9 Highgate High Street,
Tel: 020 8348 8202
In a small village, nestled at the top of a hill in North London, sits historic Highgate Village known for its atmospheric cemetery which features in several Hammer Horror films.
Its history can be traced back to around 1354 when the Bishop of London erected a tollgate in the vicinity around his estate. Legend has it that Dick Whittington, of Christmas pantomime fame, sat on a milestone on Highgate Hill as he made his way to his family’s Gloucestershire home. According to the story on hearing the distant strike of Bow Bells (the bells of St Mary Le Bow church in the City of London’s Cheapside district), young Richard decided to turn back. It was an inspired move as he went on to make a name for himself as a wealthy London merchant and politician.
The village’s fortunes prospered through the decades, especially in the late seventeenth century where it also witnessed a major architectural boom. Some of the houses from that period remain to this day (with a hefty price tag to match!) along with some local landmarks notably The Flask pub which has been serving the community since 1663.
The village is also home to my local independent bookstore appropriately named The Highgate Bookshop. I pop in most weeks as I prefer to support it rather than large mail order mavericks. Why, you might ask? The difference is the proprietors have read every book in the shop. If you’re browsing and not quite sure what you’re after, just tell the staff about your favorite books and authors and like magic they come up with an excellent recommendation.
In my opinion, it is everything an independent bookstore should be. The staff are friendly, while the shop is packed with a connoisseur’s selection of literary classics and popular fiction, in addition to the week’s list of bestsellers. The general fiction section covers two long walls and has an astonishing variety of titles. Shelves are groaning under the weight of an impressive mix of new releases, and what’s even better is that the shop never runs out of the most desired book of the day. Today it is Hilary Mantel’s ‘The Mirror and the Light’, the concluding part of her award-winning Wolf Hall trilogy. This shop is not just for adults as it also caters to the literary needs of younger members of the community. An area has been set aside at the back for young adults and children to sample the varied selection of what is on offer.
This bookshop is an absolute gem that also does a wonderful job serving a creative community of locals, many of whom are writers, directors, actors and musicians. Where else in London can you bump into Jude Law, Terry Gilliam, Simon Callow and Ray Davies on the same day?
The Highgate Bookshop is one of London’s best-kept secrets. It is a magical spot, which tempts you into escaping to another world before any author inevitably does.