Penguin Books founder Sir Allen Lane honoured at Exeter St David’s railway station

Wednesday 10th May 2017
  • The founder of Penguin Books, Sir Allen Lane, has been commemorated with a distinctive ‘orange plaque’ at Exeter St David’s railway station.
  • The station is where Sir Allen Lane conceived the sixpenny paperback in 1934, making quality books available to all at low prices and marking the beginning of Penguin Books

A memorial plaque commemorating Penguin Books founder Sir Allen Lane has been unveiled today at Exeter St David’s railway station.

The orange plaque, commissioned by Sir Allen Lane’s daughter Clare Morpurgo and designed by Penguin Random House, recognises Sir Allen’s contribution to British publishing and commemorates the location where he conceived the iconic sixpenny paperback.

For the first time, the sixpenny paperback made quality literature accessible to a wide audience, sparking the paperback revolution and the beginning of Penguin Books.

The unveiling of the plaque was marked by a special ceremony at the station to celebrate Sir Allen’s life and his extensive contribution to literature in the UK. Members of Sir Allen’s family including daughters Clare Morpurgo and Christine Teale, Managing Director of Penguin Press, Stefan McGrath, representatives from Great Western Railway, and local charities and community groups attended.

On the day of the unveiling a team of Penguin Random House publishers gave away a specially curated selection of paperback books to celebrate Sir Allen Lane’s legacy.

Commenting on the unveiling of the plaque, Clare Morpurgo, Sir Allen Lane’s daughter, said:

“It is wonderful to be able to celebrate my father’s contribution to literature in the UK. I know he would be delighted to see how many people have fallen in love with reading since Penguin Books first put quality books into the hands of readers everywhere.

“Given Exeter’s integral role in my father’s story, I could not think of a better place for this plaque to stand."

Tom Weldon, CEO, Penguin Random House UK, added:

“Allen Lane was central to the success of Penguin Books and his legacy lives on today. We all still share his passion for publishing iconic books and his ambition of connecting them with readers everywhere.

“We’re thrilled to celebrate his life and contribution at the very place he first had his inspiration.”

GWR Station Manager for Exeter St Davids Debbie Ferris commented:

“Literature and reading is often associated with railway stations, and relaxing journeys to the UKs most renowned destinations. For over 80 years Penguin has inspired its readers to escape, while the railway has turned that fiction into reality.

“We are delighted to be able to welcome Sir Allen’s family here today as we celebrate his life and a publishing revolution, which like the railways a hundred years before had a massive, and continuing, impact on public life in Britain.”

The story of the sixpenny paperback:

In 1934, travelling from Exeter to London after visiting Agatha Christie, Sir Allen Lane found himself waiting on a railway platform with nothing to read.

This experience, together with Sir Allen’s passion to make quality literature affordable and accessible to all, led him to create the Penguin sixpenny paperback and marked the beginning of Penguin Books and its lasting legacy.

The sixpenny paperback was affordable enough to be sold at railway stations, corner shops and even in vending machines across the country, ensuring no one would go without a quality book to read on their journey again. The first Penguin paperbacks included writing by Ernest Hemingway and Agatha Christie.

Sir Allen Lane went on to found Penguin Books alongside his two brothers Richard and John, and co-founding editor V.K. Krishna Menon in 1935.