Pier into past with Morecambe’s book paradise

Tony Vettese of the Old Pier Bookshop in Morecambe.
Tony Vettese of the Old Pier Bookshop in Morecambe.
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It would take around four lifetimes to read the 140,000 books in Tony Vettese’s shop – not including Leap Years, he reckons.

As Tony celebrates a quarter of a century in his seafront bookshop, his treasure trove of old books is as popular as ever.

But which genre does Tony like to read himself?

“Sci-fi, thrillers and biographical diaries of country vicars and parsons,” he says.

“They give you a wonderful snapshot of what life was like a few hundred years ago.”

Tony is a history enthusiast and the past oozes from every nook and cranny of his quaintly ramshackle store.

Its name comes from the Central Pier, which used to stand opposite until it was pulled down in 1992.

Before it was a bookshop, the premises was Ramblers Cafe run by Tony’s family.

Born in Scotland, Tony came to Morecambe with his family in 1961 aged three.

“I came from a home where we didn’t have any books apart from The Bible,” he says.

“Mum didn’t have any education at all. She was brought up in Italy during the war.

“I had a very good teacher at infant school, though, Mrs Milner, who taught me to read.”

Tony’s working life has been as varied as the books on his shelves.

His first job was making candy floss in an amusement arcade called the Bermudiana.

As a youngster he also delivered papers for Riley’s newsagents, then went on to work for the Furey brothers on their fruit and veg stalls, was in the army for six years and was arcades manager at Frontierland.

He also worked for Lancaster Glass Fibre on St George’s Quay and in the family business.

Ramblers eventually closed due to dwindling trade but not before starting to sell books from a small shelf.

After running for a year as a gift shop, the Marine Road Central building became a fully fledged book store.

Tony is proud of his shop and like a wise storyteller he explains the tales hiding around each corner.

“That’s Nelson the stuffed goose hanging above the counter,” he says, pointing to one of his shop ‘mascots’.

“He’s been with me for about 22 years, I found him on a car boot sale.

“He had a broken wing and he’s lost an eye, hence the name Nelson.”

Then he picks up a thickly-bound old book, tightly piled with others on one of his many bookshelves.

“This is the oldest book in the shop, ‘A Natural History of Birds, Fish, Insects and Reptiles’ from 1793.

“It’s about £10. A lot of people have had that book, there’s a lot of history there.”

Hanging above a dark alcove at the back of the shop is Tony’s other ‘mascot’, Muriel.

Muriel is a model of a mermaid created for the Morecambe vintage arts trail by artist Georgia Rush.

“Muriel is a good waymarker for when people ask me where the music or cookery section is,” he says.

“I say ‘go down the aisle and turn left at the mermaid’.”

A dark open doorway leads to the Terry Pratchett section, one of Tony’s favourites.

“Not a lot of people know this, but a lot of Terry Pratchett’s novels are based in a place called Ankh-Morpork, a play on words of Lancaster and Morecambe,” he says.

Tony truly is a mine of information and now in his 60th year, he has no plans to retire. In fact he intends to stay in his beloved book shop until his dying day.

“They will pull me out of that chair, when I go,” he says, gesturing behind the counter.

“Although I can’t actually get behind the counter now. Too many books!”