“What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not fooling a soul.” – Neil Gaiman, American Gods
Independent bookshops, with their creaky doors, worn-out sofas and overcrowded shelves, are little pockets of comfort in a fast-paced city. For Londoners it is the human touches that make indie bookshops so enticingly charming. Nestled among busy streets – often hidden in alleyways – they are the antithesis of Amazon algorithms and impersonal computer generated recommendations. From bookstores with monthly feminist book clubs, to secret locations and that wonderful old book smell, here is a guide to the best independent bookshops in London.
21 Kensington Park Road, London W11 2EU, 020-7792 4855
On a quaint Notting Hill street lined with bakeries and boutiques, this relatively new bookshop has quickly become a local staple. Founded by established literary agents, Lutyens and Rubinstein has gained a reputation as the place to go for some pleasant bookish chat, and rightly so. Customers are greeted like old friends by shop manager Claire, cup of tea in hand and eager to discuss this week’s new releases or reminisce about her favourite childhood reads. Offering the ultimate one-to-one experience, complete with coffee and biscuits, the knowledgeable staff add an old fashioned, personal dimension to bookselling.
Children’s manager, Tara Spinks: “It’s a cliché to say that London is a series of villages, but in our case, we really do feel like a village shop – we know a lot of our customers by name, and we know their interests and we’re able to curate the shop to fit that! When we opened, we asked a lot of people – friends and family particularly – what 10 books they would most like to see in the shop, which is how we selected our original core stock.”
59 Lambs Conduit Street, London WC1N 3NB, 020-7242 9292
Capturing a feminist niche, this independent publisher and bookshop steers clear of market-driven book sales, and instead focuses on reprinting neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century women. This tiny cultural hub, named in homage to the daughter of Zeus, is a celebration of female accomplishment. With a warm and laidback atmosphere , the shop itself is decorated with feminist paintings, posters and vintage furniture, creating a cosy domestic setting for customers to sit and read, as well as recreating the limited spheres women occupied in the twentieth century. Persephone Books provides readers with an interactive experience. From the beautifully designed end papers to the monthly book club; this is an essential destination for all bibliophiles.
WhatKatieDidNext blogger, Katie Morritt: “It’s encouraging that Persephone Books reprint works by neglected female writers. While women make up 51% of the human population, they seem to be shockingly underrepresented on the shelves of chains like WHSmith and Waterstones.”
12 Ingestre Place, London W1F 0JF, 020-7437 1433
Hidden away down a side alley on Ingestre Place, The Society Club feels like Soho’s little secret. During the day the unique bookshop, cafe, cocktail bar and gallery combination is open to the public, but by 6 o’ clock the place transforms into a private members’ club. With poetry nights, storytelling and live music, it is a place where aspiring writers and artists collaborate over a cocktail – perfect for Londoners wanting to get involved in London’s literary scene.
Yelp reviewer, Lina O:d: “I was there for an event organised with Tatty Devine, a jewellery company popular with my young people at the moment. It was a jewellery making workshop that was free of charge and with the founders of the brand. Such a nice experience, nice people and a really great environment.”
125 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0EW, 020-7287 1813
Claire De Rouen, tucked away above a betting shop on Charing Cross Road and unnoticed by most passers-by, is the only specialist photography, fashion and art bookshop in London. To enter, customers have to walk up a narrow stairwell – the walls of which are plastered with contemporary art, and then turn right to find the secret entrance. Once inside you’ll find one of London’s most extensive collections of photo books, self-published books and rare collector editions, displayed beautifully on shelves overlooking the city.
Frequent customer, Mohammed: “Claire De Rouen has the best collection of photography books. It’s relaxing just to have a look at the work of the greats like David Bailey, Anders Petersen and Guy Bourdin, with a record playing in the background.”
1 Bloomsbury St, London WC1B 3QE, 020-7637 1848
Specialising in left-wing literature, Bookmarks is London’s leading socialist bookshop and has been in business for over 40 years. The shelves are bursting with knowledge, stacked with an impressive selection of books covering subjects like politics, labour history, black struggle, women and culture, in the hope of providing young activists with information to inform their opinions. Dedicated to their cause, the bookshop provides stands in major demonstrations across country and has consequently created a young, politically active community through the power of the written word.
Yelp reviewer, Fiona G: “A wonderful shop for the sheer joy of the music & laughter that accompanies us when we march past this shop (and most demonstrations do, starting at London University) It’s got great books …and an interesting neighbour in the whisky shop next door!”