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)