Portrait of a bookseller: the pacifist

Portrait of a bookseller: the pacifist

 As several observed in conversations for my research on ‘This book is about Heffers’, the bookshop was a haven for many interesting characters.

 R D Littlechild (1889-1974)

R D Littlechild, Heffers 1937
R D Littlechild, Heffers 1937

Sidney Heffer, son of the firm’s founder, wrote in the 1950s,

‘It would be impossible to detail the numerous errand boys, apprentice boys and assistants who entered our employment but mention may here be made of a few who coming to us in almost the beginnings of really vital things have cast in their lot with us and stayed the course.’

Gratitude is sent out to a few who could tell the story of Heffers from a different point of view, including R D Littlechild, appointed as bookselling apprentice in 1903, as recorded in the first company Minute Book,

‘D. Littlechild, entered apprentice for 5 years at 2/- per week on April 25th 1903’

Duncan Littlechild, a strong pacifist who disapproved of Churchill, actively discouraged customers at Petty Cury from buying Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples in the 1950s,

‘you don’t want to buy that old rogue’, he would say.

Considered as old school by his colleagues at this time, he would often be observed as ‘kowtowing’ to academic customers on the telephone.

During the First World War Littlechild was a prisoner of war. In November 1917, The Cambridge Independent reported,

‘LANCE-CORPL. R. D. LITTECHILD – Mr. E. Littlechild, 2, Park-parade, has received the following letter from an officer regarding his son, Lance-Corpl. R. D. Littlechild of the Royal Scots: “I regret to be the bearer of news which will cause you great anxiety and suspense, but your son, Lance-Corpl. R. D. Littlechild, went into an attack on the 2nd of this month, and it has been so far impossible to ascertain anything definite regarding his fate. None of the company who arrived saw him hit, but several fell in to the hands of the enemy. You will have to wait patiently, perhaps several months, before hearing news. He was a cheerful and brave soldier, and a highly efficient N.C.O.” Lance-Corpl. Littlechild had been in France since June. He was formerly employed by Messrs. Heffer and Son, Petty-cury.’

Thankfully, he survived and returned to his job at Heffers to continue his distinguished 54-year career. Like many booksellers, Littlechild had great wit and a fantastic memory for faces and books. He was outstanding in debating circles and enjoyed debates against Cambridge undergraduates. On his retirement from the firm in 1957, the Cambridge Press reported that generations of publishers’ travellers had called on him and he always liked to remember the more leisurely days of the early part of the century when the traveller would call in his silk hat and with his bag of books pushed on a barrow from the station by an outside porter.

This post is dedicated to those who went over the top.

‘This book about Heffers’ will be published 1st November 2016, and will be available from Heffers Bookshop, Trinity Street, Cambridge, UK

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