The Illustrated London News was the world’s first news magazine – featuring both monochromatic and coloured woodcuts – that debuted in May 1842 (with a masthead displaying the imposing dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral) and ceased publication after more than a-century-and-a-half in 2003. The frequency of the Conservative-aligned periodical kept fluctuating with time. It started as a Weekly (1842–1971), moved to Monthly (1971–89), then became a Bi-monthly (1989–94) and finally, ended as a Twice-yearly (1994–2003).
It was established by Lincolnshire-born Herbert Ingram (1811-1860), the son of a butcher, after consultation with his friend Mark Lemon (1809-1870), a founding editor of Punch (humour and satire) and The Field (sports) magazines. The original owner of the magazine, Illustrated London News Ltd, continues to operate as a content marketing and digital agency.
Jemima Kiss of The Guardian has written: “At its peak, ILN had a circulation of about 300,000 and was the publication of choice for the Victorian middle classes, transforming illustrations into a credible, factual, news reporting tool. Previously, illustration had been used mainly for political caricatures or for sensational events like public hangings.” Professor Peter Sinnema of the University of Alberta, Canada remarks that The Illustrated London News “signalled a revolution in journalism and news reporting”.
The news magazine contained densely-packed blocks of text and highly detailed drawings. It began costing sixpence – a coin that was one-fortieth of the pound sterling. Its contributors included the literary heavyweights Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, G. K. Chesterton, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Wilkie Collins and Agatha Christie.
In 2010, Cengage Learning, the educational content company, released an online archive of the periodical covering the whole of its 161-year run – 7000 issues, some 260,000 pages. Seth Cayley, the publisher for Media History at Cengage Learning explains:
The word “London” is misleading. This is essentially a marketing lead. By having the word “London” in the title the publishers could sell more newspapers around the country because the newspapers from London were seen as the most authoritative. The news coverage in the paper was actually about much more than the capital city. The first issue, for example, covered a great fire in Hamburg and the war in Afghanistan. The ILN was a window on the outside world, showing its readers events in far-flung places that they were very unlikely to visit, such as the statues of Easter Island…
Subscription to the Cengage archive is currently limited to libraries and educational organisations, but that might change in future. Those interested may, in the meantime, want to explore Lancaster-based collector John Weedy’s website, who has archived a small fraction of the whole. The versions available in his collection fall between the years 1842 and 1901.
In our era, where there’s no dearth of media outlets and communication is often too spontaneous and shallow, the practising and aspiring journalist/reporter will learn much from a careful study of The Illustrated London News. Words were carefully considered back then and only what was absolutely necessary was disseminated.
A selection of pages and illustrations:
Rare Books related to The Illustrated London News:
“Illustrated London News”: Social History of Victorian Britain (1975) by Christopher Hibbert
The 1879 Zulu War: Through the Eyes of The Illustrated London News (2008) by Ron Lock and Peter Quantrill
Japan and The Illustrated London News (2006) by Terry Bennett (editor)
Victorian Science and Engineering: Portrayed in the Illustrated London News (1993) by Kenneth Chew and Anthony Wilson
The Illustrated London News Social History of Edwardian Britain (1997) by James D. Bishop
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: The Life that Spanned a Century 1900-2002 (2002) by The Illustrated London News