Our founder

Paul Hamlyn selling books in Camden Market, London

About our founder, Paul Hamlyn, and the legacy of his work.

Early life and career

Born Paul Hamburger in Berlin, Paul came to the UK as a migrant in 1933. Like many Jewish families, the Hamburgers left Germany to escape Nazi persecution. He served during the war as a Bevin Boy’, the name given to young men conscripted to work in coal mines. 

He started his first book-selling business in 1949, selling volumes out of a wheelbarrow in Camden. From these beginnings, Hamlyn Books grew. He later created Octopus and other successful imprints.

Paul’s success was built on challenging traditional approaches to publishing, in particular, his innovation in developing high-quality products for the mass market. 

These included the first illustrated cookbooks, a series of classical music recordings (Music for Pleasure) and high-quality arts books, among many others.

Portrait of Paul Hamlyn

[Paul Hamlyn] liked to take risks – to do the unexpected by backing a person or an idea that no one else would support. He was always determined to look forward rather than back.

Jane Hamlyn, Chair of Paul Hamlyn Foundation 

Starting a charitable foundation

In 1987, Paul established the Paul Hamlyn Foundation for general charitable purposes. He had a particular interest in social justice, challenging prejudice and opening up the arts and education to everyone, but particularly to young people.

Paul died in August 2001, but his significant and generous bequest allows us to be independent and bold in honouring his beliefs and aims.

Our history

Find out more about the history of the foundation.

Paul Hamlyn – an oral history

In 2012, we published an audio documentary about Paul Hamlyn’s life, drawing on interviews with family, friends and colleagues. You can listen for free here: