Francis Wright's Weblog

W & A Houben (Houben’s Bookshop – a Richmond Institution)

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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.

Church Court in Richmond, as viewed from the Parish Church. The bookshop is 2nd and 3rd on the left, in the days when they sported a children's section as well.

Church Court in Richmond, as viewed from the Parish Church. The bookshop is 2nd and 3rd on the left, in the days when they sported a children’s section as well.

They gave every appearance of not taking prisoners, and of not putting up with timewasters. The brave got to know them, and to value their expertise, their dry humour, and their generosity. They were a highly intelligent pair – he an art historian, a refugee from Nazi Germany, whose speciality was Renaissance painting; she a formidable and very English bluestocking – a type that has all but vanished nowadays.
They knew their books and their stock and their customers, and were unfailingly helpful to those who were serious readers and book lovers. They supplied local schools, colleges and libraries, passers-by, and a legion of devoted regulars, like me. Their basement held an inexhaustible wealth of secondhand treasures, readily plundered by the keen, usually on a Saturday morning, especially if it was raining.

HOUBEN'S BOOKSHOP 2005 - 2

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.

We will not see the like of Houben’s Bookshop again, more’s the pity. Fifty-one years in a community is a long time, and its customers owe it their heartfelt thanks.
A wood-engraving by Hilary Paynter. It shows the premises of W & A Houben, Booksellers, in Church Court, Richmond, Surrey.

A wood-engraving by Hilary Paynter. It shows the premises of W & A Houben, Booksellers, in Church Court, Richmond, Surrey.

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Written by Francis Wright

August 14, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorised

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3 Responses

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  1. Hi Francis, I suggest that you’ll make a documentary of the years at Glengyle Preparatory School in the sixties as posted on your Blog. Kind Regards Lars

    Sendt fra min iPhone

    > Den 16. aug. 2014 kl. 19:56 skrev “Francis Wright’s Weblog” : > > >

    Lars Hornslien

    August 16, 2014 at 10:28 pm

  2. I only found this shop in recent years but it was a treasure. Sadly so many quality second-hand bookshops are closing now, wonder where the stock went?

    Gerald Baxter

    November 23, 2014 at 11:31 pm

  3. Very sad to hear Houbens has closed, i shopped there for forty years.

    Louise

    December 24, 2014 at 5:06 pm


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