EVERYDAY SENSATIONALISM IN VICTORIAN BRITAIN: THE ILLUSTRATED POLICE NEWS

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SYNOPSIS

We take a deep look at the Victorian press and in particular, hone in on the wonder that was The Illustrated Police News. Most famous today for its coverage of Jack the Ripper, the paper covered all manner of Victorian crime, punishment, murder, suicide and cultural oddities. Aimed at the masses, it was sensationalist, scandalous and wildly popular, much to the chagrin of the established press.

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Everyday Sensationalism in Victorian Britain: The Illustrated Police News

 

Intro

 

The Victorian Press in England is well known for its hyped up sensationalism. Stories of murder, suicide and violence scattered throughout the pages alongside advertisements for snake oils and pornographic postcards. It was a sharp reflection of the interests of the masses, undergoing an ongoing attempt at gentrification. Of the thousands of editions, one paper stands out above the rest for its continued pinpoint sensationalism and mass appeal, The Illustrated Police News. Familiar to anyone who has ever searched the internet for Jack the Ripper, the papers large, front page illustrations prevailed for over 50 years and continued, voluntarily, long after most other papers turned towards the inclusion of photography. The illustrations could depict scenes after the fact and encouraged the reader to employ their own imaginations upon the papers tightly driven narrative of evil and justice. Today, we take a look at the paper alongside some of the bizarre, the strange and the downright scandalous stories that adorned these pages throughout the 19th Century. This is Dark Histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.

 

The Early Press

 

Although periodicals and pamphlets had circulated for many hundreds of years prior, it wasnt until the 18th Century that a publication that closely resembled a modern newspaper was published in England. The rise of the press came following the civil war and restoration and initially proved to be somewhat problematic for the government, who saw the influence of the freedom of the press as a threat and as such, a tax was levied on all papers in 1712. Despite these measures, this didn’t stop what was to become a burgeoning market and by the mid 18th Century, there were twelve established London based Newspapers and 24 provincial papers that were not only existing, but thriving. On the first of January, 1785, The Times, founded by publisher John Walter, published its first edition under the name The Daily Universal Register, only adopting the name it would continue to use until today in 1788. 12 years later, The Observer, another paper that still runs today, would publish the first Sunday Newspaper.

 

By the turn of the century, the business of writing the news was an unstoppable force, barreling through taxes and restrictions and London alone saw a rise in titles from 12 to 52. In response, taxes were raised twice more, both in 1802 and 1815, but by the mid 19th Century, the game was up and after a reduction in 1836, taxes were completely abolished in 1855. This abolition opened the gates to the industry and a swaithe of new titles flooded onto the market. The Illustrated Police News was one such paper. First published on 20th February in 1865, it bucked trends and caused a stir in more ways than one.

 

In the earliest days, the news itself was not often seen on the front pages. Instead, these pages were often reserved for adverts from both companies and individuals. They were densely packed sheets of print, with streams of content tied end to end. The concept that one would read the paper scrupulously from cover to cover had not yet been challenged and it wasn’t until much later that this notion held by the newspaper editors would be rudely awakened. As such, headline splayed only a minor role and were often overlooked entirely with stories running into one another, often with only the first word of the next story italicised to denote its beginning. The stories were often short and snappy and held very little in the ay of detail, instead offering as a way to serve generalised stories pulled from around the country. Take for example, these two unrelated stories taken from The Evening Mail, published on the 1st january, 1802, which run on from one to the other without skipping a beat.

 

“The late French Naturalist, Dolomieu, has left behind him a most interesting work, nearly completed, on the philosophy of mineralogy. It was written during his confinement. The black created by the smoke of his lamp, diluted with water, served him for ink; his pen was a small bone, which, with infinite labour, he ground on the flag stones of his cell; and the greater part of the work was transcribed on the margin, and between the lines of the few books they allowed him to keep. Some extracts from this work have appeared in the Miners Journal. It is to be regretted that the Author did not live to finish it, as he intended to introduce a new clarification into the science, adn to improve the ancient nomenclature. Yesterday afternoon, about two o’clock, a fire broke out at Lady Pembrokes house, in Cavendish Square, which, from its violence for several hours, seemed to threaten destruction to the whole neighbourhood, and to fill the inhabitants with terror.”

