Oranges & Lemons

Mirabile dictu!  Another new shop!  – the second post on the blog in a row to celebrate one, although once again the use of the word ‘new’ perhaps needs more than a grain of qualification.


Manchester Courier – 31st January 1887

I suppose Pickering & Chatto can actually trace its history back to that day in 1810 when William Pickering (1796-1854) was apprenticed to the book trade at the age of fourteen – certainly to 1820 when he first set up in business for himself.  Andrew Chatto (1840-1913) came later – he acquired the Pickering business on the death of Pickering’s son, Basil Montagu Pickering, in 1878.

Michael Brand

Sussex Express – 8th May 1953

What is nowadays Pickering’s sister firm, Marlborough Rare Books, is a mere stripling in comparison, founded as recently as 1947 – but that’s still stretching ‘new’ a little far.  What is genuinely ‘new’ is that the two firms have recently descended from their eyrie high above Bond Street – an office accessible by the smallest lift I’ve ever encountered – a 12mo of an elevator – to emerge blinking into the sunlight of premises at ground floor level.  A shop (well more or less a shop, see below) – but not in the West End, as we might expect, but across in the old heart of London – those ancient streets within the city walls, that single square mile of the City of London itself.

St Clement EastcheapA delight to seek them out – this is very much my own terrain – those streets with mediaeval names, some dating back even to Roman times, those narrow passages, lanes and hidden courtyards, where I have spent most of my working life.  The twin firms of Pickering and Marlborough have re-located to St. Clement’s Court, just a couple of hundred yards or so from where my old shop used to be (now standing empty, I note).  What joy, what pleasure,  that the antiquarian book trade is now represented in the City once more – and by businesses of such real distinction.

SignThey are to be found tucked away behind the old church of St. Clement Eastcheap, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire (which started nearby) and completed in 1687.  And yes, it is the St. Clement’s of “Oranges and Lemons,  Say the Bells of St. Clement’s” – despite what the parishioners of St. Clement Dane may have to say – we City folk know it in our bones – and the reference to St. Martin in the next line more or less proves it (St. Martin Orgar used to stand just across the way, close enough for the parishes to be united after the Great Fire).

OvermantelThe two book businesses now occupy the old vestry of the church, itself seventeenth-century, and with a beautiful contemporary carved wooden overmantel, very school of Grinling Gibbons, to prove it.  The arched windows look out on the tiny old graveyard.  I say tucked away – hidden might be more accurate.  It can be approached only down a narrow passage-way to the north of the church.  A white signboard as you emerge from the passage is your only clue.  You are then faced by a blank door and have to ring for admittance.  Whether this quite counts as a shop is a moot point – but they keep regular hours and seem very happy to greet a visitor.  Dickensian we might call it and tend to think of it, but these streets and buildings were old before Dickens was young.

Jolyon Hudson & Jonathan Gestetner

Jolyon Hudson & Jonathan Gestetner

It is a place that will go straight to the top of any list of London’s secret treasures – secret it is, and full of treasure.  There I found Jonathan Gestetner, Jolyon Hudson and Ed Smith busily engaged in what they always do, what the two firms have always done.  Cataloguing away. Dealing in rare and important books.  Yesterday they were gathering together some prize material to ship out to the California Book Fair.  Woman MPPickering & Chatto strong in philosophy, social science, medicine, politics, the stock currently enlivened with some spectacular suffragette and women’s studies material (examples from a couple of recent catalogues).  Books not just rare but endlessly interesting, books which tell us things we didn’t know, books we have never seen before, books not just rare but also unusual (the two are by no means the same).

SoundPark DriveThe complementary Marlborough stock is just as fascinating – architecture, illustration and the decorative arts, some fabulous old games and peepshows, some really rare topography – and especially books on London.  Jonathan has been collecting books on London for a lifetime (see A Lost Balloon View of London elsewhere on the blog) and dealing in them for the last twenty-five years or so.  AnthemWe have been talking and trading London books with each other for longer than I can remember – and yet he always, always, manages to come up with something I’ve never seen before.  There were several yesterday – one I had to buy, the others I was content to covet.

Ed Smith

Ed Smith

A thoroughly enjoyable hour, a few books bought – a forgotten novel by a woman member of the Dobell family – but Dobell the poet or Dobell the bookseller? (work to do on that one), the forgotten memoir of a highly articulate nurse in the Great War – books I simply didn’t know and couldn’t have guessed at.

This is a bookselling of a very high level.  Books acquired with taste, skill and real flair – a real sense of what matters, a sense of what counts.  Books beyond the obvious.  Go and seek them out.

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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