Remembering Watford’s Book and antique dealer John Carr from the Carr Bookstore
John Taylor Carr was a true worthy of Watford. Her shop at 50 Queens Road attracted those of us who enjoyed spending hours browsing the volumes that were literally stacked up to the ceiling. The company was founded at the turn of the 20th century by his father, John EC Carr, as an antique store just a few doors down from Queens Road.
Every square inch of wall space at Carrs was filled with books on every topic under the sun but, despite the apparent mess, a request for a particular book or topic was met in an instant. He knew where every imaginable volume was and enjoyed discussing the merits of different authors. He was assisted by his sister Annie Taylor Carr, who lived above the store. Carrs was a traditional, moldy second-hand bookstore that I used to haunt when I was young; a store that was easily spotted from afar as each day Mr. Carr carried outside a wooden table and bookcase which he filled to capacity and more with books. At the end of the day, he dutifully brought them back to the store.
Annie and John Carr at 50 Queens Road. Photo courtesy of John Carr
In addition to used books, Mr. Carr sold records, including old 78s; stamps and accessories and antique and second-hand furniture. He was a registered auctioneer. In the 1950s and 1960s he had an auction business and held regular sales of general items and antiques in the Derby Road auction rooms, based in a large detached house called Brentor near Gladstone Road. It was the former home of Trewins’ Arthur Trewin department store in Queens Road (renamed John Lewis in 2001).
Carr Bookstore, 50 Queens Road, 1978. Mr. Carr at the entrance
Mr Carr was well known beyond Watford and visitors came from far and wide to discuss their needs with him. The then president of Phillips Auction House was one of his regular customers and Sir Richard Stafford Cripps, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Minister of Economic Affairs and Chairman of the Board of Trade, passed by when he was in Watford. Mr Carr lived with his wife Elsie in Derby Road until the property was demolished during the first phase of Watford’s regeneration program.
John Taylor Carr was one of three children of John EC Carr, the prominent Victorian artist and craftsman of Scottish descent with ties to the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Young John and his sister Annie were immortalized as cherubs by their father in his commission D’Oyly Map Memorial Window, while an adjacent angel bore the likeness of Jane Morris, the wife of designer William Morris. The stained glass window was placed in the Savoy Chapel in London in memory of Richard D’Oyly Carte, producer of the Gilbert and Sullivan comedy operas and unveiled by Sir Henry Irving in 1902.
The D’Oyly Map Memorial Window in the Savoy Chapel in London. Image courtesy of the Chancellor and Council of the Duchy of Lancaster
I remember well an imposing relief plaster panel, part of a frieze that John EC Carr had designed for the walls of the dining room of the Savoy Hotel in London, on the right wall in Carrs.
John Taylor Carr was born in 1891 and served with Lawrence of Arabia in World War I. He was mentioned in dispatches and Lawrence himself sent a letter of appreciation to his mother, who then lived at 90 Vicarage Road. After the war, Mr Carr ran the Eel Pie Island Hotel in Twickenham, a popular ballroom and tea dance hall in the 1920s and a favorite haunt of socialites and royals from the ‘era. He and Elsie had a son, Dennis. Following in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps, he ran a second-hand store at 82 Queens Road, above which his father John and Elsie, his mother, lived in their later years. Dennis’ son John, an internationally renowned musician and restorer and curator of antique furniture, is a former Royal Warrant holder of HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH The Prince of Wales. He recently retired after a 60-year career, although he is still involved in music.
John Taylor Carr spent many years at 50 Queens Road, flanked by the photography business of Theodore Greville Studios and Albert Dunn, wallpaper dealers. My penultimate visit to Carrs was in 1978, when Mr. Carr was still actively running the company at the age of 86. He willingly posed for photographs inside and outside his shop. Shortly after, I returned with the photos for him and asked for his signature on the back of one. He wrote âFrom an old friend my bookseller, J. Carr. The old ennobled shop, now Lord Street ‘. His sense of humor, always just below the surface, shone through.
Mr. Carr and Bookie the Cat at 100 Queens Road in the late 1980s. Photo courtesy of John Carr
Although he sold his books to a dealer in Hay-on-Wye, he began to accumulate them again in the following years. Surprisingly, at the age of 94, he took a five-year lease at 100 Queens Road, near Loates Lane, and adopted a cat who frequented the store.
The truly indefatigable John Taylor Carr passed away on February 12, 1991 at the age of 99.
Today Watford’s once-unknown charity shops are filled with second-hand books. But the unique experience of discussing titles and authors with the irrepressible scholar John Taylor Carr in his unforgettable old-fashioned bookstore gem is now a thing of the past.
- With a big thank you to John Carr, the grandson of John Taylor Carr; and Richard Buck, Steward, Chapel of the Queen of Savoy.
Lesley Dunlop is the daughter of the late Ted Parrish, a well-known local historian and documentary maker. He wrote 96 nostalgic articles for the ‘Evening Post-Echo’ in 1982-83 which have since been published in ‘Echoes of Old Watford, Bushey & Oxhey’, available at www.pastdayspublishing.com and Bushey Museum. Lesley is currently working on ‘Two Lives, Two World Wars’, a companion volume that explores the life and war experiences of her father and grandfather, in which the story of Watford, Bushey and Oxhey will again be on. scene.