Friday, 4 September 2009

A Short History: The Rise of the Penny Dreadful

The Rise of the Penny Dreadful

In the mid - late 1800's, the standards of literacy in Great Britain were improving following the Elementary Education Act of 1870. The act brought a basic standard of education to the majority of children. The provision of elementary schools, set up as Church schools or Board schools, was implemented guided by regional school boards.

With the spread of literacy came a demand for more reading material for young people, and concern was growing at the quality of literature being distributed. Many publications contained lurid images leaving little to the imagination, and sensationalist stories often based on real life criminals such as highwaymen or murderers. This reading matter was cheap and widely read by the masses was termed the "penny dreadful," descriptive of both price and standards. People of influence, professionals and clergy demanded that something be done about the situation.

Action took a positive course when the Religious Tract Society (RTS) was approached with the proposal of publishing a rival paper or magazine. The RTS was well established and already had a monthly publication. The periodical "conveyed instruction and amusement to many youthful minds."* Eventually, by 1879, the society were ready to unleash the Boy's Own Paper upon Great Britain and, ultimately, the Empire.

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