DemosNews: A Pair of Prize Bookstores in London
A Pair of Prize Bookstores in London
By: Sara Hartley

You can buy books at bargain price online at Amazon, or find almost any used volume at world wide vendor networks such as, or browse through tens of thousands of randomly assembled overstock publications and old books until you recognize a name or are enticed by a cover at giant emporia like the Strand in Manhattan. But there’s nothing like walking into a small, congenial neighborhood bookshop run by erudite enthusiasts who can steer you immediately to a wonderful read you didn’t even know existed or forgot to revisit. We all recognize that these are a vanishing breed, undercut by cutthroat competition from the web, giant chains, and real estate realities. Yet a select few persist and thrive in milieux where people still take pleasure in the written word, and fiercely support and treasure them.

John Sandoe (Books) Ltd. in Chelsea, a few blocks from Sloan Square off King’s Road, is one such gem. Tables and shelves in the two small rooms and upstairs are heaped with books, wall cases crammed. None of the displays bears labels, though a visitor immediately senses where novels amass, or art books. Each title appears to be one of a kind (doubles must subtly filter back from stock when the first is sold.) All are interesting.

Sandoe’s discreet, multi-page list of favored titles, revised quarterly, points the way to fine new or reissued books, and recent favorites. The two owners are happy to locate these for you (pulling them from among the stacks as easily as W.C. Fields plucked the needful sheet from a heap of desk papers), or to suggest others according to your interests. For their regulars, mostly middle aged from the neighborhood, the bond seems as close as a psychiatrist’s; they sense exactly what feeds each taste and sensibility or what builds upon books that party has enjoyed before. Their marvelous lists, including the new 50th anniversary one, are available on line as well
[10 Blacklands Terrace, London SW3 2SR. Tel: 020 7589 9473.]

G. Heywood Hill Ltd. in Mayfair, adds another level of stimulus—old books as well as fine new ones. These are not fancy antiquarian volumes in matched leather bindings, but thumbed books that intrigue, such as the classic Life in a Noble Household 1641-1700, or Kilvert’s Diary, or fascinating old travel books. The owner, John Saumarez Smith, has presided there for 42 years, since Nancy Mitford worked the store. Like a favorite English professor or dapper, witty uncle, he suggests great choices, drawn from a wide sway of literature. Clearly of distinguished background, and part of a broad circle of artists and intellectuals, he comments first hand about the writers and their subjects. As at Sandoe’s, shelf topics bear no labels, rather like browsing a friend’s private library. Heywood Hill also prints up a fine and select quarterly list of recommendations.
[Tel: 10 Curzon Street, London WIJ 5HH]]

As I was leaving London this visit, knowledgeable friends mentioned several other book shops: Daunt Books (for Travellers) on Marylebone High Street, Nomad Books on Epple Road, Travel Bookshop in Notting Hill, Grant and Cutler on Great Marlborough Street. I’ll check them out when I come next, or perhaps you will and add your thoughts.

© 2018 Sara Hartley of DemosNews

October 26, 2007 at 3:15pm
DemosRating: 5
Hits: 1657

Genre: Arts (Leads)
Type: Critical
Tags: bookshops, neighborhood, used, books,


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