In 1989 when I first came to Brighton from antiquarian Norwich I little expected to find an equivalent to Thomas Crowe, or the Scientific Anglian. But to have the shops of Colin Page and Holleyman and Treacher within a minute’s walk of each other was exhilarating. Rather than join my Art School colleagues in the pub at lunchtime I headed for Duke Street. Appropriately, Holleyman and Treacher’s building was originally a Temperance Hotel and, I think, occupied five floors, three of which were opened to the public in 1989.
David Plumtree was an enthusiast and knowledgeable about books in ways I had not encountered before, with a wicked dry wit that made it all a delight. His business partner was Michael Kadwell, whose speciality was the musical scores and text books on the floor above the general office. Regular customers such as Canon Wiggins and David Watkin were allowed to sit and gossip here.
I had encouraged David Plumtree to describe his celebrated clients and their little ways, Maggie Smith, Dudley Sutton, Dennis Healey and Tom Jackson of the Post Office Workers. At some stage he may have mentioned a steady customer, one David Watkin, not the architectural historian or the cellist, but the cinematographer of The Charge of the Light Brigade. One lunchtime, I looked into the office and David Plumtree asked me what I had thought of Out of Africa, as if my response would settle an issue. “Fucking awful,” I think I also used the phrase, “A Crock of Shit”, a view I hold to this day.
Realising my response had generated particular delight within the office among concealed figures, I swiftly added, “But the Photography was beautiful…” out of sheer self-preservation.
Roaring with laughter at my predicament and subsequent fancy footwork, Mr. Watkin appeared from behind the door and signed me up for Supper the next day. Alert to the danger of this auspicious moment being seen as a Gay Pickup, he swiftly added, “and bring your partner….”
That’s how it all started, suitably in a book shop.
David Watkin had been a H&T customer for a very long time, and the first entry in his manuscript book of purchases starts in 1976 with Bunny’s History of Music from Holleyman’s at £100.00. In the next year he spent £250.00 on a limited edition of Yeats’ poems. As we gathered books together for sale, it was poignant how many contained what David Plumtree recognised as his original pricing. “See!,” he added with glee, “high prices even then.”
One of the attractions of the Watkin Visit to H&T was the evident bristling whenever Watkin met Kadwell. Michael and I giggled later about this hostility. “You know, we really didn’t get on.” This was an understatement, if you had ever witnessed the hauteur, sniping and general bitchiness for yourself. A further critical note I must add about Mr.Watkin’s cavalier attitude to the purchase of the book. He assumed automatically it would be wrapped and delivered in the day.
“Run it on down to Sussex Mews later on”, he would drawl over his shoulder in an airy way. It was very much the attitude taken by Snobs to Tradesmen in Dickens.
“Don’t you do it!” Michael would growl after the customer left. But being of a good nature, David Plumtree would find himself in the late afternoon in the Mews, leaving the brown paper packet on the Hall Table and taking tea to Bruckner.
“And what sort of a Socialist behaves like that?” I would accuse on several similar occasions. Mr.Watkin would look at me from under lowered lids and grin mischievously. Not even when he found 98 typographic mistakes in the last draft of Clara Schumann, did David Plumtree receive the acknowledgement his devotion merited.