Lavender Menace Bookshop

Coordinates: 55°57′28″N 3°11′15″W / 55.9577°N 3.1876°W / 55.9577; -3.1876
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Lavender Menace Lesbian & Gay Community Bookshop
Company typeBookshop
Founded21 August 1982
FounderSigrid Nielsen and Bob Orr

The Lavender Menace Bookshop was an independent gay bookshop in Edinburgh from 1982 to 1986.[1] It was the first gay bookshop in Scotland and the second in the United Kingdom.

As of 2019, the Lavender Menace now operates as The Lavender Menace LGBT+ Book Archive. As a blog and pop-up bookshop, it preserves rare, out of print queer books and ephemera through physical and digital archiving efforts.[2]



The Lavender Menace Bookshop began as a bookstall called Lavender Books in the cloakroom of Fire Island gay disco on Princes Street, Edinburgh.[3] The name of the stall was taken from the Lavender Menace radical lesbian feminist collective which was active during the 1970s.[4] On 21 August 1982, founders Bob Orr and Sigrid Nielsen opened the Lavender Menace Bookshop in the basement of 11a Forth Street.[4][5] In the first 10 days of being open, the bookshop took nearly £1300 of sales, despite homosexuality only being legalised in Scotland in 1980.[1][6]

Other activities[edit]

As well as selling books in the shop itself, the Lavender Menace also operated a mail order service, which the magazine Gay News remarks was "particularly important for the many Scottish gays desperately isolated by geography and vestigial public transport". The shop was advertised in various LGBT magazines, such as Gay Scotland, Gay News, and Gay Times, as well as producing its own intersectional newsletter which was subtitled "non-racist, non-sexist, non-sensical".[7][8] The shop also hosted groups and events, such as an open meeting for the Gay Youth Movement in 1983 and Lesbian Reader's Evenings in 1985, which attracted guests such as authors Jeanette Winterson and Suniti Namjoshi.[9][10]

Book seizures[edit]

Similarly to other LGBT bookshops of the time, such as Gay's the Word in London, the Lavender Menace Bookshop lost much of its stock to book seizures by the UK government's Customs and Excise. In 1984, officers seized 26 books from the Lavender Menace shop, and a shipment of books worth £250 that were destined for an Edinburgh Festival Fringe reading was detained at Prestwick Airport.[11] Further stock from America was impounded at the docks.[12][1] The shop's founders circumvented this for a time by addressing their deliveries to Miss Marianne Woods and Miss Jane Pirie, two notable lesbians who lived in Edinburgh in the early 19th century, and sending them to private addresses. They were eventually discovered, although Nielsen noted in an interview that "I was just happy that their names should be remembered – even by customs men at the docks".[12] In 1985, the shop instigated an effort to raise £400 towards a campaign by Gay's the Word bookshop in London to defend the shop's owners against charges related to the importing of allegedly "indecent" books which had been seized at customs.[13]

West & Wilde[edit]

In 1987, the shop moved to Dundas Street, and the name was changed to West & Wilde, after the writers Vita Sackville-West and Oscar Wilde.[12] Sigrid Nielsen was not involved in this next phase of the bookshop, which was run by Bob Orr and Raymond Rose.[3] In 1994 a campaign by the bookshop raised funds of £10,000 to continue its work as both a bookshop and community centre. However, the bookshop closed permanently in 1997 due to financial difficulties, with Nielsen citing the stocking of LGBT books by mainstream shops and the increasing popularity of buying books over the internet. Nielsen said in an interview, "we just couldn’t afford to discount books, and, of course, Waterstones could. That undermined the idea of people coming to us first. And the internet was just beginning to take off as well."[12]


In October 2017, the play Love Song to Lavender Menace by the Edinburgh playwright James Ley premiered at Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. The play drew inspiration from the story of how the Lavender Menace Bookshop was founded and is set in the last few days of the shop's time at Forth Street.[4] The success of Ley's play would help revive the Lavender Menace as The Lavender Menace LGBT+ Book Archive in 2019.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Gay bookselling - Essay - Back to the future: 1979-1989 - National Library Scotland". Retrieved 13 June 2020.
  2. ^ themenaces. "Our Mission Statement". Lavender Menace. Retrieved 1 July 2022.
  3. ^ a b "Bringing Scotland's LGBT Bookshop Back To Life". Historic Environment Scotland Blog. 14 February 2018. Retrieved 13 June 2020.
  4. ^ a b c "Play celebrates Edinburgh's secret gay scene". HeraldScotland. Retrieved 13 June 2020.
  5. ^ "Lavender menace opens". Gay Scotland. No. 5. 1982. p. 3.
  6. ^ "Lavender Menace Bookshop Loan Appeal". Gay Scotland. No. 8. May 1983.
  7. ^ Hennegan, Alison (30 September 1982). "WATCH OUT! There's a Lavender Menace about!". Gay News. No. 250. p. 53.
  8. ^ "Lavender Menace Advert". Gay Times. No. 94. July 1986. p. 94.
  9. ^ "Lesbian Readers' Evenings at Lavender Menace". Gay Scotland. No. 24. November 1985. p. 23.
  10. ^ "News Reports". Gay Scotland. No. 10. September 1983. p. 2.
  11. ^ "Edinburgh - more books held by Customs". Gay Times. No. 74. October 1984. p. 19.
  12. ^ a b c d Kenny, Stuart (July 2019). "The Radical Story of Scotland's First LGBTQ Bookshop". Culture Trip. Retrieved 13 June 2020.
  13. ^ "Edinburgh raises £400 for Gay's the Word". Gay Times. No. 77. January 1985. p. 24.
  14. ^ Kenny, Stuart (1 July 2019). "The Radical Story of Scotland's First LGBTQ Bookshop". Culture Trip. Retrieved 1 July 2022.

55°57′28″N 3°11′15″W / 55.9577°N 3.1876°W / 55.9577; -3.1876