Coordinates: 51°30′53″N 0°07′48″W / 51.5147°N 0.1301°W / 51.5147; -0.1301

W & G Foyle Ltd.
Private company
Industry Retail
Founded 1903
Founder William Foyle, Gilbert Foyle
Headquarters 107 Charing Cross Road, London
Key people
Christina Foyle (1911–99)
Christopher Foyle (1999– )
Products Books
Owner Christopher Foyle (1999– )
Entrance to the new Foyles in Charing Cross Road (2014).
The old shop a few doors along (2006).

W & G Foyle Ltd. (usually called simply Foyles) is a chain of book shops with seven locations [1] but is best known for its flagship store in Charing Cross Road, London. Foyles was once listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's largest bookshop in terms of shelf area (30 miles/50 kilometres) and number of titles on display.[2] In the past, it was famed for its anachronistic, eccentric and sometimes infuriating business practices; so much so that it was a tourist attraction.[3] It has since modernised, opened new branches and established an on-line store.[4]


The business was founded in 1903 by brothers William and Gilbert Foyle. After failing entrance exams for the civil service, the brothers offered their redundant text books for sale and were inundated by offers. This inspired them to launch a second-hand book business from home.[3] Flushed with success, they opened a small shop on Station Parade in Queen's Road, Peckham, where they painted "With all Faith" in gilt letters above the door. In 1904 they opened their first West End shop at 16 Cecil Court and a year later were able to take on their first member of staff (who promptly disappeared with the weekly takings). By 1906 they were at 135 Charing Cross Road, by which time they were described as London's largest educational booksellers. At around this period they also opened branches in Harringay, Shepherd's Bush, Kilburn and Brixton.[5] Not long later they moved into one of the buildings at 119 Charing Cross Road, the Foyles Building, where Foyles remained until 2014. Part of additional adjacent buildings that they also acquired in Manette Street was the site of the Old Goldbeater's House.[6]

In October 1930, Christina Foyle, daughter of founder William, initiated the literary luncheons which continue to the present day. In the first 80 years, 700 luncheons were held, hosting more than 1000 authors and 500,000 guests.[7] Speakers and guests of honour at these luncheons have included great literary figures, and celebrities from the world of politics, the media, the military and the theatre. Most British Prime Ministers since the Second World War have attended, as well as The Duke of Edinburgh, General Charles de Gaulle, General Władysław Sikorski and the Emperor Haile Selassie. The store now also holds a large number of evening literary events throughout the year.[2]

In 1945, control of the shop passed to Christina. It was under her that the shop stagnated, with little investment and poorly paid staff who could be fired on a whim.[2] She also refused to install any modern conveniences such as electronic tills or calculators; nor would orders be taken by phone. However, the shop excelled in other fields: expensive books ordered from as far off as Germany were sent with a bill without prepayment.

The shop operated a payment system that required customers to queue three times: to collect an invoice for a book, to pay the invoice, then to collect the book, simply because sales staff were not allowed to handle cash.[8] Equally mystifying to customers was a shelving arrangement that categorized books by publisher, rather than by topic or author.[2] A quote of this period is: "Imagine Kafka had gone into the book trade."[3] In the 1980s a rival bookshop placed an advertisement in a bus shelter opposite Foyles: "Foyled again? Try Dillons".[3]

Christina Foyle and her husband, Ronald Batty, were determined to be free to fire workers at will and were fiercely opposed to worker representation.[9] Workers were dismissed just before their period of employment was long enough to acquire statutory protection from unfair dismissal. In 1965 the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers organised a strike of the largely immigrant workforce.


