Dillons Booksellers

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Dillons on Gower Street; now a branch of Waterstones

Dillons was a British bookshop founded in 1932, named after its founder and owner Una Dillon. Based on Gower Street, London, the bookshop expanded under subsequent owners Pentos plc in the 1980s into a bookselling chain across the United Kingdom, before being sold to Thorn EMI and then spun off into HMV Group. The brand was subsumed under rival chain Waterstones' branding in 1999, at which point the brand ceased to exist.


Una Dillon founded the bookshop in 1932, but bought out a failing bookseller on Gower Street (near University College London) in 1936, and moved into the building most associated with the brand. Dillon drove the business forward, including delivering books by bike within eight hours. Her customers and friends included C. Day Lewis, John Betjeman and other bibliophiles.[1]

Sculptural detail on the building

Dillon subsequently sold the majority of the company to the University of London in 1956, with the proviso that it used her name. Dillon's share was created by her donation of stock and goodwill from her old business. The university invested £11,000 which had been given by an insurance company. A man had died during building work and because he had no relatives, the university redirected the payout. The business was soon worth £1 million a year, and expanded to nearby buildings. Una Dillon retired as managing director from the business in 1968, but remained as a board member until 1977.[2]. Her place, as Managing Director was taken by Peter Stockham. then followed a period when Dillons was controlled by the unions (Actss). Then in 1977, Grant Paton, from Glasgow,was appointed Managing Director by the then owners, University of London. It was taken over shortly afterwards by Pentos Ltd.

Back 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.[3]

Inspired by the success of Waterstones, demonstrating the potential for large modern bookshops with a depth of stock, the new owners Pentos plc rapidly rolled out the format across the country, ultimately building up a chain of 75 stores. However, having overreached itself financially,[4] Dillons was acquired by Thorn EMI, which already held the HMV chain, for £36 million.

HMV acquired the larger Waterstones chain in 1998, and the following year the Dillons brand ceased to exist as a separate entity when the branches were rebranded as Waterstones. A remainder were sold on to the smaller chain Ottakar's, which itself was later taken over by Waterstones in 2006.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cook, Jean H. (2009) [2004]. "Dillon, Agnes Joseph Madeline [Una] (1903–1993)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ "Obituary: Una Dillon". The Independent. 17 April 1993. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  3. ^ Christina Foyle; Managed Noted London Bookshop, Los Angeles Times, 11 June 1999.
  4. ^ "Pentos dealing halted". The Independent. 28 February 1995. Retrieved 3 May 2017.

Coordinates: 51°31′20.4″N 0°7′56.06″W / 51.522333°N 0.1322389°W / 51.522333; -0.1322389