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Extract From an article in The Illustrated London News May 13th 1967 by Peter Biddlecombe
Until Ingram, a stocky well-built man whose features looked remarkably like those of Napoleon, arrived in London the Press had been embarrassed by illustrations. They were perplexed and bewildered. In 1613 an early news sheet had carried a gruesome woodcut illustrating a story of “Three Bloodie Murders,” yet more than a century afterwards in 1731 the Grub Street Journal was still able to cause a sensation by printing a woodcut depicting the Lord Mayor’s Show. The 19th century newspapers were just as dilatory: The Times carried a woodcut of Nelson’s funeral car in 1806, The Observer illustrated the Cato Street Conspiracy in 1820—but not one of nearly 400 newspapers in the country, including 80 in London, realised the force and impact of illustrations until they were given the lead.
Ingram scored over other newspaper owners for he had
already studied his journalism from the grass roots for nine years before
making a move-Standing behind his newsagent’s counter in Nottingham
he learnt two important lessons. The Weekly Chronicle
always sold more copies when it carried illustrations—he remembered
the demand in 1837 when it carried illustrations and
reports of the Greenacre murder in Camberwell—and
his customers always wanted to know which newspaper contained the London
Ingram faced two problems. First he had to find first-class artists and wood-engravers who would descend to journalism. Wood-engraving was a dying art restored to life, During the 18th century it would have disappeared but for the efforts of Thomas Bewick. In the early part of the 19th century it was practised by a handful of craftsmen who would now and again be asked to make a wood-engraving for The Observer, Bell’s Life of London, or the Weekly Chronicle. The artist’s picture would be pencilled on to the smooth surface of a number of pieces of boxwood. The engravers would cut away all parts of the wood except for the lines which composed the picture. The pieces were then assembled side by side so that they recomposed the picture and were locked tightly together with brass bolts and nuts. There was no urgency. An engraving might be published weeks after the actual event had taken place. Ingram now had to take a laborious and time-consuming craft and force it into the 19th-century. For the first time it was to experience the demands of news and deadlines.
Then he had to find journalists. Defoe, Swift, Steele, and Addison, the giants of 18th-century journalism, had set a hard standard to match.
John (later Sir John) Gilbert, a leading draughtsman
of the day, agreed to Ingram’s project and became the first artist
to descend to the higher profession. His friends quickly followed: Birket
Foster, a 27-year-old landscape painter, Harrison Weir
and Alfred Crowquill, who used to illustrate the Bow
Street police reports. Later came Kenny Meadows, H. G. Hine,
Charles Keene, George Cruickshank, and
finally John Leech, who at 23 was becoming one of the
country’s leading humorous artists and “Phiz,”
Hablot K. Browne, who illustrated Dickens. Famous names in the
history of wood- engraving, W. J. Linton,
Orn Smith, and Ebenezer Landells, completed
the world’s first newspaper picture staff.
Work began in earnest on the first issue. Publication was delayed until May 14th so that they could cover Queen Victoria’s fancy dress ball at Buckingham Palace, the talk of the city. At the last minute came news of the Great Fire of Hamburg. There were no picture agencies to be ready with photographs—Ingram sent to the British Museum for a print of Hamburg. Artists quickly prepared the illustration, added smoke, flames, and onlookers, and the first issue of The Illustrated London News—16 pages, 32 engravings, and costing only 6d—was on sale.
To readers brought up on the dull, graveyard appeal of the Weekly Chronicle, it was a revelation. While The Times, with its new editor, John Delane, and other newspapers carried advertisements on the front page, Ingram began by breaking every rule in the book, He banished advertisements to the last three pages. At the top of the first page he placed a design of St Paul’s Cathedral with Lord Mayor’s processional barges gliding along the Thames. The Hamburg fire was on page one. John Gilbert’s drawings of the great masked ball were inside. And there were reports of a train crash in France, and war in Afghanistan, reviews of fashion and books.
The response was enormous, The first issue sold 26,000 copies. Within
weeks sales grew to 40,000 and by the end of the year the paper had sold
one million copies. Its circulation had grown to more
than 60,000 a week although the whole business was being
conducted from a single room on the second floor of 198
Strand, overlooking St Clement Dane’s.
