HAMPSTEAD’S BURGH HOUSE was constructed in 1704 and retains many of its original architectural features. Several of its rooms house a fascinating museum with exhibits relating to the history of Hampstead. I have visited the museum many times, but it was only today (the 9th of March 2023) that I noticed a model penguin on display. This used to stand inside High Hill Bookshop, which was located on Hampstead High Street. Founded by Ian Norrie in 1956, it remained in business until 1988.
During my childhood, in the 1950s and 1960s, I used to visit Hampstead almost every Saturday morning with my parents and my sister. We used to park the family car near to Jack Straws Castle, which is close to Whitestone Pond – one of the highest spots in London. Then, we would walk down Heath Street and along the High Street until we reached High Hill Bookshop. My parents were keen to encourage my sister and I to read. Therefore, every time we visited the bookshop, we had to choose one book each, which they purchased for us. I cannot recall all of the books I chose, many of them Puffin paperbacks, but I do remember that during these visits I gradually built up my collection of the adventures of Tintin by Hergé.
According to an article (https://jessicanorrie.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/the-best-independent-bookshop-in-london/) by Norrie’s daughter, Jessica Norrie, there was a party for Penguin Books held in the shop in 1960. The model penguin, which I saw in Burgh House today, was in attendance at that party back in 1960. I was eight in 1960, but I am afraid that I cannot remember seeing the penguin. It must have been in the shop during some of my visits, but then my interest in choosing a book was greater than looking for model penguins.
The penguin in the museum is black and white. On the white section of the bird’s belly, there are words, including “October 12th, 1960. High Hill Bookshop Silver Jubilee Party” and, also, some signatures. One of the signatures is that of Allen Lane, founder of Penguin Books. He died 10 years after the party. Another signature is that of the novelist Olivia Manning, There are several other signatures, but I found them too difficult to decipher.
Seeing the penguin at Burgh House brought back happy memories of my childhood and, at the same time, made me sad because High Hill Bookshop was irreplaceable. Waterstone’s, which followed in its wake, although well-stocked, lacks the charm of Ian Norrie’s wonderful creation.
You can read more about Hampstead past and present in my recently published book “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs”, which is available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/BENEATH-WIDE-SKY-HAMPSTEAD-ENVIRONS/dp/B09R2WRK92/