Back in 1903, the teenage Foyle brothers William & Gilbert, failed their civil service exams leading them to take out an ad in a periodical to re-sell their textbooks. They received many enquires, and sold them on. Sighting an opportunity, the two procured many more textbooks and sold them on at a profit at what was to become perhaps the greatest bookstore in the world, and most certainly the greatest in London.
Moving in 1904 to Cecil Court, this was at the time the home of the infant British film industry, still housing a number of large second-hand bookstores. By 1906, their business had become substantial, prompting the Foyle brothers to move to their first permanent premises at 135 Charing Cross Road. By this point, the two had proclaimed themselves as the largest educational booksellers in the capital. As business increased, they relocated to a larger premises at 121 Charing Cross Road. Continuing on trading during the First World War, the Foyles Van become a regular sight on London’s streets, delivering purchases and collecting new stock to add to their growing stockholding of well over 1 million books.
An interesting, perhaps all too British story for you; in the 1930s, William Foyle immediately telegrammed Adolf Hitler when the burning of the books commenced to request to purchase the books for a good price instead of burning them. Hitler responded with a telegram stating that there were no books to purchase, and that the books would continue to be burnt. Years later, at the start of the Blitz, Foyles filled sandbags with books to protect the store from damage. William announced that he was covering the roof of the store with copies of Mein Kampf to ward off bombers. Ingenious!
Today Foyles has a number of stores throughout the capital, with its flagship store remaining on Charing Cross Road (the new premises is at No. 107). Their shelves have expanded from education, to cover a wide range of topics, categories and formats, from language, to fiction and non-fiction, independent magazines, music, film, children’s books and contemporary art. Even in an ever-developing digital age, the importance and value of books and print has remained strong on Charing Cross Road and at Foyles. As a tip, I would recommend wandering from the ground floor where you will find the latest releases from independent magazine publishers and art book designers, up to the 5th floor for a coffee or tea and a wander about the rest of the floors.