Put on some comfortable shoes, grab a decent sized bag and a pocket full of change because here is a walking tour of my top second hand book shops in London.
Each store on this walk is on and around the wonder of Charing Cross Road. An area that combines enigmatic buildings you will never enter because you don’t have enough money, back alleys you will never enter because they are too terrifying and shops you will never enter because you didn’t go in the first time and now you’ll never find them again. Charing Cross road and it’s subsequent attachments contain some of the most densely packed areas of books shops in London, some new, some second hand, some antique, some mad. I have chosen my favourite in the second hand and vintage variety, and of course, as this blog specialises in, the best places to pick up a great second hand mystery book at a great price.
The book walk begins at Leicester Square Station and heads north, ending up at the Wellcome Collection in Euston, with each bookshop close to the last on a winding literary road. It is a great walk to go on anytime, but my book hunt tends to be on the first Tuesday of each month, just after 2 o’clock. The reason for which will become apparent further down this post.
1: Any Amount of Books
56 Charing Cross Rd, WC2H 0QA
Starting at Leicester Square tube station head north on Charing Cross and it won’t be more than a few strides before you hit a huge row of book shops with titles pouring out the doors. The first along this row, (and the reason I start this tour here) is Any Amount of Books.
This is simply my favourite second hand book shop in London. The store is split over two levels with a sprawling paradise of first editions, vintage and second hand books stacked all over. The shelves are brilliantly organised and most importantly, there is a large crime bookcase located at the very back of the basement floor. Make sure to grab a set of step ladders as treasures can be hiding in the heavens.
The shop is open 10:30-21:30 everyday and the staff are always excited and helpful which makes it a perfect visit anytime of day.
2: Quinto and Francis Edwards
72 Charing Cross Rd, WC2H 0BE
Take a right out of Any Amount of Books, and a few doors down you will arrive at the second shop in our tour, Quinto and Francis Edwards. The Francis Edwards part of the name refers to the first floor of the shop, containing the esoteric, the rare, the first edition and the estates of the famous-now-deceased. The Quinto part of the name is what we want, and is also the reason that I start my books hunt just before 2 O’clock. Quinto is the second hand basement part of the store, and boasts a huge selection of fantasy, history, poetry, literary theory and at the right time, vintage crime. On the first Tuesday of every month, the shop closes to completely restock the Quinto basement with new acquisitions, reopening at 2 O’clock. If you arrive at the right time you can find some absolute gems.
There is sometimes a bit of a cue, so arrive early if you want to be in first! Or if you are not up for silent, awkward bustling for the best material, head down once the initial wave has died down. Quinto is also great for a visit anytime, and all sorts of things can come out of the woodwork when you spend time.
3: Oxfam Bookstore Bloomsbury
12 Bloomsbury St, WC1B 3QA
A short walk past Tottenham Court Road Station with a sweeping right and left will bring you to the Oxfam Bookstore. If you follow this route, on the way you will also come across the wonderful mystery that is Little Compton Street. A secret street buried underground beneath Charing Cross road. If you look through the grates in the middle of the road, you can see the underground street sign. The Marmont Road Bespoke Detective Agency, a London based Detective agency that deal with the unsolved and the unexplained took the mysterious street on as a case at a client’s request: here.
But back to the tour. The Oxfam Bookstore on Bloomsbury is one of the bigger book shops of the Oxfam, second hand world, and is a real highlight of this journey. The shop is really well put together, with a great feel, and stocks a great selection of everything, with particularly good sections on gender and sexuality, social sciences and a brilliant art department. The crime bookshelf stocks a lot of modern crime fiction, with some vintage nestled in, but the real vintage crime is usually hidden on the antiquarian literature shelf close by. They also have a lovely Monday-Sunday bookshelf, with ideas for books for everyday of the week, and they often group titles together from the same writer around the shop and sell them as bundles with special offer price.
Now at this point on our journey, it is advisable to take a little break because the next section is going to be big! You could pop onto the wonderful London Review book shop (a non secondhand book shop!) and grab a coffee in their adjoining cafe. Now you have recharged a little, and rested your shoulders from your massive bag of books it’s time for the big one.
