Travelling Back in Time with Bookseller's Row – Cecil Court
By Nazifa Khan, Tamara Yamamoto and Christiana Jasutan
A timeless oasis in the middle of bustling London, lies Cecil Court. This pedestrian street radiates Victorian elegance and is home to an intriguing array of stores and antique bookshops. Originating in the 1690s as a part of a development project, Cecil Court's history dates back to the late 17th century. The land was originally owned by the Cecil family, a well-known noble family, from which Cecil Court got its name. The Cecil’s were an earldom of nobles, one of whose most famous members, Robert Cecil, was significant in managing the transition of the English monarchy from the Tudors to the Stewarts.
Interestingly, the young prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his family temporarily lived in Cecil Court on their European tour in 1764. While lodging with a court resident, eight-year-old Mozart performed for King George III and Queen Charlotte, and some have speculated that he may have in fact composed his first symphonies while residing at Cecil Court. You might spot his lodging plaque at number nine!
The street took on a new significance around the turn of the 20th century, when it became a focal point of the emerging cinema industry. Cecil Court was dubbed "Flicker Alley" by early marketers and filmmakers who came here to build their businesses after seeing the promise in this fresh form of entertainment. Film-related activity was humming on the street, which transformed into a hub for movie production and exhibition.
Filmmakers eventually departed as the 20th century moved forward, making way for an influx of booksellers who converted Cecil Court into the charming literary bliss we know today, given its reputation as "Booksellers' Row." It has flourished into a major cultural landmark for book lovers, authors and collectors over the years. You can still feel the wonder of venturing back in time as you walk through this haven in the midst of bustling London, where the fascinating histories of music, film and literature collide! Here are some bookshops to look out for:
Watkins Books: 19-21 Cecil Ct, London WC2N 4EZ
Established in 1893 by John M. Watkins, Watkins Books is over 120 years old and is one of the world’s oldest independent bookshops, specialising in spiritual and esoteric literature. The idea of opening a bookshop is said to have been conceived by John M. Watkins following a conversation with Madame Blavatsky (a famous Russian mystic and author), where she lamented the fact that there was no store in London where one could purchase books on mysticism, metaphysics and occultism. In March 1893, Watkins issued the first second-hand book catalogue in his own name, providing 26 Charing Cross as his business address. Watkins later moved the business to its present site at No.21 Cecil Court in 1901.
Spread over two floors, there is an extensive range of books, from contemporary releases to rare antique titles and second-hand books. Alongside books, the store has one of the largest collections of Tarot and Oracle decks, precious gemstones and crystals, a variety of sacred herbs and incense and a collection of artefacts from different spiritual traditions and cultures. Click here to find out more!
Alice Through the Looking Glass: 4 Cecil Ct, London WC2N 4HE
Alice Through the Looking Glass is a superb small boutique bookshop selling, as you may have guessed, all things Alice in Wonderland! Here you will discover rare, illustrated and first edition books, unique objects and artwork created by and in collaboration with some highly talented artists. This store was opened in 2012 and, over the years, has continued to build a great selection of one-of-a-kind quality items relating to Alice and her significant global cultural influence. Whether you are an avid Alice fan or not, this shop is certainly worth a visit! To find out more information, you can check out their website here!
Goldsboro Books: 23-27 Cecil Court, London WC2N 4EZ
This bookshop is an award-winning, leading specialist in first edition signed hardcovers! Goldsboro Books was opened in 1999 under the hands of two booksellers, David Headley and Daniel Gedeon. A carefully curated range of the best books and a highly knowledgeable team lies at the heart of the business, to ensure the best possible book-buying experience for all. Goldsboro Books hosts several author signing events every month and has a very special Book of the Month Club, which enables members to revel in an enjoyable read and view pretty, collectible books. As of now, they have more than 25,000 first edition hardbacks in stock… if you have ever been curious about starting a book collection, this may be the best place to start! To find out more, please check out their website here.