David St John Thomas

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David St John Thomas (1929–19 August 2014) was an English publisher and writer who founded David & Charles.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

The son of writer Gilbert Thomas (1891–1978)[2] he shared his father’s enthusiasm for railways,[3] particularly in the running of their Bassett-Lowke model railway.[4]

Brought up in Devon over the World War II period, his first job was as a reporter on the Western Morning News in Plymouth where he specialised in covering transport and holiday stories.[5] He later became a freelancer, combining journalism and radio and television reporting with fruit farming and being commissioned by the Dartington Hall Trust and others to produce reports on rural transport.[6] His first book (for young people) was published in 1959[7] and in 1960 he produced the first book in the series he was to edit (and later publish), A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain, The West Country.[8]

Foundation of David and Charles[edit]

On 1 April 1960 he founded, with canal writer Charles Hadfield, the non-fiction publishing house of David & Charles of which he became chairman. This was run from his house at Ipplepen before moving to its better-known address at Newton Abbot railway station.[9] With a staff of up to 300 the firm ran Britain's second-largest book club group, Readers' Union, which had a score of specialised clubs totalling about 250,000 members.

In later years, he also published some books under his own imprint. He continued to write himself, including a series of well-illustrated books on railway topics with Patrick B. Whitehouse and others,[10] and more books on travel-related topics.[11] He was keen to encourage new writers, and to this end launched the magazine Writers’ News in 1989, since sold.

The David St John Thomas Charitable Trust[edit]

Having sold David & Charles, to Reader's Digest in 2000, and moved to Nairn, Scotland, he set up the David St John Thomas Charitable Trust. It makes awards to writers and also to gap year students.


  1. ^ "Publishing legend David St John Thomas dies, aged 84". torquayheraldexpress.co.uk. 11 September 2014. 
  2. ^ Thomas, Gilbert (1932). The Master-Light — letters to David. London: Allen & Unwin. 
  3. ^ Thomas, Gilbert; Thomas, David St John (1963). Double Headed — two generations of railway enthusiasm. Dawlish: David & Charles. 
  4. ^ Thomas, Gilbert (1947). Paddington to Seagood — the story of a model railway. London: Chapman & Hall. 
  5. ^ Gill, Crispin (1981). "From gangling youth to tycoon". Good Books Come from Devon — the David & Charles twenty-first birthday book. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. pp. 8,32. ISBN 0-7153-8139-3. 
  6. ^ E.g., Thomas, David St John (1963). The Rural Transport Problem. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 
  7. ^ Thomas, David St John (1959). Trains Work Like This. London: Phoenix House. 
  8. ^ Thomas, David St John (1960). A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain, Vol. 1, The West Country. London: Phoenix House. 
  9. ^ Thomas, David St John (1981). "Why we’re here". Good Books Come from Devon — the David & Charles twenty-first birthday book. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. pp. 1,12–13. ISBN 0-7153-8139-3. 
  10. ^ e.g.Thomas, David St John; Whitehouse, Patrick (ed.) (1984). The Great Western Railway — 150 glorious years. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-8530-5. 
  11. ^ e.g.Thomas, David St John (1990). The Cunard Book of Cruising. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-9074-0. 

Further reading[edit]

Thomas, David St John (2004). Journey Through Britain — landscape, people and books. London: Frances Lincoln Publishers. ISBN 0-7112-2369-6. , and Thomas, David St John (2010). Remote Britain — landscape, people and books. London: Frances Lincoln. ISBN 978-0-7112-3054-5.