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We have over 40 bookshops across the UK, including one of the oldest in the world in Oxford.
Blackwell’s has an enviable reputation as a bookseller specialising in academic books. Our flagship shops in Oxford, Cambridge, London Charing Cross Road and Edinburgh South Bridge offer some of the widest selections of titles available on the high street. Many of our bookshops are based on University campuses, which means that our booksellers gain specialist knowledge to support the subjects covered within the institution.
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The early years of Blackwell's on Broad street
When Benjamin Henry Blackwell opened the shop door of number 50 Broad Street for the first time on 1st January 1879, bookselling was already in his blood. His father, Benjamin Harris Blackwell had been the first to put the family name above the door of a small bookshop outside the city limits in St. Clements in 1846.
The new site for the bookshop on Broad Street was only a small part of the whole building. It was a tiny space 12 foot by 12 foot with room for one standing customer and one chair plus a small back room for storage. If two or more customers wished to browse at the same time Mr Blackwell or his apprentice needed to step out onto the street to make room! His choice of this site could not have been better. The shop lay at the heart of the University with the Sheldonian Theatre just across the road and the Clarendon building and Bodleian close by. There were two other bookshops in the street already - Parker's and Thornton's and when Benjamin opened his business account with Frederick MacMillan he was greeted with 'I fear you have chosen the wrong side of the street to be successful'. Benjamin was to prove him wrong.
Benjamin had been busily collecting Rare and Second-hand stock for the bookshop from different sites across the country. His first catalogue contained 667 books, valued conservatively at £110. It contained works by Milton and Wordsworth as well as Lamb and Boswell and also Latin and Greek Classics, standard nineteenth century texts, grammars and dictionaries. There was a large selection of books on Oxford including Loggan's Oxiana llustrata (1675) at £5 the most expensive single volume in the whole catalogue. It was a very small start but at the end of that year Benjamin had turned in a profit of £226.
'Well, Mr Blackwell,' said Mr John Parsons of the Old Bank in the High Street, at the end of 1880, 'are you capturing your rivals trade?' 'I believe', Benjamin replied, 'that there is enough for all.'
From the outset, Mr Blackwell's little shop had a special air about it. 'Those who came in from the noisy, cobbled street', chronicled in a later edition of the Oxford Magazine, 'found quiet and an invitation, not so much spoken as conveyed by the friendly spirit of the bookseller, to scrutinise and handle the books on the shelves without obligation to buy.'
Gradually the business begins to expand and Lockwood's the Tailor's at 51 Broad Street is taken over followed by expansion into the patchwork of old buildings and rooms which lay behind the shop's frontage. A small passage called Bliss Court lay to the side of 48 Broad Street and gave access to a group of cottage's which were to become a part of the bookshop as it gradually expanded. Over the next 20 years the bookshop increased its stock holding to 100,000 volumes.
As the business grew so did the Blackwell family. Basil Blackwell, Benjamin Henry's son, became the first Blackwell to go to university; he was awarded a scholarship at Merton College and joined his father in the Broad Street shop in 1913, after a spell at Oxford University Press in London. When Benjamin Henry died in 1924, Basil Blackwell took over from his father and for over sixty years he oversaw the growth of a bookselling empire.
Basil Blackwell was always proud to have been born 'above the shop' at number 50 Broad Street and was brought up amongst books and manuscripts. 'Up the stairs came the blended scent of printer's ink, binders paste, leather boards and book dust which was destined to be the breath of my nostrils throughout life'. As the business grew Basil Blackwell insisted on taking all in his stride, with an ease and humour that few forgot. Basil's personal approach was not reserved merely for his 'Blackwellians' alone but extended to his clients and customers whose right to browse undisturbed was inherited from his father.
Basil Blackwell was to take control of the publishing side of the business and his pioneering spirit continued to see new ventures. He was to purchase the Shakespeare Head Press in 1921 and publish a complete version of Chaucer's Canterbury tales and in 1923 began launched 'Joy Street' a new Children's annual. In 1934 he published a hefty one volume edition of the Complete Works of Shakespeare which was to prove a huge success. The publishing arm of the business soon outgrew the walls of the bookshop and needed their own premises in Oxford.
Today Blackwell UK is the leading academic bookseller in the UK and has over 40 outlets across England, Scotland and Wales. Its staff continue to be renowned for their expertise, depth of knowledge and love of books over 132 years after Mr. Blackwell's 'little shop' first opened its door.