Many moons ago, on one of my first trips to England, I traveled over with an exceedingly large suitcase and an empty duffle bag. At the end of the trip, during which I had visited bookshops throughout the UK, I packed all of my personal belongings into the duffle and completely filled the suitcase with my antiquarian book purchases. At customs, the officer asked me to put my suitcase on the table so that he could inspect it. The conversation went something like this:
Officer - "Place your luggage on the table for inspection, please."
Me - "I'm sorry, but I can't do that."
Officer - "Are you refusing to allow me to inspect your bag?"
Me - "Not at all. It's not that I won't allow you to inspect my bag, but rather that I'm physically unable to lift the bag onto the table. It's too heavy."
Officer - "What is in the bag, Madam?"
Me - "Books."
Officer - "And what else?"
Me - "Nothing. Just books."
Officer - "Do you mean to tell me that you spent two weeks in England and all you have to declare are books? That's all you purchased during the course of your visit?"
Me - "Yes. Just books."
The Officer's skeptical look endured until he'd lifted the bag onto the table and opened it. Books. And nothing but. Books - upon which there is no duty tax imposed. Now keep in mind that these were antiquarian books, each lovingly wrapped and cushioned against the journey home. Determined to catch me out, the Officer proceeded to unwrap the books and rifle through them individually. Perhaps he thought I'd secreted a Buckingham Palace tea towel between their pages. Or the crown jewels. In the end, he had to be satisfied that a female American tourist could be perfectly happy with books as the only souvenier of her trip to England.
Whilst my library is now more or less complete and I no longer buy books like a drunken sailor on leave when I'm in the UK, I do still make a point of stopping into Hatchard's book shop on Piccadilly whenever I'm over. In preparation for my visit in December, I went onto the Hatchard's website and perused the current catalogue, from which I offer you the following intriguing selections.
COUNTING ONE'S BLESSINGS: THE SELECTED LETTERS OF QUEEN ELIZABETH THE QUEEN MOTHER by WILLIAM SHAWCROSS (EDITOR)
One of the great revelations of William Shawcross's official biography was the Queen Mother's private correspondence. Indeed, The Sunday Times described her letters as 'wonderful ...brimful of liveliness and irreverence, steeliness and sweetness.' Now, drawing on the vast wealth of material in the Royal Archives, at Glamis Castle, and elsewhere, Shawcross has put together a selection of those letters. A prolific correspondent from her earliest childhood to the very end of her life, her letters offer readers a vivid insight into the person behind the public face. Full of wit, hilarity, acute observation and a deeply held sense of duty, Queen Elizabeth's letters constitute a chronicle both of her long life and of the twentieth century. £ 25 Hardback
THE FURTHER TALE OF PETER RABBIT SPECIAL EDITION BOX SET by EMMA THOMPSON
Celebrate Peter Rabbit's 110th anniversary with this stunning special edition box set. A sumptuous gift box containing two Peter Rabbit adventures - The Original Tale of Peter Rabbit written by Beatrix Potter is accompanied by The Further Tale, written by Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson. Each book is cloth-bound, in a fabric specially commissioned by Timorous Beasties - a cutting edge design company, who have added their contemporary twist to these classic characters. The box also includes a letter signed by Emma Thompson. The Further Tale describes what happens when Peter Rabbit stows away in a picnic basket and, before he knows it, finds himself transported to Scotland on the back of a cart! This plucky little rabbit soon finds himself in the middle of a great big, brand new adventure, a long way from home, family and friends. Emma Thompson, Oscar-winning actress and screen writer, has a talent for creating engaging narratives with a dry humour similar to Potter's own and is the perfect choice of author for this new Peter Rabbit tale which will be published 110 years after the original. Emma said, "I've always loved Beatrix Potter, as a child and then as a mother and all the years in-between as well. When Mr Rabbit invited me to write a further tale, I was more honoured than I can say. I hope I don't let him or his extraordinary creator down." This special edition is limited to just 1000 copies. £ 110 Hardback 9780723268697
LONDON: HIDDEN INTERIORS by PHILIP DAVIES
180 of London's best conserved and least known interiors are revealed in 1500 spectacular photographs. Following his successes with revealing London's vanished architectural heritage in Lost London and Panoramas of Lost London, Philip Davies now turns his attention to London's conserved heritage, presenting an expert introductory essay followed by the most extraordinary collection of contemporary photographs of London's historic interiors ever published. The increasing popularity of Open City has stimulated the curiosity of local Londoners and visitors from afar, awakening renewed interest and comprehension of London's success in preserving amazing interiors, from private salons to traditional public houses, from ornate churches to industrial plants. London: Hidden Interiors has one hundred and eighty examples which have been selected from a complete range of building types to convey the richness and diversity of London's architectural heritage and the secrets that lie within. It concentrates generally on the buildings and interiors that are lesser known and to which the public are not normally allowed, the hidden and the unusual, the quirky and the eccentric, although there is space too for some of the better known. The careful composition, superb lighting and exposure of the images featured in this book are themselves a lesson in conservation, capturing the sense of these unique spaces whilst at the same time revealing the important architectural detail; Derek Kendall's photographs, perfectly reproduced, make this book a visual delight and a major contribution to the architectural history of London. £ 40 Hardback 9780956864246 Available Now
THE SECRET ROOMS: A TRUE GOTHIC MYSTERY by CATHERINE BAILEY
Catherine Bailey, the best-selling author of "Black Diamonds", uncovers a plotting Duchess, a mysterious death and a castle full of lies in her thrilling book, "The Secret Rooms: A True Gothic Mystery". In April 1940, the ninth Duke of Rutland died in mysterious circumstances in a murky room next to the servants' quarters of his family home, Belvoir Castle. The mystery surrounding his death holds the key to a tragic story that is played out on the brutal battlefields of the Western Front and in the exclusive salons of Mayfair and Belgravia in the dying years of la belle epoque. Uncovered is a dark and disturbing period in the history of the Rutland family, and one which they were determined to keep hidden for over sixty years. Sixty years on, "The Secret Rooms" is the true story of family secrets and one man's determination to keep the past hidden at any cost.
£ 20 Hardback 9780670917556 Available Now
THE VICTORIAN CITY: EVERYDAY LIFE IN DICKENS' LONDON by JUDITH FLANDERS
The nineteenth century was a time of unprecedented transformation, and nowhere was this more apparent than on the streets of London. In only a few decades, London grew from a Regency town to the biggest city the world had ever seen, with more than 6.5 million people and railways, street-lighting and new buildings at every turn. In The Victorian House, Judith Flanders described in intimate detail what went on inside the nineteenth-century home. Now, in The Victorian City, she explores London's outdoors in an extraordinary, revelatory portrait of everyday life on the streets. From the moment Charles Dickens, the century's best-loved novelist and London's greatest observer, arrived in the city in 1822, he obsessively walked its streets, recording its pleasures, curiosities and cruelties. Now, with him, Judith Flanders leads us through the markets, transport systems, sewers, rivers, slums, alleys, cemeteries, gin palaces, chop-houses and entertainment emporia of Dickens' London, to reveal the Victorian capital in all its variety, vibrancy, and squalor. From the colourful cries of street-sellers to the uncomfortable reality of travel by omnibus, via the many uses for the body parts of dead horses or the unimaginably grueling working days of hawker children, no detail is too small, or too strange. No one who reads Judith Flanders's The Victorian City will view London in the same light again. £ 25 Hardback 9781848877955 Available Now