Waugh’s Favorite Bookstore Profiled in Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair has published a brief history of Heywood Hill Books located in London’s Mayfair district. This is written by Francis Wheen. The shop was for many years Waugh’s favorite bookstore (or one of them at least). It was located next door to his barber, facilitating frequent visits, and was managed by his friend Nancy Mitford during WWII when its owner and founder was on active service. It was during her tenure at the bookshop that her regular correspondence with Waugh began. She left in 1945 after her income from Pursuit of Love freed her from the need to work:

Evelyn Waugh described the wartime shop as “a centre for all that was left of fashionable and intellectual London,” and it sounds like a riotous party. According to one chronicler, “All the literary beau monde and half the Free French Army were there.” When a rival bookseller shook his head over how small the premises were, Mitford explained that her customers “love being pressed bosom to bosom.” 

Waugh also described the shop in a letter to Dorothy Lygon dated 23 March 1944 as “the one centre of old world gossip left” (Letters, p. 182). It now belongs to the Duke of Devonshire who inherited it from his father in 2004. It went through rather a bad patch after its longtime manager John Saumarez Smith retired in 2008. But a suitable replacement was eventually found in the person of the Duke’s son-in-law Nicky Dunne. Although he had no experience in the book trade he loved passing the time in bookshops and has applied that to an advantage by turning the business around:

He appears to have been a quick learner. Annual turnover is back over £1 million. Heywood Hill will never compete with Amazon on price or the height of its stockpile, but what it can offer, like the Mayfair gents’ outfitters in nearby Savile Row, is bespoke tailoring that understands customers’ requirements more precisely than would a mere algorithm.

These special services include a book club tailored to the personal preferences of each member and the compiliation of complete libraries for individuals or even commercial accounts such as hotels. The shop is still located at 10 Curzon Street, W1.

This entry was posted in Letters, Newspapers and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.