It’s Goodbye to All That for the Booksellers of Rye. Wendy and Terry Harvey, the former owners of the much missed Martello Bookshop in Rye High Street, are leaving for Bournemouth. They came to Rye from Icklesham, where they owned Icklesham Stores, in 1988. First, Wendy started Spin Off by the Landgate, a wool and fabric shop, while Terry began as manager of the Martello, which they then bought when the previous booksellers retired in 1996.
The Martello was never going to be just an ordinary bookshop with the Harveys as owners: they soon began Martello Readers, a book group that is still going strong today, meeting monthly on a Monday evening. They supplied books for the literary events at Rye Arts Festival for 17 years, as well as organising a few fringe literary events themselves. The list of authors who held lively book signings at the Martello is varied, to say the least – from Rumer Godden to Spike Milligan, John Ryan to Jane Gardam, with Ann Widdecombe and Ralph McTell among others. There were two Martello children’s writing competitions with the well-known children’s author Philip Ardagh presenting prizes.
The Harveys entered fully into the life of Rye: Wendy was secretary of the Chamber of Trade (now Commerce) for several years, and with her artistic skills formed the Rye branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild, metamorphosing into Rye Creative Stitchers, of which she is now honorary president. There is even a rumour that Wendy could be Woolly Guru, responsible for the “yarn bombing” seen and enjoyed around Rye during the last couple of years, but I couldn’t possibly comment. Rye Art Trail, familiarly known as Rat, with exhibits all around town during Rye Arts Festival, was organised by Wendy, as well as Art on the Strand.
Both were staunch supporters of Rye and District Camera Club for many years – the Martello sold beautiful cards of their unusual and artistic photographs of Rye – and Wendy was their first woman chairman. Both belong to Rye Ukulele Experiment – and then there’s their enjoyment of tango and lindy hopping. They brought their enthusiasm for the tango to a couple of the most entertaining events for Rye Arts Festival; Terry even tangoed me round the floor of the community centre. I do hope his toes have recovered.
At the final Readers’ meeting under their leadership on Monday [December 1], Wendy recalled some highlights with visiting authors: “Jane Gardam having tea with us in Martello Bookshop to help celebrate World Book Day; Natasha Solomons having tea with us in The George’s ballroom as a fringe event of Rye Arts Festival; a visit to Hancox [the Moore family home for five generations] with Charlotte Moore; Monica Tracey and Frank Barnard coming to answer our questions and listen to us discussing their books; and Ric Hool joining us a couple of times to read his poetry.”
The Readers group will carry on, but no one has stepped forward to claim ownership so, to make sure it continues seamlessly, the Harveys have already sent out the list of book suggestions for next year, together with dates of all the meetings. January 26 is the next meeting, the book to discuss Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
We all miss the Martello Bookshop; an independent bookshop seems an archetypal symbol of a small town largely free from chains of shops. The Harveys tried hard to find buyers who would continue their chosen trade on the premises and twice thought they had succeeded, but neither worked out. Now we are all waiting to see what emerges from behind the obscured windows and hope it is something equally individual. Meanwhile, we wish Wendy and Terry happiness in Bournemouth, where Wendy grew up, where they married and where Wendy’s father is still living. And more time to tango.
Photo: Jane Nunn. Gill Clamp is a member of Martello Readers