Thursday 10 November 2022

London Launch of Fifty Forgotten Books

Maggs Bros, Bedford Square, London, 6th October 2022

Ed Maggs and his staff very kindly hosted the third of our launches for Fifty Forgotten Books. Maggs Bros is one of the oldest and most prestigious bookshops in London, and also the most welcoming. (Rosalie and I both saw Ed Maggs last in Haworth for the handover of the tiny Charlotte Bronte Book of Ryhmes—a really magical occasion.) The Maggs stock is beautifully curated and eclectic, and wandering into their shop is like entering Ed’s front room or private office.


It was good to see a number of old friends, customers and family for the evening. As part of my talk I read the chapter from Fifty Forgotten Books on Roland Topor’s The Tenant, a book that has always been close to my heart. As with my intention in York to read a few pages relating to The Grimoire Bookshop, at the last minute fate stepped in to alter the story—this time in a positive manner.

My chapter on The Tenant ends:

I have never seen the first edition of the English translation of The Tenant in any bookshop. They only seem to exist online, where they are horribly expensive. When Millipede Press published a limited-edition hardback edition in 2006 I received a copy as a gift from the publisher, and have kept it, but I couldn’t part with my Bantam paperback with stills from the film reproduced on the cover. I have since written an Introduction to the Valancourt Press edition, which means I have three copies. If I ever find a first edition that I could afford, that would mean I’d have four. It remains an ambition!

Just before the evening event at Maggs Bros, Rosalie and I happened to be walking past Jarndyce Books in Museum Street and there, in the centre of their window display, was a copy of the first British edition of The Tenant. Of course I had to buy it, although it ruined the last line of the reading!

First edition of Roland Topor’s The Tenant

The Maggs evening went very well, even though I disparaged Frederick Rolfe’s prose, which provoked some heckling, not least from Ed Maggs himself.

A highlight of the evening for me was Ed sharing a letter from a small Machen archive that dates from the author’s Amersham years. In it, Machen explained to a correspondent how to get to Amersham, and explores the difference between "Saturdays only" and "Saturdays excepted":

“this is, probably, a metaphysical statement . . . the Tables, you observe, get what Coleridge called “the Idea” rather than the fact . . . So again, certain buses start from “the Crescent, Amersham”. There is no Crescent in Amersham, nor anything like a Crescent - that is in the phenomemal world. But I make no doubt that there is a super-sensible or noumenal Crescent. A solemn thought.” 


Fifty Forgotten Books can still be ordered here:


Wednesday 9 November 2022

York Launch of Fifty Forgotten Books

 Lucius Books, 144 Micklegate, York, 29th September 2022

The second event to promote Fifty Forgotten Books was at Lucius Books, generously hosted by James Hallgate and Monica Polisca. Lucius offers some of the most beautiful books (and artwork), and the launch was a well-attended and convivial occasion.

One of the subjects I discussed was the number of secondhand bookshops trading today compared to the past. In my teenage years (the 1980s) I frequented the many secondhand bookshops in Brighton, and it is very sad that there are none left today. However, on the whole, the number of bookshops in the country appears to have increased. I pointed out that one of the many losses for Brighton was the Grimoire Bookshop, run by Catherine Walton. I planned to read my account of her shop from Fifty Forgotten Books, pointing out that it specialised in esoteric, magical and occult books. I also planned to mention that, although the shop suddenly disappeared in the 1990s, it was fortuitous that it later reopened, very conveniently for us, in York. In both of its incarnations, Grimoire was one of those shops stuffed to the rafters with inexpensive paperbacks among which there was always something interesting to buy.

I invited Catherine Walton to Lucius for the launch, but she did not reply. Just before the event, I went round to the shop, only to discover that Grimoire Books was no longer there.


I asked what had happened in the (new) Little Apple Bookshop two doors along, and was told by the owner that she had arrived at work just a few days before to find that Grimoire had “done a midnight flit”. The big mystery was not that it had closed (York shop rents are very high and running a secondhand bookshop is incredibly marginal), but how Catherine had removed, unnoticed by anyone, in just one night, such a vast stock, and all the fixtures and fittings. Perhaps the clue is in the sign on the door stating that the shop had been “repossessed”. This implies that it was formerly “possessed” (by Catherine, of course). With her knowledge of the occult perhaps she used magic to spirit away her stock!

Midjourney impression of Catherine removing the stock from Grimoire Books


York lost Stone Trough Books a few years ago, and recently Ken Spelman’s closed. I also hear that Fossgate Books may be closing (and going online). All the more reason to visit Lucius Books when in York!


