John Taylor Carr was a true Watford worthy. His shop at 50 Queens Road drew those of us who enjoyed spending hours browsing the volumes that were literally stacked to the ceiling. The business was originally founded in the early 20th century by his father, John E.C. Carr, as an antique shop which was located a few doors away on Queens Road.

Each square inch of wall space in Carrs was filled with books on every topic under the sun but, despite the apparent disorder, a request for a particular book or topic was fulfilled in an instant. He knew the whereabouts of every conceivable volume and delighted in discussing different authors’ merits. He was assisted by his sister Annie Taylor Carr, who lived above the shop. Carrs was a traditional, musty second-hand bookshop that I haunted as a youngster; a shop that was easily spotted from a distance because every day Mr Carr carried outside a wooden table and bookcase which he filled to capacity and more with books. At the end of the day, he dutifully took them back into the shop.

Watford Observer:

Annie & John Carr at 50 Queens Road. Picture courtesy of John Carr

As well as second-hand books, Mr Carr sold records, including old 78s; stamps and accessories and antique and second-hand furniture. He was a registered auctioneer. In the 1950s and 1960s he had an auction business and held regular sales of general items and antiques at the Derby Road Auction Rooms, based in a large detached house called Brentor near Gladstone Road. It was the former home of Arthur Trewin of Trewins department store in Queens Road (rebranded as John Lewis in 2001).

Watford Observer:

Carr's Bookshop, 50 Queens Road, 1978. Mr Carr at the entrance

Mr Carr was well known beyond Watford and visitors came from far and wide to discuss their requirements with him. The then-Chairman of Phillips Auction House was one of his regular customers and Sir Richard Stafford Cripps, one-time Chancellor of the Exchequer, Minister for Economic Affairs and President of the Board of Trade, would call by when he was in Watford. Mr Carr lived with his wife Elsie in Derby Road until the property was demolished during the first phase of the Watford regeneration scheme.

John Taylor Carr was one of three children of John E.C. Carr, the prominent Scottish-born Victorian artist and craftsman with connections to the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Young John and his sister Annie were immortalised as cherubs by their father in his D’Oyly Carte Memorial Window commission, whilst an adjacent angel bore the likeness of Jane Morris, designer William Morris’ wife. The stained-glass window was positioned in the Savoy Chapel in London in memory of Richard D’Oyly Carte, producer of Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas and unveiled by Sir Henry Irving in 1902.

Watford Observer:

The D'Oyly Carte Memorial window in the Savoy Chapel in London. Image reproduced by permission of the Chancellor and Council of the Duchy of Lancaster

I well remember an imposing plaster relief panel, part of a frieze that John E.C. Carr had designed for the walls of the dining room in The Savoy Hotel in London, on the right-hand wall in Carrs.

John Taylor Carr was born in 1891 and served with Lawrence of Arabia in World War I. He was mentioned in dispatches and Lawrence himself sent a letter of appreciation to his mother, who was then living at 90 Vicarage Road. After the war, Mr Carr ran the Eel Pie Island Hotel at Twickenham, a popular ballroom and tea dance venue in the 1920s and a favourite haunt of socialites and Royals of the time. He and Elsie had one son, Dennis. Following in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps, he ran a second-hand shop at 82 Queens Road, above which his father John and Elsie, his mother, lived in their later years. Dennis’s son John, a musician and internationally respected antique furniture restorer and conservator, is a former Royal Warrant Holder to HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH The Prince of Wales. He has recently retired after a career spanning 60 years, although he is still involved with music.

John Taylor Carr spent many years at 50 Queens Road, flanked by Theodore Greville Studios’ photographic business and Albert Dunn, wallpaper merchants. My penultimate visit to Carrs was in 1978, when Mr Carr was still actively running the business at the age of 86. He willingly posed for photographs inside and outside his shop. A short while afterwards, I returned with the photos for him to see and requested his signature on the back of one. He wrote ‘From an old friend my Bookseller, J. Carr. The old shop knighted, now Lord Street’. His sense of humour, always just below the surface, shone through.

Watford Observer:

Mr Carr and Bookie the cat at 100 Queens Road in the late 1980s. Picture courtesy of John Carr

Although he sold his books to a dealer at Hay-on-Wye, he began to accumulate them again during the following years. Amazingly, at the age of 94, he took a five-year lease on 100 Queens Road, near Loates Lane, and adopted a cat that frequented the shop.

The truly indefatigable John Taylor Carr died on February 12, 1991 at the grand age of 99.

Now, charity shops in Watford unknown in the old days are filled with second-hand books. But the unique experience of discussing titles and authors with the knowledgeable and irrepressible John Taylor Carr in his unforgettable little gem of an old-fashioned bookshop is now relegated to distant memory.

  • With many thanks to John Carr, John Taylor Carr’s grandson; and Richard Buck, steward, The Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy.

Lesley Dunlop is the daughter of the late Ted Parrish, a well-known local historian and documentary filmmaker. He wrote 96 nostalgic articles for the ‘Evening Post-Echo’ in 1982-83 which have since been published in ‘Echoes of Old Watford, Bushey & Oxhey’, available at and Bushey Museum. Lesley is currently working on ‘Two Lives, Two World Wars’, a companion volume that explores her father’s and grandfather’s lives and war experiences, in which Watford, Bushey and Oxhey’s history will take to the stage once again.