The Horse-lovers Bookshop
J. A. Allen & Co. – the very words evoke an ethereal mystique, a whispered memory from a lost time.
You could get a taxi at Heathrow and ask for, “The Horseman’s Bookshop.” The driver would take you straight there.
“The Horseman’s Book Shop”, as the London establishment was almost universally known: the essence of the turf captured and preserved within the countless tomes that lined its shelves.
The world of horses, traceable, in print, recorded, touchable, studious, fun and above all thick with passion, and all you had to do was reach out and pick up a book.
Most of them a passionate homage to the sport of horse-racing and its multifarious characters, be they human or equine.
The old shop is long gone, as is Mr Allen, but the spirit of that wonderful establishment lives on in those who were blessed to have passed through its doors – blessed to have felt the wonderment those books could bestow.
The Hon Andrew Li is one of the fortunate.
An Honorary Steward of HKJC, and with a list of achievements most notable in a distinguished legal career that took him to the highest position in the Hong Kong judiciary, that of the First Chief Justice of the HKSAR.
He first stepped through the door at J. A. Allen sometime in the late 1970s.
The impression was one of the sparks that led to Mr Li lovingly compiling his own personal collection of racing books, a library of 206 editions that he has now generously donated to the HKJC.
“I cannot remember how I got into J. A. Allen but I remember the first time I went there I was astounded, because it was a treasure trove,” he recalls. “The first few times, I went through virtually every single book on flat racing.
“It was rather quaint and old-fashioned, with old racing paintings and photographs on its walls. Whenever I visited London I spent hours there going through the books they had, and buying those that interested me. Mr Allen himself was often there and he was very knowledgeable.”
The Racing journalists were always popping into the shop.
Some saw Lester Piggott climbing the stairs inside one day.
Mr. Allen told the spectators later that Piggott had complained that he didn’t understand why he didn’t make any money out of the books written about him.
“Funny I didn’t get a penny out of them.” He muttered to Mr. Allen.
The business changed with the Internet and computers popularity and Mr. Allen was finally forced to retire.
The flame died, the moths of equestrian literature were no longer drawn to the fires of his small but worthy publishing business.
The old shop closed and there were many tears.
It was the end of something so deeply special only those who really went and lived in J. A. Allen understood its true importance in the world of horse-lovers.
Mr. Allen’s father published the ‘Sporting Luck.’ magazine.
He died when Mr. Allen was 16 in 1926 leaving his son a legacy of a building in Bloomsbury (rented) a collection of equestrian books
Acknowledgment to The Honourable Andrew Li Kwok-nang for relevant content.