Lives of the Most Notorious Highwaymen is a collection of biographical articles about the careers of Britain’s most famous criminals past and present. Compiled with a fine eye for scandal and a somewhat less scrupulous approach to factual accuracy, its instant success obliged the publisher, Edward Lloyd (1815–1890), to rush out a companion work, History of the Pirates of All Nations.
The success of these lurid books attests to a developing appetite in the British public for tales of ‘true life’ crime; but the means of their publication (and the sheer size of their success) speaks to a perhaps even greater social change: the arrival of cheap printing. Both Highwaymen and Pirates were produced serially, in large volume, on cheap paper – allowing each 8-16 page instalment to be sold for a penny. This fact, along with the violent content of the books, led to such publications being called ‘penny bloods’ and eventually ‘penny dreadfuls’.
Edward Lloyd would later go on to found Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper and The People’s Periodical, making many innovations in printing as he did so. Indeed, it was in The People’s Periodical that he made perhaps his most famous contribution to literary history by publishing The String of Pearls – the novel that introduced the world to Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
- Article by:
- Judith Flanders
- Popular culture, Reading and print culture, Crime and crime fiction
The penny dreadful was a 19th-century publishing phenomenon. Judith Flanders explains what made these cheap, sensational, highly illustrated stories so popular with the Victorian public.
- Article by:
- Matthew Taunton
- Reading and print culture
In the 19th century, more people were reading more publications than ever before. Dr Matthew Taunton explains how technological, social and educational change made this possible.