Home » Shops of London » London Shopping Streets : The Bookshops of Charing Cross Road and Cecil Court

London Shopping Streets : The Bookshops of Charing Cross Road and Cecil Court

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Charing Cross Road runs from near Trafalgar Square to Tottenham Court Road. The road was developed in the late 19th century and its construction destroyed some of worst slums in London. In the early 20th century, Charing Cross Road became famous for its specialist and second-hand bookshops.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

One of the most famous bookshops was Foyles which was started by William and Gilbert Foyle in Cecil Court before to Charing Cross Road in 1906. They later moved to 119 Charing Cross Road where the shop became something of an institution until it closed in 2014, although Foyles opened a new shop further up Charing Cross Road. Christina Foyle who was the daughter of William created literary luncheons at the Charing Cross Road shop from the 1930’s. Speakers included great literary figures and celebrities and the events were very popular both with authors and the public. Christina took over the control of the shop in 1945 and the shop became famous for her idiosyncratic management style. She refused to install many modern conveniences, would not allow orders to be taken by phone. Customers were often required to queue three times and staff turnover was high. At the turn of the 20th century, Christina Foyle died and control passed to her nephew Christopher, who modernised the shop and business.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The bookshops on Charing Cross Road became internationally famous in the 1970s and 1980s when the book 84, Charing Cross Road was published. The book was based on the long-standing correspondence between New York City-based author Helene Hanff and the staff of a bookshop on the street, Marks & Co. The book was made into a 1987 film starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins and also into a play.

The 21st century has seen a number of the bookshops closing down but Charing Cross Road is still home to Foyles, Quinto Bookshop, Henry Pordes and Any Amount of Books.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The nearby Cecil Court has a longer history going back to the late 17th century, Mozart and his family lived here for a short time. There is evidence for bookselling in Cecil Court going back to the 18th century, however it was after Cecil Court was redeveloped at the end of the 19th century that it became an important base for new British film industry which inspired the nickname Flicker Alley.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Booksellers and publishers moved in Cecil Court at the start of the 20th century, Watkins which is considered the oldest esoteric bookshop in London arrived in 1901.  Cecil Court was also well-known for its specialist foreign language like Welsh-language bookshop, Griffs and the Dolphin Bookshop sold Spanish and Catalan books.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Cecil Court today has a range of businesses including Antique Dealers, Art & Craft and Art Galleries. However there are still a number of bookshops including Watkins, Tindley & Everett, Tender Books, Stephen Poole Books and Goldsboro Books.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Charing Cross Road and Cecil Court provide a pleasant change from the often mundane bookshop chains. Whilst all over London independent bookshops have closed or closing, this is the historical London heart of the modern bookshop and still provides plenty of interest to visitors.

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