 

This continues as such for all four of its pages, only broken by Headlines denoting a new section, with each section focusing on various locales.

 

Later studies would show that for the majority, papers were in fact, not often read as books, but as much as a quarter of the content was skipped over. Clearly an evolution in content delivery was necessary. Several papers took up the charge, though one aimed to change the game entirely.

 

The Rise of the Weeklies

 

After the reduction in taxes in 1836, Britain saw a boom in weekly publications, including the novel for the time, Illustrated London News. The Illustrated London News was the first paper to include Illustrations on the front page rather than a simple title, followed by blocks of dense script. Founded by Herbert Ingram, it’s first edition released on Saturday 14th May, 1842 costing 6 pence, it was 16 pages long and saw the papers title adorned by an extravagant illustration of the London Skyline with St Paul’s Cathedral as a centerpiece. The majority of the front page was a public address, stating the papers mission with no small degree of pomp:

 

“In presenting the first number of the Illustrated London News to the British public, we would fain make a graceful entree into the wide and grand arena, which will henceforth contain so many actors for our benefit, and so many spectators of our career. In plain language, we do not produce this illustrated newspaper without some vanity, much ambition, and a fond belief that we shall be pardoned the presumption of the first quality by realizing the aspirations of the last. For the past ten years we have watched with admiration and enthusiasm the progress of illustrative art, and the vast revolution which it has wrought in the world of publication, through all the length and breadth of this mighty empire. To the wonderful march of periodical literature it has given an impetus and rapidity almost coequal with the gigantic power of steam. It has coveted blocks into wisdom, and given wings and spirit to ponderous and senseless wood. It has in its turn adorned, gilded, reflected, and interpreted nearly every form of thought. It has given to fancy a new dwelling place to imagination a more permanent throne. It has set up fresh landmarks of poetry, given sterner pungency to satire, and mapped out the geography of mind with clearer boundaries and more distinct and familiar intelligence than it ever bore alone. Art – as now fostered, and redundant in the peculiar and facile department of wood engraving – has in fact, become the bride of literature; genius has taken her as its handmaid; and popularity has crowned her with laurels that only seem to grow the greener the longer they are worn.”

 

“Here we make our bow, determined to pursue our great experiment with boldness; to associate its principle with a purity of tone that may secure and hold fast for our journal the fearless patronage of families; to seek in all things to uphold the great cause of public morality;  to keep continually before the eye of the world a living and moving panorama of all its actions and influences; and to withhold from society no point that its literature can furnish or its art adorn, so long as the genius of that literature, and the spirit of that art, can be brought within the reach and compass of the Editors of the Illustrated London News!”

 

For all the grandeur, the final quarter of the page was devoted to a story bearing the headline “Destruction of the city of Hamburgh by fire” alongside an illustration titled “View of the Conflagration of the City of Hamburgh”, showing the docks set aflame. In its pages included a number of illustrations of the Queen Victoria’s first Masquerade ball and saw the inclusion of small headlines that broke up each story, for ease of reading. It was an unequivocal success with its first edition selling 26,000 copies. By 1855, it had a circulation of 200,000 copies per week, The Times, despite its global reputation and daily publication was sitting at the same time on numbers around 360,000. Competitors soon appeared. Two fo the largest, Lloyd’s Illustrated News and Reynold’s Newspaper launched in 1843 and 1850 respectively and whilst both enjoyed success throughout the 19th Century, neither scaled to quite the same heights as the Illustrated London News. Herbert Ingram died in 1860 in a paddle steamer accident on Lake Michigan and as such, never saw the launch of perhaps the most famous publication to ape the illustrated London news’ original style of journalism, the Illustrated Police News launched four years later in 1864 and would take the concept laid out by these early Illustrated pioneers and run with it.

