London is an eternal city, it is full of historical significance and amidst change and movement, there are places of complete standstill, older than any of the passers-by.
The Old Curiosity Shop, 13-14 Portsmouth Street WC2A
In Holborn, near the wonderful London School of Economics, not far from King’s College and the Thames river, is a very old and historical part of town where presently, there is a lot of construction going on.
But amidst all the updates, refurbishments and additions to Central London, there are historical sights which have not changed for centuries.
You might think that I am speaking of great and famous buildings which there are plenty here in London, but I am referring to the tiniest and most humble structures with arguably some of the greatest significance in terms of history and continuity of this beautiful city.
The place I have photographed here is no other then THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP made immortal by Charles Dickens’ novel. I love the backdrop of intense construction and the 16th Century shop in a bubble of eternal tranquility. Whereas in other cities of the world the memories of the past would have had to crumble under the pressure of the heavy wallets of property investors, London preserves and protects many heritage sites. Thank goodness.
Of course, it is not where Nell Trent and her grandfather actually lived, for this was fiction, nor was it called “The Old Curiosity Shop” when the novel was published in the mid-19th Century, but received its name later – probably due to the immense popularity of the book.
But the present day resident is still a remarkable protagonist, if you like. The Japanese designer shoemaker Kimura Daita-san has set up an atelier where he makes incredible bespoke shoes, a rather English tradition you could argue.
I quote Chrissy Grübel from her fantastic post
“Kimura has been in residence since 1992, crafting truly unique designs for both men and women. What will you find? Shiny leather oxfords, cool “hog-toed” boots, colorful unisex sneakers—classic shapes with modern details that can live in anyone’s wardrobe. I am personally begging for the Eley Kishimoto laceups: “Please, sir. I want some more.” Yes, I know this quote is from a different Dickens novel, but I’m a blogger not a scholar.
The shop may only exist in a magical lil’ nook of what I think is the most magical city on earth, but luckily for those who don’t share my urban obsession, you can shop online! There is justice in the world!”
You can see the full collection of shoes here and below is a movie made by Kimura-san:
Alpha Books, 1 Portsmouth St, London WC2A 2ES (corner of Sheffield St.)
And then, opposite The Curiosity Shop is another gem: Alpha Books. This shop provides the university students, lecturers (like me) and bibliophiles with rare, used, out-of print or specialty books at very decent prices. It is, not to say the least, quite a “Dickensian” sort of place. When I went in, an grumpy man hidden behind a partition and half-way into an antique stairway leading to the basement. I could not see the man at first, but only hear him grumbling and ranting.
I asked: “Exuse me?”
He shouted: “Yes, excuse me! We are busy, you have to wait!”
And when he had carried a box out to the door I asked: “Yesterday, you had a book on structuralism outside…”
“Yes! By Piaget,” he finished my sentence and then went on to fetch it out the many random piles of books on the floor.
Incredible, I thought, because not only did he know exactly which book it was, he also found it within the seeming chaos in a split second! And it is an out-of-print 1971 edition! Of an author who only certain people even have heard of!
If I was filming a scene of a movie, this would be it. Only at that point, I was in the movie. A shop devoid of any signs of modernity, inside or out. It could have been the 1980s, the 1950s, or earlier.
Whilst in the shop, and scanning it’s book tables just outside I fell in love with at least 5 more and will be stopping there again. Alpha books is a rarity for connoisseurs, of knowledge, history and authenticity, when bookstores are disappearing and gentrification is making little old curiosity shops extinct. The owner can be grumpy if he likes, I don’t mind – this place is not to be missed.
With love from London,