13 June 2022

In search of books and
the lost bookshops of
Charing Cross Road

No 84 Charing Cross Road is no longer a bookshop (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

During a visit to London last week, two of us walked along Charing Cross Road in search of some of the best-known and some of the lost bookshops of London.

Charing Cross Road, north of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields and Trafalgar Square, is still known for specialist and second-hand bookshops. From Leicester Square station to Cambridge Circus, the street is home to antiquarian, specialist and second-hand bookshops. Between Cambridge Circus and Oxford Street, the street includes more generalist bookshops.

Foyles was once listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest bookshop in terms of shelf length, at 30 miles (48 km), and for number of titles on display. It was a tourist attraction in the past and was known for its literary lunches and for its eccentric business practices.

Foyles moved from 111-119 Charing Cross Road to 107 Charing Cross Road, once the premises of Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design. It was bought by Waterstones in 2018 and now has a chain of seven shops in England.

A plaque at 84 Charing Cross Road recalls Helene Hanff’s search for books and her correspondence (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The New York-based writer Helene Hanff had a 24-year correspondence from 1949 with Frank Doel, the chief buyer of Marks & Co, antiquarian booksellers on Charing Cross Road. She was in search of obscure classics and British literature titles that she could not find in New York.

The books she bought ranged from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and John Donne’s Sermons to the writings of Samuel Johnson and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.

Their exchange inspired her book 84 Charing Cross Road (1970). It has been made into a film starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins (1987), and also into a play and a BBC radio drama.

Charing Cross Road still has a selection of second-hand bookshops (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Like so many other premises, 84 Charing Cross Road is no longer a bookshop; it eventually closed in December 1970. It is now part of a McDonald’s outlet, with its entrance around the corner in Cambridge Circus. A brass plaque on a stone pilaster facing Charing Cross Road commemorates the former bookshop and Hanff’s book.

Helen Hanff was searching for obscure books she could not find in New York. She and Doel developed a long-distance friendship and their letters discussed diverse topics, from the Brooklyn Dodgers and the coronation of Elizabeth II, to how to make Yorkshire Pudding,

I first came across her book many years ago, and so appropriately, on a table in Zozimus Bookshop in Gorey, founded in 2011 by the late John Wyse Jackson. It was one of the most unusual second-hand and antiquarian bookshops I have visited in many years, and ranked alongside David’s in Cambridge and the lost and much-lamented Staffs Bookshop in Lichfield.

Every town and city deserves a good second-hand bookshop.

‘84 Charing Cross Road’ … an appropriate find in a second-hand bookshop (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying with the Psalms in Ordinary Time:
13 June 2022 (Psalm 110)

‘You are a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek’ (Psalm 110: 4) … Melchizedek (right) and Aaron (left) in a window by Heaton, Butler and Bayne in Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In the Calendar of the Church, we are now in Ordinary Time. Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections from the seasons of Lent and Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 110:

Psalm 110 is sometimes known by the Latin name Dixit Dominus because of its opening words. In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is Psalm 109.

Psalm 110 is considered both a royal psalm and a messianic psalm, associated by some commentators with the king’s coronation. The psalm is usually dated in its first part in the pre-exilic period of Israel, sometimes even completely in the oldest monarchy.

This psalm is the most frequently quoted or referenced psalm in the New Testament, and it is often seen as cornerstone in Christian theology, often interpreted as describing Christ as king, priest, and Messiah. Classical Jewish sources, in contrast, state that the subject of the psalm is either Abraham, David or the Jewish Messiah.

The Psalm opens with the words: ‘The Lord says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand’.’ (verse 1). The Hebrew word Adon and its plural Adonai (אֲדֹנָי) may be translated as ‘my master’ or ‘my lord.’ They are used in the Hebrew Bible as royal titles (see I Samuel 29: 8), and for distinguished persons. The plural is often used as a title of reverence for God, serving also as a substitute pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton.

So, it might be said, verse 1 could be translated as ‘The Lord spoke to my master.’ As David wrote this psalm in the third person to be sung by the Levites in the Temple in Jerusalem, from a Jewish perspective the Levites may be saying that ‘the Lord spoke to my master’ or to David.

However, many later Christian translations capitalise the second word ‘Lord,’ implying that it refers to Christ. Christ quotes this verse during his trial before the Sanhedrin (see Matthew 26: 64), referring to himself, and Acts 2: 34-36 states that this verse was fulfilled in the ascension and the exaltation of Christ.

Other references to this psalm in the New Testament include Mark 12: 36, 14: 62; Luke 20: 41-44; I Corinthians 15: 25; and Hebrews 5: 1-6, 6: 20, 7: 4-7, 7: 17-24. The psalm is cited in the Epistle to the Hebrews when the title ‘High Priest’ is ascribed to Christ.

Verse 2 says: ‘The Lord sends out from Zion your mighty sceptre. Rule in the midst of your foes.’ The Talmud (Nedarim 32a) and Midrash Tehillim say this psalm speaks about Abraham, who was victorious in battle to save his nephew Lot and merited priesthood.

According to the Avot of Rabbi Natan (34: 6), Psalm 110 is speaking of the Jewish Messiah in the context of the Four Craftsmen in Zechariah’s vision. Rashi, Gershonides, and Rabbi David Kimhi identify the subject of the psalm as David.

Jewish and Christian interpretations of this psalm also differ about the language in verse 4, which describes a person who combines the offices of kingship and priesthood, exemplified by the non-Jewish king Melchizedek.

Ostensibly, this could not apply to King David, who was not a kohen (priest). However, Rashi explains here that the term kohen occasionally refers to a ministerial role, as in, ‘and David’s sons were kohanim (ministers of state)’ (see II Samuel 8: 18).

Gershonides and Rabbi David Kimhi further state that the term kohen could be applied to a ‘chief ruler.’ In this way, the prophetic promise, ‘You are a priest for ever’ can be translated as ‘You will be a head and prince of Israel,’ referring to David.

The Latin text of this psalm has providing settings for vespers including Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610), and Mozart’s Vesperae solennes de confessore (1780). Handel composed his Dixit Dominus in 1707, and Vivaldi composed three settings for the psalm in Latin.

‘From the womb of the morning, like dew, your youth will come to you’ (Psalm 110: 3) … a morning walk in the grounds of the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon during a recent USPG conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 110 (NRSVA)

Of David. A Psalm.

1 The Lord says to my lord,
‘Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies your footstool.’

2 The Lord sends out from Zion
your mighty sceptre.
Rule in the midst of your foes.
3 Your people will offer themselves willingly
on the day you lead your forces
on the holy mountains.
From the womb of the morning,
like dew, your youth will come to you.
4 The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek.’

5 The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He will execute judgement among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter heads
over the wide earth.
7 He will drink from the stream by the path;
therefore he will lift up his head.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Focus 9/99,’ which was introduced yesterday by the Revd M Benjamin Inbaraj, Director of the Church of South India’s SEVA department.

Monday 12 June 2022:

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for the Church of South India and their work to promote and protect children’s rights.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org