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W. T. SteadNonconformist and Newspaper Prophet$

Stewart J. Brown

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198832539

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198832539.001.0001

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A Voice of the Nonconformist Conscience, 1849–80

A Voice of the Nonconformist Conscience, 1849–80

(p.1) 1 A Voice of the Nonconformist Conscience, 1849–80
W. T. Stead

Stewart J. Brown

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The son of a Congregational minister in the north of England, W. T. Stead was largely taught at home by his father, and experienced conversion during the religious revival of 1859–62. In 1870, at the age of 22, he was appointed editor of the Darlington Northern Echo, and over the next decade he made the newspaper a powerful voice of the Nonconformist Conscience in the north of England. For Stead, the editor’s desk was a ‘pulpit’ from which to preach to a congregation of thousands. He played a leading role in the ‘Bulgarian atrocities’ agitation of 1876–8, calling for British intervention to end the massacres of Christians in the Ottoman Empire and becoming a fervent supporter of the Liberal politician, William Ewart Gladstone. Through the enigmatic Russian, Madame Novikoff, Stead was introduced into London cultural circles and embraced what would be a lifelong love of Russian cultures and peoples.

Keywords:   W. T. Stead, Nonconformist Conscience, abolition of slavery, Thomas Carlyle, Northern Echo, disestablishment, Bulgarian atrocities, Russia, William Ewart Gladstone, Olga Novikoff

‘I was a child of the manse’, Stead wrote when in his mid-fifties. ‘My father was an Independent minister, and both my parents were earnest, devoted Evangelical Christians. Independents sixty years ago were more Calvinistic than are their present-day representatives, and a sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin and of the grim reality of the wrath of God permeated the atmosphere of our home.’1 William Thomas Stead was born on 5 July 1849 in the old manse of the Presbyterian church in the Northumberland coastal village of Embleton. He was the second child of William Stead, then a minister in the Presbyterian Church of England, and his wife, Isabella. His father, born in 1814 in Crookes, near Sheffield, was the son of a cutler, or knife-maker. A pious lad with evangelical convictions, William Stead also became a cutler in Sheffield, but in 1839, at the age of twenty-five, he was accepted as a student of Airedale Theological College, a small, Independent dissenting academy in Bradford, where students received room, board, and tuition free of charge. Completing his studies in 1844, he was ordained minister of the Embleton Presbyterian Church in 1845. (At this time, English Presbyterian congregations were permitted to select ministers without a specifically Presbyterian training, provided the minister accepted the Presbyterian system of Church government.) The following year he married Isabella Jobson, the twenty-two-year-old daughter of a Northumberland farmer.

Late in 1849, William Stead returned to the Congregational denomination, accepting a call to become minister of the Independent church in Howdon, an industrial settlement on the banks of the Tyne, about five miles from Newcastle. He moved with his family to (p.2) a modest manse in Howdon, and here he ministered for the next thirty-four years, until his death in 1884. It was, according to his son, a ‘grimy spot, befouled and bemired, poisoned by chemical fumes, and darkened by the smoke of innumerable chimneys’.2 The Independent, or Congregationalist denomination was broadly Reformed, or Calvinist in theology, with a respect for a learned ministry and a belief that each congregation should be self-governing, recognizing only Christ as head of the Church and seeking in worship to reflect the simplicity of the early Church. They were part of what was known as ‘Old Dissent’, Protestant Nonconformists who cherished a sturdy independence of character, disciplined lives, and hard work as a means of honouring God; they were heirs to the seventeenth-century English Puritans. In the mid-nineteenth century, Congregationalists were left-leaning Whig or even Radical in their politics, opposing the established Church of England and any connection of Church and State, as well as privilege or political favouritism.

As Congregational minister in Howdon, William Stead was active in home mission, including house-to-house visiting, organizing house prayer meetings, and visiting ships every Sunday at Howdon dock, with a group of helpers, to distribute pious tracts and invite the sailors to worship at his church. He served on civic bodies, and took a particular interest in extending popular education. Following the Education Act of 1870, he was elected to the Wallsend School Board and in 1878 he took the leading role in founding the Howdon’s Mechanics Institute, an educational and recreational club for working men. ‘He did not preach much about the obligation of doing our duty,’ his son would later recall, ‘he only made us feel that to neglect doing our duty was as flat a flying in the face of the law of the universe as the neglect to breathe.’ ‘He was emphatically a healthy man––healthy and whole-souled, with a sovereign hatred of shams and fine phrases, which was kept from being rancorous by a fine spirit of charity and a hearty human sympathy. I think he was the heartiest laugher I ever knew.’ He had a great love of literature, with a good-sized library at his manse. His childhood poverty and limited formal education left him cautious, diffident, and self-effacing, as a labouring man now in a learned profession. He could be dismissed by his congregation if they became displeased with him, in which case he would have little hope of finding another position as a minister. ‘The (p.3) meekest and mildest of men,’ his son observed, ‘I have seen him bear insults which made me long, boy as I was, to smite the insulter to the ground … Modest and reserved, he never pushed himself.’ Little is known of his theology, as he ordered that his several thousand manuscript sermons be burned a few days before his death. While not an eloquent or popular preacher, he earned respect as a dedicated pastor and he formed a congregation with a regular attendance of some two hundred people, along with a successful Sunday School for children. His income never exceeded £150 a year, but with a manse in addition to the income, he was able to support his family in reasonable comfort. Stead’s mother, Isabella, said to have ‘passed through much domestic affliction previous to her marriage’, found consolation in a deep evangelical faith. She was known as a peace-maker, ever ready to intervene to mediate quarrels. One who knew her well described her life as ‘very simple, very placid in its “deeds of weekday holiness”’.3 Her influence upon him, Stead later wrote, ‘was constant and abiding’.4 She died after a brief illness in the spring of 1875.

A Remarkable Nonconformist Family

William and Isabella Stead had nine children; of these three died in infancy or in their first years, while another, Joseph, died of scarlet fever in 1868 aged fifteen. The parents largely schooled their children at home and encouraged free and open discussions on most matters. For Sunday morning breakfasts, each family member would memorize a biblical verse and offer an interpretation, from which the conversation would then range widely over questions of religion and morality. They were a remarkable family. Of the five children who reached maturity, the eldest, Mary Isabella, born in 1847, became an educator, social welfare activist, temperance reformer, Liberal politician, and feminist. She co-founded the first Leicester branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association, ran a mission to the poor at Balham in South London, conducted a soup kitchen in London during the bitter winter of 1894–5, co-organized a mission at Redcar in Yorkshire, and served as president of the Redcar Women’s Liberal Association. The third child, John Edward, born in 1851, achieved an international reputation as a metallurgist, establishing a successful firm of analytical chemists, ‘Pattinson and Stead’, in 1876 and (p.4) publishing numerous scientific papers. He was awarded the Bessemer Gold Medal of the Iron and Steel Institute (metallurgy’s highest honour) in 1901, was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1903, and received three honorary doctorates. The fourth child, Sarah Anne, married George Strachan; she died in 1896, aged forty. The fifth child, Francis Herbert Stead, born in 1857, became a prominent Congregational minister, peace campaigner and social gospel activist. Educated at Owens College, Manchester, Airedale Theological College, Glasgow University, and several German universities, Herbert served for six years as a Congregational minister in Leicester, and then as warden of the Browning Settlement in a deprived district of London, where he worked for slum clearance, legislative help for the unemployed, national homes for the aged, old age pensions, women’s rights, and international peace.5

In his early years, William Thomas Stead was taught at home by his father alongside his elder sister, with the two set in competition in learning their lessons. They were taught Latin from a young age, learning Latin grammar before English grammar. Their father also taught them to read, but not to speak French. Family life was on the whole happy, with games in the garden and long walks, but there was also a strict Nonconformist morality. ‘I was born and brought up,’ Stead later recalled, ‘in a home where life was regarded ever as the vestibule of Eternity, and where everything that tended to waste time, which is life in instalments, was regarded as an evil thing.’ ‘Hence,’ he continued, ‘in our North Country manse a severe interdict was laid upon all time-wasting amusements which did not directly minister to the restoration of moral, or physical energy, and especially was the interdict severe upon those methods of dissipation which were so fascinating as to make them dangerous rivals to the claims of duty.’ Of these temptations, he added, ‘the first was the Theatre, which was the Devil’s Chapel; the second was Cards, which were the Devil’s Prayer Book; and the third was the Novel, which was regarded as a kind of Devil’s Bible.’6 He was, however, permitted to read Sir Walter Scott’s novels, regarded as of a high moral standard.

