Miss Foyle (as she liked to be called) was born in London. At age 17, after leaving a Swiss finishing school, she started working at her father's bookshop, and never left. The store, Foyles, on Charing Cross Road in the West End of London, had been started in 1904 by her father, William Foyle. 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."
Miss Foyle met many leading literary and political figures over 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.
Despite numerous unique and often infuriating business practices (see Foyles) she managed to keep Foyles alive while many other bookshops were closing under the growing pressure from online booksellers and kept it going even when Tim Waterstone opened a large shop across the street.
Christina Foyle was the niece of Charles Henry Foyle, inventor of the "folding carton" and founder of Boxfoldia. Screenwriter Anthony Horowitz has said that Miss Foyle was the namesake for the title character, Christopher Foyle, in the ITV series Foyle's War.
The Foyle Foundation was founded in 2001 under the terms of Christina Foyle's will. It makes grants to other UK charities, mainly in the fields of the arts and learning (until 2009, also health). The 2010 accounts showed funds of over £76 million. Among other grants it made a large donation to the appeal to purchase the oldest intact European book, the St Cuthbert Gospel, for the British Library in 2011/12.
- "About us", Foyle Foundation website, accessed 17 April 2012; accounts are a linked PDF
- "British Library acquires the St Cuthbert Gospel – the earliest intact European book", BL Press release, accessed 17 April 2011
- Beeleigh Abbey, Christina Foyles former residence
- Obituary, The Guardian, 10 June 1999.
- Obituary, New York Times, June 11, 1999
- Obituary, The Independent, June 11, 1999