His Life & Times and Contribution to Victorian Society

Ingram, Herbert (1811–1860), newspaper proprietor and politician, was the son of Herbert Ingram (b. 1776), butcher, and his wife, Jane, née Wedd (bap. 1787), and was born on 27 May 1811 at Paddock Grove, Boston, Lincolnshire. His father having died before Herbert was a year old, his mother was left to provide for him and his elder sister, Harriet, by her own industry, and he learned at first hand the deprivations suffered by the poor and disadvantaged. After attending Boston’s charity school and the national school, he was apprenticed to the printer Joseph Clarke, Market Place, Boston. From 1832, having higher aims than to remain a provincial printer, he worked in London for two years as a journeyman, then about 1834 he set up in Nottingham as printer, newsagent, and bookseller in partnership with Nathaniel Cooke (1810–1879). Cooke married Ingram’s sister, Harriet, on 31 December 1835.

Increasing profits encouraged Ingram in his ambition to found a newspaper. Some of his customers were always eager for London news; he also noticed the interest aroused when he displayed sketches and caricatures in his shop window, and that a newspaper sold well when it contained a picture or reported a shocking crime. These observations led him to plan an illustrated paper devoted mainly to such subjects. Accordingly, the partners moved to London and rented premises in Crane Court, where the Illustrated London News was first printed. On the advice of some of his more experienced London friends, Ingram, reluctantly at first, agreed that the paper should be of a higher tone. Frederick William Naylor Bayley (1808–1852), the paper’s first editor, set this tone in his article on the front page of the first issue on 14 May 1842. The paper, wrote Bayley (Bailey, 211), would: «associate its principle with a purity of tone that may secure and hold fast for our journal the fearless patronage of families; to seek in all things to uphold the cause of public morality, … and to withhold from society no point that its literature can furnish or its art adorn.» Such principles immediately set it apart from all other journals: its impact was explosive and changed the character of printed news for all time. Huge profits accrued and Ingram enjoyed the wealth and influence for which he had always hoped. Soon, larger premises at 198 Strand were acquired.

Writers and artists of the highest order were engaged. Innovative devices were introduced, featuring special places and events: fold-outs, supplements, and commemorative numbers, for example. At the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851, with some issues printed in continental languages, weekly circulation topped 200,000 and copies reached all parts of the civilized world. The Illustrated London News organization also launched many other journals, and several series of high-class and educational books. Competitive papers soon appeared; some survived but the Illustrated London News remained supreme.

In 1846 Ingram regained Swineshead Abbey, Lincolnshire, a ‹lost› early seat of the family, which it had been one of his youthful ambitions to win back. In 1848 he acquired his own paper mills near Rickmansworth. Generous with his wealth and time, he endowed a school and a church, and served as magistrate in Hertford. In 1859 he got Brunel’s ship the Great Eastern completed and launched after insuperable difficulties had ruined its builders and the strain of which had led to the death of its designer.

Ingram also campaigned for, and put money into, Boston’s waterworks (opened 1849) and railway schemes (1850–59), and became its Liberal MP in 1856, serving until his death. Had he lived, he would have supported, with his influence and money, plans for radical improvement of the port and sea channel.

On 8 August 1860 he and his eldest son (Herbert), aged fifteen, went to America. In Chicago he changed his original plan and took a passage on the steamer Lady Elgin. During a storm on Lake Michigan on the night of 8 September the vessel was sunk by a schooner. Of the 393 people on board only 98 were saved. Young Herbert’s body was never found, but Ingram’s was washed ashore and was brought back to England and buried on 5 October in the cemetery at Boston, where his wife and daughter, Harriet, also lie. Ingram left his entire property to his wife. A statue of Ingram was later erected in Boston’s Market Place, and two lifeboats for the Lincolnshire coast were subscribed for in his memory, named after him, and presented by his wife.

On 4 July 1843 he had married William Little’s sister, Ann Little (1812–1896) of Eye, Northamptonshire, and they had ten children, several being either born or baptized at Swineshead. After Ingram’s death, his friend, railwayman and MP Sir Edward William Watkin (1819–1901), gratuitously managed the business until Ingram’s sons William and Charles were old enough to do so. William (1847–1924), who was created baronet in 1893, served as Liberal MP for Boston three times between 1874 and 1895. His son, Bruce (1877–1963), who was knighted in 1950, succeeded him in 1900 as proprietor of the Illustrated London News until his death. The last Ingram to run the paper was Hugh (1910–1994).

Herbert Ingram’s youngest son, Walter Ingram (1855–1888), born on 21 November 1855, was a military man and was killed by an elephant while on a hunting expedition in Africa, on 6 April 1888 – an accident supposedly foretold by an inscription found inside an Egyptian mummy when he unwound its wrappings. One of Ingram’s daughters, Emmeline Paxton Ingram (1851–1937), married Watkin’s nephew, Edgar Watkin (1860–1908); their only son was Edward Ingram Watkin. Another dynastic tie was made in 1892 when Sir Edward William Watkin married Ann Ingram, his friend’s widow, in spite of great opposition from their families. Ann Watkin died on 25 May 1896.

Extracts from 'Herbert Ingram' by Isobel Bailey. Published by Kay Books... courtesy of John Bailey