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The Modernist Bookshops of Charing Cross Road

4 November 2022

Matthew Chambers, University of Warsaw

Today, bookshops like Foyle’s and Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road or the cluster of booksellers on the adjoining Cecil Court Road operate as reminders of the heyday of bookselling in this area of London in the early-to-mid twentieth century. In 1934, for example, there were twenty-six booksellers on these two streets, and several were active in the publishing and distribution of modernist literature. Charing Cross Road was opened in the late 1880’s to improve travel between Charing Cross and Tottenham Court Road and Bloomsbury.[i] Booksellers began opening shops in the earliest years following the road’s opening and has long since been associated with bookselling.[ii] There was an immense variety in the types, commercial success, and longevity of the bookshops. Amongst these booksellers were some for whom the current trends in writing and the arts held the most fascination, and they actively sought to not only sell but also publish and support these authors. Continue reading “The Modernist Bookshops of Charing Cross Road”

Book Review: London and the Modernist Bookshop

2 August 2021

Nick Hubble, Brunel University London

Matthew Chambers, London and the Modernist Bookshop (Cambridge University Press, 2020)

In British Writers of the Thirties (1988), Valentine Cunningham describes Parton Street, off Red Lion Square, as the epicentre of England’s literary and cultural life: 

And at No. 4, the centre – if such a metaphor is possible – of this epicentre, was the bookshop run by Old Wellingtonian David Archer, the home of the Parton Press (which issued Dylan Thomas’s 18 Poems, George Barker’s Thirty Preliminary Poems, David Gascoyne’s Man’s Life is this Meat), briefly the address for New Verse, from May 1935 the headquarters of Artists International, the mecca in fact of the radical artistic and poetic young. (109)

However, for all this (epi)centrality, there has been no systematic history of Archer’s bookshop – despite mentions in memoirs and interviews from Barker, Gascoyne, Esmond Romilly and Philip Toynbee among others – until Matthew Chambers’s decision to write about it as a case study in his London and the Modernist Bookshop. This is an instalment in the Cambridge University Press series, ‘Elements in Publishing and Book Culture’, which, like all Cambridge Elements, collects short (20-30,000 word) peer-reviewed books into thematically-linked ‘gatherings’ such as, in this case, ‘Bookshops and Bookselling’. The idea is that these publications provide an initial port of call for easily accessible, quality research-based texts on topics such as, in this case, the role of bookshops in establishing and maintaining literary networks. Hence, the focus here is on the history of a particular bookshop and the literary scene which developed around it in central London. As Chambers argues, even if ‘Archer’s’ is only ‘one example of what Huw Osbourne has termed the “modernist bookshop,” the shop’s relationship to Lawrence & Wishart publishers next door and Meg’s Cafe [later The Arts Cafe] across the way presents an opportunity to consider how modernist bookshops existed as part of the world of literary publishing and socializing’ (1).  Continue reading “Book Review: London and the Modernist Bookshop”

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