4: Skoob Books
66 Marchmont St, WC1N 1AE
A walk across Bloomsbury Square park and past Russell Square tube station will bring you to Skoob Books. Snuck round the back of the 1960’s designed Brunswick centre Skoob books is the biggest second hand book shop in London. Across their 2000 sq ft of shelves they stock around 55,000 books, with 5000 being replaced each month (I’m not joking).
Their crime section is a beast, and they have the biggest selection of green Penguin Crime Classics I have ever seen (check the top image for proof). There are stools around to sit on as you browse, and the prices are good. They also do student discounts, and sometimes run 20-30% off weeks, so look out for that.
5: Judd Books
82 Marchmont St, London WC1N 1AG
After the monster that is Skoob you need a little flourish to finish your book shop journey and just a few hundred meters up the same road you’ll find Judd Books ready and waiting.
Judd is another two floored paradise, with only a small crime section, but a few gems knocking around, including a few old Penguin crime books. They also have a lovely poetry section and I usually use this time in the journey to pick up a Faber and Faber book of a specific poet, and take in a little linguistic healing.
At this point, you are most definitely replete, and a few minutes round the corner from Judd is the amazing Wellcome Collection.
The Wellcome Collection if you don’t know is a large scale, esoteric museum space, which has had amazing exhibitions on such diverse topics dirt, criminal forensics, sex, language and mental asylums. It also has an amazing book shop with new titles on popular science, psychology, philosophy, art and publications which accompany the show. Take a break in their cafe and grab something to eat, before taking in one of their exhibitions. And if you want to start reading some of your second hand finds straight away, you can head upstairs to their reading room for a bit of quiet and well designed peace. Website here.
Since writing this post at the beginning of my blogging journey it has become one of my most popular articles, for which I am very glad. I have also, since publishing this, come across a number of other second hand bookshops in other areas of London that are wonderful. So if you are hungry for more, I add them to list growing list here:
6: Black Gull Books – Camden
70-71 Camden Lock Pl, Primrose Hill, London NW1 8AF
Nestled into the wonders of Camden Lock (with an awesome puzzle shop just next door) is the marvellous Black Gull Books. Vintage paper back and Crime is out pride of place at the front of the shop. If you are looking for a crime classic you have to have hit it at the right time, but when you do it’s magical. I found the entire works of Leo Bruce here, alongside some top tier green Penguins to add to my list. There is also much to gain from digging inside the store too with some great esoteric titles.
7: Walden Books – Camden
38 Harmood St, London NW1 8DP
A little walk from Black Gull and hidden down a little leafy street you will find Walden Books. A sprawling, eccentric cornucopia of titles this shop operates out the front of a victorian house. Green penguins are dotted throughout the front, with some more rare crime titles for those with a bit of extra money are on the shelves inside. This place has been going since the 70’s and is still run by the same proprietor.
8: Pages of Hackney – Hackney Central
70 Lower Clapton Rd, London E5 0RN
This absolute gem I found out about through author and activist friend Sarah Corbett. This has one of the most well curated classic crime sections I have come across. The owners told me that the section is specially curated by a classic crime fan who used to run a store under one of the many bridge archways in London before he was closed down. It is also another gorgeous shop to spend time in, and you’ll always come out with something. Second hand titles are downstairs, and some sprawl out the front as well.
9: Black Gull Books – East Finchley
121 High Rd, East Finchley, London N2 8AG
Making you way almost to the top of London’s famous Northern Line, is worth it to get to Black Gull’s second bookshop in East Finchley. Opened in 2007 after the success of their Camden store, this book shop is simply beautiful and is worth visiting just for to see the interior. There are lovely sofas, nooks and crannies and the shop also hosts mini acoustic gigs from time to time. There is also the interesting addition of something they call ‘The Museum of the Book’ which is a collection of strange things that Black Gull have found in second hand books over the years. Crime works are in and to the left, not always overly stocked, but when the penguins and paper back are updated it’s a real goer.
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Well that’s all folks. Maybe I’ll see you along the way at some point. You can find me crouched low or stretched high in the crime section, with a backpack of books, seeking out an unfound locked room mystery on my list.