When Jake Fior, secondhand book dealer and former producer to Pete Doherty, found an antique chessboard featuring hand-paintings by original ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ illustrator Sir John Tenniel, he knew he had to do something extraordinary with it. ‘I thought, I have to open a shop dedicated to Alice,’ he tells me. Not everybody’s first conclusion, you might think. But Fior is not a conventional man.
‘I wanted it to take you on a trip from the repressed Victorian madness of Lewis Carroll to the free expression of ’60s psychedelia,’ he says. If that sounds a bit bonkers, well, frankly, it is. But bonkers shops are something London does very well, and it’s easy to be charmed by this peculiar little shop on Cecil Court, a curious alley lined with specialist bookshops just off St Martin’s Lane. The chessboard, now hanging in a frame at the back of the shop and worth an estimated £100,000, has been replicated – you can buy your very own brand new version, handmade in England and gilted in real gold, for £3,500.
Luckily, there are plenty more affordable Alice-inspired collectibles. Fior has scoured the country’s antique markets and junk shops to find all sorts of Lewis Carroll oddities including many first and early editions of both ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and its sequel ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’, as well as framed illustrations, Victorian top hats and chess pieces.
Even curioser is Harley, a giant live white rabbit who lives in the shop window, with burrows connecting him to further living quarters beneath the shop frontage, and a pen which includes a picture of a carrot and a sexy snap of Jessica Rabbit for leporine titillation. The surreal vibe of the shop extends to the bookshelves, where Fior indulges his passion for the ’60s by selling unusual psychology books from the era, and playing the 1966 Jonathan Miller version of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ on a reconditioned retro spaceman TV. Enchanting and appealingly odd.