His father’s ardent sermons, the family’s strict piety, and the difficulties in meeting the high moral expectations threw some dark shadows over Stead’s childhood. In his father’s faith, there was, alongside hope of salvation and everlasting life with Christ, also a (p.5) real hell of everlasting torment, and a divine justice under which the reprobate should suffer eternal punishment. This faith could instil an uncompromising morality, but could also arouse terror. Stead recalled being struck at the age of eleven with an overpowering sense of his sinfulness and the conviction that ‘I deserved to be damned’. ‘I sobbed and cried in the darkness,’ he remembered, ‘with a vague sense of my own sin and of the terrible doom which awaited me.’ His mother heard his cries, took him in her arms and comforted him with words about the love of God, until in time his terror passed. For the rest of his life he remembered that night as a ‘thunderstorm’.7

His ‘First Conversion’

In July 1861, at the age of twelve, Stead was sent to Silcoates boarding school for Congregationalist boys, located near Wakefield. Its fifty boys were aged between ten and seventeen. The headmaster, Dr James Bewglass, a flamboyant teacher and an Irishman, roused the interest of the boys with accounts of the early battles of the American Civil War and the historic injustices of British rule in Ireland. Stead’s arrival at the school coincided with the final stages of the evangelical revival movement that had been sweeping through Britain and Ireland since 1858–9, affecting hundreds of thousands. In August 1861, some of the Silcoates boys, including Stead, began holding prayer meetings and speaking earnestly about the state of their souls. Stead, who was homesick and distressed, now experienced what he described as an evangelical conversion, bringing a sudden conviction that he had always been saved from his sins by Christ’s sacrifice, and giving him ‘a sense of great peace and deliverance’. It was, at one level, a schoolboy episode, in which Stead and the other boys, enthused by the larger revival movement, tried to emulate its language and behaviour. But Stead believed that his conversion was a real change, with a lasting impact on his life. ‘Whatever may be the objective reality of the altered relations which I then recognised as existing between my soul and its Maker,’ Stead wrote in 1905, ‘there is absolutely no question as to the abiding nature of the change it effected in my life. It is forty-three years since that Revival at school. The whole of my life during these forty-three years has been (p.6) influenced by that change which men call conversion which occurred with me when I was twelve.’8 Following this conversion, aged twelve, he joined the Congregational Church at Wakefield, and he remained a member of a Congregational church for all his life. ‘Nor has anything,’ he later wrote, ‘occurred in all my subsequent wanderings, spiritual or otherwise, to lead me to wish to abandon that position.’9

His parents removed Stead from Silcoates School in June 1863, just before his fourteenth birthday, apprenticing him as a clerk with the firm of Charles Septimus Smith, a wine, spirits, timber, and leather merchant at Quayside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Russian vice-consul. Stead had enjoyed his time at the school, writing for the school paper and developing a love for cricket. The two years at Silcoates were his only formal education, and he would be sensitive about this throughout his life, protesting (a bit too loudly at times) that his limited formal education had never harmed his prospects. His parents’ decision to remove him probably resulted from financial pressures amid a general economic downturn. The American Civil War had brought a collapse in imports of raw cotton, which had a devastating impact on the textile industry and the British economy as a whole, presumably affecting congregational contributions to the Howdon church and thus his father’s income. For a Congregational minister to apprentice his son to a merchant dealing in wine and spirits appears incongruous, but there is no evidence that the elder Stead was a total abstainer from alcohol, and Smith was a respected merchant. Stead, who soon rose to the position of salaried clerk, lived at home, commuted by train to Newcastle to work, and most of his earnings went to the family.

Shortly after leaving school, he felt his life transformed by Thomas Carlyle’s Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell (1845), with its emotive portrayal of Cromwell as the heroic ‘God’s Englishman’, raised up by his religious faith and uncompromising morality, and imposing God’s moral order upon a distracted and troubled people, who desperately needed a leader. Carlyle’s Cromwell infused the young clerk with the hope of doing something extraordinary with his life. Stead venerated Carlyle’s high moral tone, celebration of the heroic, energetic, sermonizing style, painstaking historical research, and ability to form an intimate personal connection with his readers. Carlyle was, according to Stead’s biographer, Frederic Whyte, ‘the writer who perhaps more (p.7) than any other was to influence his whole life’.10 Along with many Victorian Nonconformists, especially Congregationalists, Stead was also drawn to Carlyle’s Cromwell as a champion against the perceived oppression of an established Church. ‘The memory of Cromwell,’ Stead wrote in 1899, ‘has from my earliest boyhood been the inspiration of my life. That was not surprising, for I was the son of an Independent minister.’ His admiration of Cromwell, ‘the uncrowned king of English Puritanism’, reached the level of religious devotion, which for a time overshadowed even his devotion to Christ. ‘I can to this day remember,’ he continued, ‘the serious searchings of heart I experienced when I woke up to a consciousness of the fact that I felt a far keener and more passionate personal love for Oliver Cromwell, than I did even for the divine figure of Jesus of Nazareth. Cromwell was so near, so human, and so real.’11

His ‘Second Conversion’

Stead now immersed himself in reading on Cromwell, English Puritanism, and the English Civil War, and dreamed of literary fame as an historian of seventeenth-century English Puritanism. Reading late in the evenings, during lunch breaks and on the train, he gained an appreciation for history that remained with him for life. But a major history of Puritanism was too vast a project for a clerk, with little education, time, or library resources. In 1868 serious eye strain endangered his vision, and for a time his physician vetoed his reading outside the office. He took this threatened blindness as a sign from God that he ‘must put away all idea of ever writing the book, or of making a name for myself, and must simply set to work and labour for those who were around me’.12

This perceived divine call to social service, and especially service to the poor, formed what Stead called his ‘second conversion’. In embracing the call to service, he found special inspiration from another figure, who alongside Carlyle and Cromwell, would have a significant influence on his life. This was the New England poet, essayist, magazine editor, and Abolitionist, James Russell Lowell (1819–91). Stead was fifteen when he found by chance a ‘yellow-backed shilling edition’ of Lowell poems. A few years later, in 1867, his essay on Cromwell, signed ‘W. T. Silcoates’ and submitted to the Boys Own Magazine, won (p.8) him some prize books, among which he chose another book of Lowell poetry.13 ‘That little volume,’ he wrote in 1891, ‘with its green paper cover, lies before me now, thumbed almost to pieces, underscored, and marked in the margin throughout … It has been with me everywhere; in Russia, in Ireland, in Rome, in prison, it has been my constant companion.’14 ‘In some of the critical moments of my life,’ he noted, amid a telling juxtaposition of texts, ‘I found in Lowell help such as I found in none other outside Carlyle’s “Cromwell” and Holy Writ.’15

From Lowell, Stead derived an enthusiasm for humanity and sense of Christianity as a living force for good in the world. Lowell, Stead insisted, was ‘a Puritan by heredity’ for whom the ‘moral fervour of the men of the Mayflower was wrought into the inmost fibre of his being’.16 His Puritanism had brought Lowell to struggle for God’s justice and righteous order, fighting through verse and prose to free America’s black slaves. For Lowell, the Civil War and its many martyrs for freedom became ‘God’s new Messiah’.17 Lowell’s poetry celebrated a Jesus who had sacrificed his life in service to humanity, and who called his followers to do the same. ‘It was in thus harmonising,’ Stead explained, ‘the broadest humanitarianism with the strictest orthodox theories of the divine mission of Christ that Mr. Lowell was most helpful to me; for he enabled me to hitch on all that was best and noblest in human endeavour to the old, old doctrine of Calvary. He has been, and long will be, the most potent preacher of the living Christ that this century has produced.’ Stead believed that for Lowell the essence of Christianity involved the question: ‘“What are you doing with the least of these my brethren?” Doctrine, ritual, sacrament––all these may be unimpeachably correct; but if these “little ones” are being crucified, what does it avail?’18

Through Lowell’s influence Stead began to consider journalism as a career. Although Stead’s father sometimes quoted the London Congregational minister, Thomas Binney, to the effect that if St Paul were alive in the mid-nineteenth century, he would edit a daily newspaper, Stead had not previously been attracted to journalism. Newspapers did not ‘stir the sympathy of a lad full of daydreams from the poets and high imaginings drawn from the traditions of the Puritan and Covenanting struggles of the seventeenth century’. But Lowell’s writings opened Stead’s mind to the potential of journalism to bring social (p.9) and religious change. He was profoundly moved by Lowell’s prose preface to his poem, ‘The Pious Editor’s Creed’, which portrayed the newspaper editor as a religious prophet, while regretting that most Christian preachers, ‘instead of being a living force’, merely vocalized ‘certain theological dogmas’ and adorned ‘christenings, weddings, and funerals’. These preachers might reach a few hundred with their Sunday sermons. But newspaper editors preached to the masses and were becoming the prophets of the new, more democratic era. ‘See what a pulpit the editor mounts daily,’ Lowell enthused, ‘sometimes with a congregation of fifty thousand, within reach of his voice.’ ‘And from what a Bible,’ he continued, ‘can he choose his text––a Bible which needs no translation, and which no priestcraft can shut and clasp from the laity––the open volume of the world, upon which, with a pen of sunshine or destroying fire, the inspired Present is even now writing the annals of God!’19

