As we brave the winter in London, you might be looking out for a new paperback to dig into as you lie cosy in your living room, unable to pop to the parks for a read (waiting patiently impatiently for the temperatures to pick up). The days might still for short for now, yes, but as long as your lamp is working, books have no limitation from lack of sun. Therefore, we may have just the place for you…
Packed with twenty-odd secondhand bookshops and antiquarian booksellers, it truly is a paradise for literature lovers. Just moments away from the hustle and bustle of Leicester Square, you’ll be surprised to stumble across such a peaceful gem. The shop fronts haven’t changed for over a century, so a walk through Cecil Court is like a trip back in time.
Inside the stores, you’ll find anything from rare books, collector’s copies and first-editions, to old stamps, maps, posters and banknotes. It’s thought to be the thoroughfare that inspired Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley and, with its eccentric shops—some of which are even associated with magical or psychic literature—it’s easy to believe.
One very fun fact about Cecil Court is that it was the temporary home of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart while he was touring Europe at the age of eight. The Mozart family stayed with a barber named John Couzin, and tickets for Mozart’s first London concerts were sold from his shop. There’s even a blue plaque to commemorate his very brief tenancy, because us Londoners love a cheeky claim to fame. Some say that it was while he was staying at Cecil Court that he composed his first symphony, but we’ll never know for sure.
Importantly, Cecil Court was also the business centre of the early British film industry, and therefore earned itself the second nickname, Flicker Alley. The first film-related company opened in 1897, and Cecil Court quickly became known as the place to buy or hire films. Pioneers of early British cinema Cecil Hepworth and James Williamson had offices on the street, alongside many international companies. During this time, all sorts of businesses opened along the alley; from equipment shops and rental companies, to foreign film dealers and companies specialising in cinema confectionery.
You’ll find Cecil Court just off Charing Cross Road, leading to St Martin’s Lane. Shops tend to open from about 10:30am until about 5:30pm, but this will vary.
Also published on Medium.