Waterstone’s and history of chains

The Times Saturday book review today covered the "Waterstone’s question" — literally, with a cover picture of a Macdonald’s chip container (inverted logo — "W" — geddit?). Inside the container are three books, one by Marian Keyes, one by Jordan and a Dan Brown. The article itself is pretty good compared with what I’ve read on blogs and in the trade press, as the Times does not make "industry insider" assumptions. I think the main point of the article is to put the case against the Ottakar’s buyout attempt.

I was interested in the sidebar about the history of chain bookstores in the UK. I had always thought that WH Smith originated as a railway station newsagent, but apparently not, it was the first chain bookstore and opened in 1792, with its first station bookstall opening in 1848. Until "the last few years of the 20th century" WHS was the only nationwide bookseller, until Waterstone’s was founded in 1982, although there were small, family-owned chains. Not mentioned in this context is Blackwell’s, where I worked as a student in university vacations.

A lovely vignette: Hatchards opened on Piccadilly in 1797, bookseller by royal appointment. "It used to be visited each January by Princess Margaret, to return the unwanted books she had received as Christmas presents. One year, her reject pile included "The ITN Book of the Royal Wedding".

Lovely. Wonder if she ever read any of them?