Outside his working hours, Stead threw himself into educational and social work, becoming a sort of ‘unpaid curate’ to his father in Howdon, while also active in voluntary philanthropic work in Newcastle. He taught in the Howdon Sunday School, was secretary of the Howdon Tract Society, led a cottage prayer meeting, and chaired a Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Society, which included managing its cricket club. ‘It was in those humble agencies,’ he later wrote, ‘and not in college class or university lecture rooms, that I learned all that I know of the art and science of human life.’20 Years later, according to his sister Mary, local people would ‘tell tales of the harum scarum lad who worked himself nearly to death to save the lads of the village’.21 Stead was impressed with the formation in 1869 of the Charity Organisation Society, which promoted more rational and informed approaches to charity, including the careful investigation of applicants’ need for relief and the formation of educational programmes designed to help relief recipients find employment and gain independence. Early in 1870, he helped to form a Newcastle Mendicity Society on this model and became its first secretary.

Appointment as Editor of the Northern Echo

He also began writing articles on social and political questions for newspapers, especially the Northern Echo, a half-penny daily newspaper (p.10) begun on 1 January 1870 in the northern town of Darlington, an important railway centre. The wealthy Quaker Pease family had promoted the formation of the newspaper and provided continuing financial support.22 The proprietor was a former Methodist minister and Liberal journalist, John Hyslop Bell, and the first editor was an experienced London journalist, John Copleston.23 The newspaper advocated advanced Liberal views and was priced for a mass market.24 Stead was not paid for his articles, which included a series of short pieces on America and Americans. But Copleston gave him valuable guidance on journalistic writing, encouraging Stead to curb his Protestant zeal and adopt a more open and tolerant tone. ‘You have a really powerful pen,’ Copleston assured him in February 1871, ‘and with very little practice you may command the attention of hundreds of thousands.’25 Bell and Copleston, meanwhile, were not getting on, and in the spring of 1871 Copleston resigned as editor, moving to New York City later that year. Bell had liked the energetic style and Christian tone of Stead’s articles, especially his ‘Democracy and Christianity’, which had portrayed the two movements as linked parts of the divine plan for the elevation of humanity.26 He now took the risk of offering Stead the editorship of the Northern Echo.27 For Stead, who had sent his articles by post and had never even been in a newspaper office, the unexpected invitation was a clear call from on high. ‘To be an editor!’ he confided to his journal on 16 April 1871, ‘…to think, write and speak for thousands.’ ‘Am I not,’ he asked (thinking of Cromwell), ‘God’s chosen … to be his soldier against wrong?’28 After negotiating an arrangement by which there would be no Sunday work, Stead accepted the position and began work in July 1871. His initial salary was £180 a year, more than that of his father. At twenty-two, he was the youngest newspaper editor in England, aided by an experienced sub-editor, Mark Fooks, formerly of the Northern Daily Express.29

Shortly after accepting the position, Stead travelled to Leeds to meet another young journalist, Thomas Wemyss Reid, who in May 1870 had become editor of the Leeds Mercury. Seven years older than Stead, Reid was the son of a Congregational minister in Newcastle-upon-Tyne; their fathers were friends and had arranged for Stead to meet Reid and receive his advice. But if Reid had expected Stead to listen, he was soon disabused. Stead, Reid recalled, did most of the (p.11) talking, and he talked on and on for hours, full of ideas of how he would conduct his newspaper. Stead’s appearance was that of the ‘ugly duckling’, and his conversation ‘distinctly eccentric’, but there was also ‘something that was irresistible in his candour, his enthusiasm, and his self-confidence’. Stead insisted that ‘the Press was the greatest agency for influencing public opinion in the world. It was the true and only lever by which Thrones and Governments could be shaken and the masses of the people raised.’ While Reid thought some of Stead’s ideas ‘ridiculous’, he ‘was staggered by the audacity of his schemes for revolutionising English journalism’.30

In 1871, William Stead was about 5 feet, 8 inches in height, with a slight build, and reddish-brown hair. He had a weak chin, which he filled out with a beard, and a disconcerting way of fixing his blue eyes on people in conversation. His difficulties with eye strain had ended. He wore ill-fitting clothes, lacked social graces and discretion, tended to sprawl over furniture, and was not shy about speaking his mind. He loved running, and would run everywhere, as fast as he could, including to and from church, which many found undignified. ‘It was thought in the village,’ he admitted, ‘that I was a little daft.’31 He was a romantic, loving the poetry of Coleridge, Byron, and Lowell, and the prose of Carlyle. When he was eighteen or nineteen, he was infatuated with a Scottish woman, ten years his senior, who had spent a summer with her brother in Howdon and apparently encouraged his attentions; she had returned to Edinburgh and, despite Stead’s passionate letters, she married a naval officer. Now at the age of twenty-two he left the family home at Howdon with little formal education, but with immense self-confidence, a belief in a divine plan for his life, and lofty ideals and values, that would remain with him for life. Since his early twenties, Stead later wrote, ‘I have learned a great many more facts, and [come] to know a great many more people, but my standpoint or outlook upon life, my conception of what is possible and of what ought to be done, in other words my ideal and objective were fixed by the time I was twenty.’32 And his standpoint was essentially that of a Protestant Nonconformist, son of the manse, convert of the 1859–62 Revival movement, and member of a Congregational church, who viewed the Congregationalists ‘as the heirs of Cromwell and Milton and the Pilgrim Fathers, and the representatives of extreme Democracy which knows neither male not female.’33

(p.12) The Northern Echo and the Nonconformist Conscience

With the support of the Quaker Pease family and the Methodist proprietor, Stead soon made the Northern Echo the leading north of England voice of what would become known as the ‘Nonconformist Conscience’. It was a propitious time for a young Nonconformist editor enthused with high ideals for social and political change. The Protestant Nonconformist denominations were on the whole confident and rising in social status. The religious census of March 1851 had shown the number of Nonconformist worshippers to be nearly equal to those in the established Church, and some believed Nonconformist numbers were bypassing the number in the established Church by the early 1870s. Educational and income levels for Nonconformists improved in mid-Victorian Britain. Some achieved notable success in business, among them the Baptist Jeremiah Colman (1830–98), the ‘mustard-king’ of Norwich; the Quaker John Cadbury (1801–89) of Birmingham, producer of chocolates, especially hot cocoa drinks; the Primitive Methodist William Hartley (1846–1922) of Liverpool, producer of jams, and the Unitarian Joseph Chamberlain (1836–1914) of Birmingham, who by the 1870s was producing most of the metal screws in Britain.

Such Nonconformists would not accept being second-class citizens or tolerated outsiders; they demanded full political and civil equality. Since the 1830s, Nonconformist political agitation had secured the removal of most of their civil disabilities. In 1836, Parliament enacted the civil registration of births and deaths, removing the keeping of these records from the parish churches of the established Church. That same year, Parliament enacted the option of civil marriage, rather than requiring marriage according to Anglican rites in the parish church. In the mid-1850s, Parliament enacted legislation to permit Nonconformists to study for non-theological degrees at the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge; in 1871, theological degrees and most fellowships at Oxford and Cambridge were also opened to them. In 1868, Parliament passed William Gladstone’s bill to abolish the compulsory Church Rate, or the tax levied in English and Welsh parishes for the maintenance of the parish church, which Nonconformists, as well as adherents of the established Church, had been required to pay.

