We may have the mammoth Waterstones Gower Street right on our doorstep, but don’t forget UCL is also in a prime position when it comes to independent booksellers. With giant retailers like Amazon gradually monopolising the industry, it has never been more important to support small businesses and shop local. So venture off campus and join us on this bookshop crawl, featuring some of the finest indies in Bloomsbury.
1 Bloomsbury Street
Bookmarks is a specialist in socialist material and the largest bookshop of its kind in the UK. Rummaging through their stands, you’ll find books both new and second hand. There are traditional pamphlets to guide you through their principles, brand new magazines detailing cutting-edge political thought, as well as a small selection of self-published radical titles. Bookmarks represents all aspects of left wing ideology, from trade unions and class tensions, to environmentalism, feminism, and LGBTQ+ rights. Browsing their collection is a sure fire way to engage your inner activist.
49A Museum Road
We move from the radical to the mystical to find Atlantis, which proudly stakes its claim as London’s oldest occult bookshop. A family-run business, Atlantis’ eclectic mix of stock covers anything from fairies, vampires, and werewolves to the more millennial-friendly topics, such as yoga, meditation, and positive psychology. Staff will happily point you towards practitioners of alternative therapies, engage you in a tarot card reading or perhaps try and hand-sell you their self-published magical titles. Whether you’re looking to further your knowledge in the world of occult or only dabble in occasional witchcraft, Atlantis has you covered.
London Review Bookshop
14-16 Bury Place
For a more traditional literary experience, around the corner on Bury Place you will find the distinctive windows of London Review Bookshop. Opened in 2003 by the famed literary magazine London Review of Books, the shop has come to serve as a cultural haven for the thoughtful book browsers of Bloomsbury. Each table is filled with meticulously curated displays and knowledgeable staff recommendations to guide you towards the next bestseller or highlight an undiscovered gem. Don’t miss their jam-packed events schedule of readings and debates or the adjacent LRB café – in fact, stop off at the latter for some delicious tea and cake.
59 Lamb’s Conduit Street
Both bookshop and publisher, Persephone founder Nicola Beauman works to unearth forgotten female writers and reprint their works of fiction and non-fiction. The name was plucked from Greek mythology as an emblem of female creativity and new beginnings, reflecting the company’s core aim. But beyond the rediscovery of exceptional writing, Persephone also believe in the value and pleasure of a beautiful book. Each is a stunning collector’s item, jacketed with a distinctive grey cover and unique period endpapers. I challenge you to leave without one for your own shelves.
Gay’s the Word
66 Marchmont Street
Founded in 1979, Gay’s The Word is the only bookshop in the UK dedicated to LGBTQ+ literature. Historically a place for support groups and sharing information, the shop is still very much community centred and has a distinctive friendly atmosphere. Not only are they a figurehead of political campaigning (watch Stephen Beresford’s BAFTA award winning film Pride if you haven’t already), Gay’s The Word has also provided unwavering support for writers in the LGBTQ+ community over the years. They have a fantastic range of fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poetry and much more, and frequently host book groups and discussions.
82 Marchmont Street
Wander a little further up the street to find the trademark green awning and bold typeface of Judd Books. In contrast to the pristine alphabetised shelves of chain bookshops, Judd has all the charm and individuality you would expect from a local bookshop. From floor to ceiling, shelves are rammed with high quality books on every subject. Given that you may be feeling slightly out of pocket at the end of this tour, Judd is the perfect place to finish – their books are either second-hand or discounted new titles so there is always a bargain to be found.
This article was originally published in Issue 721 of Pi Magazine.