One of the World's Leading Sources of Information On Books, Literature, and a Wide Range of Subjects



 Central and East London

(Note: This is taken from W. Roberts' The Book-Hunter in London.)





Cheapside had never much attraction to the book-collector, but the Poultry (which is in reality a continuation of the Cheapside thoroughfare) was for two and a half centuries a bookselling locality. In 1569, for example, John Alde was living at 'the long shop adjoining to St. Mildred's Church in the Poultry.' From the middle to the end of the seventeenth century the locality had become quite famous for its bookshops. Nat Ponder, who 'did time' for publishing a seditious pamphlet, was Bunyan's publisher. John Dunton's shop was at the sign of the Black Raven. No. 22 was the residence of the brothers Charles and Edward Dilly, and it was here, at a dinner, that Dr. Johnson's prejudices against Wilkes were entirely broken down by the latter's brilliant conversation. The Dillys were great entertainers, and all the more notable literary people of the period were to be met at their house. They amassed a very large fortune. Edward died in 1807, having relinquished the business some years previously to Joseph Mawman, who died in 1827. Mawman, it may be mentioned, wrote an 'Excursion to the Highlands of Scotland,' 1805, which the Edinburgh furiously assailed: 'This is past all enduring. Here is a tour, travelled, written, published, sold, and, for anything we know, reviewed by one and the same individual! We cannot submit patiently to this monstrous monopoly.' No. 31 was the shop of Vernor and Hood, booksellers. The latter was father of the facetious Tom Hood, who was born here in 1798. Spon, of 15, Queen Street, Cheapside, was issuing, half a century ago, his 'City of London Old Book Circulars,' which often contained excellent books at very moderate prices.

The district more or less immediately contiguous to the Bank of England was for a long period a favourite bookselling locality, but heavy rents and crowded thoroughfares have completely killed the trade in the heart of commercial London. Early in the seventeenth century, Pope's Head Alley, a turning out of Cornhill, contained a number of booksellers' and publishers' shops. In the latter part of the seventeenth century, Thomas Guy, with a capital of about £200, started selling books at 'the little corner house of Lombard Street and Cornhill'; but his wealth was not derived from this source. It is interesting to note, however, that this little corner shop existed so recently as 1833 or 1834. Alexander Cruden, of 'Concordance' fame, settled in London in 1732, and opened a bookstall under the Royal Exchange, and it was whilst here that he compiled the 'Concordance' which ruined him in business and deranged his mind. William Collins, whose catalogues for many years 'furnished several curiosities to the literary collectors,' started selling books in Pope's Head Alley, in or about 1778, but was burnt out in the following year, when he removed to Exchange Alley, where he remained until the last decade of the last century. John Sewell, who died in 1802 (aged sixty-eight), was one of the last to sport the rubric posts, and his shop in Cornhill was a highly popular resort with book-buyers; he was succeeded by another original character in the person of James Asperne. J. and A. Arch were in Cornhill contemporaneously with Asperne, and it was to these kindly Quakers that Thomas Tegg turned, and not in vain, after being summarily dismissed from Lane's, in Leadenhall Street, and with whom he remained for some years. It was not until some time after he had started on his own account that Tegg commenced his nightly book-auctions at 111, Cheapside, an innovation which resulted in Tegg finding himself a fairly rich man. His next move was to the old Mansion House, once the residence of the Lord Mayor, and here he met with an increased prosperity and popularity. He was elected a Common Councillor of the ward of Cheap, and took a country house at Norwood. Up to the close of 1840, Tegg had issued 4,000 works on his own account (chiefly 'remainders'), and not 'more than twenty were failures.' The more noteworthy second-hand booksellers of this neighbourhood half a century ago were Charles Davis, whose shop was at 48, Coleman Street, and T. Bennett, of 4, Copthall Buildings, at the back of the Bank, each of whom published catalogues. A quarter of a century ago the last-named address was still in possession of second-hand booksellers—S. and T. Gilbert, and subsequently of Gilbert and Field. One of the oldest bookselling firms in the City is that of Sandell and Smith, of 136, City Road, which dates back to 1830. It was whilst exploring in some of the upper rooms of this shop that a well-known first-edition collector, Mr. Elliot Stock, came upon an incomparable array of the class of book for which he had an especial weakness. He obtained nearly a sackload at an average of tenpence or a shilling each, and as many of these are now not only very rare, but in great demand at fancy prices, it is scarcely necessary to say that the investment was a peculiarly good one. The 'haul' included works by Byron, Bernard Barton, Browning, Barry Cornwall, Lytton, Cowper, Dryden, Hogg, Moore, Rogers, Scott, Wordsworth, and a lot of eighteenth-century writers. Half a century ago Edwards' 'Cheap Random Catalogues' were being issued from 76, Bunhill Row.

