The ‘Bomb Shop’ crowd

The Bomb Shop

In Sheila Kaye-Smith’s 1943 novel of three wars, Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum, there is a 1917 scene in which Myra, youngest of the novel’s four sisters, goes to Proudlock’s, a London café where ‘of an evening one usually met the young men who by day hung around the Bomb Shop – the bookseller’s of the Charing Cross Road’.
I’ve written about the Bomb Shop before. It was the nickname, proudly borne, of Henderson’s, which not only sold radical literature, but also published works such as Miles Malleson’s playscripts, D Company and Black ‘Ell, which were confiscated in a raid.
On the day Myra visits the café, her acquaintances are missing:

Nowhere could she see the wild bobbed heads of the women: blazing Christine, with her tales of Rory O’Connor and the Dublin revolution; ardent Fitzroy, still fighting the battle of the despised and rejected with her banned book; or the sleeker, yet equally abundant locks of Ernest the Jew, who, in order to find a less incongruous background for his conscience, was seeking admission to the Society of Friends; Kit, who to his own great fury had been exempted from military service on medical instead of conscientious grounds; or George, who despised them all because he had the honour of serving in the Bomb Shop itself.

Fitzroy, of course, is Rose Allatini, who used the pseudonym A. T. Fitzroy for Despised and Rejected, her novel about conscientious objectors and the sexually unorthodox, which aroused the bile of that horrible man James Douglas. But who are the others? I must try to find out.
Myra, like Sheila Kaye-Smith, is a novelist who began her career just before the war. She knows the Bomb Shop crowd well, but does not feel totally at home with them. Maybe the same was true of Kaye-Smith.
Would her wartime novel Little England read differently if one thought of her not just as a regional novelist closely observing hardships in rural Sussex, but as a woman in close contact with radical pacifists in London? I must take another look at it.


  1. Posted March 27, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    This looks interesting. I’ve only come across this writer via her book on Jane Austen, and didn’t know she’d written about the war. Will get Little England out of the library today.

  2. Posted March 29, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    I loved Little England (I heard about it and Kaye-Smith through this blog.)

    One thing that I remember in Little England as being pretty radical for the time was K-S on women who were brutalized by their husbands. She’s quite explicit: those women were different from other wives in that they hoped their husbands wouldn’t come back from the war.

    I loved this:

    “She lay very still, nearly as still as Tom was lying in the light of the same moon. . . . But not quite so still, for the stillness of the living is never so perfect, so untroubled as the stillness of the dead.”

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