In 1907 Charles Fitzroy Doll designed the Flemish French-Gothic terrace of shops with apartments over them in Torrington Place. Picture shows the corner of Gower St. and Torrington Place. The shops, now occupied by a branch of Waterstone’s, formerly housed Dillon’s bookshop.
Agnes Joseph Madeline Dillon (8 January 1903 – 4 April 1993):
Agnes Joseph Madeline Dillon, known as Una, was born in Cricklewood, Hendon, to Teresa and Joseph Thomas Dillon, a Catholic couple who arranged for each of their six children to be privately educated. The elder brother died during World War I, a sister became a nun and another brother emigrated. Carmen, Agnes (Una) and Teresa were … to fulfil their parents’ ambition for them. Una was working for the charity now known as Mind dealing with books. She enjoyed this and decided to set herself up in business with a bookstore. Her parents lent her money and she bought out a shop which she thought she could improve.
Una bought Dillons Booksellers’ first building on Gower Street, near University College London, in 1936. She drove the business forward delivering books by bike within her own target of eight hours. Her business thrived and her customers, and friends, included C. Day Lewis, the poet John Betjeman and other bibliophiles.
Dillon subsequently sold the majority of the company to the University of London in 1956, with the proviso that it used her name. Dillon retired from the business in 1968.
…in private hands by the mid-1980s, the store undertook a major makeover and modernisation, announcing its relaunch with the advertising poster “Foyled again? Try Dillons” displayed prominently on the bus shelter opposite its London rival Foyles.
None of the three Dillon sisters married and for forty-two years they shared a large Edwardian flat in Kensington. Tess Dillon had led the physics department at Queen Elizabeth College. In 1985 Una retired to Hove with her sister Carmen. Carmen became a film and production designer who won an Oscar for the 1948 Olivier film of Hamlet. Una died in 1993. Carmen survived her sister and died in 2000.
Christina Agnes Lilian Foyle (30 January 1911 – 8 June 1999) was an English bookseller and owner of Foyles bookshop.
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, the brothers moved their central London store to 119 Charing Cross Road, the Foyles Building, where it remained until 2014.
Christina Foyle was the daughter of co-founder William. She was married to Ronald Batty from 1938 until his death in 1994.
Miss Foyle (as she liked to be called) was born in London, England. At age 17, after leaving a Swiss finishing school, she started working at her father’s bookshop, and never left. She fiercely resisted unionisation of bookshop staff, sacking most employees just before they had worked there six months, when they would gain limited job protection rights. In the late 1930s, she founded the Right Book Club to counter what she regarded as the pernicious influence of Victor Gollancz’s Left Book Club. It offered a variety of titles with Conservative and classical Liberal themes.
For 70 years she presided over Foyles lunches. Her idea for bringing readers, writers and thinkers together came after she recommended The Forsyte Saga to an elderly customer who was looking for something to read on the train. The gentleman bought a copy. However he returned it to her a short time later with the words “For the young lady who liked my book – John Galsworthy.”
Foyle met many leading literary and political figures during her life. Her collection of personal correspondence included a letter from Adolf Hitler, responding to her complaint about Nazi book-burning. Her literary friends included Kingsley Amis, Charles de Gaulle, D. H. Lawrence, Yehudi Menuhin, J. B. Priestley, George Bernard Shaw, Margaret Thatcher, Evelyn Waugh and H. G. Wells.