Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sir George Newnes, Bart.(1851-1910)

Sir George Newnes, Bart., was the son of the Rev. T. Mold Newnes, of Matlock, and was born at Matlock Bath, Derbyshire 13 March 1851. George Newnes had been running a restaurant/coffee-house in Manchester, when, the story goes, he had an idea of posting together a compilation of periodical clippings on the back of a menu for his customers’ pleasure. This led to his first publishing venture, Tit-Bits, a cheap magazine of scrap-book oddities gleaned from various periodicals in Manchester in 1881. This type of scrapbook compilation went back a long way, The Thief, edited by Gilbert Abbott a’ Beckett, harked back to 1834. Newnes publishing rivals Alfred Harmsworth and C. Arthur Pearson were both contributors to Tit-Bits. Pearson won his position by entering one of Newnes many circulation competitions.

“Two hours after the first number of Tit-Bits came from the printing press, on October 30, 1881, five thousand copies had been sold in Manchester alone, and this notwithstanding what threatened to be a very serious drawback to the success of the paper. This drawback was its name. The Manchester newsboys were not the only representatives of the public who had pricked up their ears on hearing that a new penny paper would appear at the end of the month, and that the name of Tit- Bits had been chosen for it.” (The Life of Sir George Newnes, Bart, by Hulda Friederichs, 1911.)

Newnes was distressed but could not bring himself to discard the title. In 1884 he moved to London where he joined W. T. Stead in starting the Review of Reviews (1890). Sir George Newnes Ltd. (Newnes was created a Baronet in 1895) entered the field of boys’ periodicals with British Boys on 8 Dec 1896, a halfpenny weekly publication which lasted two years. The Captain (1899), a high-class sixpenny glossy similar to The Strand (1901), was more successful.

In 1900 he published Boys of the Empire a Magazine for British Boys all over the World, continued as “Boys of Our Empire” from 1901 to 1903 (Peeps into the Past, Jay). Newnes also published a story paper called Boys Best (date unknown) which featured The Amazing Adventures of Alec, Jim, and Tinpot series by soldier of fortune Stanley Portal Hyatt. Treasure Trove Library was issued from 1891-1922, and New Redskin Library in 1926.

George Newnes bought the copyright to Aldine’s Dick Turpin, Robin Hood, and Jack Sheppard titles about 1921. The Dick Turpin tales, most written by Charlton Lea (A. Sherrington Burrage), were reprinted in Newnes “Black Bess Library” beginning in January 1921 and running to 18 monthly numbers (Speaking of Aldines by Charles Wright, Collector’s Digest Xmas Annual 1953). A somewhat larger format “Black Bess Library [New Series]” came out later the same year. The covers were by R. H. Brock and Shilton. The last for Newnes, the “Dick Turpin Library,” ran 138 issues from 1922 to 1930. (Rogues of the King’s Highway, by David Ashford, Antiquarian Book Monthly, Nov. 1977.)

Newnes published an enormous variety of illustrated periodicals including (to name only a few) The Wide World (1888), The Million (1892), Country Life (1897), The Ladies Field (1898), The Navy and Army Library (1898), The Transvaal War Album (1899), The Captain (1899), The King (1900), Pegs’ Paper (1919), Deadwood Dick Library (34 nos., 1928-1929), The Buzzer (1937), Popular Flying (1935), Flying (1938), John O’London’s Weekly (1938), Happy Mag (1939), and Sunny Stories (1958).

Newnes also published newspapers. The Weekly Dispatch was born on 27 Sept 1801 and came to an end in 1961. The Weekly Dispatch was taken over by Newnes in 1894 and sold to the Harmsworth’s in 1903. The Westminster Gazette, which carried the cartoons of Francis Carruthers Gould, was prepared in the same building. One of Newnes Dispatch serial authors was William le Queux, author of The Great War in England in 1897 (1894), who was to serialize The Invasion of 1910 (1906) for Harmsworth’s Daily Mail.

Newnes died 9 June 1910. The New York Times of 10 June 1910 wrote that “Sir George had represented his party in parliament, had financed exploring expeditions, was interested in scientific progress and wholesome sports…but with the multitude of his compatriots he was chiefly the owner of Tit-Bits, and that is fame enough.”

*Black Bess Library images courtesy E. M. Sanchez Saavedra. Newnes, Pearson and Harmsworth photos from The Royal Magazine Volume I (Nov 1898-April 1899) published by C. Arthur Pearson. I have manipulated the images of the publishers -- originally the photos appeared on separate pages.


  1. Why was the magazine's title distressing? I thought "tit bit" was a respectable British English term...only on this side of the Atlantic was 'tit' slang for 'breast.' Or am I missing something?

  2. Yep -- in Cockney rhyming slang it's a "first aid kit!"

  3. why would that upset the newsboys in Manchester?

  4. Out of curiousity, do you know which title the image of the story "The Iron Man" by J. Wynne Bander was published in?