Illustration in the Great War

Illustrated drop capital from a page in Home Chat, one of the best-selling women's weeklies

Illustrated drop capital from Home Chat

Pick up any weekly magazine from the first 2o years of the last century and you’ll find it packed full of line illustrations produced by black-and-white artists. Most of the drawings were small but there were usually several on most pages.

These were gradually replaced by photographs – though these were decorated by hand-drawn ‘frames’ for many years – but also magazines simply dropped many of these illustrative elements.

These images from Home Chat, a cheaply produced women’s weekly from Northcliffe’s Amalgamated Press, show what I mean.

Home Chat was one of the best-selling women’s weeklies. It was founded in 1895 with a page size between A5 and A4 and lasted until 1959, when there was a high level of disruption in weekly magazines because of a loss of audience to television – and a loss of advertising to the ITV companies.

A 'letter parrot' from Home Chat for children

A ‘letter parrot’

This parrot made up of the letters of the word was used on the four central pages, which were aimed at children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A page from Home Chat of photographs in decorative, hand-drawn picture frames

A page of photographs in decorative, hand-drawn picture frames

A page of photographs displayed in hand-drawn picture frame in the art nouveau style.

Playbox titlepiece from Home Chat

Playbox titlepiece from Home Chat

And finally, the decorative title piece for the children’s Playbox section. This issue is from 1914, when the scouts were still a relatively new organisation, having been founded just seven years earlier when Boer War hero Robert Baden-Powell held a camp on Brownsea Island in Poole with just 20 boys. The movement was supported by one of the biggest magazine and newspaper magnets of the era, C. Arthur Pearson, who helped ‘BP’ popularise the movement with Scouting for Boys, a magazine published a year later in six fortnightly parts. Pearson provided staff and printing presses. The magazine was collated into a book and became one of the best-selling titles of the 20th century.

At the seige of Mafeking in the Boer War, BP had recruited and trained boys as postmen, messengers and later to carry the wounded. This freed up the men to fight and the scouts performed a similar role in Britain during the First World War.

The scouts later returned the favour after Pearson went blind by helping to promote Braille during the war.

The telephone wires are also significant because phones were still relatively rare – there were about 500,000 in the country for a population of about 46 million and the Post Office had only taken over the national system two years before. Alfred Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe), Home Chat‘s owner, was a technology enthusiast who used his personal wealth and publications to promote inventions such as the telephone.

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