Mayfair magazine, Lord Desborough and The Thames

Mayfair magazine's 1914 caricature by 'Pip' of Lord Desborough as 'The Thames'

Mayfair magazine’s 1914 caricature by ‘Pip’ of Lord Desborough as the personification of ‘The Thames’

There are many magazines named after places, particularly London districts and roads: Pall Mall, the Strand, Charing Cross and Cornhill spring to mind. A new one on me is Mayfair, which seems silly given the men’s magazine, but this is a copy of Mayfair magazine of 1914, just before the start of the First World War.

The masthead of Mayfair magazine

The masthead of Mayfair magazine. The name is expanded to include ‘and Country Society’ with a Latin motto

Mayfair was a society weekly in the mould of Vanity Fair – with a similar page size and format, and complete with a colour ‘cartoon’ portrait of a leading person of the day. It ran from 1911 to 1922, according to the British Library’s collection. This issue describes itself as ‘the only cartoon illustrated weekly’ because Vanity Fair, which dated back to 1868 with its chromolithography caricatures, had closed in January that year. The cartoonist was ‘Pip’ for the cartoon of Lord Desborough, as the personification of ‘The Thames’ for his work on building a new lock on the river. At Vanity Fair, the profiles were written by ‘Jehu Junior’ (Thomas Gibson Bowles, the magazine’s editor and owner); Mayfair‘s were by ‘Junius Junior’. Vanity Fair‘s prolific cartoonists included ‘Ape’ and ‘Spy’.

At over six feet tall, Desborough was a famous athlete as a runner, rower and fencer. He brought the Olympics to London in 1908. However, 1914 saw the start of several travails in his personal life. Two of his three sons were killed during during the war. The Times mistakenly ran his obituary on 2 December 1920, having being confused him with Lord Bessborough. His third son died after a car accident in 1926. Desborough himself died in 1945 at the age of 90.

The front cover of Mayfair magazine showing a stature of Minerva from Rome

The front cover of Mayfair magazine showing a statute of Minerva from Rome

This issue was a ‘special river supplement’, with 11 of its 24 pages devoted to the Thames, in addition to a colour plate of the source of the Thames, based on an engraving from 1873. The pages covered the river from its source near Oxford to Teddington Lock and were copiously illustrated with photographs, including of Eton, Magna Carta island and Taplow Court – ‘Lord Desborough’s famous riverside seat’. Very much the Hello! magazine treatment of the Edwardian era. (Today, Taplow Court is owned by a Buddhist group.) Several photographs show the opening of Boulter’s lock on the river in 1912, with Desborough in many of them.

The title page shows the masthead with a Latin inscription: ‘De omni re scibili et quibusdam aliis’ (‘Concerning all knowledge and other peoples’. This may be a reference to ‘De omnibus rebus et quibusdam aliis’, the frontispiece etching from George Cruikshank’s Omnibus of 1842. The cartoon tries to portray everything and even more by crowding people on the earth.

A full-page advert – illustrated by ‘Pip’ – promotes the Mayfair Salon at the magazine’s premise where readers could commission a life-sized painting in oils or water colours. The magazine entrepreneurs of the era were never short of ideas for making a few bob.

Mayfair was published from 7 Albemarle Street, just off Piccadilly in Mayfair. A previous resident of 7 Albemarle Street was the Royal Thames, the oldest continuously operating yacht club in the world. It was established in 1775.

Mayfair magazine showing photographs of Boulter's lock from 1912 with Lord Desborough-the-thames

Mayfair magazine showing photographs of Boulter’s lock on the Thames from 1912 with Lord Desborough

Given the price of property, it’s difficult to imagine many publishers being based in that street today, but as well as Mayfair, John Murray, the book publisher, was at 50 Albemarle Street, from 1812 for the best part of two centuries. John Murray published Byron, Austen, Darwin, Livingstone, Betjman and many others who will have walked through its doors. And, in a famous example of literary vandalism, Byron’s memoirs were burnt inits office in 1824.

And the literary links don’t end there. Oscar Wilde was a member of the Albemarle Club and it was there in 1895 that the Marquess of Queensberry left his infamous ‘For Oscar Wilde, posing as a somdomite’ note that ultimately led the the magazine editor and writer being sent to Reading jail. Previously, Wilde had been editor of Lady’s World magazine for Cassell’s, relaunching it as Woman’s World, from 1887-89.

Albemarle was made one of the first one-way streets because of the popularity of the Royal Institution and the Albemarle Club, which led to huge carriage jams.


To learn about almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for 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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