This week’s New Statesman comes with a special supplement on “Ken’s London”, the usual pullout which doesn’t have a great deal of interest in it, except (this time around) for an article on the decline of the Charing Cross Road. Not having lived in London for ten years now, I haven’t really been paying attention, but the story Richard Lewis tells is a very sad one. The Charing Cross Road Bookshop closed two years ago, what used to be the excellent Waterstone’s is boarded up, the Silver Moon Bookshop is moving inside Foyle’s, moving off its old premises after being faced with a rent rise of 65% from its landlords at the Soho Housing Association which also affects some of the other specialist shops there.
In the late 1980s, the strip of bookshops along the Charing Cross Road was the middle of London for me: virtually all visits would follow the same pattern, of walking over Hungerford Bridge from Waterloo Station, heading up the Charing Cross Road, and not quite knowing where to go by the time I reached Centre Point. (Often enough to the British Museum, if it was still open by the time I got there). Collett’s, of course, is long gone and much missed: it was firebombed for stocking The Satanic Verses in 1989, and I don’t think it ever really recovered from the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. And there are too many chains towards the northern end of the road. But these recent changes seem more fundamentally threatening to the character of the place. Fleet Street stopped being Fleet Street a couple of decades ago. It will be a great shame if the Charing Cross Road follows suit.