Booksellers Provident Retreat

Abbots Road, Abbots Langley, WD4 8LT


In 1837 a group of influential members of the book trade founded the Booksellers Provident Institution, a charity for the "mutual assistance and support of decayed booksellers and booksellers' assistants, being members of the trade, and of their widows".

In 1842 the leader of the group, John Dickinson, a paper manufacturer, donated a 3-acre plot of land near his country estate in Abbots Langley on which to build almshouses for poor elderly booksellers and their spouses.

Fund-raising began and, by 1845, there was enough money to begin building. The foundation stone for the almshouses was laid on 3rd September of that year by the Earl of Clarendon.

The Booksellers Retreat opened in 1846. The terrace of seven almshouses provided accommodation for retired members, or their widows, who were receiving annuities from the Booksellers Provident Institution.

In 1847 a gatehouse was built at the south of the site. The residents, however, could access the almshouses from Kings Langley station; as keyholders, they could pass through a locked gate on the London platform to a pathway leading directly to the estate (the pathway is now a tunnel under the M25).

In 1962 the Booksellers Provident Institution merged with the National Book Trade Provident Society. It became the Book Trade Benevolent Society.

In 1965 the number of almshouses were increased. Eight single-bedroom bungalows were built along the driveway. Another eight were added in 1969. In 1978 another eight were built. Many of the bungalows bore plaques with the name of their sponsors, for example, publishers Longman, Chatto, Harrap and Collins.

In 1979 the original almshouse building was named Dickinson House. It was Grade II listed in 1985.

In 1987 eight of the bungalows were upgraded.

In 2006 a community centre was built following a £400,000 donation from the Foyle Foundation. It was named the Foyle Centre. The building also contains four apartments on the upper floor, named after T.S. Eliot, and supported by Old Possum's Practical Trust.

In 2009 four of the bungalows were rebuilt as townhouses, giving a total of 36 dwellings on the estate, including the seven original almshouses in Dickinson House. The charity was renamed the Book Trade Charity (BTBS).

In 2013 the Retreat had 37 residents.

In 2016 the charity merged with the Bookbinders Charitable Society, after which the Bookbinders Cottages in Whetstone came under the control of the Book Trade Charity (BTBS).


Current status

The Retreat continues to serve its original function. The site now contains 18 bungalows, 4 townhouses, 4 apartments and a gatehouse, as well as the original 7 almshouses. The Book Trade Charity (BTBS) is responsible for its management.

N.B. Photographs obtained in October 2020

Booksellers Retreat

The gatehouse was built in 1847. It is now named Dillon Lodge, after Una Dillon, who founded Dillon's Booksellers.

Booksellers Retreat

The Retreat is located discreetly off Abbots Road.

References (Accessed 28th November 2020)

(Author unstated) 1845 Booksellers Provident Retreat.  The Literary Gazette (6th September), 595-197.

(Author unstated) 1846 Opening of the Booksellers Provident Retreat. Illustrated London News (25th July), 60.

Bart J 2010 A Retreat of a Different Kind. Watford Observer, 27th January.

Hill GM-F 2018 The Book Trade Charity. CIEP blog. (1) (2) (1) (2)

Last updated 28th November 2020

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