The Story of Book Trust

The photograph shows Queen Mary visiting a book exhibition at No. 7 Albemarle Street.
The photograph shows Queen Mary visiting a book exhibition at No. 7 Albemarle Street.

Book Trust has been promoting books, reading and writing for more than 90 years.


In 1921 Hugh Walpole, the prolific Edwardian author of Rogue Herries, gathered together a group of notable people at his Regent's Park home in London. Amongst the group were publishers Stanley Unwin and Maurice Marston, The Forsyte Saga author John Galsworthy and politician Harold Macmillan. They formed the Society of Bookmen, whose aim was 'the advancement of literature by cooperation of the various branches of the book trade'. In 1924, the Society decided to set up the National Book Council.


An early editorial in an NBC News Sheet declared:

We all inculcate in our children a belief in the toothbrush; we can just as easily make them believe in books, which are toothbrushes of the mind.

To this end, authors were asked to write articles for newspapers; clergy and social and political organisations were encouraged to recommend books; and railway and shipping companies were invited to include information about relevant books in their brochures.


Public libraries and educational authorities were also approached, and parents and teachers were exhorted to foster the reading habit in the young. Much of Book Trust's work is still dedicated to this important cause.


Ninety years has seen enormous change and, through it all, the organisation has evolved, responding to the changing environment and developing its expertise and influence.  Today Book Trust proudly carries on the mantle, the ethos of collaboration and the passion for reading and writing which began almost a century ago at that first auspicious meeting.

  • The 1920s

  • 1921

    Back to top

    Hugh Walpole, the successful author of Rogue Herries, gathered together at his Regent's Park home a number of notable people (publishers Stanley Unwin and Maurice Marston, author John Galsworthy and politician Harold Macmillan among them) to found the Society of Bookmen.

  • 1924

    Back to top

    At one of the Society's early meetings, it was proposed that a National Book Council should be formed; several years and many arguments later, the first meeting of the newly formed National Book Council took place in Eastbourne on 11 September 1924.

  • The 1930s

  • 1931

    Back to top

    The first Children's Book Week started and has historically taken place every first full week in October ever since.

  • 1932

    Back to top

    Boys' and Girls' Book Week in 1932 was celebrated with an exhibition of English Illustrated Books for Children, which was opened at the V&A Museum by the Princess Royal and ran for a month.

  • 1938

    Back to top

    The enthusiastic John Masefield was installed as President, and the Duke of Kent as Patron. With these illustrious figures in place, the Council decided in the following year to expand its activities, but the coming of war changed these plans. Instead, the Council, boosted by words of encouragement from Mrs Neville Chamberlain (among others), focused on the power of books to inform and entertain during this taxing time.

  • The 1940s

  • 1940

    Back to top

    A 'Books and Freedom Exhibition', designed in association with the Ministry of Information, opened two days after the outbreak of the Blitz. Wartime News Sheets became less literary, encouraging readers to buy books about, for example, how to grow your own food, and more tactical: foreign guidebooks, they suggested, could provide useful information for Allied bomber pilots.

  • 1942

    Back to top

    The John Llewellyn Rhys Prize was inaugurated by Jane Oliver in memory of her husband John Llewellyn Rhys, a young author who was killed on 5 August 1940 while serving as a bomber pilot in the Royal Air Force. With a prestigious roll call of previous winners including V S Naipaul in 1958, Melvyn Bragg in 1988, William Boyd in 1982, Jeanette Winterson in 1987, Jonathan Coe in 1994 and David Mitchell in 1999, the Prize is unequalled in its reputation for singling out fine young writers early on in their careers.

  • 1945

    Back to top

    By now, the National Book League had a non-trade membership of 5,000 people, many of whom contributed to a building fund for the renovation of new premises in Albemarle Street, just off Piccadilly.

  • The 1950s

  • 1951

    Back to top

    In preparation for the 1951 Festival of Britain, the NBL was appointed as one of four constituent bodies on the Festival's administrative council (the Arts Council was another). The League organised a grand exhibition at the V&A to celebrate how much of British achievement, character and tradition had been created by the printed word. It was a huge success.

