Introduction: Smithies and ‘Improving Magazines’

The Band of Hope Review was an ‘improving’ magazine for the children of the poor and working classes. Set up by the Methodist reformer Thomas Bywater Smithies (1817– 83), and taking its name from the Temperance Movement, its principal message was one of abstinence. It also had a wider application; in the words of The Dictionary of Nineteenth Century Journalism, it was ‘intended to supplement Sunday school instruction, providing temperance advice to the young’ while ‘serving as a resource for religious and moral teaching in the home’ (p. 37). Published by Partridge and Co., one of several Evangelical publishers set up in the mid-nineteenth century, it was aimed at the enlightenment of the working classes.

The journal was very much the brain-child of its editor and originator. Smithies personally edited its pages for a period of thirty-two years, 1851–83. It continued after his death in 1883 and was published, with some alterations in taste and orientation, until 1937. Its golden period, however, was in its first ten or fifteen years, which roughly corresponded with the age known as ‘The Sixties’. During this time Smithies enlisted the services of some of outstanding artists, who produced imposing drawings on wood for the first page.

Covers for the The Band of Hope Review. Left to right: (a) John Gilbert's Curious Jane with the Gypsies. (b) Harrison Weir's Squirrel. [Click on these images for larger pictures.]

Smithies regarded visual teaching as an effective means of conveying moral messages, and the magazine presents fine, didactic images by John Gilbert and Harrison Weir. Smithies applied the same strategy to The Band of Hope’s sister publication, The British Workman, and both papers were ‘lavishly illustrated’ (Dictionary, p.37).

Used to promote the values of kindness, charity, determination and decent living, the designs found in The Band of Hope make a direct, visceral appeal to the imagination of its juvenile audience; typically showing anthropomorphised animals by Harrison Weir (which embody particular moral virtues), it also contains hard-hitting scenes of poverty and privation by John Gilbert, though drawn in the manner of John Leech and redolent of his hard-hitting Punch designs of the ‘Hungry Forties’.

Works Cited

Band of Hope Review, The. London: Partridge & Co., 1851 –1937.

Dictionary of Nineteenth Century Journalism.Ed. Laura Brake. Gent: Academia Press, 2009.

Stringer-Rowe, G. Thomas Bywater Smithies: A Memoir. London: Woolmer, 1884.

Last modified 29 December 2012