(p.13) The Second Reform Act of 1867 had expanded the parliamentary franchise in England and Wales, significantly increasing the number of voters, especially among the lower middle classes and the skilled artisans. About a third of all adult males over twenty years of age in England and Wales could now vote. Many of the new voters were Nonconformists, who now felt increasingly empowered to work not only to redress their remaining grievances, but also to reshape British national and imperial policies around their religious and moral convictions. With their emphasis on individual responsibility, self-discipline, and self-help, most Nonconformists were drawn to the Liberal Party that was emerging in the 1860s from an alliance of Whigs, radicals, and moderate reformers. The number of Nonconformists in Parliament steadily grew. As David Bebbington has shown, 14 per cent of the Liberal MPs were Nonconformists following the general election in 1868, 19 per cent following the general election of 1874, and 24 per cent following the general election of 1880.34

Soon after his arrival in Darlington, Stead became engaged to a Howdon woman, Emma Lucy Wilson, whom he had known since childhood. She was a devout Congregationalist, slightly older than him, the daughter of his mother’s friend and a close friend of his older sister. They were married on 10 June 1873. They had prepared a special wedding service ‘adapted to modern requirements’, which at Emma’s stipulation omitted the term ‘obey’ from the wedding vows. They rented a house, Grainey Hill, surrounded by trees and three acres of arable land, and located a few miles outside Darlington. Stead rode to and from the newspaper office on a small pony. He and Emma attended the Congregational church on Union Street in Darlington, where the minister, Henry B. Kendall, was a friend of Stead’s father and also took a keen interest in collecting ghost stories.35 At Grainey Hill, Stead adopted the persona of a small farmer, doing a little gardening, living close to nature, avoiding society and its artificial distinctions, independent of mind and beholden to none—like Cromwell on his farmstead at St Ives, or Carlyle at the country cottage at Craigenputtock. ‘I live like a hermit––married hermit of course,’ he explained to Olga Novikoff (of whom more later), in October 1877:

I live two miles from the town, riding in to it every night, & doing all my work as far as possible in the silence & solitude of the country. I have no (p.14) neighbours. The little household is complete in itself, & around it, are no living things save my pony, the cow, the dogs, the poultry, the bees, & the birds, whose music in the summer morning, when I return tired & exhausted from work, is worth more to me than all the orchestras that exist in Europe. The nobles, the grandees, ignore our existence, as completely as I ignore them––well never mind! But you see I am not of their caste.36

Children followed: William was born in 1874, Henry in 1875, Alfred in 1877, and Emma Wilson (known as Estelle) in 1878. For Stead, it was an idyllic home—‘the Garden of Eden plus the children’, as he later recalled37—though his young wife, with most of the responsibility for raising the children, became depressed by the isolation.

The Northern Echo had a circulation of about 10,000 when he began his editorship, and this increased to about 13,000 by 1875. After March 1873, the newspaper became available in London through W. H. Smith newsagents, with copies arriving by rail before 10 am.38 Along with editing the paper, Stead wrote six lead articles (editorials) and various short reports each week. Stead’s Northern Echo promoted Nonconformist support for the Liberal party, and called for high moral standards in public figures, an eight-hour working day for coal miners, home rule for Ireland, a responsible imperialism, Anglo-American friendship, expansion of national education, temperance reform, and arbitration of international disputes. As Joseph Baylen observed, ‘Stead gave the Northern Echo a sense of purpose and urgency, which most of the British daily press lacked, and made the Echo one of the most readable newspapers in Britain. In virile and vehement prose, Stead produced a torrent of acute leaders and personal commentaries on public affairs.’39 The tone and style of his editorials were those of a Nonconformist preacher; he was his father’s son, giving impassioned sermons on various topics six days a week to a ‘congregation’ of thousands of readers. ‘Newspapers,’ he insisted in an editorial promoting ‘Religious Revival’, ‘are not mere chronicles of passing events; they are the teachers of the age.’40 As Simon Goldsworthy has observed, ‘the style of successful nonconformist preaching––the use of powerful language, vivid, often emotional material, and eye-catching examples to draw moral lessons while attracting and holding the attention of a congregation––lent itself to the new journalism which Stead in particular was to pioneer.’41

(p.15) The early and mid-1870s were a time of intense religious conflict in the United Kingdom, with campaigns for disestablishment, religious controversies surrounding the Education Act of 1870, conflicts over Anglo-Catholic ritual within the Church of England, and clashes over the Vatican Council of 1869–70 and the doctrine of papal infallibility. Disestablishment was an especially pressing question. Gladstone’s Liberal Government had carried the act disestablishing the Protestant Church of Ireland in 1869 (with the act going into effect in 1871), and many Nonconformists hoped this would be a precedent for disestablishment throughout the United Kingdom, ending the connection of Church and state and placing all denominations on an equal footing under the law. There were large-scale disestablishment campaigns in England and Wales from 1871 and in Scotland from 1874, and motions for disestablishment were introduced in the House of Commons in 1871, 1872, and 1873. The Nonconformist Northern Echo had championed the cause of disestablishment from its formation.42 Stead was a strong advocate of disestablishment, believing, as he wrote in a private memorandum, that ‘the Established Church is an anomaly, an injustice and inconsistent with religious equality, out of place in a democratic State where its faith is repudiated by a large proportion of the people’. The established Church, he added, ‘lowers the standard of Xtian citizenship. Its influence is always on the selfish side, in favour of high-handed wrong, against justice, against right.’43 His disestablishment fervour was influenced by his Congregationalism and his admiration of Cromwell, and his Northern Echo editorials were scathing about the established Church. Every Liberal, he wrote in an editorial, ‘The Curse of the Church’ (6 April 1874), must ‘ask himself how long the Upas tree of the Establishment is to be permitted to curse with its poisonous shade the Christian graces which should distinguish the English Church’. He was appalled by how many Anglican clerics would insist on their legal rights over parish burial grounds, refusing to allow Nonconformists to bury their dead with their own burial services and thus seeking to ‘perpetuate their supremacy beyond the tomb’.44

His editorials denounced the Anglo-Catholic ritualism that was growing in influence within the established Church of England—with its stone altars, lighted candles, rood screens, crucifixes, incense, priestly vestments, and mixing of water and wine in the chalice. (p.16) Ritualism, he insisted in August 1873, was the ‘resurrection of the theology and fashions of the dark ages’, and an attempt by Anglo-Catholic clergy to subvert the established Church and reimpose ‘the yoke of Rome’. ‘When Ritualism, by its seductive arts, has permeated our parishes with its effete superstitions,’ he predicted, ‘…the line dividing Anglicanism and Romanism will be so fine that at no distant date the [Pope] will count the Church of England as among the most faithful children of the Church of Rome.’45 Ritualist clergy were guilty of the ‘deadly sin’ of ‘identifying Christianity with the most hateful intolerance and parading as the spirit of the Church of Christ the very spirit of those who crucified the Saviour’. The ritualist Church Herald was nothing less than the ‘organ of Antichrist’.46 In 1874 Parliament sought to curb ritualist innovations with the controversial Public Worship Regulation Act, but Stead insisted the Act would bring no benefit. For while the Act curbed extreme Anglo-Catholic ritual, it still allowed the bishops to enforce existing High Church forms of worship which Stead viewed as abhorrent.47

Stead’s Northern Echo expressed mixed views on the Education Act of 1870. Stead praised its aim of bringing primary education to all children in England and Wales through the introduction of elected school boards and rate-supported board schools, but he criticized the continued state grants to Anglican schools.48 That said, he insisted that Nonconformists should not break with the Liberal party over the Act, as some Nonconformists demanded.49 Stead’s Northern Echo warmly supported the United Kingdom revival of 1873–5 led by the American evangelists Dwight L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey.50 The American evangelists, Stead maintained, were free of sectarianism, with a democratic emphasis on the essential equality of all people before God, and a simple gospel message that attracted vast crowds in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. His only regret was that there was so little opposition to their revival movement. In his view, genuine religious faith meant struggle against a world steeped in sin, and ‘real lasting good is seldom accomplished so easily, so quietly’.51 The Northern Echo applauded the revived interest in the Protestant overseas mission movement following the death in 1873 of the African missionary-explorer, David Livingstone, and his burial in Westminster Abbey. For Stead, the numerous missionary societies, with branches ‘in every English village’, their May meetings in Exeter Hall and their (p.17) religious and humanitarian concern for the welfare of other peoples, elevated the British nation with a higher moral purpose. The missionaries and their supporters at home represented a responsible imperialism, and promoted within the United Kingdom ‘the civilising mission with which she seems to be entrusted by the RULER of the world’.52

Josephine Butler and the Contagious Diseases Acts

Along with most Nonconformists, Stead passionately opposed the state’s attempts to regulate prostitution through the Contagious Diseases Acts; these Acts, he later observed, formed ‘one of those subjects upon which I have always been quite mad’.53 Parliament had passed the Contagious Diseases Acts in 1864, 1866, and 1869, to combat the alarming spread of venereal disease among soldiers and sailors. The Acts forced suspected prostitutes in a number of British towns to undergo testing and licensing, and if found to be infected, to be incarcerated and required to undergo medical treatment—or, as Stead put it, ‘if healthy, she is certified as fit for vice; if diseased, she is locked up in a hospital gaol’.54 The police were given extensive powers to arrest suspected prostitutes, and the medical tests were highly invasive and humiliating. For their supporters, the Acts were necessary for public health and the effectiveness of the armed forces. For their opponents, the Acts imposed a double standard, subjecting women but not men to forcible testing and mandatory treatment, while their enforcement resulted in injustices, with non-prostitutes, usually working-class women, being taken up, forcibly tested, and licensed as prostitutes. But more distressing, the Acts meant the state licensing and regulation of prostitution, undermining the foundations of social morality.