  • The 1960s

  • 1961

    Back to top

    At this time - and throughout the 1950s - the League was also concerned with the quality of provision of textbooks for schools. Information about how much, or how little, was being spent on books by the state and the municipalities was collated for the first time. Jack Morpurgo, the director at the time, was much consulted by the Department of Education up to ministerial level. Fifty years later, Booktrust's research into school spending in libraries was similarly influential, garnering much media interest. The NBL continued in this campaigning spirit by encouraging manufacturers to bring books into factories. A major exhibition entitled Books for Industry was mounted in Cardiff.

  • 1962

    Back to top

    The Work and Leisure exhibition toured English cities in collaboration with the Trades Union Congress. It was a long way from Mayfair to Gateshead, but the National Book League was no ivory-towered organisation, holed up in London, supping fine wines and nibbling on sweetmeats.

  • 1969

    Back to top

    Martyn Goff, best known now as the administrator of the Booker Prize (and also perhaps as a repository of book trade gossip par excellence), took over as chief executive in 1969. He was keen to seek alternative, public, funding and to broaden what he saw as the League's essentially elitist, literary clientele. He successfully wooed the Arts Council for funding, which allowed the organisation to move in new directions.

  • The 1970s

  • 1970

    Back to top

    Throughout the 1970s, money continued to be a concern, and despite the best efforts of many famous names associated with the League - author Angus Wilson succeeded publisher Mark Longman in the chair, who in turn was followed by Michael Holroyd and Margaret Drabble - the organisation was forced to sell its biggest asset, the freehold on No. 7 Albemarle Street.

  • The 1980s

  • 1985

    Back to top

    A generous offer of help from the Unwin Foundation was accepted, which saw the National Book League leave central London to cross the river to new premises in the old Wandsworth town hall, later known as Book House.

  • The 1990s

  • 1992

    Back to top

    Booktrust worked in partnership with libraries and health visitors in Birmingham to create Bookstart.

  • 1996

    Back to top

    The Orange Prize for Fiction was set up in 1996 to celebrate and promote fiction written by women throughout the world to the widest range of readers possible. The Prize is awarded to a female author of any nationality for the best full-length novel written in English, and published in the United Kingdom in the preceding year. The panel of five judges are given three words to guide them in their judging deliberations: originality, excellence and accessibility. The winner receives £30,000 and a bronze sculpture called the Bessie, created by artist Grizel Niven.

  • 1998

    Back to top

    Launched to coincide with the National Year of Reading, the idea for the Children's Laureate originated from a conversation between the then Poet Laureate Ted Hughes and children's writer Michael Morpurgo. The role of Children's Laureate is awarded once every two years to an eminent writer or illustrator of children's books to celebrate outstanding achievement in their field.

  • 1999

    Back to top

    The Sainsbury's Baby Book Award was launched to highlight the huge importance of young children and adults bonding through the sharing of books using the strength of book-trade names and celebrity parents to encourage children, parents, librarians and early years professionals to engage with high quality baby, pre-school and picture books. They later transformed into the Booktrust Early Years Awards.

  • The 2000s

  • 2000

    Back to top

    The Blue Peter Book Awards have been celebrating the best authors, the most creative illustrators and the greatest reads for children since 2000.

  • 2001

    Back to top

    Anne Fine became Children's Laureate (2001-03).


  • 2002

    Back to top

    The Save Our Short Story campaign was initiated in by the writer Margaret Wilkinson and quickly gathered an army of supportive spokespeople. A research project funded by Arts Council England and the Scottish Arts Council was set up to establish the state of the short story in the UK. Book Marketing Limited investigated publishing, sales and lending figures for short stories, as well as publishing outlets. As part of a larger literature research project, BML also looked into reading and buying patterns across the country.

  • 2003

    Back to top

    Michael Morpugo became Children's Laureate (2003-05). Letterbox Club starts with a developmental pilot in Leicester and Suffolk (2003-06). The inaugural Booktrust Teenage Prize was awarded to Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

  • 2005

    Back to top

    Jacqueline Wilson became Children's Laureate (2005-07). Booktrust was asked to take on the management of the Children's Laureate.

