Last updated

Blackwell UK
Founded1879;143 years ago (1879)
Founder Benjamin Henry Blackwell
England, UK
Number of locations
18 stores (2022) [1]
Area served
ProductsBooks, Maps
RevenueIncrease2.svg £58.27 million (2019) [2]
Number of employees
1,000 (in 2011) [3]
Parent Waterstones

Blackwell UK, also known as Blackwell's and Blackwell Group, is a British academic book retailer and library supply service owned by Waterstones. It was founded in 1879 by Benjamin Henry Blackwell, [4] after whom the chain is named, on Broad Street, Oxford. The brand now has a chain of 18 shops, and an accounts and library supply service. It employs around 1000 staff in its divisions. [1] [3]


The Broad Street branches, which include speciality music and art/poster shops, remained the only ones until expansion in the early 1990s, when at peak after taking over Heffers in Cambridge in 1999 [5] and James Thin in Scotland in 2002, [6] the company had more than 70 outlets. [6] Its library supply chain serves an international market, but parts were sold off in 2009, with the North American arm of Blackwell Book Services and the Australian business James Bennett sold to Baker & Taylor for their academic arm YBP Library Services. [7] The group were also publishers, under the Blackwell publishing imprint, which published more than 800 journals when it was sold to John Wiley & Sons in 2007 for £572 million to form Wiley-Blackwell. [8]

The Blackwell family ran the company until 2022, with an ownership divided between voting shares owned by the family and wealth shares owned by family and others. [9] There was a public dispute in 2002 between Julian "Toby" Blackwell, the current owner of the group, and Nigel Blackwell, the former chairman of the publishing arm, about the possible sale of the publishing business. This led to an offer of £300 million from Taylor & Francis [10] and to an eventual deal with John Wiley & Son in 2006, as a result of which Nigel Blackwell and Toby's son Philip Blackwell left the business, [11] leaving Toby Blackwell the sole family member still involved in running the company. Other family voting shares were held by a trust, which Toby's shares would transfer on his death, eventually bringing an end to the Blackwell family involvement with the company. [12] Toby Blackwell announced in 2009 that the wealth shares would be distributed between staff, transforming the company into an employee-partnership, similar to that of retailer John Lewis, when the company returned to profitability having spent several years experiencing losses. [9] [13] The company reported it was expecting to return to profit in 2012. [9] [ needs update ]

In February 2022, the UK book chain Waterstones, itself under the umbrella of Elliott Management Corporation, bought Blackwell's.


The main store in Oxford in 1977 Blackwell's Bookshop and White Horse, Broad Street Oxford, September 1977.jpg
The main store in Oxford in 1977

The company was founded in 1879 by Benjamin Henry Blackwell, son of the first city librarian, who having finished his education at 13, was apprenticed to a local bookseller for a shilling a week. His father, Benjamin Harris Blackwell, had been heavily involved in the Temperance Society. The society promoted, as well as religion, self-education and also encouraged reading. The society provided separate rooms for non-alcoholic refreshment and silent reading. A religious family, the Blackwells had also become involved with the Temperance Society due to Benjamin's father being teetotal, and as a protest against the government making money from the excise duty on alcohol. [4]

The flagship shop at 48–51 Broad Street, Oxford, was originally only twelve feet square but quickly grew to incorporate the upstairs, cellar and neighbouring shops. Benjamin Henry Blackwell was well respected in Oxford and was elected the first Liberal councillor for Oxford North.

Basil Blackwell, Benjamin Henry's son, became the first Blackwell to go to university; he was awarded a scholarship at Oxford University's Merton College. He was expected to join the family firm, however, which he did in 1913, after a spell as an apprentice publisher in London. He was tasked with expanding his father's publishing business.

The "Norrington Room", contains more than 160,000 books on 3+ miles of shelving Norrington room.jpg
The "Norrington Room", contains more than 160,000 books on 3+ miles of shelving

The first Blackwell publication, Mensæ Secundæ: verses written in Balliol College by H.C. Beeching, was printed in 1897. Blackwell's began the careers of many writers: J. R. R. Tolkien's first poem, "Goblin's Feet", was published in 1915. [4] To promote universal access to literature, Blackwell's pioneered a series of cheaper books, from a one-volume Shakespeare to "3-and-6 novels". The publishing company was merged into the main company in 1921, and a scientific section was added in 1939.

When Benjamin Henry died in 1924, Basil Blackwell took over from his father, and went on to head the company for decades. Basil Blackwell wanted to preserve fine printing. After rescuing the Shakespeare Head Press, he commissioned belles-lettres, including well-known classics such as the Pilgrim's Progress , the works of the Brontës and a complete version of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales .

In 1966, the Norrington Room was opened, named after Sir Arthur Norrington, the President of Trinity College and extending under part of Trinity College. It boasts three miles (5 km) of shelving and at 10,000 square feet (930 m2) merited an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest single room selling books. [14]

Recent history

The company has followed a determined policy since the 1990s to spread out from its established Oxford base and take on a much broader UK presence.

In 1995, Blackwell's became the first bookshop in the UK to allow its customers to purchase online from a catalogue of over 150,000 titles, and opened a flagship shop in London the same year, at 100 Charing Cross Road, which is now one of the company's six most prominent shops. [4] Blackwell's took over the Heffers bookshops in Cambridge in 1999, and in 2002 acquired the academic bookshops of James Thin in Scotland.

Both the Oxford and London flagship shops have won Bookseller of the Year at the British Book Awards. [4]

On 29 October 2012, [15] Blackwell's was – with Foyles, John Lewis department stores, Waitrose, Sainsbury's and Argos – among the retailers to launch the Nook e-reader – and, from November, the Nook HD and Nook HD+ tablet computers. [16]

The company remained in the hands of the Blackwell family until February 2022 when it was acquired by Waterstones. [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Barnes & Noble</span> American bookseller and retailer

Barnes & Noble Booksellers is an American bookseller. It is a Fortune 1000 company and the bookseller with the largest number of retail outlets in the United States. As of July 7, 2020, the company operates 614 retail stores across all 50 U.S. states.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Foyles</span> English bookstore chain

W & G Foyle Ltd. 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.

The Net Book Agreement (NBA) was a fixed book price agreement in the United Kingdom and Ireland between The Publishers Association and booksellers which set the prices at which books were to be sold to the public. The agreement was concerned solely with price maintenance. It operated in the UK from 1900 until the 1990s when it was abandoned by some large bookshop chains and was then ruled illegal. It also operated in Ireland until shortly before its final demise.

Waterstones, formerly Waterstone's, is a British book retailer that operates 311 shops, mainly in the United Kingdom and also other nearby countries. As of February 2014, it employs around 3,500 staff in the UK and Europe. An average-sized Waterstones shop sells a range of approximately 30,000 individual books, as well as stationery and other related products.

Sir Basil Henry Blackwell was born in Oxford, England. He was the son of Benjamin Henry Blackwell (1849–1924), founder of Blackwell's bookshop in Oxford, which went on to become the Blackwell family's publishing and bookshop empire, located on Broad Street in central Oxford. The publishing arm is now part of Wiley-Blackwell.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">HMV</span> Public entertainment retailing company

Sunrise Records and Entertainment, trading as HMV, is a British music and entertainment retailer, currently operating exclusively in the United Kingdom.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ottakar's</span>

Ottakar's was a chain of bookshops in the United Kingdom founded in 1987 by James Heneage. Following a takeover by the HMV Group in 2006, the chain was merged into the Waterstone's brand.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Broad Street Independent Chapel, Reading</span> Chapel in Berkshire, UK

Broad Street Independent Chapel is a former nonconformist chapel dating from 1707. It is situated in Broad Street, now the principal shopping street of the English town of Reading. The building has been reused as a branch of the Waterstone's chain of bookshops. The building is a Grade II listed building.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James Thin</span>

James Thin was a Scottish bookseller, stationer and publishing company.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thornton's Bookshop</span>

Thornton's Bookshop was the oldest university bookshop in Oxford, England. It was founded in 1835 by Joseph Thornton (1808–1891) in Magdalen Street.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dillons the Bookstore</span>

Dillons was a British bookseller founded in 1936, named after its founder and owner Una Dillon. Originally based in Bloomsbury in London, the company expanded under subsequent owners Pentos in the 1980s into a bookselling chain across the United Kingdom. In 1995 Pentos went into receivership and sold Dillons to Thorn EMI, which immediately closed 40 of the 140 Dillons bookstore locations. Of the remaining 100 stores, most kept the name Dillons, while the remainder were Hatchards and Hodges Figgis. Within Thorn EMI, Dillons was placed in the HMV Group, which had been a division of Thorn EMI since 1986. EMI demerged from Thorn in August 1996, and Dillons-HMV remained an EMI holding. Dillons was subsumed under rival chain Waterstones' branding in 1999, at which point the brand ceased to exist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wiley-Blackwell</span> Journal publishing business of John Wiley & Sons

Wiley-Blackwell is an international scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly publishing business of John Wiley & Sons. It was formed by the merger of John Wiley & Sons Global Scientific, Technical, and Medical business with Blackwell Publishing in 2007.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Broad Street, Oxford</span> Street in central Oxford, England

Broad Street is a wide street in central Oxford, England, just north of the former city wall. The street is known for its bookshops, including the original Blackwell's bookshop at number 50, located here due to the University of Oxford. Among residents, the street is traditionally known as The Broad.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hodges Figgis</span>

Hodges Figgis is a bookshop located on Dawson Street in Dublin. Founded in 1768, it was moved and expanded numerous times until 1992, when it settled into its current location at 56-58 Dawson Street. It is given a passing mention in James Joyce's modernist novel Ulysses, where it would have been situated at 104 Grafton Street.

