Hatchards bookshop at Piccadilly is Britain’s oldest bookstore, more famous for its booky clientele than, for example, for hosting the Royal Horticultural Society’s first meeting in 1804. The customers in Hatchards include many book mongers from royalties to Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde, Lauren Bacall, Margaret Thatcher and Stephen Fry.
Hatchards was established in 1797 by John Hatchard, who still keeps an eye on the premises from a solemn portrait on a wall. He planted the seed for the bookshop by purchasing a collection from 18th century book dealer Simon Vandenbergh, and according to my little research, one of Mr Vandenbergh’s descendants, Sidney Paget, is the creator of the original Sherlock Holmes engravings.
The tempting bookshelves lured many an intellectual to Hatchards through the Georgian and Victorian times, past the wars, the floods of hippies all the way to our times, and 21st century. The five storey bookshop in the pulsing heart of London, the Piccadilly, and next to the food store Fortnum and Mason, favoured by the Royal family, has been a suitable place to pop in for those who enjoy the little luxuries of life.
One of them was Oscar Wilde, who had an account in Hatchards. Around, there were many establishments to enjoy some of Britain’s best gourmet. One of these places was the Langham Hotel, where Wilde met Arthur Conan Doyle in 1889 and got an idea for his new book – The Picture of Dorian Gray. Close by is also a nowadays hotel, Courthouse. Here Wilde marched in with his libel against Lord Queensberry. The libel might as well have functioned as an example of the importance of spelling, as Queensberry had insulted the writer with a term ‘somdomite’ (sic). The reason for the choice of word was Wilde’s relations with Lord Queensberry’s son Alfred.
There are many stories to be found from the Hatchards – both in between the book covers, and outside them. Hatchards has five floors which cover many subjects. Especially notable are the travel literature section, English history with its many twists (Churchill being a separate section), bio- and autobiographies and children’s literature. Hatchards also has three royal warrants to supply books to the royal family, Queen Elizabeth, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Prince of Wales.
The atmosphere in Hatchards is subdued and cosy. Dominant colour is green (which reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s statue’s dressing gown at Merrion Square). There are little nooks for few couches to browse your findings, and the staircase and fireplaces are original. All in all, with its winding stairs, floors muffled by carpets, and wooden shelves for thousands of books, Hatchards is like from the pages of a Potter book.