George Newnes MP

In 1880, George Newnes, a haberdasher, founded a weekly penny-paper, entitled Tit-Bits from All the Most Interesting Books, Newspapers and Periodicals in the World. Originally selling in the Manchester area, it was full, according to Jack Adrian, of 'all kinds of trivia--news items, sensational murders, strange coincidences, curious facts' often simply cut and reprinted from other sources. It proved remarkably popular, selling 40,000 copies a week and its circulation increased rapidly, rising to over 100,000 copies a week at the end of its first year.

Its success meant it was soon copied by other publishers: Pearson's Weekly and Harmsworth's Answers the most successful rivals in a large field of titles (others included Quick Bits and other similar-sounding titles).

John Carey remarks (The Intellectuals and the Masses) that while Tit-Bits and its readership of 'clerks' were the butt the intellectual snobbery; from May 1882, Tit-Bits featured extracts from Thackery, Eliot, Carlyle, Ruskin, Poe and others; and novels were serialized including Sign of Four and Study in Scarlet in 1893.

Newnes, now a wealthy publisher, became Liberal MP for Newmarket in 1885 and invested some of his Titbits profit into another venture: The Strand Magazine, hoping this would give him the respectability he craved and could not get from the downmarket Tit-Bits.

The Strand was aimed at the middle market, between the Titbits readers and the readers of the monthly shilling reviews and quarterlies (eg Cornhill). Stephen Knight describes The Strand as 'bourgeois, middle brow' and, at 6d, considerable cheaper than the reviews and quarterlies (Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction).

The Strand, Newnes promised, would have a picture on every page, like the successful American weeklies. The first issue of The Strand, dated January 1891, was sold out and reprinted twice, selling over 300,000 copies (it was in fact on sale before Christmas 1890, and had been heavily advertised, especially in Newnes' other papers).

The Strand was bought from railway bookstalls and borrowed from circulating libraries by a growing class of 'clerks', male, white-collar workers who consumed cheap literature to while away their journey, and which also found its way into the home with stories for women and children.

It was among this readership that Arthur Conan Doyle, a doctor with a practice slack enough to allow him to spend his time writing fiction, found an audience for Sherlock Holmes.

Despite the criticism levelled at Tit-Bits and the disdain upper middle-class critics reserved for The Strand, when George Newnes was made a baronet in 1895, Lord Rosebery commented that the title was conferred 'to commemorate not only your political service but the good work you have done in the cause of healthy, popular literature'.

Reginald Hill (Crime Writers) records that The Strand was very much a 'modern' magazine, with lots of photographs, free gifts (e.g: prints of Royal Academy paintings), celebrity interviews and general articles as well as fiction. Doyle's stories were of interest for their series form: self-contained stories rather than a continuous serial, so it didn't matter if a reader missed an episode.

31-05-1894 Spy Cartoon 'East Cambridgeshire' MP for Newmarket 1885