PLANS to demolish an historic shop building have shocked a town.

People have described the Novel Library as the ‘last real bit of genuine Wantage’.

But now a developer has submitted a planning application to knock the building down and build housing.

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It comes after owner John Burgiss died in February, having been forced to shut the shop in 2017 after a fall.

The shop was loved by people in Wantage and beyond for its old-fashioned feel, selling a bizarre mixture of gemstones, novels, games, sweets, cigarettes and postcards.

It was once frequented by Poet Laureate and town resident John Betjeman.

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Speaking to this paper when he was still running the shop in 2014, Mr Burgiss said the novel library had been in Newbury Street since 1936.

In those years, it really was a private library from which local people could borrow novels and other books.

He bought the building outright – the shop and the home upstairs for him and his wife – in 1951 for just £5,000 – a loan from his father.

Mr Burgiss recalled how John Betjeman was a regular customer, and once came in to rent a book about canals.

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He also said he knew Sir John’s daughter Candida, who went to St Mary’s School opposite, and described her as a ‘tearaway’.

Mr Burgiss and his wife ran the shop together for more than 60 years, until she died 2012.

Speaking to this paper two years later, he revealed that he had still not restocked a single thing in the shop.

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Mr Burgiss suffered a fall in 2017 and was forced to close the novel library.

He went into recovery at a private location, but passed away on Sunday, February 10 this year, aged 89.

The novel library was quickly put up for sale, and listed online as: “Former retail unit on the ground floor with additional ground floor and first floor space with development potential (subject to planning).”

Now a developer called Alan Hunt in Milton Hill near Abingdon has applied for planning permission to demolish what he calls the ‘redundant/ dilapidated two-bed residential dwelling with ancillary commercial retail unit’ and put up a new building with two homes.

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Sharing the news on the Old Wantage Facebook page, Darrell Payne wrote: “I’m afraid the Novel Library appears not long for this world.

“This looks as though it will be it’s replacement, at least they’re keeping some of its looks.”

He added: “I’m afraid the building is in a very poor state so this comes as no surprise really.”

Barbara Jeffers replied: “So many memories of poking around in that shop as a child.”

Julia Trinder, who runs Wantage Pilates Studio, commented: “Eleven years ago, when I moved here, this shop was an absolute treat to visit.

“With a two-year-old in pushchair, I absolutely loved taking her in to choose a special treat.

“I once asked the owner how he could afford to sell things so cheaply. He replied saying, it was only because they had bought the premises freehold. It was truly his passion.

“After his wife died he said he kept going because he’d rather wear out than rust out.

“Such a lovely gentleman, kind and wise. A sad loss to Wantage.”

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Wantage architect Christian Randall commented on the plans: “This building can be and should be saved, it will, however, mean less profit.

“If we continue to loose one building at a time there will be little character or old Wantage left.”

Mr Payne also shared photographs, submitted with the planning application, showing the back of the building is dilapidated and in places falling down.

In the planning application, architects working for Mr Hunt said: “The existing building is in an extensive state of disrepair.”

However they also acknowledged that it was ‘highly regarded in the local community’ and said: “It is in direct response to this that a conservative and sympathetic approach to its replacement has been adopted.”

They also pointed out that the building has no listed status.

However some on Facebook criticised the proposed design of the new building.

Mr Randall wrote: “The design above is appallingly bland - even the drawing doesn’t make it look good.”

Members of public can see the full planning application and designs online at whitehorsedc.gov.uk using reference number P20/V1982/FUL.

Vale of White Horse District Council is aiming to reach a decision on the plans by the end of September.