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Thursday, 4 April 2013

“American Magazines were Supplanting Those of Native Birth. The Strand Magazine Checked That, and Established a New Record of Sales in this Country…” Or: George Newnes & The Strand Magazine:


After the history of the famous Punch magazine was explored in the previous post, I thought it a good time to delve into the story of another favourite historical magazine of mine; The Strand.

Without question, The Strand is most famous for being the first to give page-space to Sherlock Holmes. Indeed, Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective – and in particular ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ – was responsible for the magazine’s highest distribution figures, peaking at over half a million copies per month during the serialization of the aforementioned story.

The Strand was a combination of factual articles (a couple of which I have used here on this blog) and fictional tales written by many of the leading authors of the day.
During its sixty year run from 1890 to 1950 the magazine published stories and articles by notable writers such as H.G. Wells, Arthur Morrison, Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse, Rudyard Kipling and Dorothy L. Sayers. Even Queen Victoria and Churchill had pieces published within its pages. (Although the Queen Victoria piece was only a sketch she had drawn of one of her children)

Many may also recognize the front cover of the magazine, which is a delightful sketch of The Strand in London looking toward Mary le Strand. The cover was designed by the artist George Charles Haite, who has charmingly suspended the title of the magazine from the telegraph wires which zig-zag the thoroughfare.

A lesser claim to fame that the magazine can boast is that it was the first to include within its pages something now featured in all the daily newspapers in this country; a dedicated puzzles page.
Early in the twentieth century (possibly around 1910) under a column entitled Perplexities the magazine contained conundrums and brain-teasers, including the first appearances of cross-number puzzles (think of a cross-word but with numbers)

From 1910 until his death from throat cancer in 1930, the author of these perplexities was the mathematical genius Henry Dudeney.

Born in Mayfield, East Sussex, Henry’s grandfather, John Dudeney, was a self-taught mathematician (and, incidentally, was also a shepherd) and in his early years Henry looked up to his grandfather’s skills (as a mathematician, not a shepherd) with much admiration.
Henry Dudeney c.1910
He learned to play chess as a boy – a hobby which he continued to enjoy throughout life – and he became fascinated with solving problems in the game. The appeal of solving problems led 
to an interest in numbers and mathematics. The creating of numerical puzzles soon followed.

As an adult, Henry worked for the civil service, but created and d
evised puzzles in his spare time which he would often send to magazines and newspapers. In the early 1890’s he became a regular contributor to several publications, including The Weekly Dispatch (a Sunday paper that merged with the Sunday Express in 1961) Cassell’s Magazine (which in the late 1890’s underwent a change from being Cassell’s Family Magazine to simply Cassell’s Magazine and set itself up as a direct competitor to The Strand, carrying the same type of content – factual articles and fictional writing from contributing authors) and later to Blighty (Blighty began life in 1916 as a humorous magazine for British servicemen, but over the years slowly descended down a seedy, smutty slope, turning into a pin-up magazine in the late 1950’s, a nudey magazine in the 1970’s, and went the whole hog in the 1990’s when it changed its name to Parade and its content to hardcore) 


Henry died of throat cancer in 1930 and is buried in Lewes town cemetery in East Sussex.

The Strand, which was based in offices on Southampton Street, just off The Strand, was owned by the publishing giant George Newnes. George was a quite remarkable man with a finger in many pies; I always thought he’d make an excellent character in a Victorian novel.

Born in Derbyshire in the Great Exhibition year of 1851 he was, at various points of his life, an editor, publisher and an MP. His career began in 1867 when, as a sixteen year old he latched onto the soon-to-dwindle consumerism boom created by the Great Exhibition and entered the ‘fancy goods’ trade, sharing his time between Manchester and London selling anything from china, cutlery and snuff boxes to clocks, buttons and buckles. At this time Britain had been economically dominant the world over, and its manufacturing industry was seen as the world’s best, but by the 1870’s growth in the British economy was slowing down. As other countries with more energy and material supplies were connected to each other by the railways, demand for British goods decreased, and growing economic powerhouses such as America and Germany were catching up, and offering goods to the same standard as British manufacturers, and often at a cheaper price.
George Newnes

George married Priscilla Hillyard in 1875, and decided it was time for a change of career path. He set up a vegetarian restaurant in Manchester in order to fund a new project, and six years later he had raised enough cash to set up his first publication; Tit-Bits. (or to give it its full title :Tit-Bits from all the interesting Books, Periodicals, and Newspapers of the World) As its long-winded name suggests, the magazine’s content was part interesting stories from around the globe, and part fictional stories from contributing authors.