So far as the East End of London is concerned, there is not, perhaps, very much to say. The second-hand bookselling trade for the past half-century has been confined in a large measure to three firms—R. Gladding, an octogenarian, who dealt almost exclusively in theological books, whose shop was at 76, Whitechapel Road, and who retired at the end of 1893; E. George and Sons, who have been for many years established at 231, Whitechapel Road, and have lately acquired Gladding's shop; and Joseph Smith, 2, Oxford Street, Whitechapel. The two last-named firms are, in their respective ways, of more than usual interest. Mr. E. George, whose father, William George, was also a bookseller, started in business on his own account between thirty and forty years ago, his stock-in-trade consisting of four shillings' worth of miscellaneous volumes, which he exposed for sale on a barrow close to the old Whitechapel workhouse, which occupied the ground on which one of Mr. George's shops now stands. Mr. George has built up one of the most remarkable and extensive business connections in existence. His stock may be roughly calculated at about 700,000 or 800,000 volumes or parts, two large houses and warehouses being literally crammed full from top to bottom. There is scarcely any periodical or transactions of any learned society which they are unable to complete, and in many instances—Punch, for example—they have at least a dozen complete sets, besides an infinity of odd numbers and parts. It is scarcely necessary to point out that Messrs. George's business has very little to do with the locality in which their shops are situated. They are the wholesale firm of the trade, and the larger part of their business is done in the United States and among the provincial booksellers of Great Britain, ten huge cases and a complete set of Hansard being on the eve of exportation to America at the time of our visit. It is a curious fact, and one well worth mentioning, that until last year (1894) this firm never issued a catalogue. It is also interesting to point out that their shop at 76, Whitechapel Road is one of the most admirably arranged bookstores in the country. It was specially constructed, and is not unlike a miniature British Museum Reading-room; there are two galleries, one above the other. The second East End worthy has a literary as well as a bibliopolic interest. Joseph Smith will be better remembered by posterity as the compiler of a 'Catalogue of Friends' Books,' and of the 'Bibliotheca Anti-Quakerana,' than as a bookseller. He was twenty years compiling the former, and is perhaps one of the most striking illustrations of the wisdom of the theory that the bookseller who wishes to be a success should never read! Joseph Smith is of the Society of Friends, and among his schoolfellows were John Bright and W. E. Forster.

Second-hand bookselling in the East End has declined during the past quarter of a century from several causes, the chief and most important being the almost complete withdrawal of moderately well-to-do people from the locality. The neighbourhood has become so exclusively inhabited by the poorest of the poor, and by the desolate immigrants from all countries, that the higher phases of bookselling have little chance of flourishing. Mr. E. George informs us that fifteen or twenty years ago he frequently sold in one day books to the value of £15 to genuine residents of the East End, but that he now does not sell fifteen shillings' worth. So far as local customers are concerned, he might just as well have nothing more elaborate than a warehouse.

Many interesting bookish events have, nevertheless, transpired in what is now the slummiest district of London, and if the best of these anecdotes were collected they would fill quite a big volume. They are very varied in character, and some of the stories have very different morals. Here is one related concerning the Rev. Mr. Brand, to whom we have already referred. He was a clergyman of that district, and, it is feared, sometimes neglected his religious duties for the more engrossing charms of the chase. One Friday afternoon he was roaming in the neighbourhood of his church, when his eye fell on the shop of a Jew bookseller which he had not before noticed, and was astonished to see there a number of black-letter volumes exposed for sale. But the sun was rapidly going down, and the Jew, loath to be stoned by his neighbours for breaking the Sabbath, was hastily interposing the shutters between the eyes of the clergyman and the coveted books. 'Let me look at them inside,' said the Rev. Mr. Brand; 'I will not keep you long.' 'Impossible,' replied the Jew. 'Sabbath will begin in five minutes, and I absolutely cannot let myself be drawn into such a breach of Divine Law. But if you choose to come early on Sunday morning you may see them at your leisure.' The reverend gentleman accordingly turned up at eight a.m. on Sunday, intending to remain there till church-time, he having to do duty that day. He had provided himself with the overcoat which he wore on his book-hunting expeditions, and which had pockets large enough to swallow a good-sized folio. The literary treasures of the son of Israel were much more numerous than the Gentile expected. At this time there was not such a rush for Caxtons as we have witnessed since the Roxburghe sale. Mr. Brand found one of these precious relics in a very bad condition, although not past recovery, paid a trifling price for it, and pocketed it. Then he successively examined some rare productions of the presses of Wynkyn de Worde, Pynson, and so forth. The clergyman's purchases soon began to assume considerable proportions. Archimedes was not more fully absorbed in his geometrical problems when the Roman soldier killed him, than the East End clergyman in his careful collations. He was aroused, however, from his reveries by the Jewess calling out: 'Mike, dinner is ready.' 'Dinner!' exclaimed the parson. 'At what time do you dine?' 'At one o'clock,' she replied. He looked at his watch. It was too true. He hastened home. In the meantime, the beadle had been to his house, and finding he had left it in his usual health, it was feared some accident had happened. The congregation then dispersed, much concerned at the absence of the worthy pastor, who, however, atoned in the evening, by unwonted eloquence, for his unpremeditated prank of the morning.








Home | Book Collecting | Folklore / Myth | Philately | Playing Cards | Literature | Contents









© D. J. McAdam.  All rights reserved.  This article may not be reproduced without written permission of the author.