Where new writing finds its voice
Literary London

Keith Fawkes

Anna Goodall

Anna Goodall plucks up the courage to talk to a boy about a bookshop

I first discovered this bookshop when I was still at school. At that stage, I spent far too much time in the NW3 area going to miserably boring parties during which I tended to spend my time praying that a boy would talk to me. Thankfully, my socially doomed forays into one of the most affluent areas of London were not without a silver lining.

The bottle-green-painted shop is nestled in a small pedestrian alley just off the main high street. On entering for the first time I may well have blushingly exclaimed some banality along the lines of ‘Oh my God! … This is … amazing!’ And, indeed, it’s all you could want in a second-hand and antiquarian bookshop. As one message poster on a bibliophile internet site gushed: ‘This is one of my favourite places in the whole world … I have three first editions from this shop and regiments of Green, Proust, Bulgakov … and lots more.’

Inside, customers are left to scour the shelves uninterrupted in an anonymous but friendly gloom, occasionally squeezing past each other politely in the narrow space. Every possible inch, from the stairs to the cash desk, is crammed with books, and there’s that cheerfully distinctive smell of old paper that brings immediate comfort to bookworms everywhere. I couldn’t resist asking the owner, Keith Fawkes, whether he knows where everything is. He makes no claim to this feat, but insists that his mother does, and that he couldn’t run the shop without her.

Keith purchased No.1 Flask Walk in 1966, and later expanded to No.3. The street is so-called because of the natural springs that lie beneath it, and he informs me that many pieces of eighteenth-century glassware and ceramics have been excavated from the cellar of No.1. Although the shop has a good range of very reasonably priced second-hand books, it’s perhaps best known for its first editions and rarities. Fawkes tells the story of a torn and inauspicious brown paper parcel sent to the bookshop from the US (the full contents of which, he now suspects, did not reach him intact) which, when opened, contained incunabula – that is, some of the very few surviving books to have been printed before 1501.

Hampstead being the genteel and arty place it is, the shop boasts a few well-known patrons: Melvyn Bragg, Kingsley Amis (who seems to have had a nose for a good bookshop) Peter O’Toole and Michael Foot are all past or present customers. Of the last, Fawkes recounts a charming anecdote. Another customer approached Foot in the shop, clutching Foot’s own book, and asked him whether it was worth buying. The honourable gentleman replied in the affirmative, but gamely advised him to ‘knock them down a bit’ – the book was priced at 50p.

On my last visit there (which was to be a strictly browsing assignation) I picked up a 1951 Penguin edition of Waugh’s Put Out More Flags and a guide to Highgate by John Betjeman for a mere £2. Part of the shop’s charm is that you always find an unusual or diverting book that you really didn’t know you needed until you walked in. It’s this variety that makes the shop such a delight to browse and buy in – pay a visit, and you’ll struggle to come out without a bag. 


Keith Fawkes
1–3 Flask Walk
London NW3 1HJ

T 020 7435 0614