The magazine, which in the early days was published in Manchester, was a success, and posted weekly sales figures around the half-a-million mark.

In the mid 1880’s a competition page increased readership further, and publication of Tit-Bits was moved to London. Away from publishing, George – a staunch Liberal – was elected Member of Parliament for Eastern Cambridgeshire in 1885.

At the end of the 1880’s George met the controversial journalist W.T Stead, with whom he would go on to establish the current affairs magazine Review of Reviews in 1890.
The magazine began publication only a month after the idea had been discussed, and
Stead, ever one to court controversy, wrote most of the magazine himself. He would use its pages to write scathing attacks and sketches on celebrities, politicians and even other publications. It was this that caused George to cut ties with the magazine and sell his share to Stead. Following George’s departure Stead typically went for more shocking headlines, such as ‘Baby-killing as an investment’ and ‘Ought Mrs. Maybrick to be tortured to death?

It was in 1891 that George’s most famous magazine, The Strand was born to great success, and in the same year his publishing business, George Newnes Ltd, was formed, and throughout the 1890’s created further titles to add to George’s cannon, such as the Westminster Gazette, which was a highly regarded Liberal evening newspaper that began life in 1893 (George sold the Gazette in 1908 and it went on to merge with another leading Liberal newspaper, The Daily News, in 1928) In1897 the world saw the first publication of Country Life magazine, which is still running today, and in 1898 the World Wide Magazine was founded. This featured true-life, travel and adventure stories from across the globe. Publication of World Wide ceased in 1965.

In 1895 George received both bad and good news; after ten years as MP for Eastern Cambridgeshire he was defeated by the Conservative candidate Harry McCalmont, but this disappointment was tempered when he was made a Baronet, as reported here in The London Gazette:

Whitehall, February 11, 1895,
THE Queen has been pleased to direct Letters Patent to be passed under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, granting the dignity of a Baronet of the said United Kingdom unto George Newnes, of Wildcroft, in the parish of Putney, in the county of London; of Hollerday Hill, in the parish of Lynton; and Hesketh House, in the borough of Torquay, both in the county of Devon; Esquire: and the heirs male of his body lawfully begotten.
            - The London Gazette, February 1895

In the late 1890’s George developed an interest in films, and particularly in how they could be utilized in the same way as newspapers and magazines to deliver news and current affairs events to the public. In 1899 he invested £2000 in the British Mutoscope and Biograph Company – a subsidiary of the American Mutoscope and Biograph Co.

George was excited by – and involved in – the company’s plans to develop the existing technology of the company (essentially peep-show machines) into a medium for delivering news. They boldly declared that “The novelty of the illustrated newspaper has worn down a little, and what the public want just now is a mutoscopic or biographic newspaper, in which the reader may see the progress of current events.” Hmm…sounds familiar. 

In 1900 the company put its Home Mutoscope to market, but it was not a success. Later the same year George re-entered politics, becoming MP for Swansea, and held the seat until he retired, aged fifty-nine, in 1910.

Lynton – the Devon town in which he lived, and of which he was baronet – and also the neighbouring town of Lynmouth, benefitted greatly from having George as a resident. He helped to redevelop the two towns, a task which included the building of a cliff-side railway which joined them, allowing goods and people to easily travel between the two.

He also provided the town with a town hall in 1900. This from the council’s official website:

Lynton Town Hall was built and given to the community by Sir George Newnes on August 15th 1900. Designed by Read & Macdonald of London this superb Grade II listed building is a unique mixture of manorial, Gothic and Tudor styles.
Constructed of local stone and oak by a local builder, the structure retains its unusual originality both outside and within.
When it opened Newnes wished that the hall would be… “a source of instruction and recreative pleasure, not only to the present inhabitants but to future generations”. These sentiments have been honoured by the local community ever since.

The Beautiful Town Hall


The re-vamping of the towns brought the railways to north Devon in 1898, with the opening of the Lynton and Barnstaple railway, built, ostensibly, to take tourists to the popular two towns from Barnstaple.

