Olga Shipperbottom obituary

Other lives: Long-serving head of the children’s department at a Manchester bookshop

My friend Olga Shipperbottom, who has died aged 82, ran the children’s books department of the Sherratt & Hughes bookshop in Manchester from the mid-1960s until its closure in 1996, which coincided with her retirement.

Olga spent her entire working life at the shop, and read every book that came into her department. It was a lively place visited frequently by local children’s authors such as Alan Garner, John Rowe Townsend and Gyles Brandreth. She also once took in her stride the unexpected arrival of Spike Milligan, who, on spotting his latest book, produced a trumpet from somewhere, blew it, and fled from the premises.

She had a great passion for children’s books, a tremendous fund of knowledge about them, and an endless enthusiasm for providing children with good literature. Those qualities meant she was much in demand by children’s book group organisers, school librarians and publishers’ representatives.

Olga was born in Manchester to Stanley Jackson, a bus driver, and his wife, Linda, a sewing machine demonstrator. In 1951, after leaving secondary school in Stockport, she moved straight to Sherratt’s at the age of 15, working her way up to become head of the children’s book department just over a decade later.

In 1963 she married the writer and polymath Roy Shipperbottom, with whom she amassed an impressive collection of antiquarian books. Their special interest was in the writings of the Georgian-era cook and housekeeper Elizabeth Raffald, who spent much of her life in Manchester. They collected all there was to know about her, and helped Southover Press to republish her major work, The Experienced English Housekeeper, with an introduction by Roy in 1997. Their small house in Heaton Chapel was crammed with cookery books from all around the world and from across the ages.

Roy died the same year as the Raffald book was published, and later Olga enjoyed a close companionship with her long-time friend Harry Whewell, the former news editor at the Guardian. Until Harry’s death in 2013, they shared a love of the written word, art and nature, often sitting in Harry’s rambling garden or shed with his rabbit. They would laugh, read out loud together and sing the hymns they loved. Fearlessly, and well into old age, they also enjoyed kite-flying.

Always steadfast in her ways and refusing to embrace modern technology, Olga wrote long handwritten letters to her friends, invariably running out of space and working her way up the sides and along the top of the notepaper. I shall miss receiving those missives, and watching her brilliant juggling tricks. But most of all I will miss our long conversations, often over a large glass of pinot grigio in Carluccio’s at Piccadilly station, Manchester.

She is survived by her sister, Ros.

Susan Leech

The GuardianTramp

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