 

The Illustrated Police News

 

Illustrated Police News was founded in 1864 by messrs Lee & Bulpin and saw its first edition published on Saturday 20th February. Priced at only one penny, it was significantly cheaper than most other weeklies and a full 5 pennies cheaper than the Illustrated London News, as such, it sought to hit a wider, national and broadly more working class audience. In stark contrast to the first edition of the Illustrated London News, the editorial announcing its mission statement to the world pronounced itself rather more simply as “The People’s Paper” with “An aim to provide readers with a truthful narrative of the lives and trials of criminals, past and present”. Its content was essentially a simple equation, aiming to marry two of the Victorian era’s most popular genres, the Police Newspaper, detailing crimes and punishment with the images from the Illustrated Journals, such as the Illustrated London news, The Graphic and Reynolds Newspaper. It consisted of only four pages and aimed to stuff them full of sensationalism, melodrama and quote-unquote “True Stories” of crime. It was an immediate success and hit its stride with a circulation of around 175,000 copies.

 

In 1865, the paper was taken over by George Purkess, a man who was no stranger to sensationalist publishing. George Purkess, born on 10th February 1832, was the son of a publisher, George Purkess Senior, who operated out of a small bookshop in Soho and who had already published over twenty penny serials during the mid 19th Century, with titles such as “The Life and Adventures of Jack Sheppard”, “A Library of Romance” and “The Mysteries of the Past”. Purkess junior had earlier partnered with his father, though the company was dissolved in 1856, three years before the death of Purkess Senior. After his father’s death, George Purkess Junior sought to get back into the publishing game and within the Illustrated Police News, he immediately saw promise. Lee and Bulpin sold the paper to Purkess in 1865 and attempted to found a similar paper in America shortly after, though the project failed to get off the ground.

 

Over the following decade, Purkess experimented with the concept and in the years following his initial purchase of the Illustrated Police News, he published several other weeklies, each either slightly less or more risque stories, though each failed in comparison. The Illustrated Police News walked a fine line between out and out scandal and respectability and eventually, Purkess committed himself to focusing on the paper exclusively, though he continued to publish a handful of penny serials.

 

By 1868, the entire front page of the Illustrated Police News was dominated by the woodblock prints it was becoming famous for, each one storyboarding the stories of the week. The images were often melodramatic, showing moments of passion from the violent crimes it covered.They aimed to put the reader into a perspective of having been there and at the same time, they shaped the narrative on what the public and society at large should make of the characters in the weeks stories. Murderers who were caught were often depicted at the gallows weeping, or on their knees begging forgiveness, whilst victims were almost always depicted as falling down, helplessly innocent. They were classic action scenes of good vs evil, with little ambiguity. The portraits of the main players were also unambiguous and used various shading techniques to enhance a cold stare or soften a victims face to present each in a way that told the reader exactly what to expect from their personalities. The illustrations were more than just great advertising and entertainment, though this certainly was a role in which they played, but they also allowed the paper to control the narrative, whilst allowing the reader to exercise their imaginations. One could gain an element of excitement from “reading” a portrait, like a criminal investigator for themselves. The illustrations were central to the drama, spectacle and sensationalism of the Illustrated Police News. It was pure entertainment and the readership swallowed it up, whilst the circulation ballooned.

 

Although focusing on crimes stories, broadly speaking, the Illustrated Police News covered several topics from murders to natural disasters, suicides and other oddities. During war time, and especially later during the First World War, the coverage would become dominated by battle scenes and war news. In the early days however, crime and oddities made for the better part of 75% of it’s output, with headlines including “Jealous Husbands Revenge”, “Man crucifies himself” and “Monkeys fight a duel to the death”, of course, all with accompanying illustrations. Animal fights were a particular theme more common than one might imagine and even a cursory search turned up stories involving brawls ina  circus between a monkey and a bear and a classic tale of a fight between a dog and a monkey, which held the central illustration on the front page for the week of 3rd February, 1877.