After the death of owner Christina Foyle in 1999 and the passing of control to her nephew Christopher, Foyles' shop and practices were modernised. Christopher Foyle was also, from 1978 until 2008, the chairman and CEO of aviation companies Air Foyle and Air Foyle HeavyLift, chairman and later Deputy President of the Air League, and a Trustee of the Foyle Foundation. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, a Liveryman of the Guild of Air Pilots and a Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Essex.[10]

The heavily weathered panelling of Foyles' past was replaced by a red plastic, grey metal and beech interior. Whereas the shop used to sell second-hand and new books side by side on the same shelves, it now primarily sells books in print, as do other large chain bookshops, but with a considerably larger range of titles on every subject. In addition, it now sells second-hand and out-of-print books together with new books in its art, history and archaeology departments. Most of these changes took place between 2003 and 2005. Foyles also now sells electronic books on its website.[11]

In 2001, the Silver Moon Bookshop, a well-known feminist bookshop, was incorporated into Foyles after rising rents on its Charing Cross road premises forced it to close.[12]

New branches

In 2005, Foyles opened a branch at the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank and in 2006 was awarded a concession to run the book departments in Selfridges' London Oxford Street and Manchester stores, although these closed in February 2009. In February 2008 it opened the only bookshop in the newly refurbished St Pancras railway station, which housed the Eurostar London terminal. Foyles also opened a branch in the Westfield shopping centre, which opened on 30 October 2008 in White City in West London.[13] It opened a new 'Booktique' store at London's One New Change shopping centre in October 2010, but this closed in November 2011.[14][15] In March 2011 Foyles opened a store in Bristol, its first out-of-London location since before the Second World War. In October 2011 a second Westfield store was opened, designed by Lustedgreen, in the Westfield Stratford City complex adjacent to the Olympic Stadium. In February 2014, Foyles opened a bookshop in London Waterloo station.[16] In September 2016 Foyles opened its newest store in the new Chelmsford shopping development.

New flagship store

In late 2011, the sale was announced of the lease on the flagship building that Foyles had occupied for over a century. The business moved to the adjacent building at 107 Charing Cross Road (formerly occupied by the Central St Martins College of Art and Design) in June 2014, with London-based architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands providing a new flagship store design.[17][18][19]


Foyles has earned the following awards:


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Foyles.
  1. Foyles Locations
  2. 1 2 3 4 John Walsh, "Foyles, the bookshop that time forgot", The Independent, 23 January 2003.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Warren Hoge (11 June 1999). "Christina Foyle, 88, the Queen of the London Bookstore, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 May 2012.
  5. Andrew Block, A Short History of the Principal London Antiquarian Booksellers and Book-Auctioneers, London: Denis Archer, 1933. The 1910 edition of The International Directory of Booksellers and Bibliophile's Manual gives the following branch addresses: 65 Grand Parade, Green Lanes, London N, 431 Brixton Road, London SW, 212 Uxbridge Road London SW and 45 High Road, London NW.
  6. Low, David (1973). With All Faults. Tehran: The Amate Press. pp. 16–20.
  7. Graeme Neill (15 September 2010). "Foyles to celebrate 80 years of lunches". The Bookseller. Retrieved 25 May 2012.
  8. Michael Handelzalts, "Foyled and found again", Ha'aretz, 30 May 2003.
  9. "Adrian Beecroft, Vince Cable and the Foyle's Bookshop Strike 1965". 23 May 2012. Retrieved 22 July 2016.
  10. David Teather, "Raconteur who wrestled to keep Foyles in the family" (interview with Christopher Foyle, chairman of Foyles bookshop), The Guardian, 2 November 2007.
  11. "eBooks". Foyles. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
  12. Osborne, Susan (2003). The Good Web Guide for Book Lovers. Good Web Guide Ltd. p. 17. ISBN 1-903282-42-X.
  13. Graeme Neill, "Foyles to open fourth store", The Bookseller, 2 November 2007
  14. Press release, Foyles, 4 October 2010
  15. Campbell, Lisa (2 November 2011). "Foyles to close One New Change today". The Bookseller. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
  16. "Foyles bookshop opens at Waterloo Station". London SE1 Community Website. Bankside Press. 10 February 2014. Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  17. Lisa Campbell (9 December 2011). "Foyle family to sell leasehold to Charing Cross Road". The Bookseller. Retrieved 25 May 2012.
  18. "Foyles Enters a New Chapter as We Move Next Door", accessed 4 July 2014.
  19. "Foyles 107 Charing Cross Road". Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
  20. Book Industry Awards – British Nibbies Winners 2008
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