After 62 years running the station bookstall at Haverfordwest Railway Station, Jim the Bookstall is getting ready to retire. He told us about his memories of life at the station.
He’s run the station bookstall at Haverfordwest railway station since 1961 – and now, aged 79, Jim the Bookstall is getting ready to pull down the shutter on the historic stall for one last time.
Jim – who also runs a paper round in Haverfordwest – is a regular site at the station, manning the bookstall singlehandedly while also helping people out with directions and train information. Regular passengers stop to chat with him, as they have done for decades.
There is no doubt he will be sorely missed. Besides having a stall crammed with a superb array of newspapers and magazines, he’s relied upon to lock up the station building at the end of the day, check and lock the toilets, and report any issues at the station.
“If anything happens yeah. I report it to the guard on the train coming down, and he goes back up and reports it to Carmarthen,” Jim explains.
The station bookstall is as iconic as the man who runs it: a solid wooden structure opposite the ticket office, dating from 1939 – the same year the station was built.
“It survived the war. Everything is original, including the shutters,” says Jim, who can usually be found sitting in front of the stall but can also open the counter to serve people from behind it, against a backdrop of wooden shelves originally used to display tobacco but now populated with a few toy trains he has collected over the years.
Jim took on the job after his brother told him about the bookstall, which had been empty for a long time. Jim was 16 and had been planning to become a mechanic, but the bookstall idea appealed to him.
“I didn’t know nothing about business,” he says. “All I knew is, if you bought something for a bob and sold it for two bob, you made a bob.”
He opened the stall with £10 of cigarettes (which amounted to 1200 cigarettes), £10 of sweets, and a selection of books and newspapers.
“Those were pretty good years – Brawdy naval base was on the go with the sailors and Wrens,” he recalls.
He remembers them as excellent customers – the people from the Army and the RAF less so. He quickly discovered that he loved meeting people, and over the years he’s chatted with all manner of people, including Lords and Ladies (Lord Snowdon and Lord Soames, for example) and celebrities ranging from actors Freddie Jones and Jerome Flynn to the TV presenter Jill Dando.
“She was a lovely girl. She talked with me and bought some magazines off me as well,” he recalls.
Over the years, the job has changed. He sadly observes that youngsters are less inclined to stop and chat these days, and that takings have gone down. He no longer sells sweets and cigarettes, but his range of magazines, books and newspapers still covers everything from news and fashion to history.
While he has mixed feelings about retiring, Jim is looking forward to having some lie-ins: for decades he has risen extremely early because of his job.
“It’ll be just nice to relax and not have to get up at half past four in the morning or five in the morning,” he says.
He also has a bad leg due to an accident that happened 52 years ago: he was knocked down by a car and nearly lost his leg. It had to be repaired with metal plates, and still gives him bother.
He’s planning to stop at the end of December, but aims to carry on his newspaper round into January – and while he says he has plans for the leisure time he’ll gain, he knows he’ll miss life at the station.
“I enjoy, serving people and helping everybody,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed it here – a lot of nice people come through here.”