Biblio-Text: Hatchards

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 109 months ago
Biblio-Text: Hatchards
Mowbray's Religious Booksellers was founded in 1858, moving to Hatchards in 2006
Mowbray's Religious Booksellers was founded in 1858, moving to Hatchards in 2006
Proper little display niches
Proper little display niches
What was once the unfashionable side of Piccadilly
What was once the unfashionable side of Piccadilly
Down the central staircase
Down the central staircase
Lots of Londony interest books
Lots of Londony interest books
The olde worlds feel of Hatchards
The olde worlds feel of Hatchards
A tiny selection of the beautiful signed hardbacks
A tiny selection of the beautiful signed hardbacks
A portrait of founder John Hatchard
A portrait of founder John Hatchard
Her Maj's Royal Warrant. This thing's huge on the wall
Her Maj's Royal Warrant. This thing's huge on the wall
Lots of Londony children's books
Lots of Londony children's books
A pofter againft Bonaparte - except that gag doesn't work because for once, all the s's are printed recognisably. Damn.
A pofter againft Bonaparte - except that gag doesn't work because for once, all the s's are printed recognisably. Damn.
Topiary in the gardening section
Topiary in the gardening section
One of the tucked away second floor fireplaces
One of the tucked away second floor fireplaces
14317_hatchards9.jpg

Continuing our amble round London's independent bookshops

Strictly speaking, Hatchards isn't an independent bookshop (it's owned by HMV, which makes it a sister to Waterstones; albeit a much older, more sophisticated sibling), but this is our game and we'll change the rules if we want. Opened in 1797, it's London's oldest bookshop and, despite its corporate group parentage, manager Gavin and his enthusiastic team keep a unique spirit that makes Hatchards very special indeed.

Let's get the shallow stuff out of the way first, shall we? The shop is absolutely gorgeous. Tucked next to Fortnum and Mason, it has a similarly olde woode frontage and some beautiful central staircases (it's ranged over five floors) and if you look round on the second floor you'll see some lovely fireplaces. This is a place where you can feel the weight of the years.

They specialise in hardbacks and signed copies; many big name authors do marathon signing sessions for them (we saw 1,000 signed copies of the new Sebastian Faulks being stored behind the scenes) simply because they love the shop. And it has a bloody enormous history section, but that's just a personal thing.

How about having a bookish wedding list for the big day? Saves duplication on toasters. You should also pick up a copy of their catalogue, put together entirely in-house without interference from publishers buying spots for their products.

The shop's founder, John Hatchard, learned his trade in London's literary coffee houses in the age of Johnson and Dryden. Hatchard was originally bookseller and publisher, printing tracts on politics, Napoleon and slavery (William Wilberforce was a customer; they recently unearthed a copy of his signature lying around the top floor office. It's now in very safe keeping). Other famous clients through the ages include Wellington, Disraeli and Gladstone; royalty (the shop currently holds three Royal Warrants); and Oscar Wilde and his wife Constance, who ordered her copies of The Ballad of Reading Gaol through them.

They were also unfortunate enough to receive the patronage of Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes conceived a fancy that he wanted to see all the original source material used for Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and he wanted to see it in English. Unfortunately for him, and for Hatchards as it turned out, most of it was in other languages, so Rhodes paid Hatchards to employ scholars to do the translations. The shop still has his letters demanding they hurry up, and all his orders and contradictions. The project went on for six years and only stopped when Rhodes died.

So you see, Hatchards is far more than just a bookshop, it's an institution. But it's also a very, very good bookshop indeed.

Hatchards, 187 Piccadilly W1. Images author's own. Know a good bookshop? Email us at londonist (@) gmail.com.

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Last Updated 08 September 2009