Joseph Thornton was a bookseller who founded Thornton's Bookshop in 1835 in Oxford, England, the oldest university bookshop in the city.

Borders (UK) Ltd., also known as Borders & Books etc., was established as a Borders Group subsidiary in 1998, and in 2007 became independent of the US parent company. At its peak after separation from the US parent, it traded from its 41 Borders and 28 BOOKS etc. shops with over one million square feet of retail space, taking around 8% of the retail bookselling market. In 2008 and 2009 the store numbers were reduced before the collapse of the chain. They also operated one single branch in Ireland, but closed this early in 2009. On 26 November 2009 it was announced that Borders (UK) had gone into administration. All stores closed on 24 December 2009.

Reading is an important commercial centre in Southern England and is often referred to as the commercial capital of the Thames Valley. The town hosts the headquarters of British companies and the UK offices of foreign multinationals, as well as being a major retail centre.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Barnes & Noble Nook</span> Android-based tablet and e-reader

The Barnes & Noble Nook is a brand of e-readers developed by American book retailer Barnes & Noble, based on the Android platform. The original device was announced in the U.S. in October 2009, and was released the next month. The original Nook had a six-inch E-paper display and a separate, smaller color touchscreen that serves as the primary input device and was capable of Wi-Fi and AT&T 3G wireless connectivity. The original Nook was followed in November 2010 by a color LCD device called the Nook Color, in June 2011 by the Nook Simple Touch, and in November 2011 and February 2012 by the Nook Tablet. On April 30, 2012, Barnes & Noble entered into a partnership with Microsoft that spun off the Nook and college businesses into a subsidiary. On August 28, 2012, Barnes and Noble announced partnerships with retailers in the UK, which began offering the Nook digital products in October 2012. In December 2014, B&N purchased Microsoft's Nook shares, ending the partnership.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Benjamin Henry Blackwell</span> English bookseller and politician

Benjamin Henry Blackwell was an English bookseller and politician who founded the Blackwell's chain of bookshops in Oxford.


  1. 1 2 Kleinman, Mark (1 February 2022). "Family-owned bookseller Blackwell's in shop window for first time in 143 years". Sky News. Retrieved 1 February 2022.
  2. "• Blackwell's: turnover UK 2019 | Statista".
  3. 1 2 Campbell, Lisa (10 May 2011). "Blackwell cuts 19 from library supply business". The Bookseller . Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 "48 – 51 Broad Street, Oxford". Broad Street Oxford. Headington. Archived from the original on 2 July 2011. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  5. "Blackwell's rationalises Heffers Branches". AllBusiness. 1999. Retrieved 1 February 2012.
  6. 1 2 Cave, Andrew (20 April 2002). "Blackwell wins Thin in family feud lull". The Telegraph. Retrieved 1 February 2012.
  7. Neilan, Catherine (8 December 2009). "Blackwell Sells Library supply arm". The Bookseller. Retrieved 1 February 2012.
  8. Osborne, Alistair (18 November 2006). "Blackwell duo bury hatchet as publisher is sold to John Wiley". The Telegraph. Retrieved 1 February 2012.
  9. 1 2 3 Denny, Neill (8 September 2010). "Blackwell's to close head office, as power shifts to staff". The Bookseller. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
  10. Bowers, Simon (23 January 2002). "Blackwell's journal of disquiet". The Guardian . Retrieved 2 February 2012.
  11. Wallows, Harry (20 January 2006). "Blackwell's starts fresh chapter". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
  12. Denny, Neill (28 May 2009). "Last King of Blackwell's". The Bookseller. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
  13. Campbell, Lisa (31 March 2011). "Blackwell Group halves losses within a year". The Bookseller. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  14. The Guinness Book of Records (14th ed.). London: Guinness Superlatives Limited. 1967. p. 123. ISBN   0-900424-00-1.
  15. Page, Benedicte (12 October 2012). "Last-minute delay to UK Nook launch". The Bookseller. Retrieved 11 August 2022.
  16. Steadman, Ian (26 September 2012), "Barnes & Noble's Nook HD and HD+ tablets will come to UK in November", Archived 4 December 2012 at the Wayback Machine . Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  17. Bartholomew, Jem (28 February 2022). "Waterstones acquires Blackwell's, the UK's biggest independent bookseller". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 February 2022.