William Foyle (third from left) in front of Foyle's Bookstore

William Alfred Foyle (1885-1963) lived for and dreamed about books. His vision was to create the greatest bookshop in the world, a "people's bookshop," inspired by James Lackington's "Temple of Muses" at Chiswell Street, London, a large bookshop in the late 18th century. His dream started small, when young William and his brother Gilbert advertised the sale of their old Civil Service textbooks. The rush of buyers encouraged them to start selling more books and by 1903 they were operating from a small warehouse in North London. They soon opened their first bookshop in Peckham, moving shortly afterwards to Cecil Court. They bought books wherever they could find them--at auction and from students, private houses, and second-hand bookshops.

The business expanded so rapidly that by the late 1920s their shop was internationally famous, holding two million volumes on over thirty miles of bookshelves, making the Foyle's name synonymous with book-selling in London. Foyle's soon became a mecca for book lovers the world over, and by the mid 1930s the "department bookstore" was firmly established with 24 departments, 300 employees, and over 40,000 books, new and second-hand purchased each week.

In 1930, Foyle's nineteen-year-old daughter Christina conceived the brilliant idea of hosting a series of public literary luncheons, bringing together famous writers and distinguished figures along with the book-loving members of the public. These famous luncheons, synonymous with the name of Foyle, continued without break for over seventy years and are still organized today by William's grandsons, Christopher and Anthony Foyle.

After the war, in 1945, William purchased Beeleigh Abbey, a 12th century monastery on the River Chelmer at Maldon in Essex. It was here that William was able finally to indulge his passion for book collecting, transforming the old dormitory of the abbey into one of the largest private libraries of the 20th century. William spent many happy hours amongst his books, adding to his collection until the last few years of his life.

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