Fifty Forgotten Books can still be ordered here:


Tuesday 8 November 2022

Sheffield Launch of Fifty Forgotten Books

Sheffield City Library, 22nd  September 2022 

Ray and Rosalie

It was entirely appropriate that the first date of my ‘tour’ to promote the publication of Fifty Forgotten Books was Sheffield City Library, as this was where Tartarus Press was given its name in 1989. I was an architecture student at Sheffield University at the time and, in researching at the library the very first Tartarus publication, The Anatomy of Taverns (a guide to Arthur Machen’s favourite pubs, published in 1990), I came across the following wonderful description of Sheffield in the First World War by Machen:


In the red flames of the setting sun, in the fury of its own furnaces, in the mists of the winter evening, in the fume of its multitudinous chimneys, Sheffield appears something strange and wonderful. The smoke rises up from the valley, and the evening comes down from the sky, and so all the buildings on the hills of the city, houses and towers and swarming streets, show like the battlements of a goblin castle, almost as if they were queer cloud-shapes that might presently be resolved and vanish away.

There are two men talking together, who have something singular in their aspect. And though Sheffield is a city that has become altogether modernised, there are yet left a few old nooks and corners in it; and so these two men are sitting in the snug bar of the Black Swan, a bar that might serve as a model for the bar-parlours of the great Pickwickian age. For in the Black Swan you sit warmly and at ease within the bar, not coldly without it as in our modern taverns, and the firelight dances on the many-coloured bottles, and glitters on the bright brass rails that run behind the seats. Also, the bar is shaped like a boat, and has a confusion of great beams in its ceiling, and a tendency to harbour odd-shaped cupboards in corners; I don’t know what more mortality can ask.

The Black Swan, c. 1918, known locally as the Mucky Duck, is in the centre of this photo of Snig Hill, Sheffield

But as to the two men who are sitting side by side in this snug place; there is, I say, something singular in their aspect. They are middle-aged fellows, one with a medal on his waistcoat—‘ah wanted t’ go agen at start of it all, but tha wouldn’t have me’—and they are having something hot. They say at decent intervals; ‘eh, missus, t’ lemon is good’ and ‘have some more . . . lemon. But I can't make out the queer bloom on their cheeks. ‘Carmine No. 3’ it looks like; only it appears as if it had been annealed, or burnt into the flesh. And this, indeed, is the case.

They are hesitating and looking at the clock before praising the lemon, once more. They have promised to be home by half-past five, and then four hours sleep, and so back to work again by ten. They are munition workers. And ‘they reckon sixty-six hours a week hard work in peace time; now it is ninety hours a week.’ ‘And sometimes a hundred or a hundred and ten,’ adds the other. They are smelters engaged in the Siemens process. And that bloom on their cheeks? That comes from standing at a couple of yards distance from a furnace, which develops sixteen hundred degrees of heat. It is trying work, they say; every now and again a smelter faints and has to be carried away to have cold water thrown on him. The younger man expresses his opinion that the only treatment for the smelter’s ills is beer. In this, of course, the man was mistaken, since very high scientific authority assures us that any form of alcohol is ruinous both to health and efficiency . . .

I was told that I should find Sheffield very dull and comfortless. Not at all; it is infinitely more cheerful than London. There is a certain darkening of lamps, a certain caution about the illumination of the shop fronts; but to a Londoner Sheffield at night seems a bright and glittering place. The street lamps are capped so that no rays go upward; but a pure light falls on the roadway; not the brown fog and green fog which make London a place of nightmare and despair. They told me that there had been a darker regimen, but that it had been abandoned a few weeks ago; either because it was judged to be more dangerous than Zeppelins, or (as some thought) because it was considered useless to draw green blinds and put out street-lights in the town, while the great furnace flamed out into the night. So the big hill streets of Sheffield struck me as gay. And they were full of people, and the shops were full, and the market was full, the cafes were full. There was a happy and a prosperous air on everything, and on everybody; a sense of plenty in the place that was very comfortable.

Indeed, they told me that the town was doing very well indeed. The smelters with the scarlet faces were earning five and six pounds a week each; in some households, where all were working at munition making the weekly receipts might amount to twenty pounds or more. Though Sheffield may have to go back to its raging fires and its molten metal very early on St Stephen’s Day, I feel sure that Christmas will be observed with high festivity.


Elsewhere, based on his experiences of the red glow of the furnaces and apparent festivity, Machen referred to Sheffield, ironically and affectionately, as Tartarus (a minor region of Hell) – hence the name chosen for Tartarus Press.


The Sheffield City Library launch went well, with more than 40 attendees, and afterwards we retired for further refreshment and lively conversation to The Brown Bear on Norfolk Street. Built at around 1800, The Brown Bear predates most of the buildings in the surrounding streets. As there has been a pub on the site for over 200 years, it would certainly have been serving beer when Machen visited the city.


Outside the Brown Bear, Sheffield, l-r: Stefan Tobler (And Other Stories), Ray Russell, Rosalie Parker and Nikita Zankar (And Other Stories).
Fifty Forgotten Books can still be ordered here:

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