Ingram was ready to launch a serious rival to Punch.
Ingram never relaxed his concentration on the paper itself, He now began
the 50-year search for an alternative to wood blocks
which was eventually to end with the introduction of halftones.
Jabez Hogg was engaged to experiment with various methods of
trying to transfer daguerreotype photographs on to a
prepared wooden surface for reproduction. Ingram was also dissatisfied
with the paper The Illustrated London News used for printing,
He wanted a paper which would reproduce his wood blocks better than ever
before, He found there was only one solution: he started his own paper
The paper now rallied to Charles Dickens—he had
just published A Christmas Carol—and supported his campaign
for education and enlightenment for working people. It carried a picture
of him, wearing his “magpie waistcoat, speaking to 1,300 people
in Liverpool and afterwards receiving tumultuous applause.
By 1846 Charles Mitchell, publisher of the Newspaper
Press Directory, was able to comment, “The Illustrated
London News is liberal in its general tone, exactly suited for a
family paper . . it has more circulation among the younger generation
than any other newspaper.”
Sales rose to 130,000 copies a week. Even Queen
Victoria —according to her biographer—eagerly awaited
her copy each week. But music hath charms to soothe even the technocrat
of 1851. At Ingram’s suggestion, Mackay
began a series of musical supplements containing songs he had adapted
to especially arranged melodies by Sir Henry Bishop.
When the Crimean War broke out in September 1853 Herbert Ingram was more than ready for action. He dispatched six war artists, O. W. Brierly, J. W. Carmichael, J. A. Crowe, E. A. Goodall, G. H. Thomas, and Constantin Guys, to the front; for good measure he also published engravings of photographs taken by Roger Fenton, the world’s first war photographer. The artists became the first correspondents to accompany an army at war and send back reports. For three years readers were able to follow the Siege of Sevastopol, the assaults on the Redan and the Malakoff, and the battles of Balaclava and Inkerman in drawings and photographs. War had never been reported in such depth.
More records were established in 1855. Stimulated by the abolition of the penny newspaper stamp, sales rose to 200,000 copies a week in spite of 168 new newspapers being launched within I2 months and the Manchester Guardian and Yorkshire Post becoming dailies. It was 25 years before any other publication could reach the same circulation figure. The paper was making a profit of £12,000 a year and to celebrate Ingram published a Christmas supplement of colour pictures.
This was the signal for competition. Henry Vizetelly, Ingram’s earliest adviser, Andrew Spottiswoode, the Queen’s printer. and David Bogue, the publisher, with the help of Birket Foster, Kenny Meadows, and “ Phiz” launched the Illustrated Times, at less than half the price of The Illustrated London News. But they lacked Ingram. The paper had a brief success, bowed to the competition and was promptly swallowed by the ILN—Ingram paying Vizetelly f4,000 for his share.
By now Herbert Ingram was a powerful figure. He was
not only running the most successful newspaper in the country but he could
buy and sell other people and other publications. This made nonsense of
the early rumours emanating from Punch that every Saturday night
the Ingram family would sit around the table and have a good cry over
the week’s losses.
Ingram now had enough money to buy the copyright and plant of the London
Journal, a weekly illustrated newspaper of stories and romances,
for £24,000. The founder of illustrated journalism was laying plans
for the future—but within a year he was dead.
Herbert Ingram was a man born before his time. He was a prototype Northcliffe. He had the ideas, the verve, the understanding and appreciation of the Press. He had the same keen mind and powers of organisation. But two points were against him: the stamp duty, which was not relaxed until 1855; and time. He died at 49. Northcliffe died at 67.
But without Ingram, there would have been no Northcliffe. For Alfred
Charles William Harmsworth was once the £2-a-week editor
of Youth, which was published by Ingram’s son, William.
