Wednesday, 2 October 2013


Once upon a time, in the north east of England, there were two lovely people named Manley.  Mary Manley, who was American born, and her English husband, Stuart Manley, who had a small manufacturing business in an old Victorian Railway station in the little town of Alnwick. Mary dreamed of opening a second hand book shop, using the swap system, and she planned to call it Barter Books. Fortunately Stuart liked the idea and said she could use the front room, of the railway station, for her book shop. So she did and Barter Books opened in 1991.

Skipping to the year 2000, Stuart was unpacking a box of old books they had picked up at auction, when, at the bottom of the box he found a sheet of folded paper. It turned out to be an old poster. He liked it and showed it to Mary. She liked it too, so much that without knowing anything about it she had the poster framed and put it up in the shop. 

Customers in the book shop noticed the poster and asked if they could buy one. So Mary and Stuart had copies printed and soon they were selling posters, over 40,000 copies in the first 8 years. 

The Keep Calm message was so popular it soon spread around the world, but where had it come from?

Going back 61 years to early 1939, when England faced the threat of another war,   The Ministry of Information commissioned three inspirational posters to be used in the interest of public safety - to assure the population that all necessary steps to defend the nation were being taken, and to stress an attitude of mind, during the difficult times they expected were ahead.

As the posters conveyed a message from the King to his people they were designed to be difficult to counterfeit -  with a handsome typeface topped by the crown of King George Vl, on a plain coloured background. Five million posters were printed.

The first poster stated ...
                    Freedom Is In Peril. Defend It With All Your Might.

... to alert the population to the seriousness of war.

The second poster stated ...
                    Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness,
                    Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory.

... to encourage the nation to rally as one.

The second poster states ...
                    Keep Calm and Carry On.

... to reassure people when the country was invaded or occupied.

Posters 1 & 2 were displayed in public places - Railway Stations, Post Offices and shop windows from September 1939.   

Poster 3 was never used.

At the end of the war the unused posters were sent off to be destroyed ... all, it seems, except one, and it remained out of sight until discovered in a box of books more than 60 years later.

The posters Mary and Stuart sold were so popular the message was shared on line and suddenly Keep Calm and Carry On belonged to everyone. 

In 2007 online shops were selling the slogan on T-shirts and bags. Then one T-shirt company released a range of shirts that spoofed the poster such as Keep Calm and carry on sewing or Now Panic and Freak Out. Before long web stores allowed customers to design their own Keep Calm slogans.

By 2009 England was dealing with the global economic crisis and the attitude of mind conveyed by Keep Calm and Carry On became a strength to people who were struggling. At one stage 85 variations of the poster were recorded and it has become one of the first icons of the 21st century, appearing on walls, clothing, crockery, tote bags, and all types of souvenirs.

I was delighted when I discovered this story and to me this expression of keeping on is one to be celebrated. Firstly because in 1939 it was NOT needed. There was no invasion and no occupation.  But, the poster survived for over 60 years to bring the message of encouragement to the following generations - a reassurance that we go on, no matter what comes, to live our lives, to do our work and to care for each other.

We do not always understand the politics or economics of our world but we all have a place here, we all have a part to play in life on this planet - we just have to keep calm and carry on with it.

But back to the book shop.  The original building was designed by William Bell in 1887. As a railway station it was huge, 32,000 sq feet, far too grand for a small market town - but the town was also the seat of the Dukes of Northumberland, who would attract visiting royalty and so an impressive structure was necessary. The line closed in 1968 and the station building was put to several uses before becoming Barter Books.

The shop has many attractions, apart from a huge selection of second hand books, including open fires in winter, a refreshment room with skylights, a model railway, huge art works, free wifi, a children's room, plenty of seating, a reading room with newspapers and a display of antiquarian books. It's almost worth a trip to England to visit Barter Books.

Station built in 1887 - and as it is today


  1. I didnt understand these sayings but its a good story. Thank you for passing it on. Those coffee mugs will mean something now.

  2. I love it, such a good story


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