Housmans Bookshop

Nuggets – bite size chunks of London

Housmans Bookshop

Lau­rence Hous­man was a younger broth­er of the poet AE Hous­man. Lau­rence enjoyed some suc­cess as an illus­tra­tor, poet, play­wright and author and was a founder mem­ber of the Men’s League for Women’s Suf­frage and the Peace Pledge Union. With the sup­port and assis­tance of oth­er lead­ing paci­fists, he opened the orig­i­nal Housman’s Book­shop (with an apos­tro­phe in those days) on Shaftes­bury Avenue in Octo­ber 1945. By then Lau­rence Hous­man was 80 years old and he did not play an active role in run­ning the store, but it had been his idea and it was named in his hon­our. Faced with an unaf­ford­able rent increase, the shop closed after three years and its trad­ing name passed to Peace News, which ran a mail-order book­selling busi­ness based in Fins­bury Park.

In 1958 the book­shop reopened at its present loca­tion at the south­ern end of the Cale­don­ian Road in King’s Cross, with Peace News occu­py­ing the building’s upper floors. The simul­ta­ne­ous emer­gence of the Cam­paign for Nuclear Dis­ar­ma­ment helped the new shop to get off to a strong start. Over the years, Hous­mans broad­ened its stock­list to embrace all aspects of pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics.

In every way, this is not your typ­i­cal book­store. For a start, the place feels gen­uine­ly wel­com­ing instead of a mar­ket­ing manager’s idea of wel­com­ing. The shelves sparkle with every vein of rad­i­cal­ism, from the shop’s found­ing ethos of paci­fism to any oth­er ‑ism you can think of and a few you prob­a­bly can’t. The Sit­u­a­tion­ism sec­tion alone is almost as big as Water­stones’ Para­nor­mal Romance sec­tion. There are cards, posters, t‑shirts and badges and oth­er cam­paign­ing para­pher­na­lia.

The Lon­don Writ­ing sec­tion is cho­sen with knowl­edge­able care and there’s a wide range of mag­a­zines, all threat­en­ing to stim­u­late your brain instead of numb­ing it. Down in the bar­gain base­ment, sec­ond­hand books are priced at £1 each. The shop also hosts reg­u­lar talks, debates and book launch­es.

Oper­at­ing on a not-for-prof­it basis and hav­ing acquired the building’s free­hold when it first arrived here, Hous­mans is immune to the lure of plu­to­crat­ic lucre. A few years back, when prop­er­ty spec­u­la­tors start­ed to move in on the King’s Cross area, one devel­op­er tried to acquire the book­shop:

“No thanks,” said Hous­mans.

“I’m seri­ous,” the devel­op­er replied. “I want this build­ing. Name your price.”

“We’re seri­ous too,” said Hous­mans. “We’re stay­ing right here.”
Housmans Bookshop