Cecil Court rare books specialist and fine musician

Friday, 21st January 2011

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Published: 21 January, 2011
by JOSH LOEB

NIGEL Williams was a respected dealer in first editions in one of the West End’s most famous bookselling streets and a professional musician who regularly sang in his native Ireland.

He died on Christmas Eve, aged 48, after a long illness.

Born in 1962 in a small market town in Tipperary, Nigel’s mother was the headmistress of a local school and his father ran a hardware shop. 

He read history at Trinity College, Dublin, before being accepted onto a postgraduate singing course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

His interest in rare books began with collecting and he moved into the world of bookselling.

He started a shop, Nigel Williams Rare Books, in Cecil Court, WC2, in the mid 1990s but continued to sing and would regularly fly to Ireland to perform on weekends.

A bass-baritone, he was latterly involved in an ambitious project by the Orchestra of St Cecilia in Dublin to sing all of Bach’s cantatas over a 10-year period. 

His shop specialised in first edition crime and PG Wodehouse novels and he worked with the PG Wodehouse Society on the first publication of some of the author’s works, including the novel, A Prince for Hire. 

Friends remembered him as a hard worker and a “pillar of the community in Cecil Court” who enjoyed life in a trade far removed from the conventions of the modern corporate world. 

Angus O’Neill of nearby Omega Books said: “Nigel arrived in Cecil Court when all the other West End bookselling business were under a lot of pressure and many specialists were relocating to the street, where they found small, practical, shops and a sympathetic landlord. He was instrumental in building the street’s reputation as a place to go to buy first editions.”

Tim Bryars, who served with Nigel on the council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, the oldest trade organisation of its kind in the world, said: “He will be missed. He was a private man who was greatly respected in the trade. On the council he could be relied upon to be a voice of reason. That’s something you don’t always find in bookselling.”

Along with book fairs in this country, he was a regular face at famous fairs in sunnier climes like California.

Around 300 people, many of them fans of his singing, attended his funeral in Ireland last week. He is survived by both his parents, a sister, two brothers and his wife Sophie.

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