 

“A fight of a most remarkable character took place on Thursday last week, at a roadside public-house within half a mile or so of Newtown. It appears that a number of persons had collected together in the house in question for the purpose of witnessing a celebrated dog kill a given number of rats in a specified space of time. A pit had been formed, and bets were made pretty freely before the commencement of the days sport. The rats were turned into the pit, and the dog succeeded in killing the number assigned to him The dead rats were removed, the owner of the dog sponged the animals mouth and nostrils; scarcely had this been done when a new and unlooked-for combatant appeared in the arena. A monkey belonging to the landlord of the house leaped into the pit, and commenced a desperate attack upon the dog. The monkey was armed with a short, thick club. The dog soon began to be irritated, and a most extraordinary encounter took place. The dog, who had been belaboured most unmercifully with the club, gave his assailant two or three severe bites. Nevertheless his active opponent would not give up the contest. The bystanders shouted and cheered the combatants. The monkey flew around the top of boards encircling the ring, dexterously dodging out of the dogs way. Eventually he sprang upon the back of his canine foe, laid hold of the dogs nose, at the same time striking him repeated blows with the club. The owner of the dog jumped into the ring, and with the assistance of two or three friends, he succeeded in parting the combatants. Had this not been done the probability is that the dog would have been killed. The monkey was, of course, declared the victor.”

 

The Illustrated police News is perhaps more famous today due to its coverage of famous murderers rather than bizarre animal baiting. Perhaps most famous are the depictions of the Whitechapel Murders and it’s coverage of Jack the Ripper. Second only to the Star in its sensationalism, the Police News had the added advantage of being able to depict the crime scenes and embalzen them across the front page. Though in the murder reports themselves, the tragedy and horror of the incident would always be pushed front and center, the editor surely rubbed his hands together at the thought of the circulation figures for the week. Despite the papers common line of professing itself above such matters, it could not resist a full page illustration of the Mary Kelly butchering. The pandering worked more to heighten the melodrama than actually push a genuinely concerned attitude.

 

“Another Whitechapel Horror. More Revolting Mutilation Than Ever (With full page illustrations).”

 

Murderers like Jack the Ripper were not altogether common, unfortunately for George Purkess, and so in the downtime between juicy stories, it made do with lesser affairs of crime.

“Thrusting a Rat In a Man’s Face. (Subject of Illustration). On Wednesday, last week at Marlborough Street, john Cronin, 26, Colonnade, Russell Square, a horsekeeper, was charged with assaulting Robert Davereuax, a Cabman. About a quarter past eight o’clock on Tuesday morning, the prosecutor drove into the Haymarket, and asked the prisoner to move another cab of which he was in charge, so that he might draw up his own properly. Cronin immediately drew a rat from his pocket and thrust it in the face of the prosecutor, and on the latter remonstrating, prisoner struck him a violent blow in the mouth with his fist. A constable came up and the prosecutor told him what the prisoner had done. Cronin then struck him a second time in presence of the officer. He was taken into custody. At the station he pulled several rats from his pockets. Mr Mansfield, the magistrate, sentenced Cronin to a month’s imprisonment without the option of a fine.”

 

Whilst not scared to address the paranormal, and it certainly wasn’t above such stories, in general the reports when dealing with such content tended to report matters with tongue firmly in-cheek. Spectres were often reported on with flippancy and many alluded to pranks and mischief. The stories themselves however, were miniature penny dreadful serials in themselves and were prime examples of the papers sensationalist style.

