Stead, Journalist

Iraq and Afghanistan Memorial, March 2017

It is 8.44 miles from my front door to The Water Poet near Liverpool Street. I don’t have a pedometer but Uber faithfully records the mileage and notes that I was picked up at 6.13 pm after a lunch that began at 12.30.

In the morning, I walked to Liverpool Street stopping to look at the new memorial to those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, unveiled by the Queen on Thursday. In general I disapprove of the proliferation of memorials in central London. None are removed and it clutters the city up, however deserving each one is individually. There are exceptions and this new one falls into that category. It is on the right scale, in the right place, in Victoria Embankment Gardens between the Ministry of Defence and the Thames.

Iraq and Afghanistan Memorial, March 2017

I continued along the Embankment to the City passing a memorial near Temple station that I had not noticed previously. It has been there since 1913 and is in memory of WT Stead.

Stead Memorial, Embankment, March 2017

The small figures flanking the inscription are Fortitude and Sympathy and the inscription reads thus.

This memorial to a journalist of wide renown was erected near the spot where he worked for more than thirty years by journalists of many lands in recognition of his brilliant gifts fervent spirit & untiring devotion to the service of his fellow men.

I confess I had never heard of this son of Northumberland, born in 1849, who became editor of The Northern Echo, in Darlington, when he was only twenty-two. He was a crusading journalist: “I felt the sacredness of the power placed in my hands to be used on behalf of the poor, the outcast and the oppressed”.

He promoted the causes of Liberalism, social justice, equality, and morality. Surprisingly he supported the death penalty but there was much of which he disapproved; the Bulgarian Atrocities, the Boer War, poverty, prostitution, slum housing and so on. He moved to London in 1880 and edited The Pall Mall Gazette. I strongly suspect that this inspired PG Wodehouse to write Psmith, Journalist. Psmith is editor of Cosy Moments a magazine hitherto dedicated to being Wet. Psmith turns it into a crusading magazine lifting the lid on the slum tenements of New York and exposing their crooked politico landlord.

Likewise The Pall Mall Gazette was an insipid evening paper (“written by gentlemen for gentlemen”) until Stead slid into the editor’s chair in 1883. He deployed the same zeal as he had in Darlington, running a campaign against child prostitution. Unfortunately he procured a thirteen year old girl to save as part of his investigative journalism. Stead technically had broken the law and was sentenced to three months in prison. His reputation took a serious blow and he left the paper in 1890. He continued as a campaigning journalist and might have won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1912, had he not drowned in April of that year on board the RMS Titanic.

And The Pall Mall Gazette? It is still an evening paper with a crusading flavour, now called The Evening Standard.

If you live in New York you may find this memorial to the father of investigative journalism familiar. There is a copy at the junction of 91st Street and Fifth Avenue on the edge of Central Park.

Stead Memorial, Central Park.

2 thoughts on “Stead, Journalist”

  1. Stead and his New Journalism very influential in Ireland.
    His death on the T prevented him from being a major cultural figure / witness…as he liked to call himself…in the clash between Liberal Imperialism and Irish nationalism as it veered into the volunteer movement and physical force.

    Stead fetched up a great deal when I was writing my dissertation on 1912-1913 Formation of volunteers and the IRB takeover despite good old Col. Moore,s best efforts.

    By the way have you ever written about the Irish peers association ? Stead questioned the Irish Representative Peers in Lords…suspicious that they all seemed very young men destined to be senior peers in Lords. A bit like the modern American habit of picking increasingly younger and more doctrinaire judges for the Supreme Court.

    1. You know a lot more about Stead than I do. I am interested in his views on the Irish Peerage. I have not written much here about Irish Peers but I have been on the committee of the Irish Peers’ Association for 36 years and edit an e mail bulletin that the IPA periodically produces. I think Stead should feature there.

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