I’ve spent much of the past few years perusing collections of magazines in places such as the V&A’s National Art Library, the British Museum and St Bride’s. In the process, I’ve built up a collection of 40,000 images of magazines to add to a physical collection of several thousand issues.
So, this month I’m delving into this archive to show what publishers have been producing for their readers in the month of February over the past 150 years. It runs the gamut from Dickens’ Boz to Oz, from Good Housekeeping to Sublime, from Madonna to green jelly.
First off the storage stacks is the legendary Picture Post from 1 February 1941. The cover is iconic – two men struggling with a hose in the burning streets of London. ‘Fire-fighters!’ was an example of photojournalism at its best – and saw Bert Hardy’s photo-essay about Blitz-stressed fire-fighters win him his first credit in the magazine. Stefan Lorant, Picture Post editor, had never credited photographers. One oft-cited reason for this was that they were mainly fugitives from the Nazis, like himself, and he was afraid they would be interned by the authorities (he was right, they were; and he fled to the US). In print, the magazine wrote:
From our rule of anonymity we except these pictures. They were taken by A. [Albert] Hardy, one of our own cameramen.
Hardy became the most popular photographer of the 20th century, and you’ll recognise Hardy’s images. The house in South London where Hardy was born carries a plaque that was voted for by local people.
The London Blitz hit at the heart of the publishing trade, for books, magazines and newspapers, because all the books, paper and oil-based printing inks stored along Fleet Street and The Strand – from St Paul’s to Charing Cross – made it a prime target for the Luftwaffe. It should also be remembered that the Nazis started burning books in 1933, an event that led the printing and typesetting companies a mile away in Clerkenwell to found the Karl Marx Memorial Library. Also, the area was easy to identify because the nearby Thames river could clearly be seen from the air.
The Strand of February 1942 ran an article ‘Beauty in the Blitz’ with three pages of photographs by Cecil Beaton. The image above looking north shows how Paternoster Row, running east-west on the north side of St Paul’s Cathedral, was destroyed in the bombing. Picture Post‘s office were just a few hundred yards away in Shoe Lane.
Note the nameplate to the left of the doorway – Nelson & Sons. Nelson is today known as an educational book publisher, but is has published magazines, particularly artworks. The War, a weekly during the First World War, being an example.
The area north of St Paul’s is today focused on the modern Paternoster Square. This includes a monument marking the 1666 Great Fire and the Blitz of December 1940. The route of Paternoster Row, which old maps show going east-west to Amen Corner, has been re-routed south round the west side of St Paul’s.
To see 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