The link below is to an article that investigates the case of the book ripper of Herne Bay in Kent.
We live at probably the last moment when press barons such as Rupert Murdoch can hope to shape the political agenda, such are the waning fortunes of the print media. But who founded the popular press – and who created the sensationalist approach of the tabloids?
Some say it was Lord Northcliffe, who established the Daily Mail in 1896. Northcliffe was, however, preceded by the transformative figure of Edward Lloyd. Never heard of him? Lloyd (1815-1890) has never been given his due. He published the first newspaper to sell a million copies and shaped the popular imagination in fundamental ways.
Before he became a Victorian press baron, Lloyd was one of the dominant forces behind the sale of popular fiction to a growing market of increasingly literate working-class people. When we think of the 1840s, we think of the publication of major novels such as Jane Eyre or Vanity Fair. The reality is that many readers were as likely to consume Ada the Betrayed as well as Vileroy, or, The Horrors of Zindorf Castle – both shockers issued by Lloyd’s publishing house.
Hailing from a humble background, Lloyd became a leading publisher in London, promoting a group of hacks who would knock out cheap fiction. He knew what would sell: horrors, romance and thrills.
He launched a wave of “penny dreadfuls” on to the market in the 1830s and 1840s, all assisted by lurid pictures. As Lloyd exclaimed to his illustrators: “There must be blood … much more blood!”
The best known of these stories was The String of Pearls in 1846 which introduced the enduring character of Sweeney Todd. Even before the serial had finished publication, Sweeney Todd had been taken up by the popular stage.
Audiences loved the barber who murdered men who came to his Fleet Street shop for a shave and gave their bodies to Mrs Lovett next door to be made into meat pies. The dark humour is captured in the words of one character who says: “I’d eat my mother, if she was a pork chop.”
This was not the only ghoulish character to emerge from Lloyd’s offices. James Malcolm Rymer wrote Varney the Vampire for Lloyd, the most important undead character before Dracula. This was a form of distinctly working-class horror fiction, marked by a taste for blood and violence.
Lloyd had no time for originality. He built up his firm by publishing plagiarisms of Charles Dickens’s works. The reading public was thus treated to works such as The Penny Pickwick, Oliver Twiss and Nickelas Nickelbery. Dickens was outraged by this treatment but was powerless to prevent such works appearing.
It is possible that many working-class readers first encountered Dickens via a Lloyd plagiarism, rather than one of the author’s own works (a perspective that should make us rethink the initial reception of Dickens).
Cheap newspapers came to dominate Lloyd’s output. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper was launched in 1842 and became one of the most important newspapers aimed at a popular readership at a time when the press had been forced since 1819 by the government to pay stamp duties (the “Taxes on Knowledge”) which inflated the price of print. He combined serious news reporting with stories of horrible murders, train crashes and aristocratic divorces. In some respects, his newspaper employed the techniques of popular fiction to grab an audience with accounts of true crime.
Lloyd also revolutionised newspaper production by introducing Richard Hoe’s rotary press to Britain, which sped up the process of putting out newspapers and made mass publication possible. With the abolition of the stamp and paper duties by the early 1860s, Lloyd was able to lower the price of his paper to one penny. The popular press had arrived.
Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper was one of a series of mass circulation Sunday papers, including The News of the World (issued in 1843), which created a newspaper reading habit in increasingly literate workers.
Lloyd was also a great believer in self-promotion. At one point he took to embossing coins with which he paid his workers with a stamp promoting his paper. This was denounced by The Times and an act of parliament had to be passed in 1853, making the defacing of the coinage illegal.
As his newspaper became more popular, Lloyd left his penny dreadfuls behind and was later embarrassed that they had been the source of his fortune. His paper tended to support Gladstone and the Liberal party, helping it to dominate mid-Victorian politics. The Conservative Party identified Lloyd’s as promoting “pernicious doctrines”, which included worker rights, free trade and democracy.
Lloyd died in 1890 but his newspaper remained popular, selling a million copies for the first time in 1896. As it went into the 20th century, the paper was outgunned by new rivals such as the Daily Mail and came to an end in 1931, having appeared for almost 90 years.
Lloyd’s reputation has gone into eclipse and he is seldom remembered. He was, however, a true pioneer. His legacy remains the sensationalism of the popular press but it can also be found in every slasher film, vampire drama and gothic romance from Twilight to the television series Penny Dreadful.
A dense work of early English prose, strewn throughout with serious and teasing marginalia from its author, might not be the most likely candidate for stage adaptation – but this project has just been undertaken by a team of artists and academics in Sheffield. William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat, written in 1553, will be performed in September as part of the university’s 2018 Festival of the Mind.
