Get Even More Visitors To Your Blog, Upgrade To A Business Listing >>

The Bookshops Of Old London

At Marks & Co, 84 Charing Cross Rd

How I wish I could go back to the bookshops of old London. When I saw these evocative photographs of London’s secondhand bookshops taken in 1971 by Richard Brown, it made me realise how much I miss them all now that they have mostly vanished from the streets.

After I left college and came to London, I rented a small windowless room in a basement off the Portobello Rd and I spent a lot of time trudging the streets. I believed the city was mine and I used to plan my walks of exploration around the capital by visiting all the old bookshops. They were such havens of peace from the clamour of the streets that I wished I could retreat from the world and move into one, setting up a hidden bedroom to sleep between the shelves and read all day in secret.

Frustrated by my pitiful lack of income, it was not long before I began carrying boxes of my textbooks to bookshops in the Charing Cross Rd and swapping them for a few banknotes that would give me a night at the theatre or some other treat. I recall the wrench of guilt when I first sold books off my shelves but I found I was more than compensated by the joy of the experiences that were granted to me in exchange.

Inevitably, I soon began acquiring more books that I discovered in these shops and, on occasion, making deals that gave me a little cash and a single volume from the shelves in return for a box of my own books. In this way, I obtained some early Hogarth Press titles and a first edition of To The Lighthouse with a sticker in the back revealing that it had been bought new at Shakespeare & Co in Paris. How I would like to have been there in 1927 to make that purchase myself.

Once, I opened a two volume copy of Tristram Shandy and realised it was an eighteenth century edition rebound in nineteenth century bindings, which accounted for the low price of eighteen pounds. Yet even this sum was beyond my means at the time. So I took the pair of volumes and concealed them at the back of the shelf hidden behind the other books and vowed to return.

More than six months later, I earned an advance for a piece of writing and – to my delight when I came back – I discovered the books were still there where I had hidden them. No question about the price was raised at the desk and I have those eighteenth century volumes of Tristram Shandy with me today. Copies of a favourite book, rendered more precious by the way I obtained them and now a souvenir of those dusty old secondhand bookshops that were once my landmarks to navigate around the city.

Frank Hollings of Cloth Fair, Established 1892

E. Joseph of Charing Cross Rd, established 1885

Mr Maggs of Maggs Brothers of Berkeley Sq, established 1855

Marks & Co of Charing Cross Rd, established 1904

Harold T. Storey of Cecil Court, established 1928

Henry Sotheran of Sackville St, established 1760

Andrew Block of Barter St, established 1911

Louis W. Bondy of Little Russell St, established 1946

H.M. Fletcher, Cecil Court

Harold Mortlake, Cecil Court

Francis Edwards of Marylebone High St, founded 1855

Stanley Smith of Marchmont St, established 1935

Suckling & Co of Cecil Court, established 1889

Images from The London Bookshop, published by the Private Libraries Association, 1971

You might also like to read about

The Bookshop On The Corner In Pitfield St

One Hundred Penguin Books

This post first appeared on Spitalfields Life | In The Midst Of Life I Woke To, please read the originial post: here

Share the post

The Bookshops Of Old London


Subscribe to Spitalfields Life | In The Midst Of Life I Woke To

Get updates delivered right to your inbox!

Thank you for your subscription