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‘We lived in an abandoned London Underground station as hippies in 1960s – and I’m still here 55 years later’

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Way down in the depths of Hounslow just a few miles from hectic Heathrow, there’s an oasis of greenery in the National Trust’s Osterley Park. Then, on a quiet unassuming street right near the park is a building that looks like a charming old chapel.

But believe it or not, it’s actually a disused London Underground station called Osterley Park & Spring Grove that’s been here for a stonking 150 years. It’s now a little secondhand bookshop that’s like an Aladdin’s cave of treasures. The shelves are packed with a treasure trove of books going back decades and crammed in between are racks of unusual postcards and curious items that just demand to be investigated.

I’m here to meet the shop’s greatest treasure, Tony, who cheerfully emerges from the back of the store. Talking to him over a cuppa in a tiny office overlooking the Piccadilly Line is a bit like leafing through a fascinating old book. Because Tony and his partner have a lot of history with this place.

READ MORE: The abandoned London Underground station that ended up as an Aladdin’s cave second-hand bookshop

The building was once a London Underground station on the Metropolitan and District Line. Pic: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

“In 1967 me and my partner had just left college (Twickenham Art College) and we were going past on the train and we saw it was empty so we came out and had a look,” he explains. “We’d got married immediately – far too young – and had no money. But we wanted the place for studious because we were both artists.

“So we phoned up London Transport and they said they’d give it to us six months rent free if we did certain restoration works!” My jaw drops at this and Tony laughs. He knows this definitely would not happen today!

“It was exactly what we needed. It was completely empty. There was nothing in here at all. But we also lived here, which officially they didn’t know,” he adds. “It was so different back then. The London Transport guy was ever such a nice chap. He’d just come down and shake hands instead of having to fill in loads of forms.”

But the place soon became the kind of hippy mecca you’d expect to find in Soho or Notting Hill in the swinging ’60s.

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The shop is an Aladdin’s cave. Pic: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

“We had all our mates living here. It was just what you’d expect then. They always say if you can remember the ’60s you weren’t there,” laughs Tony.

“We were an aberration. If you wanted to be a hippy or something you’d go to Notting Hill, but we had a sort of mini hippydom here in the middle of Hounslow!

“I was very left wing. Any protest, CND or anything, I was there. We printed posters for things like anti-internment and later for the bands like the Velvet Underground. We did some for the anti-Vietnam war and our friends posted them around London before President Nixon was due to arrive.”

“We’d chosen a very very unusual lifestyle for the time,” he continues. “We were married, but we lived here with hippies, yet my parents seemed quite amenable to it. It was hand to mouth but somehow as long as you could make the rent you didn’t care. There wasn’t the structure then If you were out of work somehow it didn’t matter.”

But all good things have to – and probably should – come to an end…

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Tony and his partner lived at the station once upon a time. Pic: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

“After a while it all got a bit overwhelming, I mean you can’t carry on like that forever, at some point you think ‘enough’, you’ve got to get yourself together,” Tony remembers.

“So we did. In about 1972 we opened the shop and it took off from there. The local council said we had to have a retail outlet. We didn’t have anything to sell so we went to a few jumble sales and bought a few books and put them in there and sold them. Then suddenly we bought more books and suddenly we’ve got a functioning book shop, almost without us doing anything.”

I point out to Tony the fact he’s been working in this disused railway station since 1967.

“Where did that go,” he muses. “It’s a lovely little building. Once I had to do some work out in the hall there and I lifted up the floor and there was this little pile of old coins from when people used to pay for their tickets.”

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Tony poses for photographs at the bookshop he’s run since 1973. Pic: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

It’s true, it is a lovely little building. The dusty old book shop leads through to the ghost of a ticket hall which still has cute little archway hatches set into the walls where the tickets would have been given out. Looking up there’s a characterful glass lantern that spills light into the building and the rounded chapel-like windows give the place a church-like character.

Next door is the square block of the old station master’s house, which is now an accountants, and on the south side of the building you can still look over the bridge down the Piccadilly Line tracks which still run straight past onto to the replacement Osterley Tube station.

These days Tony says he’s inundated with books. Online he sells rare items and he says over the years he’s became a bit of a book dealer by default, rather than by design.

“If you think about it, we’re asleep when people are looking at our stock over the world,” he says. He’s now frequently posting books off all over the globe to Australia, America and elsewhere.

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“People are into their own little things aren’t they,” he says. “If you’ve got a book on Australian costume from the 1920s you’d sell that rather than just a book on Australia. It’s the esoteric stuff people are really into.”

Sometimes strange oddities turn up. Once he found a sack outside of what he thought was rubbish but turned out to be full of first editions Thatcherite books. They were so quirky one client asked him to fly to Geneva to deliver one of them the next day.

“Just for a birthday book, they were going to fly me to Geneva and put me up in a hotel,” says Tony. “The amount of money some people have is off the scale.”

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Tony says he’s become a book dealer by default. Pic: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

These days Tony says he doesn’t notice the trains going past regularly down below the little station. He just doesn’t register after all this time. He’s spent all his adult life in the station and seems happy and content here. “It’s not a house in the south of France but I love it. It’s worked for us,” he says, smiling.

And why not! There’s something really fitting about the old station being preserved in this way, and perhaps Tony and his partner have tapped into something here, finding a secret to contentment through staying put, rather than chasing dreams all over the place.

It certainly feels like time slows down for a while when you go through the doors of this little London gem. Perhaps that’s the old hippy magic, still working its spell.

If you have a great piece of London nostalgia or a memory for us, please email [email protected]

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https://www.mylondon.news/news/nostalgia/london-underground-times-delays-tickets-23008297