Literary Locales: Hatchards Bookshop
This is a part of our “Literary Locales” series here at LT. Check out the first post in the series for more information.
Where: 187 Piccadilly, London, England
Literary Connection: Oldest surviving bookshop in London
Recommended Reading: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (Clarissa looks in the Hatchards window)
Transgression: The danger of buying too many books?
Hatchards, founded in 1797, is the oldest surviving bookshop in London and the second oldest in the entire United Kingdom. I’d read glowing reviews of it and, loving bookstores as I do, felt compelled to take a walk down to visit it on Piccadilly. As promising as the façade was, I’m sorry to say the bookstore itself was a huge disappointment. I was expecting to step into some kind of old-fashioned, magical place, but really all I did was step into an old building with a wholly modern bookstore in it.
The building was certainly old, the shelves made of aged dark wood, the floors creaking beneath thinned carpeting, and the banisters polished from centuries of bookish hands running up and own them in haste to get to a favorite section, but there was no beauty or magic left in the place. Two hundred and thirteen years have passed since Hatchards’ foundation and, at some point during those years, the loveliness of being a bookstore disappeared. There was no heart left and I came away wholly saddened by my visit.
Unbeknownst to me prior to visiting, Hatchards itself was at some point purchased by HMV, also owner of the pervasive Waterstones chain bookstores. This might explain why it felt so wretchedly corporate inside. Or perhaps it was all my own experience which came with the realization that “new” bookstores (as in bookshops that do not sell old or used books) really have lost all appeal to me. Everything is shiny and glossy, there were fifty identical copies of any given book, and most of them were overpriced, all of which somehow devalued the books and the store for me. Used book stores live on the uniqueness of their stock and that enchants me. Anything else just feels like a supermarket.
The sole cool thing remaining at Hatchards is how established it is. It is generally recognized as the place to sign and sell books while retaining some vestige of class, which means that many literary celebrities can be found there doing book-signings. On the day I visited, something even better happened: author David Nicholls seemingly randomly showed up with a huge trolley of copies of One Day to drop off, much to the surprise of the salespeople in the Fiction section. I happened to be perusing in the area (wholly deserted otherwise) and was tickled to see David Nicholls (THE David Nicholls!) schlepping his books around and signing a few copies before hurrying off (perhaps to drop off more copies elsewhere?). He was quite nice and charming about the whole thing, joking about the stuff his publisher makes him do. I’ve never run into an author like that before, so at least Hatchards gave me that.