In the eighteenth century, bookselling in London was concentrated in the strand – “a veritable high way of books” – where it had moved from near St. Paul’s and Holborn. Booksellers were beginning to distance themselves from the mechanical trade of book making at this time, but continued to publish books and sell them in premises which also acted as de facto social clubs for those politically disinclined or socially unable to join the elite clubs of the time. (The Royal Horticultural Society was established at Hatchards in 1804.)
In the late eighteenth century, John Hatchard started off as an apprentice to a London printer, for whom he worked for less than a month. Wating to enter the book trade in some capacity, he apprenticed to a bookseller / publisher in 1782, and then joined the firm of a well-known bookseller, Thomas Payne, near where the National Gallery stands today. He quit in 1797 to open his own Book stores in Piccadilly, when it was still a suburb and few other shops had yet to emerge to serve the higher classes ensconced around St. James’s and Pall Mall.
Hatchard’s first activity was to publish a pamphlet critical of the French Revolution. He called it the foundation of his fortunes; Hatchard’s was a success and soon became the chief haunt of the Tories. In 1817, the shop moved to its present premises, where the Duke of Wellington is said to have come on horseback to make his purchases. Over the ensuing century, successive Hatchard family members took over the business. In 1891, manager Edwin Shepherd bought it with the help of a previous manager named Alfred Taylor.
An early description of the bookshop described “heaps of narrow staircases, dark corners, and low-ceilinged attics all fitted with books. An atmosphere rather sombre and religious hung over the whole place”. The atmosphere at Hatchards today is little changed, though the shop is a bit more orderly, and it retains the character and customer service that is the hallmark of this rightfully famous and respected shop.
Estimated date of construction 1797
187 Piccadilly, W1, Tel. + 020 7439 9921
Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Circus
Opening times: Monday to Saturday 9:30am to 7pm; Sunday Noon to 6pm
John Sandoe Books, South West London
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 9:30am to 5:30pm; Wednesday 9:30am to 7:30pm; Saturday 9:30am to 5:30pm; Sunday Noon to 6pm
The King’s Road is Chelsea’s main thoroughfare, the backbone of swinging sixties London. Biba, Vivienne Westwood, and the habitués of the Chelsea Potter pub gave it a glamorous reputation it has long since dispensed with. Today it is a bland expanse of shops aimed at Chelsea’s privileged teenagers and home decorating obsessives. Small wonder, then, that the long-standing independent John Sando Books continue to thrive just a block away. Or perhaps that’s exactly why it does: Sandoe’s is not like other Book stores.
Behind its squat eighteenth century façade, tables are piled dangerously high with books. There is hardly a shelving system, though staff claim it just takes time in the shop to decipher it. perhaps they’re right. Somehow, 100,000 titles are packed into the shop. Near the entrance is new inventory and art and architecture books are shelved in the rooms to the left. There are two more levels – children’s books downstairs, a variety of fiction and non-fiction upstairs – the staircases to which are incredibly steep and narrow. The store does a roaring mail-order trade and is happy to order books it doesn’t stock, but the owners make a point of carrying unusual books and catering to those customers who support the store. John Sandoe retired in 1989, when he sold the shop to a staff member and two partners (one a longtime customer). Employees are said to stick around for years (one of them was renowned cookbook writer Elizabeth David’s sister; today a marine biologist is on staff), a good thing given the shop’s idiosyncrasies!
Estimated date of construction 1937
10 Blacklands Terrace, SW3, Tel. + 020 7589 9473
Nearest Tube: Sloane Square
Other great book stores to visit in West London
If you are a fan of food and cooking, try Books for Cooks on Portobello road in Notting Hill.
- License: Image author owned
Jules is the editor in chief of BeautifulSociety.com, she visited Notting Hill very recently. One of the things that will surprise you most in this very luxurious area of London is the size of the doors on the houses. The doors are some 2 metres wide and behind them, most probably is a rich banker, celebrity chef or popstar in this elite neighbourhood.