Who was Edward Lloyd?

This year, we celebrate the bicentenary of Edward Lloyd (1815-1890), the Victorian publisher our park is named after. Lloyd is the lesser-known resident of Water House, which is now the lively, much-loved William Morris Gallery.

In 1898, Lloyd’s family donated the house and park to the people of Walthamstow. Edward Lloyd had 18 children, and some of his descendants will be commemorating Lloyd’s life and work this year.

“Art for all” is the slogan William Morris is known for. “Reading for all” could have been Edward Lloyd’s. Looking back we can see that this was his life’s work – and it made him a very rich man.

Edward Lloyd had a modest upbringing, leaving school at 14 (at the time that would have been fairly late). In 1834, at the age of 18 he published his first book – on shorthand. Lloyd hit gold when he started publishing penny versions of the works of Dickens such as “The Penny Pickwick” and “Oliver Twiss”, selling as many as 50,000 a week. In 1837, Dickens’s publishers Chapman & Hall sued Lloyd for stealing their readership and thus profits with his cheap imitations.

They lost the case and Dickens reputedly said “I was made to feel like the robber rather than the robbed”. Lloyd’s defence: his books were so bad no one could mistake them for the real thing. The Dickens versions were just a small part of his output. Lloyd also published a huge number of ‘romances’ featuring highwaymen, pirates and vampires, later termed ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ or ‘Penny Bloods.’ The most famous are “String of Pearls” that introduced Sweeny Todd to the world and “Varney the Vampyre.”

Between 1839 and 1856 Lloyd published more than 200 stories of varying lengths. Many of his books were targeted at a female readership. The servant hiring classes didn’t like Lloyd’s publications because their housemaids were so addicted to reading the next installment of ‘Ela the Outcast’ or some other penny romance they would rush their work.

In 1842 Lloyd turned his attention to newspapers, bringing out a rival to the ‘London Illustrated News’ called ‘Lloyd’s Illustrated London News’. His ambition was to sell his newspaper for a penny. However he couldn’t do it at first because the Seditious Publications Act of 1819 levied a 4d tax on all periodicals that contained news or comment. Lloyd tried to get round this ‘tax on knowledge’ with the original idea of publishing a newspaper without any news in it. The ‘news’ stories were often from centuries before. However, after 6 editions the authorities gave him the choice of closure or paying the tax. He decided to take the latter option.

Lloyd engaged Douglas Jerrold as editor, an acclaimed and prolific contributor to Punch. The paper was both entertaining and informative, reflecting the interests of the working classes. According to Joseph Hatton, a young journalist, Lloyd saw “the most ardent desire of his life accomplished” (Hatton, 1882) – the abolition of the stamp duty in 1852 “and the establishment of a really free and unfettered press.” From a sale of 97,000 in June 1855 the sales of Lloyd’s Newspaper rose to 170,000 in 1861. By 1879, when the paper finally cost just one penny, sales had risen to an average of 612,902 per week.

“Towards the end of the century, one clergyman divided the working class into sheep and goats – those who went to church on a Sunday, and those who read Lloyd’s Weekly News”: Bob Clarke in ‘From Grub Street to Fleet Street’

Lloyd had by now set up his own papermill in Bow and later Sittingbourne in Kent. He brought out another paper, the ‘Daily Chronicle’ towards the end of his life. Among the Brangwyn collection at the William Morris Gallery you can see pictures of his that were commissioned by the ‘Daily Chronicle’.

In 1930, many years after Edward Lloyd’s death (1890) the ‘Daily Chronicle’ merged with the ‘Daily News’ (its first editor was none other than Charles Dickens) to become the progressive ‘News Chronicle.’ RJ Cruikshank writing in the 1940s:

“The parts that such newspapers as the Daily Chronicle and the Daily News played in forming the tastes of men and women whose education at the Board Schools was ended at fourteen or earlier should not be forgotten … they served in part as a home university.”

With thanks to Joy Vick for this interesting blog. Find out more about the life and times of Edward Lloyd at www.edwardlloyd.org

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