 

“A ghost at a watermill, Stockport. Absurd as it may seem in this unromantic age to describe the doings of a ghost, we feel we should not be doing our duty as journalists were the freaks of one of that fraternity, in our own matter-of-fact town, left unrecorded. The event which we are about to record happened at Park Mills, Stockport, belonging to Messrs. M Dickie and Co., and as they occurred but last week, and can be well authenticated, we need no further excuse for contributing to the ghost lore of the country. The mills referred to stand in close connection with several other cotton factories, some of which, besides those of Messrs. Dickie and Co., are worked partially by water, which is conveyed in large underground sluices for a long distance. This is notably so at the mills in the park, the outlet of one of the tunnels being an immense vault, in which is placed the huge wheel which supplies the mills with power. The gloom of this lonely place is at all times oppressive, whilst the rushing of the waters, which are spanned by planks to walk on, and the movements of the wheel, render it a spot little frequented by the boldest, whilst timid persons, at all times, give “The Wheel-Hole” a wide berth. Connected with it, however, are several smaller vaults used for storing purposes, rendering it necessary at times for persons to pass that way. On Tuesday evening last week, just before the hour for leaving work, an overlooker named Whittaker had occasion to visit the wheel-house, and had not proceeded far through the vault before he became conscious of the presence of a tall spectral figure standing at some little distance from him. At first, he thought he might be deceived, but a light which he carried revealed the fact of a shadowy something being present beyond dispute. His way of retreat was clear, and, with more equanimity than most men would have possessed in the same contiguity to an unearthly visitant, he made the best of his way back from whence he came, though scarcely believing his senses as to what he had seen. He, next morning, told his experiences to two of his fellow workmen named Jackson and Cowburn, and the three resolved to unravel the mystery, if possible, the next night, by visiting the lonely place at the same hour as the spectre had been seen the previous night. It is said that Jackson and Cowburn disbelieved the story of their comrade, and viewed the matter in anything but a serious light. At the time appointed, the trio made their way to the wheel house, one of the three, doubtless, feeling the affair was not quite so much a joking matter as did the others.

 

Dark as was the night, the interior of the vault was darker, and the flickering light they carried but feebly illuminated the chaos before them. They had not proceeded many yards before their eyes encountered the ghost standing some little distance away in the gloom, clothed from head to foot as in a winding sheet. One of the party – we are not told which – beat a precipitate and somewhat ignominious retreat, whilst his companions remained just long enough to make out that the subject was not an imaginary one, and was considerably taller than a man. With many an anxious look to the rear the two men make tracks for more congenial quarters, joining their affrighted comrade, who waited their return at a safe distance away. Next day, the facts of the previous night’s adventure were made known to the sons of Mr Dickie, who held a prominent part in the management of the mill and their curiosity being aroused, it was decided to make yet another visit to the wheel-house in the evening, and , if possible, ascertain the cause of the strange vistant’s appearing. To test the matter still further, it was decided that Mr Wardle, who is a volunteer possessing a rifle, should make one of the party. Half past five o’clock found some six or eight persons ready to descend to the spectres haunt, provided with a bull’s eye lantern, a rifle, and some blank and ball cartridges. They had not to wait long before the apparition again ut in an appearance, when the men began, like Hamlet, to question the ghost as to why he visited the place, though in accents and languages far from Shakesperian, but the spectre answered not a word. Summoning courage one of the party anggested firing a shot from the rifle, which was done by inserting a blank cartridge. Still the apparition moved not, but stood its ground. The word was given to try another shot, but before this could be done, the ghost beat a rapid retreat in the direction of an aperture which led to the mill-yard, and before any of the party could follow it, vanished out of sight. Some clue to the mystery is said to exist in the finding afterwards of a length of white cloth, which is supposed to have been part of the habiliment of the strange visitor, who is supposed to be an employee of an adjoining firm. The affair has caused much excitement in the neighbourhood; but there are many who still believe in te ghost of the Park Mill wheel-hole, who will, doubtless, be seen many times yet, if only in the imaginations of the more credulous workpeople.”

