Leeds bookseller Barbara, 87, is oldest in Britain

Barbara Steel, 87, still works at The Grove Bookshop, The Grove, Ilkley.
Barbara Steel, 87, still works at The Grove Bookshop, The Grove, Ilkley.
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A West Yorkshire bookseller who counts Alan Bennett among her regular customers may be Britain’s oldest, but has no intention of turning over a new leaf.

Barbara Steel, at 87, has been manning the counter at The Grove Bookshop in Ilkley for 25 years and is also to be found dispensing signed copies at the town’s literature festival each October.

She was already of near retirement age when she was taken on, following a career on the appointments board at Cambridge University.

“I didn’t want to retire,” she said. “I thought that no-one would want to employ a woman in her 60s, but I was wrong.

“My friend owned the shop at that time and I came in to see her one day when it was really busy. I commented on it and she said, ‘Get your coat off and help’, and I’ve stayed ever since.”

The shop’s current manager, Mike Sansbury, said: “Barbara has got more energy than the rest us put together.”

Independent bookshops are struggling in the Amazon age, but The Grove has thrived, buoyed by occasional signings by Bennett and heavy demand from festival-goers.

“It does seem to be bucking the trend but it deserves it,” said Mrs Steel, a grandmother of five. “It is a lovely shop. Some of us have been here a long time and many of the customers are also friends.”

A particular friend was the American author Bill Bryson, who visited the literature festival. “He was a wonderful man, really caring about this country,” she said.

The shop’s owner, Kevin Ramage, said: “We’d love Barbara to keep working for us for as long as she can and as long as she is enjoying it. She is an amazing asset.”