The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street

imagesWhen I first blogged about my visit to Heywood Hill and the launch of my Year in Books project, Ali was kind enough to point me in the direction of a book of the collected letters exchanged between Nancy Mitford and the original proprietor of the shop, Heywood Hill.  Mitford had worked in the shop from 1942, although by the time this correspondence begins she is, for the most part, living and working abroad.  However, that doesn’t bring a halt to her interest in the shop and in the politics (actually some might say petty bickering) rife amongst the staff who are still employed there.

The collection includes letters that take the reader right up to the point of Mitford’s death from cancer in June 1973 and by that time Hill, himself, had retired and left the shop behind him.  However, as both were so immersed in the literary world, their correspondence is still full of anecdotes about writers and their works as well as, occasionally, news of the shop itself.

Nevertheless, it is the letters sent while Hill was still working regularly in the shop that fascinate me the most, and especially those that include titbits about some of their more interesting customers. Here, for example, on January 22nd 1958:

A man has just been in to ask if we will tear 3 illustrations out of a new art book in the window for him.

Well, why wouldn’t you?

Or my particular favourite from March 26th the previous year:

Mrs Hammersley has just been in with just a gold shell hatpin gleaming from under the layers of veils. She was here, she said because of her 80th birthday and could she borrow a book so of course I gave her one…

I am hoping that when I reach my eightieth birthday and want to borrow a book they will give me one as well although if I’m still living in the Midlands it might be quite a way to go just on the off-chance!

Before reading this I had had very little literary contact with Nancy Mitford.  I’ve read her sister Jessica’s letters and I used to see Deborah walking around the estate at Chatsworth sometimes when I was visiting friends in the area but other than that I know very little at all about the Redesdale family.  Having now made her acquaintance, however, I would rather like to deepen it.  I suspect that The Pursuit of Love is probably the best place to start with her fiction but I would also like to read a biography of the family as a whole, if such a thing exists.  I know that many of you are Mitford fans so if you have any suggestions as to what I should be looking for then I would be very grateful.

There is a second book of letters concerning Number 10 Curzon Street, a Spy in the Bookshop, which is now sitting on my bedside table waiting to be begun.  If there are any more anecdotes worth the sharing, then look out for a second post.


15 thoughts on “The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street

  1. Lisa December 28, 2013 / 1:21 pm

    As soon as I read about this here, I put in an inter-library loan request, and then even before it arrived, I found a copy at a used-book store. That kind of book serendipity can feel a bit eerie at times. I’d whole-heartedly recommend the book of letters edited by Charlotte Mosley, The Mitfords, Letters Between Six Sisters. It’s arranged chronologically, and each section has an introduction that gives background information and context, and I think the notes are very good. And then the letters themselves are fascinating.


    • Alex December 28, 2013 / 5:55 pm

      Ive been writing about coincidence this morning, Lisa. Sometimes where books are concerned it seems too eerie to be comfortable. Thank you for the recommendation. I really enjoy reading letters providing they are well edited. I take it Charlotte Mosley is Diana’s daughter. I’ll definitely look out for a copy of this to have as a bedside book and read a section every night.


      • Lisa December 28, 2013 / 6:01 pm

        It’s a massive book, even in paperback. Charlotte Mosley is Diana’s daughter-in-law. She also edited the book of letters between Deborah & Patrick Leigh Fermor, and three books of Nancy’s writings (letters & essays).


      • Alex December 28, 2013 / 6:04 pm

        So I see. I’ve just ordered a secondhand copy in good condition because I can see I’m going to want it longer than the library would let me keep it!


  2. litlove December 28, 2013 / 10:02 pm

    I really enjoyed the Mary Lovell book about the Mitford family: The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family. It was extremely readable, and they are a fascinating family! There’s also Jessica Mitford’s memoir, Hons and Rebels, which I haven’t read but which is supposed to be very good. I’m also very fond of The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate (though the latter is a book of two halves, oddly different in tone). But Mitfords in any form are pretty entertaining.


    • Alex December 29, 2013 / 6:14 pm

      Thanks for the recommendations, Litlove. I am definitely going to look out the Lovell book. I’ve read Jessica’s letters but didn’t know there was a memoir, so that’s going on the list for later in the year.


  3. BookerTalker December 29, 2013 / 11:31 am

    Can you imagine going into any branch of Waterstones or Barnes and Noble and asking to borrow a book. I think we know what the recto would be which is why we need these independent booksellers.


    • Alex December 29, 2013 / 6:16 pm

      I’m not sure even an Independent would let you do that in these money strapped times, Karen. To be fair, when I worked for W H Smiths in the early 1970s we were allowed to take hard backs home to read as long as we took the cover off first.


  4. heavenali December 29, 2013 / 7:06 pm

    So glad you enjoyed this.
    The Pursuit of Love is a must – it is hilarious and wonderful and very autobiographical – famously so, and so is a great place to start. A wonderful biography and maybe the best is ‘The Mitford Girls’ by Mary Lovell. I also loved Anna De Courcey’s bio of Diana Mosely.


    • Alex December 30, 2013 / 3:20 pm

      That’s two votes for the Lovell so it goes onto the list after the collection of letters from all six of the sisters. I love reading other people’s letters!


      • heavenali December 30, 2013 / 3:29 pm

        The letters of six sisters edited by Charlotte Moseley is really excellent as is jessica Mitford’s Hons and Rebels. There is also a very good biography of Nancy by Selina Hastings – who I think is also distantly related to the family (I may be wrong there)


  5. Stefanie December 30, 2013 / 4:53 pm

    I love books of letters and these sound absolutely delightful! I’ve not read any of the Mitfords though I always mean to. Perhaps I will manage this in 2014 and it will be my introduction to them!


    • Alex December 30, 2013 / 6:03 pm

      This is a very slim volume and thus lovely for just slipping inside a bag or large pocket when you’re out and about, Stefanie. I can heartily recommend it.


  6. Harriet January 22, 2014 / 7:07 pm

    Hello, came across your post as I have just finished the Letters book and wanted to know a bit more about Heywood Hill. However, it was interesting to read your post and the responses. I’m very surprised no one has suggested the Ur Mitford tome, Jessica’s “Daughters & Rebels.” (English title is a little different, I think). It seems to me that the Mitford ethos-mythology would be impenetrable without understanding the family dynamics. Although Jessica’s memoir has been critiqued and worse by her sisters and others for minor points, all agree that she caught the particular Mitford tone and established the template in her book. I knew Decca a little bit when I lived in California and found her charming and undiminished, even after her stroke.


    • Alex January 23, 2014 / 3:23 pm

      I’ve read Jessica’s letters but nothing else by her. I’ll have to look and see just what this is called here and whether or not it is available. Thanks for the suggestion.


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