The organisation gave him his first opportunity of mixing with editors,
artists, writers, wood engravers, electrotypers, distributors, and advertising
men. His official biographers comment:
On Ingram’s death control of The Illustrated London News organisation
passed to his widow (later Lady Ingram-Watkin), who held
the reins for 12 years until her sons, William
and Charles, were old enough to take over as joint managing
directors. William, the second son, followed his father and became MP
for Boston. He was created a baronet in 1893 and died in 1924. Charles,
the third son, became co-manager and managing director and died in 1931.
Circulation hit a new record in 1863, when the special issue marking the marriage of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, sold no less than 310,000 copies. By now The Illustrated London News was part of the social fabric: the country might listen to the thunder of The Times but it looked at The Illustrated London News. This strength enabled the paper to attract writers such as Edmund Yates, T. Hall Caine, Clark Russell, Robert Buchanan, Walter Besant, Clement Scott, James Payn, Andrew Lang, Andrew Wilson, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Meredith, Rider Haggard, Thomas Hardy, J. M. Barrie, William Black, Conan Doyle, and Rudyard Kipling.
The paper’s appetite for news was insatiable. In 1865 it carried illustrations showing the police attack on cock- fighting; in 1867 it showed British troops searching for Fenians in Tipperary; in 1868, the Abyssinian war; in 1870 the Franco-Prussian war. Five artists composed the paper’s own Press corps: William Simpson, who had just returned from Abyssinia; R. T. Landells, who was to win the Prussian Order of the Iron Cross; G. H. Andrews; C. J. Staniland; and Jules Pelcoq, who I was confined to Paris and forced to send both his drawings and photograph copies to London by balloon post.
In 1879 the Zulu wars broke out. Immediately Melton Prior, the artist- correspondent who covered every war from the Ashanti wars in 1873 until his death in 1910, left for South Africa. He described the British burying their dead at the fatal field of Isandhlwana as the saddest sight he had seen in seven campaigns. He was among the party who discovered the naked body of the Prince Imperial of France, the eldest son of Napoleon III, who had volunteered with the British and was killed leading a reconnaissance party before the advance on Ulundi. Prior’s famous sketch of the final stand of the Zulus under Cetawayo was rushed 295 miles by horseback in 55 hours to the nearest port for dispatch to London.
News and drawings from the front were becoming more and more urgent.
The cheap newspapers were beginning to consolidate their grip: Reynolds
News was selling 50,000 copies a week while News of the World
and Lloyd’s Sunday News reached 100,000.
The Zulu wars were really only a dress rehearsal for
the Sudan, the first real Press war. The Mahdi
revolted against British rule in 1883. Gordon, who had
been sent to withdraw Egyptian troops, wrestled with the problem. And
when the Gordon Relief Expedition reached the outskirts
of Khartoum in January 1885 artist- correspondent Melton
Prior was on the spot. He had marched with the column and reported
the desperate progress of the expedition for the readers of The Illustrated
Churchill, of course, summing it all up much later,
had to have the last word. “Yet in this dark hour, there dawned
a brighter day,” he wrote.
Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee provoked Sir
Walter Besant in The Illustrated London News to draw
the lesson of the 60 years since 1837. “ The broad Atlantic,”
he wrote, “has, indeed, become a mere pond. The wooden vessel looks
almost as antique as the caracks of the Armada.
Iron has come to rule supreme; steam has made the picturesque sails of
60 years ago as old fashioned almost as the trireme.”
Bruce Ingram faced a critical future. For the first time the daily Press
was a threat. They were able to scoop the weeklies with pictures. The
first daily picture paper, the Daily Graphic, had appeared in
1890 and within ten years it had become a very real danger. The Illustrated
London News decided to hit back by exploiting the weakness of the
daily Press and perfecting the techniques in which they excelled: they
started printing better photographs on better paper and Ingram began to
develop the slow, expensive process of Rembrandt Intaglio
for rapid printing.
Like his predecessors, Ingram sought the leading writers of the day.
Joseph Conrad, who had published only Almayer’s Folly and The Nigger
of the Narcissus, wrote the Christmas story, “Amy Foster,”
in 1901. One ardent reader, a science-fiction enthusiast who had just
published The First Men in the Moon—H. G. Wells— dashed off
a quick note to another young writer, Arnold Bennett, saying “very
interesting” and urging him not to miss it. Four years later Ingram
selected another young writer who had been practising journalism for only
six years, G. K. Chesterton, to write
The man who was orthodox wrote a very unorthodox column. Yet at one time
Ingram wanted a change. He contacted Arnold Bennett, who was flushed with
success, and offered him £300 a year to take over from Chesterton.
