A Tribute To Tam MacPhail

By Bernie Bell

Tam MacPhail passed from this life on Tuesday, the 8th of September.

On Friday, the 18th of September, the people of Stromness came out to bid him their final fare-well’s.

At home, we lit a candle and raised a glass to – “Tam – the man who kept an independent bookshop going in Stromness.”

And I thought I’d ask Fiona (G) if she’d re-run the following article, as a tribute to Tam…………….

Published here with kind permission from: Stromness Book & Prints

Just like a cat, you never really own a bookshop, and the people who have cared for this bookshop have been Charles Senior, John Broom, Tam MacPhail and the current handler Sheena.

Stromness Book Shop B Bell
Credit: Bell

It opened in 1970 as a second hand bookshop run by Charles Senior. When John L Broom, the local librarian, took it over he began to sell blue penguin paperbacks. By the time time Tam took the reins in the late seventies maps were on sale. Tam, a blow-in from California via Argyll, worked for John Broom and the pattern was repeated when Sheena worked for Tam for sixteen years before becoming boss cat.

Stromness Books & Prints has also published several volumes, firstly Stone Built by Gunnie Moberg, Tam’s wife. Most recently the bookshop published Fiona MacInnes’ Iss.

But a drive in bookshop? Tam tells the story here at around 3mins 45secs…

Link: Stromness Book Shop

Here’s the link to the fuller version of Stromness Hometown made back in 2011.

Contributors at stop 5: Graham Place were
Bunty Mowatt
May Stockan
Eric Flett & Ian McInnes (c.1990)
Tam McPhail
Adrian Harray
Ella Duncan & Bryce Scott
Edgar Ramsay (1976)
Ros Bryant

Before it was a bookshop the premises were part of Stockan’s bakery. Before that the tiny building was a tea shop, a painters and a grocers.

call 01856 850565 or contact them here.

Stromness 36 Bell
Stromness Book Shop Credit: Bell

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5 replies »

  1. I had many memorably experiences as a boy it Stromness in the 1950s. My father worked with a newspaper in Glasgow, but never missed a chance to take us to Stromness to visit with our Leslies and Spence families living near Stromness. The town’s bookshop hadn’t been established there yet, but people couldn’t be bored! Later would I would wrote about some of the wonderful communities – and about my own Scotland-wide experiences. I would then have to tell about having leaving Scotland in order to obtain complex heart treatments (in OPERATION NEW ZEALAND), and then about my life as a Scottish nationalist in RETIRED TERRORIST.! I still tell about my Orkney life (the nationalist contains a wee bit about that (Chapter 9, Secrecy Up North!). I wonder if anyone will trying from a copy from the Stromness Books folks?

  2. Many thanks for this heartwarming tribute to Tam MacPhail, a memorable character and a much treasured bookshop with so many stories. Raising a glass to Tam, and to Sheena for keeping this treasure going.

  3. I loved this. I hope the bookshop is treasured and carries on. There are too few unique small shops nowadays. The High Street problem in many of our small towns could be solved by making it possible for businesses similar to these to survivle and flourish.

  4. Late is this note, I’m sad to have come across this news. I was a publishers rep. I used to visit Tam in the eighties for BT Batsford. The shop, nothing like it, anywhere. Tam, John Bloom, Gunnie and George MB would sometimes appear. I’ve never forgotten that welcome, that warmth, that bookseller, that man. I’m sad this night (a year too late). May the God’s embrace him forever.

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