The Story of The Strand
By Chris Willis
In the first issue of the Strand Magazine, published in December 1998, English writer Chris Willis wrote an article looking at the history of the Strand. It is reprinted here in its entirety. Chris Willis passed away at the age 43 in 2004.
Not many magazines can count Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill among their former contributors. However, both contributed to the Strand at different times during its history. It was after all, one of the best and most popular magazines of its time.
For sixty years (1891-1950), The Strand Magazine was a popular source for the best in fiction, featuring the works of some of the greatest authors of the 20th century including Graham Greene, Agatha Christie, Rudyard Kipling, G.K.Chesterton, Leo Tolstoy, Georges Simenon and, of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Founded by George Newnes in 1890 and edited by H Greenhough Smith from 1891 to 1930, the Strand aimed at a mass market family readership. The content was a mixture of factual articles, short stories and serials most of which were illustrated to some extent. Despite expense and production difficulties, Newnes aimed at having a picture on every page — a valuable selling point at a time when the arts of photography and process engraving were in their infancy. “A monthly magazine costing sixpence but worth a shilling” was the slogan the publicity-conscious Newnes used to advertise the Strand – which was half the price of most monthlies of the period.
When the first Sherlock Holmes short story –”A Scandal in Bohemia”– was published in the July 1891 issue of the Strand Magazine, circulation rose immediately. Arthur Conan Doyle had already published two full-length Holmes stories, “A Study in Scarlet” and “The Sign of Four,” neither approaching the success of the short stories which were to follow. Indeed, when “The Sign of Four” was published in book form in 1890, the Athenaeum commented that “Dr. Doyle’s admirers will read the little volume through eagerly enough, but they will hardly care to take it up again.” However, within two years, the combination of Sherlock Holmes and the Strand had made Conan Doyle one of the most popular authors of the age. Fifty-six Holmes stories appeared in the magazine from 1891 to 1927, many of them illustrated by Sidney Paget’s now famous drawings.
In his autobiography, Memories and Adventures, published in 1924, Doyle revealed that he had written the Holmes short stories with a view toward establishing himself in the Strand. He recalled that “A number of monthly magazines were coming out at that time, notable among which was the Strand, under the very capable editorship of Greenhough Smith. Considering these various journals with their disconnected stories it had struck me that a single character running through a series, if it only engaged the attention of the reader, would bind that reader to that particular magazine … Looking around for my central character, I felt that Sherlock Holmes, who I had already handled in two little books, would easily lend himself to a succession of short stories.”
Conan Doyle was to prove one of the Strand’s most popular (and prolific) contributors. From mid-1891 until his death in 1930, there was scarcely an issue which did not contain at least one of his stories or articles. The serialisation of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” in 1901-1902 was estimated to have increased the magazine’s circulation by 30,000 — with Conan Doyle being paid £480 – £620 per episode. The Strand also published Conan Doyle’s historical fiction such as “Rodney Stone” and “The Adventures of Brigadier Gerard.” An illustrated interview with him in 1892 included a postscript by Conan Doyle’s former teacher, Joseph Bell, the supposed ‘original’ Sherlock Holmes..
The Strand’s popularity grew alongside Conan Doyle’s, and in the ensuing years it included in its pages the works of several other great authors. During its sixty year history the Strand was host to a wide array of short story fiction from writers such as W.W. Jacobs, P.G. Wodehouse, H.G. Wells, and W. Somerset Maugham. Continuing the tradition started by Doyle, the Strand also became a source for new detective fiction from authors such as Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, E.C. Bentley, Edgar Wallace, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Georges Simenon. Factual reports from distinguished contributors were regularly featured as well. A sketch Queen Victoria had drawn of one of her children was published (with her permission) in the Strand.
Wartime hardships hit the Strand Magazine hard. Paper was rationed, and the size of the magazine had to be decreased. Costs rose, circulation fell, and the magazine never recovered. By 1950, the magazine needed a quarter of a million pounds to put it back on its feet. The owners saw no hope of raising the money, so in March 1950 the Strand was forced to stop publication.
After nearly half a century the Strand has returned. Contributors to this first issue include distinguished crime writers as well as lesser-known authors. With its distinguished tradition behind us, we hope to live up to the high standards set by the original Strand, providing a source for some of the best writing of the twenty-first century.