As everyone who lives here knows, spring in London doesn’t just signal daffodils in window boxes and budding trees in squares. It signals building projects. The whole city seems to be in a state of upheaval – ‘streets broken through and stopped; deep pits and trenches dug in the ground; enormous heaps of earth and clay thrown up . . . piles of scaffolding, and wildernesses of bricks’. That sounds like today, but in fact it’s Dickens in Dombey and Son describing the coming of the railway to Camden Town. London is forever changing and it’s certainly doing so now around the Slightly Foxed office in Hoxton Square – still fortunately a small haven of quiet, though only a few minutes’ walk from the gleaming office blocks of the new ‘Tech City’ rising around Old Street tube station.
The area around the Slightly Foxed Bookshop on Gloucester Road has been changing too. The coffee shops and pâtisseries are moving in and rents are rising, as indeed they are in the rest of central London. We’ve had a great deal of pleasure from the bookshop since we took it over in 2009 and it’s been the scene of many convivial launches and get-togethers. But with our lease on the premises coming to an end, very sadly we felt it was time to let it go. As those of you who receive our email newsletter will already know, Slightly Foxed on Gloucester Road closed at the end of January. We’ll be giving thought to other ways of continuing our bookselling activities, but for the time being we’ll be concentrating on Slightly Foxed itself and all that goes with it, and on our book publishing programme.
Mention of which brings us to the latest of the Slightly Foxed Editions, Diana Petre’s The Secret Orchard of Roger Ackerley (see p.14) – a fascinating account of a very strange childhood, which reads more like a detective novel. Diana and her older twin sisters grew up in South London, in the care of an elderly housekeeper, their mother having abandoned them shortly after Diana’s birth in 1912. She didn’t return until 1922. One of the highlights of the children’s lives was visits from a kindly man they knew as ‘Uncle Bodger’. As was finally revealed, he was in fact the children’s father, who lived in happy domesticity with his second family down the road in Richmond. It was a strange situation, and at a time when illegitimacy was an absolute social taboo, a necessarily well-kept secret. But the mystery at the heart of the book is the real identity of Diana’s elusive mother. It’s an extraordinary story, told with humour and entirely without self-pity – another perspective on the account her half-brother Joe Ackerley gave in his famous memoir My Father and Myself.
This spring we’re also adding another title to the Slightly Foxed Cubs, Ronald Welch’s vividly detailed series of children’s books following generations of the Carey family as they serve their country from the Crusades to the First World War. Mohawk Valley opens in 1755, when young Alan Carey is sent to the colony of New York to look into the estates of his father the Earl (see p.41). It’s a stirring coming-of-age novel, in which Alan confronts the challenges of the virgin forest and renders vital service to General Wolfe during the capture of Quebec. The two final novels in the series will be out this autumn so if you are interested, now might be a good moment to plug any gaps you may have while the earlier titles are still available.
And finally, many congratulations to the winner of our 7th crossword competition, C. W. Hastings in Berkshire, who receives a free annual subscription. For those still grappling with the clues, you’ll find the answers on p.95.