In the heart of Oxford an unassuming shop front masks a veritable Aladdin's cave of all things book-related, that is, Blackwell's bookshop. Since 1879 it's been an increasingly indispensable resource for Oxford readers.
The shop is a treasure trove for all bibliophiles, a rabbit warren of books. If you enter the main shop doors, on the right of the front, you find yourself in the most 'mainstream' part of the shop. There are great banks of novels, books to do with Oxford or topical subjects, with shelves and tables piled high all around you.
The first floor covers History, Classics English Literature and Foreign Languages. Window sofas in the Classics section allow you to sit and think about what you want, or meet a friend for a chat. The banks of books, with whole cases of Loebs, for example, are aesthetically pleasing in their own right.
There's also a rare and antiquarian books section, where you'll find fabulous old volumes, or possibly be able to hunt out that unusual book you've been looking for.
Second hand books can be found throughout the shop, offering people a chance to sell their books back to Blackwell's, then buy slightly cheaper tomes. This final book collection is up on the second floor, where you'll also find customer toilets.
Throughout the shop a number of small desks and tills are manned by a great team of staff. They all have specialist knowledge, so there is always someone on hand to help you find precisely what you want to read.
I say 'the shop', but the joy of Blackwell's is the extent to which the shop spreads over several buildings, and even across the road. With the 2013 closure of the music shop, the other main shop is only Blackwell's Art, on the south side of Broad Street. The music shop has been incorporated into the main shop, with two floors. On the ground floor you find recorded music, while the sheet music is downstairs.
Below ground level, the Norrington room alone is as impressive as many whole bookshops. A gallery winds round some main floor spaces, with stacks on subjects such as Philosophy, Law, Travel, Politics and Medicine.
Blackwell's has been creative in its use of space, and the Norrington room also hosts plays by Creation Theatre. The audience surround the stage, browsing books as they watch the show. The theatre company prides itself on innovative dramatic approaches, and productions are always interesting.
Events are advertised throughout the store, with some whole display boards given over to posters inviting you to a great array of events.
Beyond Oxford, however, Blackwell's has become a countrywide brand, a byword for university bookshops. They have shops on university campuses across the UK. They have even bought up the Heffers chain in Cambridge, although Heffers has kept its name.
Basil Blackwell was an alumnus of Merton College, Oxford, and his humble bookshop has grown into a must-visit stop off for all book-loving people near Oxford.