The precursor to Bottomley’s John Bull

The first issue cover of John Bull from 1 April 1903

The first issue cover of John Bull from 1 April 1903

Horatio Bottomley is rightly regarded as one of the biggest swindlers in British history, using the pages of both the Financial Times, which he helped found, and John Bull magazine to help promote his financial schemes.

Bottomley was at his most bombastic in the pages of John Bull, which was one of the best-selling magazines during the Great War. It’s the magazine with which he is associated as editor, but, in fact, there was a humorous magazine by the same name launched just a few year before Bottomley used the name, as can be seen above.

The first issue of that John Bull was in 1903 – dated April 1st –  and the editor was Arthur William À Beckett, a magazine veteran who had worked on several titles, including Punch, though perhaps not very successfully. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes A.W.’s deputy editorship on Punch from 1880 as presiding over the magazine‘s ‘decline into decrepitude’ because he would change nothing and refused to introduce new blood. Eventually, in 1902, was asked to resign.

A.W. wrote The À Becketts of Punch, about his time on the satirical weekly with his father and brother (Gilbert Abbott and Gilbert Arthur), which was published by Constable in 1903.

The inside masthead for John Bullfeatured famous names such as Louis Wain and Max Beerbohm

The inside masthead for John Bull featured famous names such as Louis Wain, Harry Furniss and Max Beerbohm

The masthead inside the first issue of John Bull by W. Reynolds shows a fabulous roll call of contributors: A.W. carries a bull on his back ahead of a cast made up of A.P. Graves (Irish writer, assistant editor of Punch and inspector of schools), caricaturist Max Beerbohm, cartoonist Harry Furniss, lyricist and writer Adrian Ross, Louis Wain – renowned for his anthropomorphised animals – as Dick Whittington with a devilish-looking cat, Cyril Pearson as a sphinx, Percy Fremlin, adventure writer Sir Gilbert Parker, Sir William Robinson and the Welsh poet Sir Lewis Morris.

A.W. died in 1909, but John Bull appears to have predeceased him, with the British Library holding just one volume, with the final issue dated 25 June 1903.

The magazine was based at 5 Henrietta St in London’s Covent Garden. The street has long associations with publishing. Jane Austen lived at No 9 in 1813-14, the Royal magazine was at No 19 in 1914, along with C. Arthur Pearson’s other titles. In the 20th century, it was the home of Dorling Kindersley for many years.

To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

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