“Sir George Newnes, 1st Baronet (13 March 1851 – 9 June 1910) was an English publisher and editor and a founding father of popular journalism. His company, George Newnes Ltd, continued publishing ground-breaking consumer magazines such as Nova long after his death.
His father, Thomas Mold Newnes, was a Congregational church minister at the Glenorchy Chapel, Matlock. George Newnes was born in Matlock Bath (see image), Derbyshire, and educated at Silcoates School and then at Shireland Hall, Warwickshire, and the City of London School. In 1875, he married Priscilla Hillyard.
In 1867 he entered commerce in the “fancy goods” trade, working in London and Manchester.
He began his career in publishing in 1881 when he founded Tit-Bits as a direct response to the Elementary Education Act 1870 which introduced education for children aged 5–12 and hence produced a new young generation able to read.
The magazine was initially published in Manchester like a mini-encyclopedia, containing extracts from books and other publications, but principally a diverse range of tit-bits of information presented in an easy-to-read format. He funded the magazine by opening a vegetarian restaurant in Manchester. The addition of competitions increased the readership of the periodical, and in 1884 Newnes moved publication to London. He began to work with W. T. Stead, with whom he founded the Review of Reviews in 1890. Tit-Bits reached a circulation of 700,000 by the end of the 19th century. It paved the way for popular journalism – most significantly, the Daily Mail was founded by Alfred Harmsworth, a contributor to Tit-Bits, and the Daily Express was launched by Arthur Pearson, who worked at Tit-Bits for five years after winning a competition to get a job on the magazine.
Arguably his best known publication was The Strand Magazine, begun in 1891, in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was first able to publish his Sherlock Holmes mystery series. He also founded other magazine titles, including The Westminster Gazette (1873), The Wide World Magazine (1888), and Country Life (1897). In 1891 his publishing business was formed into a company that bore his name, George Newnes Ltd. The company was reconstructed in 1897 with a capital of 1,000,000 pounds, and began the publication of books. In 1896 Newnes founded the book series, The Penny Library of Famous Books.
Politically, Newnes was Liberal, and he refounded the Westminster Gazette to support the party when the Pall Mall Gazette became a Unionist paper. In 1885 he was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for the newly created constituency of Eastern Cambridgeshire or Newmarket. He held the seat for ten years, before his defeat by the Conservative millionaire horse-breeder, Harry McCalmont in 1895. In 1895 he was created a baronet “of Wildcroft, in the parish of Putney, in the county of London; of Hollerday Hill, in the parish of Lynton, and Hesketh House, in the borough of Torquay, both in the county of Devon.” He paid for the new Putney Library, built in 1899. Around this time he became the main sponsor of the Southern Cross Expedition to Antarctica…
He re-entered the Commons in 1900 as MP for Swansea, and held the seat until he retired at the January 1910 general election.
Newnes built a large home called Hollerday House in Lynton, North Devon. It was destroyed by fire in 1913. He played a major part in the development of the twin towns of Lynton and Lynmouth. He built an innovative cliff railway to join the two towns, and also provided the town hall and other amenities. Largely as a result of Sir George’s efforts, the 19-mile Lynton and Barnstaple Railway opened in 1898 ostensibly to bring visitors from the mainline railways at Barnstaple.
Newnes provided a silver cup for the Newnes Trophy series of chess matches between Great Britain and the United States, conducted over transatlantic cable from 1896 to 1911.
Sir George Newnes died at his Lynton home in June 1910 aged 59, having suffered ill health from diabetes for some time. He was succeeded in the baronetcy by his son, Frank Newnes, who had served as MP for Bassetlaw, Nottinghamshire from 1906 to 1910.
Decades after the proprietor’s death George Newnes Ltd continued into the 1960s as one of London’s four leading magazine publishers – along with Odhams Press Ltd, C. Arthur Pearson, and the Hulton Press – producing a diverse range of titles from Lady’s Companion, Woman’s Own, Nova, Rave and Flair, to Practical Mechanics and Practical Television. In 1960, the company was purchased by Odhams, and in 1963, the company became part of the International Publishing Corporation.
Today, books under the Newnes imprint continue to be published by Elsevier. An example of a home economics book published by Newnes is Housekeeping Made Easy: a handbook of household management appealing chiefly to the middle-class housekeeper; by Mrs. Waldemar Leverton [c. 1910]; a more comprehensive manual called Home Management was edited by Alison Barnes and published in the 1950s in 2 volumes.”