Home > Book trade > Book Trade History; ‘Celebrating 200 years of Christian Bookselling’ – Part 1

Book Trade History; ‘Celebrating 200 years of Christian Bookselling’ – Part 1

It would appear that the very first UK Christian Bookshop opened in Derby in 1810 – exactly 200 years ago!  The Derby and Derbyshire Auxiliary of the Religious Tract Society opened this shop in the Cock Pit area of Derby. It then moved to The Strand around 1900 (where it was renamed The Bible and Book Shop) and on to Irongate before finishing up in its present location in Queens Street. Subsequent owners have included; Scripture Union, Wesley Owen and now it is owned and operated by Koorong of Australia.

The next Christian bookshop was opened in Bristol in 1813 by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. SPCK as a society had been established much earlier in 1698 by Dr Thomas Bray, a clergyman. SPCK went on to open their second shop in London in 1836.

Quite a number of now well known Christian bookshops opened during the mid to late 19th century including, in 1852, George Muller’s ECL Bookshop in Park Street, Bristol. The Wesleyan Reform Union (1849) and the Faith Mission (1889) also started their bookshops during this period as did the Protestant Truth Society (London) and the Catholic Truth Society (Manchester), also in 1889.  

Pickering and Inglis opened their Glasgow shop (1893), the first of a number of shops around the country. Nicholas Gray of RL Allan & Son Publishers (Chapter House Ltd), based in Glasgow, emailed me recently with more details of the P&I background;

 ‘The story of P & I is told in a book on the History of the Scottish Brethren by Neil Dixon.  P & I started as a Brethren publisher and bookseller in the mid 1890s by preacher Henry (HYP) Pickering and his friend William Inglis who died in 1906, when John Gray (my grandfather) became HYP’s partner and Managing Director. The firm expanded by printing in Glasgow and later Cardiff and opening shops in Glasgow, London, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Dublin, Bournemouth (Keith Jones is ex-P&I), Manchester and maybe some others.  They were a chain before such were known but tended to operate independently. That was their inherent weakness. 

By the 1930s they, along with Marshall Morgan & Scott, were the two leading UK independent publishing businesses, both with strong links to Keswick and their speakers. The bookshops were a good outlet for P & I books and their printing output gave them an advantage over MM&S. 

When the new centrally-run, charity-based SU and CLC shops came along, P & I found it difficult to compete and the shops closed one by one. The last to close were Manchester in 1966 and London in 1985. However the large Glasgow shop continued flourish and survived a company merger with competitors MM&S in 1981. 

My wife and I bought and refitted the P&I Glasgow shop in 1985 and opened a coffee shop which became a hit immediately. The shop was regularly voted ‘Christian Bookshop of the Year’ and in 1995 appeared in upmarket Harpers & Queen magazine’s A-list of UK bookshops. It had an award-winning Chapter House coffee shop long before Borders latched onto the idea.

The Glasgow shop was bought by STL in 1999 and became Wesley Owen’s flagship store for ten years before being bought by Koorong in 2009. 

P&I characters include George Gray (no relation) who managed the London shop in Ludgate Hill during the 1950s & 60s. He gave the unpublished manuscript of ‘How Great Thou Art’ to George Beverly Shea, now regarded as the most popular modern hymn’.

Parts 2 – 4 will follow shortly.

This brief history of the ‘Christian book trade in the UK’ is extracted from a lecture given to the Librarians’ Christian Fellowship (LCF) Annual Conference in London on Saturday 24 April 2010. For further information see www.librarianscf.org.uk.

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  1. Dawn Mahaffey
    September 2, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    I wonder if you could help get me in touch with Nicholas Gray. I have a 1st Edition The Believer’s Hymn Book!

    • September 2, 2011 at 7:12 pm

      Yes, I will if its OK to pass on your Gmail address?

  2. Desmond B Hills
    September 15, 2011 at 6:59 am

    Greetings from a fourth generation Dalzell of Motherwell Scotland. Dalzell House and the House of Binns were built by Dalzell’s.

    Your history of the 200 years of the book trade in the UK was read with interest.

    Please advise the e-mail address of P & I . I seek permission to quote in a book that I am writing, from an outstanding Christian book they published. This classic in Christian literature is entitled–Christ in al the Scriptures by Miss A. M. Hodgkin. It was first printed in 1907. My copy is the 1945 edition.It is interesting to note that the Publishing House address in Scotland is the same as in 1945 but the London office seems not to be operating

    My Dalzell family sailed to New Zealand in 1863 on the clipper ship,–Lancashire Witch

    Desmond B Hills–My Hills family came from South England

  3. September 5, 2013 at 11:33 am

    Hello Eddie I loved this article as my aunt Jessie Fulton worked all her life for Pickering and Inglis in Glasgow and so I remembered the names Gray which I had long forgotton. I used to make promise box’s for P&I as did my grandmother who brought me up ( Jessie’s sister) and the making of promise box’s and relationship with P&I was our life back then. I have now traced someone who has kept in touch with the promise box side but wondered when you cleaned the shop out if you ever came accorss the promise box blocks we used to use or old promise boxes as I would love to see one. Its a long story but P&I sustained us and was very important in our family life so I am really grateful for your article and would love to read more on this. huge thanks.

  4. anon.
    October 6, 2015 at 11:10 pm

    Greetings, I found your blog after searching online for brethren-related publishers and titles, such as P&I and M.M. I’m going through my late father’s books, some interesting old titles and I wish I could trade them. As it is they will be going to a charity institution and probably will be recycled.

    • October 9, 2015 at 7:23 am

      Thanks – Do you have a list you could send me?

  1. January 15, 2011 at 11:27 am
  2. March 3, 2011 at 10:10 pm
  3. March 11, 2011 at 10:03 pm
  4. June 15, 2011 at 9:03 pm
  5. June 22, 2011 at 8:24 pm

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