Fulham Road

Peter HarringtonOn a flying errand this week to the Fulham Road – a special book for a special occasion required urgently by a customer.  To Peter Harrington’s, of course, home of the special book.  Not one of the grand old names of the book trade, but from modest beginnings in Chelsea Antiques Market a little over forty years ago, now assuredly up there amongst the very finest bookshops in the world.  Renowned not just for such things as those pictured in a new window display of dust-jacketed rarities, but for books right across the board.  This is a firm that has handled some extraordinary books in recent years – from a Shakespeare first folio to the publisher’s copy of Huckleberry Finn – “the first copy ever bound”.

Man Within

Graham Greene’s first novel.

Stock in depth and of unrivalled quality – a judiciousness not just in acquiring material but in acquiring staff as well.  Pom Harrington, son of the founder, has been in charge for the last fourteen years.  Working alongside him now are Adam Douglas (ex Simon Finch), Glenn Mitchell (ex Maggs), Ian Smith (ex Quaritch), Joe Jameson (ex Charles Traylen), Ben Houston (former manager of Biblion), Emma Doyle (ex Classic Bindings), as well as ex solo-operators Adam Blakeney and Kevin Finch, now given a broader platform for their talents – and others as well.  This is bookselling run along proper business lines.  It is the business against which the rest of us must measure ourselves.  Treat yourself to a visit.

Vile Bodies

Waugh’s own jacket design.

A true anecdote will suffice to give an indication of their standards.  They rejected a book of mine they had on approval a while back as not being in quite good enough condition for their customers – fair enough, it wasn’t flawless.  The book was still sitting on a table waiting for me to reshelve it when I was paid a visit the very next day by an old-time bookseller with a shrewd and long-experienced eye: he seized upon it immediately.  “What a lovely copy – I’ve never seen a better one. I’ll take that”, he said admiringly and unhesitatingly as he added it to his pile.

Christopher SokolIf any more incentive for a visit were needed, you will now find a more recently opened bookshop just across the road – Sokol Books Ltd.   Not a newcomer to the trade, Christopher Sokol has been around for thirty years or more, but until now always sequestered in private premises.  And not entirely a new bookshop – it used to belong to Charles Russell, now removed to Cirencester. Great Mediaeval Choir BookA small shop, admittedly, but full of treasures. Nothing in anything as outré as a dust-jacket here, the emphasis is entirely on early printed books (mainly before 1640) and on mediæval and renaissance manuscripts.  The pictures of a couple of recent acquisitions and the giant mediæval choir book in the window will give you the flavour.  Soothing shelves of old vellum.


Richard Cosin, An Apologie for Sundrie Proceedings by Iurisdiction Ecclesiastical (London, 1593) in a fine contemporary Oxford binding.

It was actually something of shock to find in some modern books in a corner – modern in these terms meaning only 200 or so years old – early nineteenth century.  I was so shocked I actually felt compelled to buy a book to spare them the continuing embarrassment of having a book on the shelves published so recently (1838) as to be in publisher’s cloth (a sparkling copy of a rare, important and unduly neglected book on the underside of London life – the Dickensian world of debtors’ prisons, workhouses, asylums and gaming-houses – that I was very pleased to have).


An Aldine Statius, Sylvarum Libri Quinque … (Venice, 1502).

Everyone understands that there are books that you won’t see outside a museum or a library, but not everyone realises that there are many books that won’t see in a museum or a library –not these copies and in this condition.  I find it extraordinary that in these two shops in this tiny quarter of Chelsea you will see so many books of which this is true.  A tribute to the London book trade.  And not only can you see these books, you can touch them, handle them, savour them, discuss them with someone who truly understands them – and even buy them.  You can’t do that in a library.  What are you waiting for?

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice first introduced in 1997 (and its recent update), served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute, the National Library of Scotland and at Gresham College and Stationers' Hall. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. Essays on the British map trade are also appearing in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers”, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011. He also contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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1 Response to Fulham Road

  1. John Windle says:

    A lovely tip of the hat to your London colleagues. But what was the 19th-century book you bought from Sokol? I want it already, to go with my Doré’s London and Mayhew’s London Labour.


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