Foreign Language Bookshop, one of the world’s largest and oldest specialist language bookshops, was established in 1938 by an Englishman from Ashtead in Surrey England who enjoyed travelling and saw the need for books in European languages for migrants arriving in Melbourne during the 1930’s.
William Bernard Wigston (WB) opened the doors to Foreign Language Bookshop in Bourke Street, Melbourne in 1938, heralding a great leap forward in the recognition of the new multicultural and multilingual population of Melbourne.
The primary aim of the business was to reduce migrant isolation; particularly for European migrants from Germany, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia and Austria, disembarking from ships into Australia.
Over time, increasing immigration from many other countries sparked the need to expand into new languages - a trend which continues today.
From the outset, 'Mr. Wigston's little shop' had a special air about it. 'Those who came in from the noisy street', chronicled the Argus, 'found the friendly spirit of the bookseller and the invitation to come in, scrutinise and handle the books on the shelves without obligation to buy irresistible.'
WB’s profile increased in his community and led to his later election into the position of Mayor of the Bourke Street Traders Association. Books from Foreign Language Bookshop were soon lining the walls of many institutions and fine homes and Libraries around Australia.
By the 1960s, WB had built an international reputation for excellence with links to academic institutions and libraries around the country.
Part of the success of the business has been to expand and contract language materials based on the ever changing multilingual demographic of Australia and the different needs of migrant and tourists populations.
WB was born and raised in Ashtead Surrey, England as was an entrepreneur who spent time in South Africa with his younger brother “Nigel” managing mining operations in the late 1920’.
He migrated to Australia in the early 30’s. He was a man who was known for his generosity of spirit.
A well to do gentleman, when Foreign Language Bookshop was started in Bourke Street it started as a library and he mainly spent his time as a share trader, utilising “library” staff to help keep his share records. WB lived in a Toorak mansion with a live in maid and his cat.
He wouldn’t allow married women to work for him but made an exception for Mrs Bess Carmichael who commenced working for him as a single lady and in later years was rostered to cover brief periods for other staff on leave or away ill.
During World War two, the library was forced to move to the corner of Bourke Street and Elizabeth Street. It was in this site that the Library started to become a bookshop. Worried about his failing health in the 40’s, he used to have his chauffer Herbie follow him around when taking his morning walks.
WB passed away in 1956 and in keeping with his absolute generosity, WB left money in his will to all staff and willed the business of Foreign Language Bookshop to Mrs Connie Tink who sold it in 1959 to Mrs Felder, who sold it in 1966 to Mrs Leser.
In 1971 Mrs Leser sold the business to Mrs Annette Monester who became only the fifth custodian and served a term of over 35 years.
During 1982 Ms Monester moved the business to the top end of Collins Street. The business flourished in its new home with Annette’s leadership and when she retired in January 2006, Foreign Language Bookshop was an institution.
On the 9th of January 2006, Mrs Monester handed over the reigns to only the sixth custodian Jacob Miceli to lead Foreign Language Bookshop throughout the early 21st century and to its 100th anniversary in 2038.
Jacob’s mission is simple – to become the world’s most respected supplier of foreign language materials and become recognised as providing superior product information and advice to anyone with a passion to learn a language or further develop their language skills.