  • 2006

    Back to top

    Inspired by Bookstart and the success of a Pearson reading partnership with schools, Pearson and Booktrust joined forces to launch Booktime.

  • 2007

    Back to top

    Michael Rosen became Children's Laureate (2007-09). Booktrust bid successfully to the DCSF to run a Letterbox Club pilot in 2007-08, with additional help from Penguin. Inspired by the successes of  Bookstart and Booktime, Booked Up was launched to give Year 7 children a free book from a carefully selected and varied list of titles chosen by an independent selection panel.

  • 2008

    Back to top

    The Booktrust Best New Illustrators was announced at the Bologna Book Fair in 2008 as part of the Big Picture Campaign to expand the market for, enhance the status of, celebrate picture books in the UK and recognising the role of picture books to engage families and young children in reading.

  • 2009

    Back to top

    Anthony Browne became Children's Laureate (2009-11) In 2009, the Letterbox Club opened to every local authority in the United Kingdom as a subscription service, with over 4,500 children enrolled across the 129 authorities.


  • The 2010s

  • 2010

    Back to top

    This year saw further expansion of Letterbox Club with 4,545 children and 140 local authorities involved. In 2011, there were 113 local authorities signed up with 4,499 children enrolled. The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award, a new annual literary prize, was launched in 2010 to build on the success of an innovative weekly short fiction slot in The Sunday Times Magazine introduced by deputy editor Cathy Galvin. Often hailed as the richest literary prize, with the winner of a single short story under 6,000 words receiving £30,000, the Award is also linked to the Small Wonder short story festival in Charleston, and works in conjunction with Waterstone's and Word Theatre on spoken word events and a collection of the shortlist.

  • 2011

    Back to top

    Julia Donaldson became Children's Laureate (2011-13). Letterbox Club expanded with the launch of the Green parcels for 11-13-year-olds.


    Booktrust took over the management of the David Cohen Prize for Literature and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Established in 1993 by Arts Council England and awarded biennially, the David Cohen Prize for Literature is one of the most distinguished literary prizes in Britain, rewarding a lifetime's achievement in literature. Previous winners who have been awarded the £40,000 prize money include Seamus Heaney, Harold Pinter, Beryl Bainbirdge, V S Naipaul and most recently Julian Barnes in 2011. The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is awarded annually for the most exceptional piece of work of contemporary fiction which has been translated into English from any other language. Uniquely, acknowledges both the author and the translator equally, recognising the importance of the translator in their ability to bridge the gap between languages and cultures. The IFFP is now the focal point for our promotion of world literature, underpinned by the Translated Fiction area of the Booktrust website.

  • 2012

    Back to top

    Every secondary school in England is offered a School Library Pack: a free pack of books and resources to support reading for pleasure across the school. The pack is available to any school with Year 7 students and offers resources for 11- to 16-year-olds.

    Booktrust Cymru launched Pori Drwy Stori, a bi-lingual national programme for Wales for four- to five-year-olds funded by the Welsh Government to support literacy in the foundation phase. All children in maintained Welsh primary schools were eligible for the programme automatically.

    The Write Book project was launched, aiming to support Year 5 and 6 teachers to run whole-of-year writing projects inspired by classic or popular children's books, enabling pupils to respond creatively to classic or contemporary children's fiction and nonfiction texts.

  • 2013

    Back to top

    Read for My School, a national schools reading competition from The Pearson Foundation and Booktrust, with support from the Department for Education, with reading for pleasure at its heart, aims to generate excitement about books and cultivate long-lasting positive attitudes towards reading. Free for all primary schools in England and open to children in years 5 and 6.

    Summer Active aims to promote children's enjoyment of books and encourage them to see reading as a pleasurable activity rather than a chore. The move from primary to secondary school is particularly important in the development of reading skills and this programme will help support children during that time that have not reached their expected reading level in English.

    Malorie Blackman is appointed the new Children’s Laureate (2013-15).