As a literary form, the novel is usually thought to have developed in the 18th century with the mighty classics Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. But researchers believe we should be looking back to the relatively neglected prose fictions of the Tudor era to find the earliest English examples. Beware the Cat, an ecclesiastical satire about talking cats, is a prime candidate and is now thought to be the earliest example of the novel form in the English language.
Baldwin is barely known outside the circles of Renaissance literature, but he was highly celebrated and widely read in Tudor England. In the mid-16th century, he was earning an inky-fingered living as a printer’s assistant in and around the central London bookmaking and bookselling area of St Paul’s Cathedral. As well as writing fiction, he produced A Mirror for Magistrates, the co-written collection of gruesome historical poetry that was highly influential on Shakespeare’s history plays. He also compiled a bestselling handbook of philosophy, and translated the controversial Song of Songs, the sexy book of the Bible.
Beware the Cat tells the tale of a talkative priest, Gregory Streamer, who determines to understand the language of cats after he is kept awake by a feline rabble on the rooftops. Turning for guidance to Albertus Magnus, a medieval alchemist and natural scientist roundly mocked in the Renaissance for his quackery, Streamer finds the spell he needs. Then, using various stomach-churning ingredients, including hedgehog’s fat and cat excrement, he cooks up the right potion.
And it turns out that cats don’t merely talk – they have a social hierarchy, a judicial system and carefully regulated laws governing sexual relations. With his witty beast fable, Baldwin is analysing an ancient question, and one in which the philosophical field of posthumanism still shows a keen interest: do birds and beasts have reason?
But rights and wrongs of a different order coloured Baldwin’s book release. He self-censored for several years before making the work public. Beware the Cat was written in 1553, months before the untimely death of the young Protestant king, Edward VI. Next on the throne (if you disregard the turbulent nine-day reign of Lady Jane Grey) was the first Tudor queen, Mary I. Her Catholicism was fervent and these were terrifying days. By the mid-1550s, Mary was burning Protestant martyrs. One of her less alarming, but still consequential, decisions was to reverse the freedoms accorded the press under her brother Edward.
At the height of his power during the 1540s, the Lord Protector during the young Edward’s reign, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, had relied on particular printers to spread the regime’s reformist message. Men such as John Day (printer of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs) and Edward Whitchurch – Baldwin’s employer – printed and circulated anti-Catholic polemic on behalf of the state. Not content to persecute these men by denying them the pardon she accorded other Protestant printers, Mary I banned the discussion of religion in print unless it was specifically authorised by her officials.
As a print trade insider, Baldwin was intimately connected with the close community of this radical Protestant printing milieu – and Beware the Cat is deliberately set at John Day’s printing shop. Having written a book that parodies the Mass, depicts priests in some very undignified positions and points the finger at Catholic idolatry, Baldwin thought better of releasing it in the oppressive religious climate of Mary’s reign. But by 1561, Elizabeth I was on the throne and constraints on the press were less severe – despite the infamous case of John Stubbs, the writer who in 1579 lost his hand for criticising her marriage plans.
Baldwin, now in his 30s, had become a church deacon. He was still active as a writer and public figure, working on his second edition of A Mirror for Magistrates and preaching at Paul’s Cross in London, a venue that could attract a 6,000-strong congregation.
Once it was released, Beware the Cat went through several editions. It was not recognised for the comic gem that it is until scholars such as Evelyn Feasey started studying Baldwin in the early 20th century and the novel was later championed by American scholars William A. Ringler and Michael Flachmann.
Now, it has been adapted for performance for the first time and is being presented as part of the University of Sheffield’s Festival of the Mind. This stage version of Beware the Cat has been created by the authors with Terry O’Connor (member of renowned performance ensemble Forced Entertainment) and the artist Penny McCarthy.
Baldwin’s techniques of embedded storytelling, argument and satirical marginalia are all features that have been incorporated into this interpretation of the text. The production also includes an array of original drawings (which the cast of four display by using an onstage camera connected to a projector), but none of the cast pretends to be a cat. Instead, it is left to the audience to imagine the world Baldwin’s novel describes, in which cats can talk and – even if just for one night – humans can understand them.
The link below is to an article reporting on the return of the Lyghfield Bible to Canterbury Cathedral for the first time in centuries.
The link below is to another article reporting on the IKEA reading rooms in London associated with the Man Booker Award.
The link below is to an article reporting on ‘reading rooms’ being set up by IKEA in London to celebrate the announcement of the Nam Booker Prize longlist.