History of Watkins: The Early Years
Over a century ago, Watkins, the “University of Rejected Sciences”, was born. In March 1893, John M. Watkins issued the first second-hand and remaindered book catalogue in his own name, giving 26 Charing Cross in the centre of London as his business address. He eventually moved the business to its present famous site at No.21 in Cecil Court in 1901. Two frequent visitors in those very early days were the Irish poet W.B. Yeats, himself a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and G.R.S. Mead, author of numerous works on gnosticism and a prominent figure in the Theosophical Society.
John Watkins was a friend and disciple of H P. Blavatsky and was himself personally involved in seeing the first edition of The Secret Doctrine, her great metaphysical classic, through his printing press. The ideal of founding the bookshop is said to have occurred to Mr Watkins in a conversation with Madame Blavatsky in which she lamented the fact that there was nowhere in London one could buy books on mysticism, occultism and metaphysics.
Watkins was joined by his son Geoffrey (aka "Nigel") in 1919. John M. Watkins died on the 19th August in 1947, venerably aged 85. As a child Geoffrey met many of the leading occult figures of the time; MacGregor Mathers, W.B. Yeats, George Russell, Aleister Crowley, all visited the shop and A.E. Waite was a lifelong friend of Geoffrey Watkins, as were many other occult authors. After the death of his father, Geoffrey acquired the lease to No.19 Cecil Court. Geoffrey continued to run the day-to-day business, a veritable walking encyclopaedia of philosophy, religion, and the paranormal. At this point Stuart and Robinson, wealthy and regular customers associated with the Gurdjieff and Ouspensky movement arrived to help. They bought Geoffrey Watkins out and rejuvenated the shop, but kept him on as a genteel backroom presence to advise the inquisitive customer on hand.