Shortly after his retirement from politics in 1910 George died at his home in Lynton having suffered from diabetes. With his death, though, his company, George Newnes Ltd, did not cease, but continued, and in 1963 was incorporated into IPC Media, who today publish magazines such as TV Times, NME, Cycling Weekly, Marie Claire and Nuts.

As the nineteenth century drew to a close The Strand celebrated its 100th volume. To mark the occasion George put pen to paper within its pages:

The Strand
April 1899: Volume 100:
A chat about its history by George Newnes, Bart.

When I was told that the Hundredth Number of The Strand Magazine was due in April this year, I could hardly realize its truth. How time flies! It seems only the other day that the first number of a Magazine on the lines that I had always wanted, with an illustration on every page, was published, and with such far-reaching results.

The Strand to some extent revolutionized Magazines in this country, and it is a fitting thing that on this Birthday something should be written as to its history.
This will not be done in any boastful spirit, but with a feeling of friendship, loyalty, and affection towards the “good old STRAND” which I am sure is shared by many thousands of people.

First of all let me talk about the name. At one time we thought of calling it “The Burleigh Street Magazine,” because our offices were then situated in that thoroughfare. But that was rather long, and as we were so very near the Strand we thought that to call it after the historic thoroughfare would be justifiable. But the name of a periodical does not really matter so much as people imagine. If you can put such material into the pages as will attract the public, they become so accustomed to the name, that after a while it really signifies very little whether a title be a good or bad one. But still I am very glad the Magazine was christened THE STRAND; and now this celebrated street – perhaps the most widely known of any in the world – is permanently associated with this pioneer Magazine.

What has happened since everybody knows. Most Magazines are now modeled upon the plan of The Strand. By the way, I commenced by saying I would not be boastful, but this rather sounds like it. Is it not, however, a fact? It is not a source of annoyance, but of gratification to me, and those associated with me, that our model should have been made the type of others.

At the time when The Strand Magazine first appeared, I have no hesitation in saying that British magazines were at a low ebb. American Magazines were coming here, and, because they were smarter and livelier, more interesting, bright and cheerful, they were supplanting those of native birth. The Strand Magazine checked that, and established a new record of sales in this country.

It is easy to get a good idea in journalism, but the carrying out of it is most important. I have been very fortunate in having as the Literary Editor Mr. Greenhough Smith, and as the Art Editor Mr. W. H. J. Boot, and I do not want to allow this hundredth monthly birthday to go past without acknowledging the ability, the faithfulness, and the loyalty that they have displayed towards the Magazine. I have had in a busy experience to deal with a great many people, and to ask a great many for co-operation, and I have never been associated with any who gave me less trouble and more assistance than Mr. Greenhough Smith and Mr. Boot. In any gossip or chat about The Strand I could not omit that reference.

I also wish to say how much we have appreciated the work done by authors and artists, of whom we have a large circle of valued friends.

The providing of the world’s thought and reading, whether it is of a light or serious type, is one of the most important professions; and it is a source of satisfaction with regard to The Strand that, whilst the tone has always been high, the interest has been continually retained. Its sale in America has also become very large. The American Edition is specially edited for that market by Mr. James Walter Smith. The International News Co., who are the W.H. Smith and Sons of America, always liked The Strand, and have taken much interest in its welfare, and to this fact it is doubtless largely due that the American success has been achieved.

The Strand, during all these years has maintained and continues to maintain its position.  It even did so whilst I was myself writing some articles for it, and if a Magazine can stand a test like that it can stand anything; and to show my confidence in its hold upon the public, I am going to put it to the further test of writing some fiction for it, but out of kindness to the staff and mercy to its subscribers I am putting off the evil day for as long as possible.

And now, gentle reader, forgive the egotism of these lines. I have been asked by the staff to write something on the Hundredth Monthly Birthday, and here is this little bit of gossip, which will conclude with a wish, that will probably be responded to by all its subscribers, that The Strand will be at its Thousandth Monthly Birthday as vigorous and flourishing as it is at its Hundredth.
            - George Newnes, April 1899

George was proved not be as great a prophet as he was a publisher, and The Strand did not quite make a thousand editions, ending, as it did, at issue 711 in 1950.

I must confess I have never read any of the fiction in The Strand, and, having only begun its life in 1890, the factual articles don’t give an overview of much of the Victorian era, but they are invaluable snapshots of the end of the century, and what would prove to be the end of the era in 1901.

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