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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The first newspaper philanthropist

Edwards, John Passmore (1823-1911)

Edwads, newspaper proprietor and philanthropist, born on 24 March 1823, at Blackwater, near Truro, Cornwall, became the representative in Manchester of the Sentinel, a London weekly newspaper. A passionate lecturer in the temperance cause, in 1845 he settled in London, intending to keep himself by lecturing and journalism.
He became a prominent member of the Political Reform Association, and in 1894 was appointed president of the London Reform Association, and an advocate for the suppression of gambling and of the opium trade, the abolition of capital punishment, of flogging in the army and navy, and of the newspaper tax.

In 1850 Edwards invested all his small savings in a weekly newspaper, the Public Good, which he wrote, printed, and published from the room where he lived in Paternoster Row. The paper sold widely but, in the end, failed, as did other journals he started. In 1862, he purchased the Building News, which he turned into a success. Heartened, he acquired in 1869, again for only a nominal sum, the Mechanics Magazine, which proved another financial success.

He married on 6 February 1870 Eleanor Elizabeth (1841-1916), daughter of Henry Vickers Humphreys, artist; they had a daughter and a son.

In 1876, aged fifty-three, Edwards made his most ambitious newspaper purchase when he acquired The Echo, the first halfpenny newspaper, which had been founded in 1868. It began to experience success when he employed Howard Evans, an energetic, able journalist with pronounced nonconformist sympathies. The paper continued to improve its circulation and gained commercially when it was decided to exclude horse-racing tips.

In 1884 Andrew Carnegie, the Scots-American steel magnate who sought control of newspapers to disseminate his ideas on republicanism and radicalism, bought a two-thirds interest in The Echo. The relationship was neither happy nor successful, though, and Edwards bought back full control in 1886, restoring Evans as editor. But new political, commercial, and journalistic pressures were fast undermining the values of an earlier generation. In 1898 Edwards sold The Echo to a syndicate of Liberal nonconformists. Despite their best efforts, The Echo finally foundered in 1905.

Edwards died at his Hampstead home, 51 Netherhall Gardens, on 22 April 1911 and was buried at Kensal Green on 27 April. H. W. Massingham described Edwards as 'one of the kings of modern newspaper enterprise'. Considerable as was Edwards's contribution to Victorian journalism, he deserves to be remembered also as the archetypal Victorian self-made man and philanthropist.

Biography by A. J. A. Morris. To read the full story, go to the Oxford Dictionary of Biography.

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