In memory of the book and antique dealer John Carr from Carr’s Bookshop

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John Taylor Carr was a true Watford worthy one. His store on 50 Queens Road attracted those of us who enjoyed spending hours rummaging through the volumes, which were literally piled to the ceiling. The shop was originally started as an antique shop by his father, John EC Carr, in the early 20th century, who was a few doors down on Queens Road.

Every square inch of wall space in Carrs was filled with books on every subject under the sun, but despite the apparent clutter, a request for a particular book or subject was instantly fulfilled. He knew the whereabouts of all imaginable volumes and liked to discuss the merits of various authors. He was assisted by his sister Annie Taylor Carr, who lived above the store. Carrs was a traditional, musty second-hand bookshop that I haunted as a teenager; a shop that was easy to see from afar because every day Mr. Carr carried a wooden table and bookcase outside, which he filled to the brim with books and more. At the end of the day, he dutifully brought her back to the store.

Annie & John Carr at 50 Queens Road. Image courtesy John Carr

In addition to used books, Mr. Carr sold records, including old 78s; Postage stamps and accessories as well as antique and used furniture. He was a registered auctioneer. He ran an auction business in the 1950s and 1960s and hosted regular sales of general items and antiques at the Derby Road Auction Rooms, located in a large single family home called Brentor off Gladstone Road. It was the former home of Arthur Trewin of Trewins Department Store on Queens Road (renamed John Lewis in 2001).

Watford observer:

Carr’s Bookshop, 50 Queens Road, 1978. Mr. Carr at the entrance

Mr. Carr was known far beyond Watford and visitors came from far and wide to discuss their wishes with him. The then chairman of the auction house Phillips was one of his regular customers, and Sir Richard Stafford Cripps, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary of Commerce and President of the Department of Commerce, stopped by when he was in Watford. Mr Carr lived on Derby Road with his wife Elsie until the property was demolished during the first phase of the Watford renovation plan.

John Taylor Carr was one of three children of John EC Carr, the prominent Scottish-born Victorian artist and craftsman with ties to the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Young John and his sister Annie were immortalized as angels by their father on his behalf for the D’Oyly Carte Memorial Window, while an adjoining angel carried the image of Jane Morris, the wife of designer William Morris. The stained glass window was placed in the Savoy Chapel in London to commemorate Richard D’Oyly Carte, producer of the comic operas by Gilbert and Sullivan, and unveiled in 1902 by Sir Henry Irving.

Watford observer:

The D’Oyly Carte memorial window in the Savoy Chapel in London. Image courtesy of the Chancellor and Council of the Duchy of Lancaster

I well remember an imposing plaster relief panel, part of a frieze designed by John EC Carr for the walls of the dining room at The Savoy Hotel in London, on the right wall in Carrs.

John Taylor Carr was born in 1891 and served with Lawrence of Arabia during World War I. He was mentioned in dispatches and Lawrence himself sent a letter of thanks to his mother, who was then living at 90 Vicarage Road. After the war, Mr. Carr ran the Eel Pie Island Hotel in Twickenham, a popular ballroom and tea room in the 1920s and a favorite hangout for celebrities and royals of the time. He and Elsie had a son, Dennis. He followed in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps and ran a thrift store at 82 Queens Road, which his father John and mother Elsie lived above in their later years. Dennis son John, a musician and internationally renowned restorer and restorer of antique furniture, is the former royal warrant holder of HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH The Prince of Wales. He recently retired after a 60-year career but is still into music.

John Taylor Carr spent many years at 50 Queens Road, flanked by the photo business of Theodore Greville Studios and the wallpaper dealer Albert Dunn. My penultimate visit to Carrs was in 1978, when Mr. Carr was still an active manager at the age of 86. He willingly posed for photos inside and outside his store. A short time later I came back with the photos for him to see and asked for his signature on the back. He wrote: “From an old friend, my bookseller, J. Carr. Knighted the old shop, now Lord Street ‘. His humor, always just below the surface, shone through.

Watford observer:

Mr. Carr and Bookie the Cat at 100 Queens Road in the late 1980s. Image courtesy John Carr

Although he sold his books to a dealer in Hay-on-Wye, he began to amass them again in the years that followed. Amazingly, at the age of 94, he took out a five-year lease at 100 Queens Road near Loates Lane and adopted a cat who went to the store.

The truly tireless John Taylor Carr died on February 12, 1991 at the proud age of 99.

Today in Watford, unknown charity shops are filled with used books. But the unique experience of discussing titles and authors with knowledgeable and irrepressible John Taylor Carr in his unforgettable little gem of an old-fashioned bookstore is now a distant memory.

  • With great thanks to John Carr, the grandson of John Taylor Carr; and Richard Buck, steward, The Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy.

Lesley Dunlop is the daughter of the late Ted Parrish, a noted local historian and documentary filmmaker. In 1982-83 he wrote 96 nostalgic articles for the Evening Post-Echo, which have since been published in Echoes of Old Watford, Bushey & Oxhey, available at www.pastdayspublishing.com and at the Bushey Museum. Lesley is currently working on Two Lives, Two World Wars, a backing band that explores the life and war experiences of her father and grandfather and revisits the story of Watford, Bushey and Oxhey.


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