Known as a major book selling area of London, Charing Cross Road and the small thoroughfare of Cecil Court are home to antiquarian and second-hand bookshops, catering for a variety of interests.
Many of the bookshops that once lined both sides of Charing Cross Road are now sadly gone. Tim Bryars from Bryars and Bryars suggests that the shops that once neighboured his have often been lost because of the rising cost of staying open.
One such shop that is no longer running is Marks & Co. which many will know from the 1971 novel, 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. Eleanor Banks from Macclesfield made the ‘pilgrimage’ to Charing Cross after reading the book. She explains “The current reality jarred with my imagination, but I’m still glad I went.”
While the bookshops on Charing Cross Road are sadly declining, Cecil Court has held on to its quirky appearance and history, with almost all of the shops here still running as bookshops. This quiet, late Victorian thoroughfare seems far from the stereotypical image of London. Jacqui Bell who regularly visits when staying in London, tells us “I love when you step off the bustle of Charing Cross Road into Cecil Court. You feel like you’re stepping back in time. It’s so quiet you don’t feel like you’re in central London.”
The shop fronts here have not changed for over a century, and traditional hanging signs still adorn each shop. The court’s original Victorian gas lamps still bathe the street in a warm glow at night. Harry Illingworth from Goldsboro books tells us that the street tries to maintain its history “the shop owners are very proud of the history and don’t attempt to over-modernise things.”
Julien Foster who frequents Cecil Court says “It’s the nearest thing to Diagon Alley we have!” It is, in fact, widely believed that Cecil Court may have provided the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. Julien adds “Outside of Hay on Wye, I am aware of nowhere else that has such a range of bookshops in close proximity.”
Peter from Peter Ellis Books explains, “All serious book collectors know this area… it is somewhere you can spend all day making physical contact with books you will find in very few other places on Earth, and discovering books you never knew existed.”
With so many shops filled to the rafters with rare books, you could easily spend hours exploring all that each seller has to offer and finding treasures you might never find anywhere else. Tim Bryars summed this up perfectly when he said “I think specialist shops like ours are a draw for tourists. You can’t experience shops like these in many other places.”