Geraldine Harmsworth – a park, a printing press and a mother

Alfred Harmsworth's Forget-Me-Not was founded in 1891

Alfred Harmsworth’s Forget-Me-Not was founded in 1891

Carters Steam Fair, the largest vintage travelling funfair in the world, comes to Southwark this weekend at the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, which surrounds the Imperial War Museum. The park’s name immediately strikes a chord because it was dedicated to his mother in 1930 by the newspaper and magazine magnate Lord Rothermere (Harold Harmsworth).

Harold was the business brain behind his brother Alfred, who became the greatest of the newspaper barons – the ‘Napoleon of Fleet Street’ – Lord Northcliffe.

A memorial plaque in the park states that the gift was in memory of Rothermere’s mother, and for the benefit of the ‘splendid struggling mothers of Southwark and their children’. The Harmsworth brothers used their mother’s name much earlier, however, as the issue above of Forget-Me-Not testifies.

This ‘Pictorial Journal for the Home’ was one of the many periodicals founded by Alfred Harmsworth. With Answers (1888) and Comic Cuts (1890), Forget-Me-Not (1891) was the backbone of what was on its way to becoming the largest publishing empire in the world, the Amalgamated Press.

Forget-Me-Not was based in London’s Tudor Street, which runs south to the Thames from Fleet Street, with the advertising sold by Greenberg & Co just up the road at 80 Chancery Lane. The imprint reveals a third address, for Forget-Me-Not was printed by The Geraldine Press at 21 Whitefriars St, which runs parallel to Fleet St but nearer the Thames.

Like all the penny magazines, it was a cheap affair though, on newsprint with a greenish cover not unlike Tit-Bits, the model for Answers, for which Alfred had worked. The masthead page inside described Forget-Me-Not as ‘the most useful home paper’ and it carried fashion hints and articles on fancy work and households management as well as fiction. The best illustrations were saved for the paper patterns that readers had to send for at a shilling or two each. None of the articles or illustrations carried a byline.

Most of the pages carried marketing messages printed at the bottom such as: Forget-Me-Not is a great help to young couples in all household matters’; ‘Home, Sweet Home [another Amalgamated title] is published on Fridays – 1d’; ‘Answers is the paper for a railway journey’; and ‘This paper is published every Thursday’. Amalgamated aimed to have a magazine for all types of readers with three women’s weeklies, the smaller format Home Chat making up the trio.

One of the editors of Forget-Me-Not, a Hungarian called Arkas Sapt, has been credited with developing a new way of publishing several pictures on a spread, a technique that was to be vital in reinvigorating the Daily Mirror as an illustrated paper after its flagging launch.

If you do head for Carters Steam Fair at the weekend, the park may be a suitable venue for such shenanigans, because the Imperial War Museum itself was part of the old Bethlem Hospital, successor to the mediaeval mental hospital in the priory of Saint Mary of Bethlehem in Bishopsgate Without – on the site of today’s Liverpool Street Station. The original mental hospital dates back to 1329 and gave rise to the term ‘bedlam’.

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