 

Another strange element of the culture of the paper revlved around it’s stories of Somnambulists, or sleep walkers to you and me. These stories generally fitted into one of two categories, either Somnambulist murderers, killing people in their sleep, as was the case in the story headlined “Wife Killed by Somnambulist Husband” or of Somnambulist young women who climbed out of bed in the black of night, naturally scantily clad and proceeded to sleepwalk themselves into one perilous situation after another. The “Fearful Position of a Somnambulist. Narrow Escape” which bore a single illustration taking up the entire front page on 17th April, 1897, depicted a woman walking from a rooftop along a narrow plank of wood, her nightgown frightfully revealing her curves, enough to make any Victorian reader blush as he paid for the issue at his local news stand.

 

As the circulation of the paper continued to grow, other papers criticised the paper openly, stating that it could inspire the more intellectually minded readers towards crime and even encourage juvenile delinquency. Under the headline “The Worst Newspaper In England”, The Pall Mall Gazette ran an interview with George Purkess concerning the Illustrated Police news on Tuesday, 23rd November 1886. This more upmarket paper had previously held a poll to vote for which publication they thought was the worst, and it’s readers had spoken. From this lofty position, a reporter for the Pall Mall Gazette took it upon himself to report on the Illustrated Police News, to clue the readership in on that which they so looked down upon.

 

“One of our representatives betook himself to the office of the journal which has acquired so unique a distinction, in order to learn something as to its character, career, and circulation, and to discover what points its conductors could plead in defence of the publication. He was without delay introduced to the proprietor, Mr George Purkess, who received the verdict of the jury with great good temper.”

 

“The premises are not of the princely and palatial order. A small shop, in fact, does duty as publishing office, and the editorial rooms on the upper floors are dimunitive and dark, and certainly, late on a wet November afternoon, also somewhat dismal. The proprietors apartment is three parts office and one part sitting-room. On the desk lie copies of ‘Truth’ and ‘Punch’, while on the walls are a number of coloured pictures, mostly identified in some way with the Police News.”

 

“”I acknowledge it to be a sensational newspaper”, said Mr Purkess, in reply to a question in which the reputation acquired by the journal was suggested, “but we are also credited with giving the best portraits published by any journal, not excluding the Illustrated London News and The Graphic.”

 

During the interview, Purkess showed the Gazette reporter a book filled with hundreds of artists names, spread throughout the country and offered an insight into it’s operations.

 

“I know there exists a popular impression that our illustrations are largely imaginative, but as a matter of fact we are continually striving after accuracy of delineation. If a tragedy were to occur in London to-day, we send an artist straightaway to the scene; should a terrible murder or extraordinary incident be reported from the country, we would at once dispatch a telegram to one of the artist whose names are in the book I have shown to you, or, if we were not acquainted with an artist in the locality, we would advise a newsagent to instruct one on our behalf. The artist, of course, always endeavours to to get a view of the scene of the tragedy, outrage, suicide or accident, and we always give a picture of the house in which the inquest is held, but naturally, in sketches of this kind, from the very character of the incident, the imagination must be given some freedom.”

 

In defense of the claims that his paper promoted crime and criminality, raising the profiles of murderers in the view of the public, Purkess defended it with a wave of his hand,

 

“It does not add to the criminality of the country – in fact, it is a distinct deterrent to crime, because it warns people of the horrors of crime, and the results following upon the commission thereof. I know what people say, but as I replied to a friend who asked me why I did not produce some other paper than the Police News, “We can’t all have Timeses and Telegraphs, and if we can’t have the Telegraph or the Times, we must put up with the Police News”

 

The advertisements found on the fourth and final page of the paper drew equal criticism, often focused around the sale of the popular Penny Dreadfuls, Pornographic postcards, contraception, snake oils and dubious patent medicines, astrology readings, small consumer goods such as pocket watches, hats and wigs and racing tips.

 

“For single men only, Bacana-Se-Kaber, or the bachelors secret photograph. Something really worth having. Sent post free for three stamps.”

