In the last few years before I retired my office was at 6 St. James’s Square, London. I had no time for leisure reading in those days, but temptation lay close at hand in the form of Hatchards bookshop in Piccadilly.
Sometimes I would take a brisk walk at lunchtime, ostensibly to clear my head and think through one or other problem, but my feet would lead me invariably through the door of that venerable shop which has traded in Piccadilly for well over two centuries.
It had five floors of books and extremely knowledgeable staff. I bought many books that gathered dust for years before I was able to open them. On retirement we were to move to our farm in South Africa, so, in those pre-Kindle days, I needed to stock up with books in advance.
Of course I continued to buy books after I left London at the end of 1997, but I no longer had the same choice, so my library is skewed towards the 20th century. I have been back to Hatchards on subsequent visits to London, but there’s a limit to the number of books one’s baggage allowance will permit.
In the late 1990s Hatchards became part of the Waterstones group and I believe it recently opened a new shop in St. Pancras station. I hope that in spite of these changes the old shop in Piccadilly keeps its uniqueness. I seem to remember, in a picture frame near the door, a telegram to the manager from Queen Victoria ordering her weekend supply of reading. I’m sure they delivered her order pretty promptly, almost as quickly as a Kindle download!