Human Interest

Hidden London: The Chelsea Rare Book Fair

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November is a busy time for most people. For independent authors it can be one of the busiest. Aside from the inevitable preparation for Christmas promotions, November includes National Authors’ Day on the 1st and National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo as it’s colloquially known). NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write 55,000 words toward a novel. The aim is to encourage would-be writers to finally make the move into putting pen to paper. November is also the month of the annual Rare Book Fair in Chelsea. It’s organised by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA). This year it was held in the Chelsea Old Town Hall. Though I was unable to make the fair this time around, my previous experience of the event was most enjoyable.

My friends and I had stumbled upon the fair by chance. We were in Chelsea visiting the Bluebird Cafe & Courtyard and walked past the Old Town Hall where the fair was being held. The moment I saw the banner outside I insisted we take a closer look. Even on its own, the Old Town Hall in Chelsea is impressive enough. With highly decorative, vaulted ceilings, wood paneled walls, and chandeliers, it was the perfect venue for such an event. I still remember the black and white floor of the corridor we came to after climbing the external stone steps and entering the building.

The fair is a smorgasbord of rare books, maps, manuscripts, and prints, et cetera. I found a beautiful volume containing colourful prints of ladies’ fashion from nineteenth century Paris. Needless to say I was tempted to buy it but, regrettably, it was beyond what I could justify spending on one book. That’s not to say the items found at the fair are beyond the financial means of would-be collectors. There were plenty of interesting and well-known volumes available to buy at more reasonable prices. In addition to the fashion volume, we saw first editions of James Bond novels, Alice in Wonderland, and much more. The sellers my friends and I spoke to were friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable.

The fair is in its 28th year in 2018 and is held each Fall. Though I didn’t purchase any books while I was there, it was definitely a fascinating visit. In addition to the sellers (of which there are many), the fair also has free themed guided tours for new collectors and speakers on a variety of subjects. There are three underground stations near to the Chelsea Old Town Hall; South Kensington, Sloane Square, and Gloucester Road.  Gloucester Road is the furthest away at 15 minutes’ distance. South Kensington is only 10 minutes’ away, so you’ll need to walk a short distance from the station to reach the Old Town Hall.

To find out more about the fair, you can visit the official website here: I’d highly recommend the fair to anyone thinking about taking up rare book collecting as a hobby. It’s also an interesting day out for anyone looking for something cultural to do in London that’s not a museum or walking tour.

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