The shop below is the home of the Swedenborg Society.
On the afternoon we arrived there, things had not been going well. We had been faced with a small run of hostile shops with rude owners, and had failed to buy a steadicam for the second time (this time due to a pesky ebay app and an imminently closing bid). Fortunately, things were about to take a turn for the better.
No sooner had we entered this shop than the extremely friendly woman at the desk started talking to us enthusiastically about 18th Century Swedish philosopher, scientist and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg. We had never heard of Swedenborg, but now know that among other things, he posited that the Apocalypse had already happened, that we had all died already, and that Jesus had told him to eat less. Apparently “he could freely visit heaven and hell, and talk with angels, demons and other spirits.”
I think you’ll agree he sounds like a very interesting chap.
The Swedenborg Society are an entirely secular organisation, who publish his works and generally keep his memory alive, out of sheer enthusiasm and fascination for the man. Their shop is neat and welcoming, while the man and woman we met inside were knowledgeable, friendly and helpful.
This is how I prefer to think of independent bookshops: as welcoming places of inspiration, imagination and eccentricity. Here was a shop which tallied with our vision of the Last Bookshop of our film. It was all about keeping these old writings alive, preserving the fascinating history, and welcoming a new audience of readers.
We thanked them for their hospitality, and took their advice that we visit nearby Persephone Books. This proved to be another utterly unique bookshop, rather more like stepping into someone’s kitchen or living room. As their website states, Persephone Books “reprints neglected classics by C20th (mostly women) writers.” Again, here were passionate, friendly people actively keeping alive books which might otherwise get lost. We were very glad we visited, as the shop definitely had atmosphere – but alas, it was not the right atmosphere for our film.
And so we arrived at our final location for the day: Treadwell’s Bookshop.
As you can see from the picture above, Treadwell’s – perhaps more so than any other shop we visited in London – had just the right palette of warm ambers and reddish-browns, to suggest the atmosphere we are after. It was also scattered with rugs and carvings (and one tiny stuffed gorilla) which gave the place the right sense of magical clutter.
Indeed, the shop specialises in all things magical, and according to their website they “aim to be the friendliest place in London.” Well, it was certainly the friendliest shop we visited all day. And we’re not just saying that because the owner gave us a free cookie (although that always helps).
It seems that the whole shop is run on love and goodwill. Indeed, the owner Christina – who was utterly friendly and chatty – was accompanied by two chums, Marysia and Rebecca, who helped give the place a cosy atmosphere of friends helping each other out. They were more than happy for us to take a few reference photos. But then they let the bad news slip out…
We were visiting on their penultimate day.
As we were told this news our hearts sank. This was the friendliest, most promising location we’d visited all day, and now it was being snatched away from us! Fortunately, there was a happy twist to the tale: after years of trading from this creaky old shop in Covent Garden (which was last renovated in the 1920s and was now showing its considerable age) the shop will next week be moving to Bloomsbury. Thankfully, the next location promises to be slightly larger, but Christina is determined to make it just as homely and full of character, and so Treadwell’s should live on much the same.
It seems appropriate that our Friday location scout was bookended with shops that earn a media profile. But while our first visit of the day was famous from Black Books (and therefore has connotations of the angry misanthropic cliche we would later encounter) our final shop of the day has earned a rather warmer, more magical reputation in its various media appearances from Richard and Judy to the One Show. Here is Treadwell’s original Covent Garden incarnation featuring in a Mumford and Sons video…
Of course, we visited many more bookshops on Friday (and earlier in the week) which we have not mentioned. Some were unwilling to be photographed, or were uninterested in the promotion we could offer their shops. We will respect their wishes, and not promote them here. Others were hostile and rude, and never even knew that we were embarking on a project to highlight the joy of bookshops. But some were extremely friendly and helpful, and gave us plenty of food for thought as we set about turning our fictional idea into an actual film.
All in all, it was an encouraging start, and left us extremely excited about what we might find during Saturday’s Kentish bookshop roadtrip…