Back came the curt reply: Bennett wasn’t interested. He could earn
that money in one week. Perhaps Chesterton heard of this when he came
to write his
The war to end all wars broke out on August 4 1914; on August 8 The Illustrated
London News published a special double number. Frederic Villiers was already
at the front, having trained for the assignment by riding in Hyde Park
every morning. He was quickly followed by Julius Price, who had travelled
between the Arctic coast of Siberia and Australia in the search for news,
and Seppings Wright, who had covered seven campaigns. Home news reported
the Stock Exchange closed, Bank Rate abnormal, and war clouds gathering.
There was a plan of the German and French frontier forces, a picture of
a lonely Prince Lichnowsky, the German Ambassador, who had just been handed
his passports, and the first studio portrait of Princess Mary
In January 1916 Bruce Ingram left his editorial chair for the front line.
In three years’ active service with the Royal Garrison Artillery
in France, he gained the Military Cross and was mentioned in dispatches
three times. He returned at the end of the war and after the General Strike
and the Great Depression celebrated the centenary of The Illustrated London
News on April 30 1932— ten years early. He anticipated the Second
World War, and decided he could not afford the risk of waiting the ten
years for the actual date. As events turned out he was right.
On September 2 1939 the paper’s first report of the Second World
War was published. “The Modern British Army; a Force prepared, equipped
and trained for service abroad,” ran a two- page headline. There
were photographs of defence preparations, the men responsible for defence,
and the nation’s leaders; Bryan de Grineau, before he was appointed
official war artist, showed the scene in Parliament on August 24 when
Chamberlain addressed the House; other drawings showed “the former
Conservative critics of Mr. Chamberlain’s policy, Mr. Churchill,
Mr. Duff-Cooper. . . Mr. L. S. Amery... and Mr. Eden.” But the issue
was dominated by a two-page picture of Hitler addressing the secret session
of the Reichstag on August 27. The caption read: “ The first hint
of his presence came in a communiqué’s last line; ‘At
the end of the address, which gave evidence of the situation’s gravity,
the Fuhrer was enthusiastically cheered!’”
The special Festival of Britain issue presented a definitive guide to the exhibition complete with photographs and drawings prepared by Bryan de Grineau and G. H. Davis. The death of King George VI nine months later was marked by another special number. “The lot of King George VI was not cast in an easy time,” wrote Sir Arthur Bryant. “No Sovereign of his dynasty ever witnessed so much public adversity, either during his reign or in his lifetime. To find a parallel one would have to go back to the troubled days of the 17th century or earlier.”
Within a year the paper was celebrating the Coronation. On May 30 1953
Sir Arthur Bryant, in a mellow, reflective mood wrote,” My first
Coronation was in 1902. But I was still under four and my memory of that
occasion is neither extensive nor reliable. So I have turned to the copy
of The Illustrated London News whose pages I must first have turned a
few days after the event as I lay on the nursery door, and have gazed
again, after a lapse of half a century, at the pictures of that resplendent
event and the letterpress accounts of it.” Both Adrian Brookholding
Jones and Bryan de Grineau prepared drawings, and Sir Bruce rounded off
the issue with an account of Captain Blood’s abortive attempt to
steal the Crown on May 9 1671. The following week Bryant was more jaundiced.
“Modern Coronations are like modern Cbristmases; everyone takes
part in them; everyone rejoices at them, and nearly everyone, despite
a wealth of printed and broadcast clerical reminders, tends to forget
or ignore their real purpose,” he wrote.
Today that issue is treasured more than any other. Parents keep it fur
their children, librarians guard it, and historians treat it as the definitive
record. Throughout the past 125 years this has always been proof of the
unique position held by the paper: it is universally conceded that other
newspapers report news; the nature of its brief permits The Illustrated
London News to report history.