John Philipps SUS-210704-103845001

The ‘enigmatic’ St Leonards shop owner behind the large inventory of rare and used books

Thousands of books are being cleared from a former rare book store in St Leonards after the sudden death of the shop’s owner.

By Stephen Wynn-Davies
Monday, 12th April 2021, 2:29 pm

The clear out of The Scarlet Pimpernel, at Scarlet Antiques, in London Road, is being carried out by World of Books.

John Philipps, the owner of Scarlet Pimpernel for 20 years, died suddenly in January of a heart attack in his apartment above the shop.

Owing to the number of books lining the passageway through the shop and the staircase to the upper floors, the fire service had to be called to use a turntable ladder to take Mr Philipps’ body through an upstairs window.

Mr Philipps previously said the store had a ‘very large inventory of rare and used books available for sale’ which included approximately 125,000 books on a wide range of subjects, from fictional titles to rare and early editions.

Mr Philipps was described as ‘an enigmatic character’ who was well known in St Leonards.

His ex-wife Joanna Pattenden, who is managing Mr Philipps’ estate on behalf of their three children, said he was well known to many people for his ability to converse on almost any subject and to produce a book on that subject from his shop.

The oldest book in store dated back to 1550 at the time of King Edward VI.

Mr Philipps was born in Paris in 1934 to a French mother and British father, and was given the name of Jean-Claude.

He had dual British-French nationality, and although he never lost his ‘Frenchness’, he was enormously proud of being British. Since his parents had separated when he was very young, he was raised by his mother.

At the start of the Second World War, she was private secretary to the Minister of War in the French Government. The Nazis occupied France from 1940 and when France capitulated in 1941, his mother had to evacuate to Vichy with her minister and the French government.

Mr Philipps remembered well the privations of wartime France, the oppressive Nazi occupation, and the coming of the Allies on D-Day followed by France’s joyful liberation. During the War, Mr Philipps’s father had been an RAF pilot, flying Lancaster bombers over France, and had in fact led a bombing raid on the Renault factory in Paris, not far from where his wife and son were living.

Mr Philipps attended various Roman Catholic boarding schools where he received a classical and religious education, followed by high school in Paris after the War. After completing his Baccalaureate and leaving school, he won a scholarship given by the diamond company De Beers to travel extensively all over Africa, where he had many adventures. He subsequently came to London to try to find his father, but never succeeded. Having put himself through a law degree at King’s College, London, he used his extensive knowledge and interest in numismatics – coins and banknotes, as well as books (amongst other things) – to sell them to collectors.

He moved with his family to East Sussex in 1981 and became known for several businesses in St Leonards, where he made many friends owing to his vast knowledge of many subjects, his enormous fund of stories, and for helping many people with their legal and other problems.

Mr Philipps leaves three grown-up children, two of whom now live overseas, and five grandchildren. A devout Christian, he was a regular worshipper at Christ Church, St Leonards.

Paying tribute, his family added: “He will be warmly remembered by his many friends for his enigmatic and highly original character. He is greatly missed. He will be remembered by his many friends and by his family.”

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