The flagship Foyles store at 107 Charing Cross Road, London
|Founder||William Foyle, Gilbert Foyle|
|Headquarters||107 Charing Cross Road, London|
|William & Gilbert Foyle (founders)|
Christina Foyle (1945-99)
Christopher Foyle (1999- )
|Owner||Christopher Foyle (1999-2018) Waterstones (2018- )|
W & G Foyle Ltd. (usually called simply Foyles) is a bookseller with a chain of seven stores in England. It 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 length, at 30 miles (48 km), and for number of titles on display. It was bought by Waterstones in 2018.
Foyles was famed in the past for its anachronistic, eccentric and sometimes infuriating business practices; so much so that it became a tourist attraction. It has since modernised, and has opened several branches and an online store.
Brothers William and Gilbert Foyle founded the business in 1903. After failing entrance exams for the civil service, the brothers offered their redundant textbooks for sale and were inundated by offers. This inspired them to launch a second-hand book business from home. 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.
The brothers opened their first West End shop in 1904, at 16 Cecil Court. A year later they hired their first member of staff, who promptly disappeared with the weekly takings. By 1906, their shop was at 135 Charing Cross Road and they were described as London's largest educational booksellers.
Not long afterward,[clarification needed] the brothers moved their central London store to 119 Charing Cross Road, the Foyles Building, where it remained until 2014. They acquired adjacent buildings at 1-7 Manette Street including the site of the Old Goldbeater's House. For a time the store included premises at 121-125 Charing Cross Road, on the north side of the junction with Manette Street.
In this period Foyles, like many booksellers, used to stick a small permanent label advertising themselves on every book they sold. According to one such label, at some time Foyles had a branch in South Africa, at 12-14 Church Street, Cape Town.
Christina Foyle, daughter of co-founder William, initiated literary luncheons at the Charing Cross Road premises in October 1930; these continue to the present day. In the first 80 years 700 luncheons were held, hosting more than 1,000 authors and 500,000 guests. 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 have The Duke of Edinburgh, General Charles de Gaulle, General W?adys?aw Sikorski and the Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie. The store now also holds many evening literary events throughout the year.
Control of the shop passed to Christina in 1945. Under her the shop stagnated, with little investment and poorly paid staff who could be fired on a whim. She also refused to install any modern conveniences such as electronic tills or calculators; nor would she allow orders to 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, because sales staff were not allowed to handle cash. The shelving arrangement categorized books by publisher, rather than by topic or author. A quote of this period is "Imagine Kafka had gone into the book trade".[clarification needed] In the 1980s, rival bookshop Dillons placed an advertisement in a bus shelter opposite Foyles reading "Foyled again? Try Dillons".
Christina Foyle and her husband, Ronald Batty, were determined to be free to fire workers at will and were fiercely opposed to worker representation. 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.
Christina Foyle died in 1999; control then passed to her nephew Christopher, who modernised Foyles' shop and practices. 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.
Foyles' heavily weathered panelling 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, like other large chain bookshops, but with a notably larger range of titles on every subject. It also now sells second-hand and out-of-print books together with new books in its art, history and archaeology departments. Most of these changes were made between 2003 and 2005. Foyles also now sells electronic books on its website.
In 2011 Foyles took over Grant & Cutler, a foreign language bookseller that had been founded in 1936. In March 2011 Foyles closed Grant & Cutler's shop at 55-57 Great Marlborough Street and merged it with the foreign language section of Foyles' then premises in the Foyles Building. In the new Foyles store at 107 Charing Cross Road, Grant & Cutler is on Level 4.
Foyles opened a branch at the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank in 2005. The following year the chain was awarded a concession to run the book departments in Selfridges' London Oxford Street and Manchester stores, but these closed in February 2009. In February 2008 it opened the only bookshop in St Pancras railway station, which had been refurbished to include 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. It opened a new 'Booktique' store at London's One New Change shopping centre in October 2010, but this closed in November 2011.
In March 2011 Foyles opened a store in Bristol, its first out-of-London store since before the Second World War. That October it opened a second Westfield store, designed by Lustedgreen, an interior architectural design consultancy, in the Westfield Stratford City complex next to the Olympic Stadium. The chain opened a bookshop in London Waterloo station in February 2014. In September 2016 Foyles opened a store in the new Chelmsford shopping development.
In late 2011 Foyles announced that it was selling the lease of its flagship Foyles Building at 111-119 Charing Cross Road. It acquired premises at 107 Charing Cross Road, formerly occupied by the Central St Martins College of Art and Design. The premises were refurbished to designs by London-based architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands. The store moved out of the Foyles Building and into the new premises in June 2014.