LONDON, UK – Anyone who’s been to London knows what fun it is to duck into little alleys. You never know what you’ll find. If you’re a lover of books and antiquities, you’ll want to seek out a little blocklong pedestrian lane called Cecil Court in Covent Garden between Charing Cross Road and St. Martin’s Lane.
If you’ve eaten at the fabulous J Sheekey (and if you haven’t, do), Cecil Court is exactly a block south of that. It’s also a quick walk from Leicester Square, where we all get our theater tickets.
My friend Clare and I were delighted with store after store filled with everything from vintage sheet music to ancient swords, pipes, theater posters, stamps and books, books, books.
One of our favorites: Storey’s, 3 Cecil Court, filled with delightful William Hogarth prints and other political and satirical cartoons, along with antique London maps and photos of the way London used to look.
We also especially enjoyed browsing Bryars & Bryars (7 Cecil Court), a very tiny space crammed with antique maps and first editions, and Watkins Books (19-21 Cecil Court), filled with Indian artifacts and crystals and books pertaining to Far East culture, mysticism and the spiritual.
Sadly, the Alice Through the Looking Glass store was closed when we visited, as was a nearby jewelry store that didn’t seem to have a name but whose window showcased some magnificent jewelry, including huge, dangly insect-shaped earrings. I’m not sure who’d wear them, but they’d be the talk of any party.
We’re told this block has looked the same for centuries. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart briefly lived in a barber’s house on the street while he had gigs in London in 1764, and it’s said he composed his first symphony there.
Most of the shops and galleries are tiny, and we tried to be as unobtrusive as we browsed, but the quarters were just too close for us to avoid overhearing conversations. We loved this one:
“Is it by the same chap?” a man with an East End accent was asking the bookseller at Tindley & Everett (4 Cecil Court) as we walked in. “If it’s not about the sea, I’ll read it.”
The bookseller quietly murmured a reply, to which the potential buyer replied, “It’s not a romance, is it?” I grinned at my friend Clare, a romance writer.
The potential buyer was assured the book wasn’t a romance, and the bookseller worked on him to make a decision, finally exhorting, “Give it a go!” We wandered back out into Cecil Court as the customer reached into his pocket.
Learn more at cecilcourt.co.uk.