 

“New Tale! Giles Evergreen, or, Fresh from the country. Commences in this weeks number of THE BOYS OF ENGLAND. With The Boys of England will be given away, Model of the London Tower and A Model of a Ship.” Purchase of the The Boys of England also gained entry into a prize draw, up for grabs were:

 

“2 Shetland Ponies, 30 Silver Watches, 30 Cricket Bats, 200 Volumes of Scott’s Novels, 2 Splendid Newfoundland Dogs, 200 Boxes of Watercolours and other articles too numerous to mention”

 

Other books included “The adventures of a ballet girl”, “The Death Mystery” and “The monks and their Maidens: A thorough discovery of Convent Life. Neatly Bound.”

 

Many of the Patent Medicine adverts outside of the numerous aids for healthy moustache growth, were for sufferers of various STDs, though the ads themselves were often vague, citing malaise or general weakness as symptoms. Despite being largely useless, these miracle cures offered a level of discretion, with the patient being able to send off a few stamps and anonymously buy a cheap miracle cure, a solution far more appealing than a visit to the doctor who might ask awkward questions.

 

“A grateful patient, restored to health after many years suffering from Excess of Youth and Private Diseases will be glad to send the prescription and advice by which he was cured for two stamps, for transmission. Address: Medious, 20 Albert Street, Penton-Street, islington, London.”

 

The paper continued to grow with this tried and true package for almost thirty years, but as the century began to close out, a new era was dawning. The working classes who had been undergoing a process of gentrification were finding their tastes, pursuits and interests changing and with it, the Illustrated Police News responded in kind. By the 1880s and 1890s, the paper began to see a downturn in Violent Crime reports, down over 10% on the previous decades, whilst an increase in sports related stories, betting tips, scandal and non-violent crime reports saw a dramatic increase. In 1892, George Purkess sold the paper to George Lyon bennet under the company name of Purkess and Family Co. Just months later, on the 19th December, 1892, George Purkess Junior passed away, with his death making only a small entry in the bottom corner of the second page of the Illustrated Police News that week.

 

“Mr george Purkess, proprietor of the Family Doctor and this journal, died on Saturday morning at his residence in Avenue Road, Regent’s Park, from Tuberculosis. A few weeks ago he underwent an operation, and was thought to be going on well. As late as Friday afternoon he was visited by his old friend, Mr Arthur Swanborough, manager of the Royal Music Hall. Deceased was highly esteemed by a large circle of friends.”

 

Downfall of the Illustrated Police News

 

After George Purkesses death in 1892, the paper continued to run, though it underwent a great many changes. It jumped up in page count, and then fell again upon the outbreak of the first world war, the battles of which dominated the paper throughout, replacing the stories of crime, though the stories pertaining to sport remained untouched. It saw a price increase and though after the war the crime content returned, it became increasingly marginalised in representation by the papers sports coverage. Eventually, the papers long-standing tagline of “Law Courts and Criminal Record” was dropped, and replaced with the “Sporting Weekly Record”. The papers publication day changed from Saturday to a Thursday, allowing for readers to scrub up on their football news before the weekends games and for the first time, photographs rather than illustrations were used. Eventually the paper would turn almost entirely towards sports and on the final edition, March 3rd 1938, the paper was 100% sports coverage. The headline on the front page read “Teams that should win Saturdays cup-ties” and the illustration was of “Football Stars” George Cummings of Aston Villa and Charles Craven of Grimsby Town.

 

Conclusions

 

Whilst the papers dramatic change of face and eventual downfall was relatively swift, it reflected a greater societal change that had taken place since its birth. The working classes of the mid Victorian Era were slowly tamed, their leisure habits refined and gentrified. True to its humble mission statement from the first edition, it had maintained its place as the people’s paper for over 50 years, treading a fine line between scandal, violence and respectability. It aimed at a mass market with perfect precision and whilst the truth of many of the reports is certainly something that could be argued, it offers a fantastically intriguing and oftentimes, darkly humorous view into the entertainment pursuits of the Victorian Working Class. Whether or not it had managed to uphold the high values of morality professed by the first edition of the Illustrated London News is doubtful, but hey, at least we all got to hear the story of the one time that monkey and dog had a fight in a pub in Newtown.

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