don’t forget the diver. Southport statue