I have recently been given a Kindle Voyage, I’ve wanted an e-reader for years but have never got round to purchasing the device, preferring the look and feel of the real thing.
But having taken the plunge am I contributing to the forecast that e-books will be the death-knell of the traditional bookshops that once proliferated on our high streets?
James Daunt doesn’t think so.
[H]e started Daunt Books 25 years ago and has since become the managing director of Waterstone’s which among other outlets owns Hatchard’s in Piccadilly, which curiously is a stone’s throw from Waterstone’s flagship store which now occupies the old Simpsons store.
John Hatchard opened his shop in 1797 at number 173 Piccadilly and in so doing making it the UK’s oldest bookseller and now arguably the best known in the world.
Four years later it moved to its present address a few doors down the road and with the well-heeled residents of Albany opposite it quickly became a fashionable rendezvous. Daily papers were laid out on a table by the fireplace and there were benches outside for the customer’s servants.
The inaugural meeting of the Royal Horticultural Society was held here, as did William Wilberforce who used the same room for anti-slavery meetings. Hatchard produced publications on many of the social issued of the day: Christian Observer; Society for Bettering and Conditions of the Poor; political pamphlets; and children’s’ books.
Hatchard’s gained their first Royal Warrant from Queen Charlotte, wife of George II and the shop has since always held the Royal Warrant. This most literate of bookshops in its time has had some prodigious customers: Byron, Palmerstone, Peel, Wellington, Gladstone, Thackeray, Oscar Wilde, G. Bernard Shaw, Lloyd George, G. K. Chesterton, Somerset Maughan to name but a few.
The shop still has a homely, club-like atmosphere, with comfortable chairs, lots of interesting nooks and crannies, and knowledgeable staff who don’t rush you.
The popularity of our electronic readers might have convenience on its side, but Hatchard’s remains one of the most inviting bookshops in the English-speaking world.
Photos: Hatchard’s by Hannah Swithinbank (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
6 thoughts on “The oldest bookshop in Britain”
Sotheran’s of Sackville Street claim on their sign that they were established in 1761.
Hi Richard thanks for your comment and interest in CabbieBlog. After reading your post on Making Book at:
It would appear that I should have added the caveat that Hatchard’s are the oldest LONDON bookshop as you have corrected me with at least half-a-dozen bookshops with an earlier provenance.
We cabbies like to think we are a font of all knowledge including books. Alas I am not Will Grozier mentioned in your post and write under the pseudonym Gibson Square the first destination of The Knowledge.
May I bring to your attention my great grandfather’s family bookshop called from the 1850s W H Everett & son ltd
I am connected via my grandmother Julia Dew nee Everett; so I am interested in old bookshops, incidently the foresaid bookshop is according to the best information available was founded 1793 according to Guildhall library
in the City. ajd
That is great that you have managed to trace your family’s firm back to 1793. When I get a chance I’ll see if I can find any more information about W. H. Everett & Son Ltd. Thanks for your comment.
My great-great etc grandfather was Henry Everett, who was I believe the brother of Robert, grandfather of William Henry, who was the father of Julia. I would love to know more about the origins of the Everett bookselling trade as Henry’s son William (1795-1874) established a newspaper and advertising business based at the Royal Exchange in the early 1830s.
In the meantime, best wishes,
Your best bet for research is the Royal Exchange trade lists. Somebody must have them. Thanks for the comment and Good Luck.