Charing Cross Road (revisited)

So many years ago, in 2002, I wrote this on this blog:

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.

And I repost it here because Ashley Pomeroy has just added this comment–thirteen years on–and it would be a shame if nobody ever saw it ever:

2002. Thirteen years ago although my instinct is that 2002 was only three years ago. Google brought me here while I was writing a blog post of my own; thirteen years later Charing Cross road is still clinging on, although it seems in terrible shape.

The Crossrail extension has transformed the northern end of it into a building site and post-2002 the rents skyrocketed, and a lot of the shops have either closed or seem to have been gutted spiritually.

It’s interesting because I’m nostalgic for the Charing Cross Road that Chris Brooke gave up on. I fondly remember the large Borders and the shops selling used synths and DJ gear and guitars; but even then I remember thinking that the new-fangled internet and eBay was going to wipe them out, and nothing since 2002 has convinced me that there is a future in used bookshops in central London, or any shops apart from shoe shops.

But as this post suggests, Charing Cross road has been in decline forever. I wonder if people in the 1980s were convinced that Charing Cross road’s heyday was the 1960s? And perhaps people in the 1960s fondly recalled the 1930s, etc forever.

2 thoughts on “Charing Cross Road (revisited)”

  1. Confirming Ashley Pomeroy’s suggestion, inevitably my answer is ‘not as good as the old one’. On the plus side, they’ve still got a good range of titles that you don’t find in most bookshops. When I was last in London I paid a visit to the new Foyles for the first time and bought both what I was looking for (‘The British in Rural France: lifestyle migration and the ongoing quest for a better way of life’ by Michaela Caroline Benson) and something found randomly while browsing the shelves (‘Crucible of Resistance: Greece, the eurozone and the world economic crisis’ by Christos Laskos and Euclid Tsakalatos). They also still stock my book! However the general atmosphere is too slick, corporate and Waterstones-like compared to the old Foyles: the top floor cafe gave off an indefinable whiff of irritatingness. But I also stopped off to chat to the ‘Love Activists’ homelessness campaigners who’d just been evicted from their occupation of the former Nat West Bank building on the other side of Charing Cross Road, and had a salt beef bagel at Gaby’s Deli, so it was not a wasted visit altogether.

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