A BOOKSHOP in which nothing costs more than 50p and where much represents an extraordinary bargain is marking 25 years at its present premises.

Read all about it? “Well, maybe we have hid our light under a bushel a bit but in one morning the other week I had people in from Crook, Bishop Auckland, Billingham, West Hartlepool and Northallerton. It’s going very well indeed,” says Tom Peacock, an 89-year-old volunteer.

The shop’s run by Darlington Lions Club from premises in Houndgate Mews, over the road from Binns, though there were several other shops in the preceding 15 years.

Even with the aid of Teach Yourselves Maths, shelved under “hobbies”, none can begin to estimate the tens of thousands they’ve raised for charity.

It takes the internet, however, to reveal that the first Lions Club was formed in Chicago in 1917 and that Lions Clubs International now has 46,000 clubs with 1.7m members in 190 countries and with satellite clubs – perhaps inevitably including the Lion Cubs – for younger members.

Though the Queen Mother is said actively to have promoted the movement’s arrival in Britain after the war, women weren’t formally admitted until 1987.

A few years ago everything in the bookshop was £1. “We had to shift some stock so reduced it to 50p and it stuck,” recalls Tom, a former senior probation officer who’s enjoyed life with the Lions for 50 years.

Children’s books are just 20p. “It’s lovely to see them come in with their parents and have a good old-fashioned rummage,” says shop manager Rob Hillary, who had a butcher’s shop in Yarm Road.

These columns, he recalls, praised his pork pies back in the 1970s. “It did us the world of good,” he adds, kindly.

A vast library, including many glossy hardbacks, is housed in two adjacent shops with many more in storage out the back.

The premises are provided free by the owner, the shop staffed entirely voluntarily, the books all donated. Every penny raised goes to charity – in Darlington, 90 per cent locally.

They also promote a Reading Action Programme – “to encourage people of all ages to read and to learn to read.”

Several other Lions’ clubs run bookshops, though the nearest, perhaps surprisingly, is at Alnwick – where the celebrated Barter Books provides a second-hand experience of a commercial and very different kind.

Everything’s categorised, from horror to health and beauty, tourism to trains. Particularly we were struck by “The Owner’s Manual: an Inside Guide to the Body” though they might have been transferred from “health” to “hypochondria”.

Rob’s at the shop most days, sometimes as early as 7am – “just to make sure everything’s in the right place” – will collect larger donations. Just now he’s stocking up with a high-volume job lot from Thornaby – six boxes at a time.

What if there’s something of – how may this be put? – a racy nature. “They end up in the bottom drawer over there,” says Rob. “After that,they just seem to disappear.”

“I like books but I’m not an avid reader, more a salesman,” he says. “It’s a lovely job, many friendships are made in this shop.”

Once I picked up a full set of Encyclopaedia Britannica there. Last time they had one it went for £9.99 on eBay. Rob thinks it ended up in Malawi.

“Book selling has changed, but we’re not really in competition with the internet,” he says. “We’re trying to encourage people to read. Goodness knows, there’s plenty to choose from.”

Most customers offer the flat 50p, perhaps with a couple of bob in the collecting tin. Tom Peacock was once given £15 for a book, or books, Rob recalls being given £30. “Mind,” he adds, “there was a pile almost from floor to ceiling.”

They’re open from 10am-4pm on Mondays and from Thursday to Saturday, always eager to welcome new customers to the Lions’ den. Booking not necessary.

STILL in the book world – and, indeed, still around Darlington – lunch last week with Richard Gaunt, for whom every picture really does tell a story.

Richard was a Darlington Grammar School boy, first team rugby man, explored the region in the 1960s on his push bike – later a “dismal” motor bike – and always with his camera to hand.

The 35mm film was developed in a sleeping bag in the back kitchen, the negatives confined to an old suitcase for the best part of half a century.

Finally brought to light, they’ve already formed the basis of three wonderfully evocative books recalling County Durham and its environs in the 1960s – everything looks better in black and white – many of the photographs steam railway related. He loved east Durham’s collieries, too.

“For some reason, I never got much of Shildon,” he says, by way of sole disappointment.

Between school and Cambridge, he worked on building the Aycliffe bypass – “in charge of the lunchtime refreshment run, Jim’s pies” – and at ICI Wilton, where he learned the horrors of the ICI spam fritter and that he wasn’t going to be a chemist.

He became head of corporate service for Cardiff City Council, still lives in Wales, was back home to discuss an exhibition of his work, starting in Darlington library on August 19.

“Were any of the photographs taken from a position of trespass?” they asked, as now they must.

“Course not,” said Richard, perhaps with the Lord’s Prayer in mind.

The exhibition is expected to last for three weeks, big enough for to be seeking a Transit can – and a driver – in which to lug it all. More later, no doubt.

RAILWAY related, the column a couple of weeks back managed in the same paragraph to mention the International Workers of the World – known, apparently, as the Wobblies – and the Bishop Auckland branch of the NUR.

It reminded David Walsh of one of his more improbable discoveries while browsing (as you do) the old minute books of the International Working Man’s Association.

Back in the 1870s, Karl Marx – the movement’s founder – was challenged for control by Michael Bakunin, a Russian anarchist. Every branch of every affiliated union was invited to come down on one side or t’other.

In east Cleveland, David’s patch, the ironstone miners met in the upper room of the Crown Inn in Brompton and plumped for Bakunin. Marx, they said, was a lackey of the ruling classes.

…and finally, we bump into a couple of the lads from the Black Bull in Melsonby, between Darlington and Richmond, where an annual highlight is the men’s pie baking competition. This year there’s a chocolate cake contest, too. The pub now also has a resident band, fronted by the landlord. They’re called the Bulls Hitters – something like that, anyway.