To commemorate the 200th birthday of Edward Lloyd, we have a special guest article, written by Joy Vick. Joy is a member of a collaborative research project on the life and legacy of Edward Lloyd.
Everyone’s heard of Lord Northcliffe. He published the first popular newspaper, the Daily Mail in July 1896. What’s not so well known is the history of the newspapers that paved the way for Northcliffe’s success.
As is so often the case, those in power write history the way they’d like it told. Lloyd’s Weekly, the most popular newspaper in Victorian Britain, barely gets a mention in press history. Yet on this day in 1896 it was the first newspaper printed on Fleet Street to sell over a million copies. And coincidentally, on this day two hundred years ago, 16 February 1815, its founder Edward Lloyd was born.
There is currently no mention of Edward Lloyd on Fleet Street or the names of his two popular papers, Lloyd’s Weekly and The Daily Chronicle. Neither the history of printing in Magpie Alley, nor the one in St Bride’s Crypt, mention him.
When Lloyd’s Weekly is mentioned in the history of the press it appears to have been misrepresented. For instance, Geoffrey Best writes in ‘Mid-Victorian Britain (1851-75)’ that the mass circulation Sunday paper Lloyd’s Weekly contained spicy melodrama. He goes on to say that whilst the Observer hovered on the line of respectability, some like Lloyd’s Weekly were definitely below it.
Close reading of albeit a small sample of Lloyd’s Weekly and The Daily Chronicle has revealed very different papers to those described by historians. Both papers assume a calm and reasoned reader with interests in politics, world news, sports and the arts. They also assume a reader interested in the need for fundamental social change, in particular the eradication of poverty and injustice through constitutional means rather than revolution. To be fair to historians with limited access to the newspapers, it’s possible that assumptions about them were based on the books Lloyd published in his youth, yet even they were not salacious.
Born in Thornton Heath, Lloyd left school at 14 (relatively late in those days) but his working life was spent entirely in London. He claims to have started selling his own printed works at the age of 14, cards, song sheets, cartoons, anything the newsagents could sell for him. Clerkenwell, around which he lived and worked, was a hotbed of radicalism at the time and Lloyd published political cartoons – some are now in The British Museum’s collection.
Lloyd hit gold when he started publishing penny versions of the works of Dickens such as “The Penny Pickwick” and “Oliver Twiss”, selling as many as 50,000 a week. In 1837, Dickens’s publishers Chapman & Hall sued Lloyd for stealing their readership and thus their profits with his cheap imitations.
They lost the case and Dickens reputedly said “I was made to feel like the robber instead of the robbed”. Lloyd’s defence: his books were so bad no one could mistake them for the real thing.
The Dickens versions were just a small part of his output. Lloyd also published a huge number of ‘romances’ featuring highwaymen, pirates and vampires, later termed ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ or ‘Penny Bloods.’ The most famous are “String of Pearls” that introduced Sweeny Todd to the world and “Varney the Vampyre.” Between 1836 and 1856 Lloyd published more than 200 stories of varying lengths. Many of his books were targeted at a female readership.
At this time stringent taxation levied on newspapers, so called ‘taxes on knowledge’, effectively put them out of the reach of the poor. When Lloyd decided to start a newspaper he had to be creative and resourceful.
Seeing the success of The Illustrated London News launched in May 1842 that cost 6d, Lloyd decided to bring out a cheap version, inserting the name Lloyd’s and calling it Lloyd’s Illustrated London News (he even used the same backdrop at the masthead.) It was launched in the Autumn of 1842.
To keep the price down and avoid the ‘tax on knowledge’ sometimes called the ‘tax on seditious literature’ the newspaper contained no news. It was purely a work of fiction – or news from centuries before. But after just 6 editions Lloyd was told he had to pay the tax or shut down his newspaper. He opted to pay the tax.
Lloyd must have guessed the Government was going to have to concede the taxes that put the price of newspapers beyond the reach of the poor eventually. Keeping Lloyds Weekly going during the first seven years was very hard. However once the taxes had gone Lloyd was ideally placed to expand circulation.
Another consequence of the taxes was that they held back the speed and efficiency of newspaper production in Britain because the presses had to be fed with cut sheets rather than reels of paper. The development of machines to print newspapers fed by reels of paper had forged ahead in the USA and Lloyd lost no time in importing the first Hoe machine. The first issue of ‘Lloyd’s Weekly’ to be printed with it was on 6 July 1856. It wasn’t until the tax on paper was dropped in 1861 that Lloyd could sell his paper for 1d, as was his dream from the outset. This led to a dramatic increase in circulation from 170k in 1861 to 500k in 1863.
Circulation of Lloyd’s Weekly continued to rise after the death of Edward Lloyd in 1890. Two of Edward Lloyd’s sons, Frank and Arthur, took over the papers. On 16 February 1896 Lloyd’s Weekly finally broke the million mark. It was the first Fleet Street newspaper to do so.
In 1918, just before the end of the war, Frank Lloyd sold both The Daily Chronicle and Lloyd’s Weekly. Ironically, the man who was effectively its new owner also had the name Lloyd; David Lloyd George – but that, as they say, is another story.
Much of the information here about Lloyd’s Weekly comes from Thomas Catling’s autobiography ‘My Life’s Pilgrimage’ (1911). Catling joined the paper as an apprentice and worked his way up to become its editor.
The story of Edward Lloyd has special relevance to St Bride’s Foundation as Lloyd spent much of his working life in Salisbury Square. Another connection is that Catling’s farewell party, after working at Lloyd’s Weekly for over 50 years took place at St Bride’s Institute (1 Jan 1907).
Thank you to Joy Vick for the words. You can read more about Edward Llloyd here.