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Blackwell UK
Industry Retail
Founded 1879
Founder(s) Benjamin Henry Blackwell
Headquarters Oxford, England, UK
Number of locations 45 stores (2012) [1]
Area served UK
Key people Toby Blackwell (Owner)
Trevor Goul-Wheeker (Chairman)
Products Books, Maps
Revenue Decrease £77.02 million (2011) [2]
Operating income Increase - £5 million (2011)[2]
Employees 1,000 [3][4]

Blackwell UK, also known as Blackwell's and Blackwell Group, is a British academic book retailer and library supply service originally founded in 1879 by Benjamin Henry Blackwell,[5] after whom the chain is named. Based in Oxford, the original Broad Street branch is now part of a larger chain of 45 shops, as well as an accounts and library supply service, employing around 1000 staff across all divisions.[3][4]

The Broad street branches, which include specialty music and art/poster shops, remained the only branches until expansion in the early 1990s, when at peak after taking over the Heffers brand in Cambridge in 1999[6] and the James Thin academic chain in Scotland in 2002,[7] the company had over 70 branches.[7] The company's library supply chain serves internationally, but parts were sold off in 2009, with the North American arm of Blackwell Book Services and Australian business James Bennett sold to Baker & Taylor and folded into Baker & Taylor's existing academic library arm, YBP Library Services.[8] The group were also publishers, under the Blackwell publishing brand which published over 800 journals when it was sold to publishers John Wiley & Sons in 2007 for £572 million to form Wiley-Blackwell.[9]

The Blackwell family have been in charge of the company since its foundation, with a share structure divided between voting shares owned by the family and wealth shares owned by family and other parties.[10] However, following a public spat between Julian 'Toby' Blackwell, current owner of the group and Nigel Blackwell, former chairman of the publishing arm in 2002, concerning the possible selling of the publishing business, leading to an offer from Taylor & Francis of £300 million[11] and to the eventual deal with John Wiley & Son in 2006, Nigel Blackwell and Toby's son Philip Blackwell left the business,[12] leaving Toby Blackwell the sole family member still part of running the company. The other voting shares left by the other family members are currently held by a trust, which Toby's shares will transfer to when he dies, eventually bringing an end to the Blackwell family involvement with the company.[13] 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 returns to profitability having spent several years experiencing losses.[10][14] The company reported it was expecting to return to profit in 2012.[10]

On 29 October 2012,[15] Blackwells 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 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.[5]

The flagship Broad Street shop in Oxford, at number 50 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-ever 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. However he was expected to join the family firm, 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 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: in 1915 J. R. R. Tolkien's first poem, "Goblin's Feet", was published.[5] To ensure everyone had access to literature, Blackwell's pioneered a series of cheaper books, from a one-volume Shakespeare to "3/6 novels". The publishing company was merged into the main company in 1921, and a scientific section was added in 1939.

Basil Blackwell also 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.

When Benjamin Henry died in 1924, Basil Blackwell took over from his father, running the firm, with the nickname "gaffer" for over sixty years.

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.[17]

Recent history

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

This has included in 1995 becoming the first bookstore in the UK that allowed its customers to purchase online, with access to over 150,000 titles; and the opening in 1995 of a flagship store in London, at 100 Charing Cross Road, which is now one of the company's six flagship stores.[5] The company took over the Heffers string of bookshops in Cambridge in 1999, and in 2002 acquired the academic bookshops of James Thin in Scotland.

Blackwell's now has over 60 retail outlets across the UK, including a number of specialist stores, with several medical outlets, and even a shop in Aberdeen specialising in the oil industry.[5]

The company is still in the hands of the Blackwell family. Support for its activities, including Blackwell's Online, is based at Beaver House in Oxford.[5] The company is to be partially funded by Toby Blackwell Limited in 2012.[2]

Both the Oxford and London flagship stores have won Bookseller of the Year at the British Book Awards.[5]


Blackwell's maintains over 40 retail outlets across the UK, with flagship stores located in Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and London. Other branches are located on university campuses or are specialist branches, focusing on Music and Art



External links

Companies portal
Books portal
  • Blackwell Online
  • Blackwell Twitter
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