W & A Houben (Houben’s Bookshop – a Richmond Institution)
I first encountered W & A Houben in Church Court about forty years ago, when I was in my teens.
Dr Wilm Houben and his wife Anne seemed to be a rather fierce couple: he with his strong accent and very aromatic pipe, the smoke of which filled the shop in the days before a ban had even been dreamed of – and she with a cigarette holder and a businesslike tweed skirt.
The shop was host to a variety of visitors, not always there to buy books. I recall an aristocratic and elderly Richmond resident with mottled skin and white hair. Engaged in earnest discussion about life, art, politics and things of the universe in general, she turned out to be Tchaikovsky’s great-niece.
She had written a book of memoirs (As I Remember Them by Galina von Meck, published by Dobson in 1973.) It’s a fascinating read about the last days of Imperial Russia as seen by a small child.
After the retirement of Dr and Mrs Houben, the shop was sold to two of its staff, Chris and Denise Dunlop, who continued to run it with much the same flare and inventiveness until recent tragic circumstances overtook them. They made sure that this small island of culture, professionalism, and friendliness maintained a very special place in the lives of those who knew it.