A National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts was formed in 1869, gaining strong support from within the Nonconformist Churches. That same year, a Ladies National Association was formed; it was soon led by Josephine Butler, an Anglican clergyman’s wife. Beautiful, intelligent, and charismatic, Butler had in 1864 experienced the accidental death of her young daughter, which drove her to seek consolation in compassionate work among poor women, including prostitutes, in Liverpool. Feeling a personal (p.18) call from God, she proved an effective orator and led a women’s campaign against the Acts, including public meetings and demonstrations, and the issuing of tracts and petitions to Parliament. The female campaigners were bitterly denounced for speaking publicly on sexual matters, and gangs of thugs violently attacked their meetings.

Stead admired Butler, viewing her campaign as a struggle for womanhood, purity, and freedom. In this he was influenced by his mother. ‘My earliest recollection of the agitation,’ he later wrote, ‘was that, in 1870, my mother and the mother of my future wife canvassed the women of our village for signatures to a petition for Repeal. It was the first time I had ever seen my mother promote a petition to Parliament … and I remember feeling a horror of great darkness, together with a kind of wondering marvel, at the women’s protest against the … abomination.’55 Butler fought not simply to ‘beat back’ the manifold evils of the Contagious Diseases Acts, but to testify to divine sovereignty over the world, and ‘to help realize the fulfilment of the great prophecy, [that] the kingdoms of this world are to become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ’. Confronted by these Acts, Butler and her supporters ‘were compelled to lay the axe to the root of the whole congeries of doctrines as to the necessity of vice, the impossibility of male chastity, and the creation of woman as a mere vessel … for the brutal instincts of man’.56

Stead introduced the theme of the Contagious Diseases Acts into the pages of the Northern Echo in late October 1871, with a lurid editorial on prostitution in Manchester, where some 3,000 women supposedly made their livings in the sex trade, some as young as fourteen years of age. Many became dependent on drink; their lives, he insisted, were a ‘slow suicide’. An estimated three-quarters of the women, it was said, had once attended Sunday Schools, and yet these daughters and sisters were now ‘offered to the lusts of mankind’, treated as outcasts ‘to be spurned by the world’, and consigned to early deaths, while the men who used them, often ‘men of wealth and respectability’, suffered no loss of social status. ‘The existence of a hell has been somewhat disputed of late,’ he observed. ‘As long as women are sacrificed to the lusts of men, so long will a hell be absolutely indispensable, if divine justice has to be more than a miserable sham.’57 In using such language, Judith Walkowitz has argued, Stead reflected older melodramatic literary traditions, including (p.19) fictional stories of innocent lower-class girls seduced or raped by wealthy aristocrats, and of the fallen woman as object of pity and sympathy.58 He also drew on the older traditions of sin, ruin, and hell in Nonconformist preaching.

Over the following years, Stead provided extensive coverage of the campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts, which he equated with state-regulated and state-sanctioned prostitution. While the subject was an ‘ugly’ one, it was the duty of every citizen in the United Kingdom’s emerging democracy to recognize and confront social evils. ‘In a country like ours, what the State does, we do; and every individual is individually responsible for its actions unless he protest against them.’59 In an editorial of April 1876, he christened Butler and the campaigners against the Acts the ‘New Abolitionists’. The earlier abolitionists, including James Russell Lowell, had revealed the real nature of slavery and fought bravely to end it. The New Abolitionists were struggling to reveal the true extent of sexual abuse and to free prostitutes from a state-regulated ‘bondage of hell’, which, because prostitutes were stigmatized for life by the state licensing system, meant a ‘life-long servitude’.

There was for Stead a vital difference between the Old and New Abolitionists. While black slaves in the American South, Stead maintained, had been held in physical bondage, they had Christian consolations of recompense in the next life. But prostitutes were cast off by churches and Christian society, and many believed (however wrongly) that they would be damned for their sins in the next life. ‘Even in the worst days of American slavery,’ he wrote, ‘a negro could always call his soul his own. It was not absolutely impossible for the slave to be supported and sustained by the sublime consolations which Christianity imparts to the down-trodden and oppressed.’ ‘But into the prison-house of Prostitution,’ he continued, ‘gleams no ray of hope athwart the darkness of despair. Its only light is the lurid glare of Hell.’ To their immense credit, Butler’s New Abolitionists were prepared to descend into the darkness of the brothels, embrace the untouchables and help them regain their humanity: ‘Mrs Butler has consecrated her life to the service of those of her own sex from whose touch most women recoil as if it were pollution.’60 About this time, Stead wrote his first letter to Butler, suggesting her movement needed a work of imaginative literature, like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel, Uncle (p.20) Tom’s Cabin, to bring the human costs of the Contagious Diseases Acts and state-regulated prostitution vividly before the public.61

In his editorials on this theme, Stead was very much the Nonconformist preacher, asserting an uncompromising morality derived from Scripture and Christian teachings. The Contagious Diseases Acts were expressions of collective sin, of national apostacy, and threatened to bring the wrath of God upon a guilty nation. They institutionalized evil, and there must be no compromise with evil. He reduced the complexities of the public health measures aimed at curbing venereal disease to a matter of simple right and wrong. His condemnations of state-regulated prostitution appealed to many fellow Nonconformists, who had grown up with stories of the struggle to end the slave trade and slavery in the British Empire by the acts of 1807 and 1833 respectively, and had witnessed from afar the American Abolitionist movement and God’s ‘terrible swift sword’ during the American Civil War. Stead’s rage against the Contagious Diseases Acts was genuine, rooted in his religious faith. The Northern Echo played no small part in the agitation that convinced Parliament to suspend the Contagious Diseases Acts in 1883 and finally to repeal them in 1886. Stead would remain on close terms with Josephine Butler for the remainder of her life.

Stead’s editorship was proving successful. The Northern Echo’s circulation was steadily increasing and by July 1874 his income had been raised to £300 a year. Yet, he also felt he was not achieving what he had been called to do. He had not become the prophet that in 1871 he had envisaged himself becoming. Preparing the newspaper was becoming routine. He worried in a private journal entry in July 1874 that he was ‘already regarding the daily sermon to 10,000 persons as if it were a literary exercise, the chief point its creditable performance from a professional point of view. I am less of a prophet and more of a journalist.’ He was, to be sure, producing racy editorials on a variety of religious and moral subjects; the newspaper’s proprietor and financial backers were content. But Stead was dissatisfied and restless. ‘I have a dread,’ he confided to his journal in December 1875, ‘…that I may sink into a hulk rotting in port instead of being a God-sent messenger to the age in which I live.’62 In the spring of 1875, his mother died, aged only fifty-one, after a short illness, and on her deathbed, she had told him three things. First, he was not to (p.21) ‘domineer’ over his wife, Emma, suggesting that all was not well in his marriage. Second, he was not to ‘overtax’ his strength. Finally, he was to submit his will ‘in all things to God’, as she thought that his excessive ‘nervousness’ (or restlessness) resulted in a ‘great part from not doing so’. Then in the summer of 1876 he found a cause worthy of Cromwell, Carlyle, or Lowell; it led to what some would view as his greatest achievement.

Stead and the ‘Bulgarian Atrocities’

‘The Bulgarian agitation,’ Stead later wrote, ‘was due to a Divine voice. I felt the clear call of God’s voice, “Arouse the nation or be damned”. If I did not do all I could, I would deserve damnation.’63 In the summer of 1875, various Christian populations in the Ottoman territories in the Balkans rose in rebellion. They were suffering under the burden of crippling taxes and years of misgovernment, and they were also inspired by nationalism and pan-Slavism. Lord Beaconsfield’s Tory government feared the risings would provide an occasion for Russian military intervention in support of the Balkan Christians, their kindred people, sharing their Orthodox faith and Slavic identity. A Russian military victory over Turkey would give Russia control over the Balkans, Constantinople, and the eastern Mediterranean, threatening the Suez Canal and Britain’s key Mediterranean route to India. Britain had fought the Crimean War of 1854–6 in order to defend the Ottoman Empire against Russian expansion, and the preservation of the Ottoman Empire remained fundamental to British foreign policy. In the early summer of 1876, Beaconsfield’s government sent a fleet of ironclads to the Dardanelles to demonstrate its resolve to support the Ottoman Empire.

The Turks had by now moved to crush the risings. In eastern Rumelia, they used regular troops and local Muslim militias against the Orthodox Christian Bulgarians, and these forces, especially the militias, acted with extreme cruelty—destroying some seventy villages and massacring an estimated 15,000 men, women, and children. There was widespread rape and torture, many victims were burned alive in churches or barns, and survivors often sold into slavery. Early in June, the first reports of the Bulgarian atrocities appeared in British newspapers, and in August, the Irish-American journalist, Januarius (p.22) MacGahan, published graphic accounts in the London Daily News, including descriptions of the massacre in Batak, where some 5,000 men, women, and children had been tortured and murdered, and where corpses lay unburied and rotting. Much of the British public was sickened, while the British fleet in the Dardanelles poised to support the Ottoman state implied that Britain was complicit in the massacres.

Stead had studied Russian history and culture since working as a clerk for the Newcastle merchant and Russian vice-consul in the 1860s. From 1875, Stead’s Northern Echo supported the popular risings in the Balkans, portraying them as a liberation movement.64 As reports of the massacres reached Britain, he seethed with righteous fury against Britain’s support for Ottoman control over the Balkans. In April 1876, the Northern Echo denounced Beaconsfield’s government for propping up the ‘loathsome tyranny of the SULTAN’ and enabling ‘the decrepid Empire to maintain its hold upon the writhing provinces’. The government had implicated the whole British people in the Ottoman Empire’s massacres of peoples wishing to be free. ‘As we have shared in her crimes … upon our heads will be visited the retribution for our sins.’65 In the summer of 1876, as more reports of the Bulgarian massacres reached Britain, the subject became increasingly visceral for him. Along with many Nonconformists, what most distressed him were the reports of gang rapes of Bulgarian women and girls.66 His personal friend, the Rev Benjamin Waugh, thought Stead was tormented by a vision of the rape and murder of Bulgarian women ‘in the form of his own mother, with long hair like hers, and feelings, and fountains of tears’.67 ‘It was like a Divine possession,’ Stead later wrote, ‘that shook me almost to pieces, wrung me and left me shuddering and weak in an agony of tears.’68 ‘A war of extermination is being carried on against the Christians in Bulgaria,’ thundered the Northern Echo on 24 June, resolutely recounting the ‘sickening’ accounts of women burned alive and children butchered.69 For Stead, the Slavic Christians were struggling to gain their freedom, both political and religious, and the British people had a sacred duty to support their struggle. He insisted that Conservative politicians and the London elite supported the British alliance with Ottoman despotism in the Balkans from their narrow conceptions of British self-interest. But he believed that ordinary people, especially in the (p.23) provincial north, had higher notions of freedom, religion, and morality. For them, the horrors in the Balkans recalled memories of England’s popular struggle for political and religious freedom in the seventeenth century. ‘We believe,’ he wrote on 13 July 1876, ‘that the cause for which CROMWELL fought and HAMPDEN died is worthy of the sympathies, the prayers, and the assistance of every one worthy of the name of man.’ However strange it might seem to the Conservative London elite, ‘we in the North here esteem the liberties of men and the honour of women to be worth fighting for, and hence we regard with unfeigned sympathy the efforts which the Christians of the East are making to win the one and protect the other.’ During the American war to end slavery, it had been the ‘honest hearts of England’s working people’ that ‘remained true to the good cause’.70 His commitment to the Bulgarian agitation, Stead later wrote, was profoundly influenced by the example of the Abolitionists and the American Civil War, especially the Abolitionist poet, James Russell Lowell. ‘For slaves read Slavs,’ he observed, ‘and the fiery appeals of the American abolitionist fit to a nicety the mood of the champions of Bulgarian independence.’ ‘For me at least, Lowell supplied the psalms of the Crusade of 1876–8.’71

Stead revered William Ewart Gladstone as a man of faith and principle, and had regretted his retirement from the Liberal Party leadership in 1875. When Gladstone denounced the government’s Eastern policy in the House of Commons on 31 July 1876, Stead welcomed the intervention from ‘the custodian of the English conscience’ and the ‘incarnation of duty’.72 The agitation against the Bulgarian atrocities was now gaining some influential Christian support. Nonconformists, especially Congregationalists, were most active in the protests.73 But High Church and Anglo-Catholic clerics within the Church of England also became prominent, among them Henry Parry Liddon, canon of St Paul’s Cathedral and professor of exegesis at Oxford University, Malcolm MacColl, a London parish priest, and R. W. Church, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. High Church and Anglo-Catholic clerics had long been attracted to the liturgy and theology of the Orthodox Church, and now felt a special sympathy for endangered Orthodox Christians in the Balkans. Nonconformists and Anglo-Catholics drew together in protesting the atrocities, in what the primate of the Church of England, Archbishop A. C. Tait (no (p.24) friend to the protestors), called an ‘unholy alliance’.74 Stead, whose Northern Echo had for years denounced the established Church of England and Anglo-Catholic ritualists, now reconsidered his views; on 28 August 1876, for example, he praised the ‘fearless intrepidity’ of the High Church Liddon in speaking out against the massacres.75

From late August 1876, Stead helped organize and publicize a series of public protest meetings across the northeast of England, to rouse popular opinion over the Bulgarian atrocities and to oppose any government moves to draw Britain into war against Russia in support of the Ottoman Empire. The first was held on 25 August 1876 in Darlington; at this meeting the Quaker Pease family, financial backers of the Northern Echo, played a prominent role. The meeting, according to Stead, was ‘crowded, indignant and unanimous’. The next day, Stead sent his report of the meeting to Gladstone, assuring him that ‘more than one speaker ventured to express a hope that you may yet consent to resume office in order to complete the work of the Crimean War, by the emancipation of the Christians from the Turkish yoke’.76 During the coming month, the Northern Echo reported on forty-seven protest meetings held in the northeast.77 Stead wrote dozens of letters each day, ‘appealing, exhorting, entreating’, and took the leading role in ‘rousing the North’.78 Many had wept over MacGahan’s reports of the Batak massacres, and now welcomed the chance to voice their outrage. Although frequently organized on short notice by a few local individuals, the protest meetings often attracted large attendances. For Stead, the meetings were democratic declarations, showing the essential decency of the British people. They formed ‘the first agitation in the long annals of England in which the Democracy sprang to its feet by an instantaneous impulse without waiting for the guidance of its leaders.’ ‘If ever,’ he added, ‘there was a case in which the old adage held true, Vox populi, vox Dei, this was the time.’79

Gladstone was troubled in conscience by the massacres and profoundly moved by the popular protest movement. According to his biographer, Colin Matthew, sometime between July and the beginning of September, ‘Gladstone experienced a conversion of evangelical intensity.’80 This culminated, on 5 September 1876, in the white heat of his impassioned pamphlet, The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East, with its outrage over both the atrocities in the Balkans and Britain’s complicity in the crimes. The Ottoman Empire, he insisted, (p.25) had forfeited any moral claim to govern its European provinces and must now be forced to leave those provinces. It was ‘the only reparation we can make to the memory of those heaps on heaps of dead; to the violated purity alike of matron, of maiden, and of child’.81 The pamphlet sold some 200,000 copies by the end of September, further inflaming the protest movement. Stead wrote Gladstone to express gratitude. ‘You have justified and more than justified the unshaken devotion which the north has placed in your leadership. You have once more taken your proper place as the spokesman of the national conscience.’ His only criticism was that Gladstone had not appealed for concerted action by the Churches. ‘Can you not also show,’ he asked, ‘that England’s Christianity as organized in the churches is as real as it was in the days of the [Cromwellian] Commonwealth?’82

On 9 September, a mass outdoor protest meeting was held on Blackheath Common, in Gladstone’s London parliamentary constituency of Greenwich. Despite torrential rain, an estimated 10,000 people heard Gladstone denounce the atrocities and the government’s Eastern policy. It had the feel of a religious revival meeting. Stead travelled by train to London for the meeting; it was the first time he heard Gladstone speak. For him, Gladstone’s words of condemnation seemed to come from the very heavens. ‘There was,’ Stead later recalled, ‘a rhythm almost of a chant in the way in which Mr. Gladstone pronounced those solemn words that carried awe into every heart. It was as if the High Priest of humanity were pronouncing the doom which was impending over the guilty Empire.’ Of Gladstone’s address on Blackheath Common, Stead recalled thirty years later that ‘I have seen no finer, more inspiring spectacle in my time.’83

The protest meetings continued through the autumn of 1876, sending 455 memorials or petitions of protest to the government. Nonconformists continued to play the predominant part in the movement, and Stead’s Northern Echo vigorously promoted the protest meetings. In September, Stead tried to arrange a ‘Bulgarian Sunday’, which would follow the example of the Cromwellian Commonwealth, when in 1655 special services were held in all the English Churches to anathematize the massacres of the Waldensians in Piedmont. Stead called for a Sunday to be set apart by the nation for special services, prayers of intercessions, and collections on behalf of the ‘sufferers in (p.26) Bulgaria’. ‘The Churches of the [Cromwellian] Commonwealth,’ he wrote in the Northern Echo of 14 September, ‘were found capable of giving adequate expression to the generous enthusiasm of the nation. Are the Churches of to-day less able to give vent to the emotions which throb in the national heart?’ For, he insisted, ‘never before in the course of this century has the heart of the nation been so deeply stirred.’84 Although his proposal received some influential support, and many individual churches held special collections, Stead’s call for a national ‘Bulgarian Sunday’ was unsuccessful.85 The agitation of 1876 culminated on 8 December with a large demonstration in St James Hall, London, with Gladstone the principal speaker. While Stead thought Gladstone’s speech lacked the tone of ‘outraged conscience’ that had been so pronounced at Blackheath, he was impressed by Gladstone’s quiet resolve that dominion in the Balkans ‘should be taken out of the hands of the Turk’.86 Stead believed himself to have been the major influence in drawing Gladstone into the cause, and that in doing so he had been God’s instrument. ‘I am inclined to attribute,’ he noted in his private journal on 14 January 1877, ‘some of Mr. Gladstone’s evident desire to please me to his consciousness that I was the first to sound in his ears the summons which God had already spoken to his soul.’87

Stead was by now arguing in the Northern Echo that Britain must not only cease its long-standing policy of supporting the Ottoman Empire, but must go further, reverse decades of official policy, and ally itself with Russia to liberate the Balkan Christian peoples by military force if necessary. He applauded the Russian volunteers who were rushing to fight alongside the Slavic Christians in the Balkans. Then, in April 1877, the situation changed dramatically when Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire, invading the Ottoman Balkans with regular troops. The British public mood quickly shifted from outrage over Bulgarian atrocities to fear of Russian conquest of the Balkans and Constantinople. Many demanded war against Russia in support of the Ottoman Empire, as in the Crimean War. Some were enthusiastic for war, and a popular pro-war music hall song added a new word to the language, ‘jingoism’. Tories denounced sentimental concerns over suffering Bulgarians and called for military action to defend Britain’s interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. Tory newspapers argued that Russian occupation of the Balkans would simply mean more (p.27) atrocities, only now perpetuated by Russian soldiers and Serbian or Bulgarian nationalists against Muslim civilians.88

Stead’s Northern Echo continued calling for a British alliance with Russia against the Ottoman Empire, but with the rising anti-Russian jingo fervour, he was becoming isolated. As calls for war against Russia grew louder, and a populist nationalism in Britain was inflamed, Stead became hated in many quarters. He feared that he might be killed by a jingo mob, but remained resolute. ‘I saw myself,’ he noted in his journal in early 1877, ‘mobbed, murdered, and I thought, all this may be, nay probably will be if you determine to resist the war passion with whole-souled energy. And then I thought the welfare of untold generations depends on this. Millions of fellow creatures may be saved if you do your duty.’ But despite the fears, these were heady days for Stead; he had never felt so alive. His daily editorials were being read across the country, and he was corresponding with leading politicians and public intellectuals. ‘I was only twenty-seven,’ he wrote in 1892, ‘and it was the first occasion I had ever been at the centre of things.’89

Madame Olga Novikoff

In mid-September 1877, Stead heard from a wealthy, enigmatic, well-connected, London-based Russian, Madame Novikoff. She had been reading his Northern Echo editorials, and was impressed with this English journalist who wrote as though he were Russian. She invited him to her salon at Symonds’ Hotel, Brook Street, London (she would later move to Claridge’s), where she regularly entertained influential British politicians, authors, and artists. Olga Novikoff, née Olga Kirieff, had been born in 1840 in Moscow, one of five children of a Russian landowner and decorated army officer. She was a god-daughter of the Tsar, had been taught English from an early age, and in 1860 had married Ivan Novikoff, an army officer who was twenty years her senior, with whom she had one son, born in 1862. She had become involved in Slavophile circles in Moscow and St Petersburg, passionately embracing the cause of the unity of the Slavic peoples, including those of the Balkans, under Russian leadership. She had visited England in 1868 and 1873, developing friendships with Gladstone and other public figures. In July 1876, her younger brother, (p.28) Nicolas Kirieff, was among the first Russian volunteers killed in the Balkans, shot while leading an attack by Serb militia. Devastated by her brother’s death, she returned to England in the autumn of 1876, taking rooms at Symonds’ Hotel, and using her influence to defend Russian policies and oppose British military action in support of the Ottoman Empire. For some, she was an attractive, intelligent, cultivated, charming, forthright, and impassioned Russian patriot. For others, she was pushy, vulgar, had ‘the manners of a second-rate adventuress’, and was probably a paid Russian agent, using her charms with British politicians to gain influence and information.90

On receiving her letter in September, Stead, who was unacquainted with London society, made inquiries. He ‘heard her darkly alluded to as a kind of Russian Loreley who lured English statesmen to their destruction by the fascination of her song’.91 Yet he was also moved by the stirring account of her brother’s death in Serbia written by the eminent English historian of the Crimean War, Alexander Kinglake.92 On 10 October 1877, Stead wrote to thank her for her letter, reaffirm his support for Russia’s Balkan policy, and convey his condolences for the loss of her brother, the ‘sainted Kirieff’. As for visiting her in London, he confessed that he was unacquainted ‘with ladies’ salons’ and tended to shrink from society, but if she was ever in the north, he hoped she might visit his home: ‘I feel sure that Nicolas Kirieff’s sister will not despise the hearty homage which I venture to pay to her as the representative of the chivalrous love of those who have … yielded up their lives in order that the oppressed might be freed.’93 She responded by thanking him for mourning her brother—‘the most generous, chivalrous creature that ever lived’—and telling him that her widowed sister-in-law was now serving as a sister of charity with the Russian army.94

They continued to correspond. She told him she had subscribed to the Northern Echo when living in Russia, and she sent him her photograph, which Stead assured her on 15 October ‘proves to me that my correspondent is as fair as she is noble, & that her features are worthy of the sympathies of her heart’. Stead told her of how he dreamed of an alliance of the British and Russian peoples, and revered the sacrifices being made by Russian soldiers for the liberation of the Balkan peoples. ‘My hopes & prayers could not be more fervent for the success of the Russian armies if instead of being Russian they were (p.29) English … To what horrible fate have so many thousands gone forth.’ ‘But as you say,’ he added, ‘all great causes demand great sacrifices & the progress of our race is over the graves of heroes.’95 On 19 October, in ‘the longest letter I have written since the days when I wrote love letters to my betrothed’, he described his home and manner of living, and conveyed his insecurities about his social status. ‘You will understand,’ he confided, ‘that though Dukes & such like creatures, read what I write & sometimes write to me … they do not mix with such humble people as newspaper editors’—especially the mere ‘editor of a halfpenny paper in the North of England’.96

Stead found corresponding with this mysterious, aristocratic Russian woman exciting. ‘Your letters,’ he confessed on 18 October 1877, ‘add a new charm to my existence.’97 But it was more than that. He had been under immense personal pressure for over a year, conducting a highly emotive, demanding popular campaign for a new, pro-Russian Eastern policy that he fully believed would save tens of thousands of lives. He was exhausted, stressed, and often unable to sleep. He knew that, while many had supported his condemnation of the Bulgarian massacres, relatively few supported his calls for an alliance with Russia to end Ottoman rule in the Balkans. On the contrary, his support for Russia in the war was highly unpopular in many quarters. He could not confide in his wife, for ‘nearly all my wife’s relations are Turkophil’ and his views had resulted in ‘painful’ family tensions.98 But in Madame Novikoff he found a woman, a Russian aristocrat with a sensitive soul, who shared his feelings, who had suffered the heroic sacrifice of her brother, who admired and respected Stead, and who assured him that his lonely struggles were not in vain. He confided his inner thoughts to her, seeking not only comfort, but also reassurance that his protest movement of the past year had a higher purpose. His feelings for her, or rather for his idealized vision of her, were growing strong (they had still not met), and their correspondence grew more intimate.

She told him of how her brother’s death had enhanced her Russian Orthodox religious beliefs, giving her a more serious perspective on life and recalling her to a ‘conscientiousness of the eternal reality’. He responded on 22 October with a long letter, marked ‘private’, in which he poured out his own personal confession of faith. He was touched that she should bring religion into their correspondence. ‘It is (p.30) only in such generous confidences that there is real communion of souls, & you are kind indeed in permitting me as it were to worship by your side in the inner sanctuary of your faith.’ He confided that in matters of faith he was not concerned with theological doctrine or outward expressions of piety. For him, true religion involved compassion for others, and a willingness to sacrifice for their welfare. Compassionate sacrifice had been the essential teaching of Christ, and it was to compassionate sacrifice that Christ called his followers. As Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross had transformed the world, so the Christ-like sacrifices of those like her brother continued to elevate humanity. ‘Your brother’s death,’ he told her, ‘vividly brought back to my memory the sublime story of Calvary, and your letter speaking of the “great change” produced in you by the terrible event in Servia confirmed me in impression that Christ was speaking to us through the heroic Christlike death of Nicolas Kirieff.’ ‘In all the acts of heroism, in all the works of self-sacrifice, in all the holy, self-denying lives lived on earth I see the reflected rays of the holiness of Christ, &…the working of the same Almighty spirit which called a world sunk in corruption & sin around the stainless life of the Divine hero who came to earth to live and to die to save us from our sins.’ He proceeded to share his belief in a triune God of compassionate sacrifice. ‘I believe, do you not,’ he wrote:

in God the Father of all beings in this wide world, loving us with a yearning love greater than that of a mother for a child, chastening us only as affection, & leading each of us some place higher & higher––on which Mazzini called the infinite ascending spiral by which mortals reach the skies. I believe, do you not, in God the Son, Jesus Christ, the Crucified, in whose stainless life, and bitter death, we see personified the purity, and the comparison of God the Eternal. In God the Holy Ghost, whose sacred influence touched your heart with the story of Nicolas’s sacrifice as it did on the day of Pentecost’s those of apostles with the story of the death of the just one for us the unjust.

Christ continued to call us, Stead insisted, to sacrifice our selfish interests for others. In his own struggle against Bulgarian atrocities, and now for Balkan liberation, he was sure he was following Christ. ‘In embracing the cause of the oppressed Slavs of Eastern Europe, we accept Christ anew’—not because the Slavs were Christian and the Turks were (p.31) Muslims, but because the Slavs were an oppressed people, struggling for their freedom, and supporting them, for Stead, meant placing principle above national self-interest. And because ‘every time we yield to temptation to live for self instead of for others, we reject Christ.’99

In late October 1877, he travelled to London to meet Olga Novikoff, and was captivated. She was nine years his senior, very attractive, well travelled, experienced with the world, confident in society, with a warm sense of humour, and full of passionate conviction. She had a ‘presence’ and a beautiful singing voice, ‘full of fire and fervour’. And she seemed to know everyone. At her salon at Symonds’ Hotel, she introduced him into London’s literary and political society, and he now personally met eminent national figures he had known only in writing or seen from afar. ‘It was there,’ Stead later recalled, ‘that I first met Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Kinglake, Mr. Froude, Mr. Stansfeld, Mr. Courtney, Count Beust, Mr. Matthew Arnold, and a host of other notables.’ Then she offered one day to take him to meet Thomas Carlyle. ‘Had she proposed to dine with the Apostle Paul,’ he wrote, ‘I could hardly have been more startled. Carlyle, from my earliest boyhood, had been as one of the greater gods in a shadowy Olympus. To call upon him as if he were an actual mortal seemed like a chapter out of fairyland.’ Such was Novikoff’s magic that a half hour later they were in Carlyle’s home in Chelsea, discussing the Russian situation. Stead was impressed with how warmly Carlyle spoke of Madame Novikoff, with whom he regularly took carriage drives.100 Stead visited Carlyle again at his home, and once he took Madame Novikoff’s place on a carriage drive in Regent’s Park. Sadness clouded those meetings, for Stead’s childhood hero was now unwell and unhappy. ‘There is no more work for me to do,’ he told Stead on their last meeting in the carriage, ‘I cannot write.’ There was nothing left, Carlyle said, but to wait ‘to meet the Eternal’.101 Stead’s first meeting with Gladstone at Novikoff’s salon was more satisfying—with the great man relaxing in an ‘easy-chair’ and saying how much he admired the Northern Echo and how important Stead’s protest movement in the north of England had been to the Liberal cause.102 ‘It was a great new world to me,’ Stead would recall, ‘to see the men whom I had been reading and writing about all my life face to face.’ ‘Still more important,’ he added, ‘was it to meet Mr. Gladstone … and to come for the first time behind the scenes of English … political life.’103

(p.32) Stead also became acquainted with Novikoff’s ‘dear friend’, Canon Henry Parry Liddon of St Paul’s Cathedral, first meeting him in July 1878 in Oban, in the Scottish Highlands, where they were both on holiday. Their common friendship with Novikoff induced a long conversation which included their mutual antipathy to Beaconsfield’s Tory policies, and their admiration for the Russian soldiers fighting to liberate the Balkan Christians. When Liddon invited Stead to visit him in London, Stead unthinkingly blurted out (as he told Olga) that ‘I never go to London except to see Madame Novikoff!!!’104 He and Liddon became close friends. Through Liddon, Stead developed a friendship with R. W. Church, the High Church dean of St Paul’s. The dean and his wife invited Stead to be their personal guest at St Paul’s for the consecration of J. B. Lightfoot as bishop of Durham on 25 April 1879; he took tea in the Deanery and sat in the dean’s pew. Stead was charmed by these intelligent and cultivated High Church Anglicans who shared his Russophile sentiments. His Nonconformist zeal for disestablishment and his opposition to High Anglican doctrine and liturgy, which had been so central to his family’s identity, now softened.

With Stead’s assistance, Novikoff began publishing letters ‘From a Russian Correspondent’ in the Northern Echo, promoting Anglo-Russian understanding and the Russian cause in the war. She signed these ‘OK’ (for Olga Kirieff) and the first letter appeared on 19 November 1877. Her Northern Echo letters were published under the title, Is Russia Wrong? in 1878, with a preface by James Anthony Froude. Stead read to her James Russell Lowell’s poetry, still so precious to him; they were both impressed with the parallels between the American Civil War to free the slaves and the Russian war to free the Balkans Slavs, and ‘we both marvelled to find how exactly the circumstances of the war in the West were reproduced in the East.’105 Stead travelled to London to be with her as often as possible. She sent his pro-Russian Northern Echo articles to her Slavophile circle in Russia, to be translated and published in Russian newspapers, establishing for him a reputation as an English friend of Russia. He told her what he learned as a journalist about the attitudes of British politicians towards the war. They formed a close partnership, focused on the liberation of the Balkans from Ottoman control through a future Anglo-Russian alliance. They were in many respects, Stead acknowledged, ‘poles (p.33) apart’: ‘She is Greek Orthodox, of noble family, and an autocrat by conviction. I am an English Nonconformist, born of the common people, and a Radical alike by temperament and conviction.’106 She was also anti-Semitic, and he insisted he was not.

At some point in late 1877 or early 1878, they became lovers. He wrote to her as a guilty lover on 25 January 1878, begging her for reassurance of her love for him, agonizing over his treatment of his wife, and hoping that amid his conflicting feelings for her and for his family ‘I shall not go insane.’107 But he could hardly stay away from her, and the affair continued through most of 1878. His wife, Emma, became aware of the affair, and in October 1878 returned to her mother’s home with the children. Stead now had to choose between his family and his lover. He wrote to Novikoff on 28 October, explaining the situation and saying he must end their love affair, though not, he hoped, their friendship. Clearly in agony, he begged her to write to him once more as his lover. Open up to him, he pleaded, ‘for one last time your whole soul & your whole heart to me, tell me truly faithfully as the dearest friend I have on earth all that you wish to say. Never fear if it grieves me. Never mind the humiliation will do me good. Tell me where you see me inconsistent, mean, un-Christian, & weak. Warn me, be a better angel to me.’ The end of the affair was torture for him; he felt his ‘soul is tossed indeed with foaming waves’. A friendship he wanted to be noble, disinterested, and elevated, strengthening them both in shared sacrifice for the Balkan peoples, had resulted in selfishness and pain. ‘I did hope once,’ he assured her, ‘to supply to some little extent the irreparable loss of your sainted brother. I fear I have failed, even my poor little prayer seemed blasphemy.’ ‘But dearest write to me for once without reserve, even if it were for the last time. Give me some assurances which I can cherish for the rest of my life, that I have not been a temptation & a curse to you.’108

His wife returned to him with the children, but his private journal entry of 5 January 1879 showed that his marriage was in danger. His wife was depressed and deeply unhappy, and he knew he had ‘treated her cruelly’. The countryside home, which he had once seen as so idyllic, was now sombre and dark; ‘it is almost as frightful,’ he opined, ‘to see a wrecked home as to look at a lost soul.’ There were times ‘when death, but for the poor children, seemed the only solution’. (p.34) He reflected on how, in Olga Novikoff, he had met ‘another soul as surcharged with kindred thoughts’ and how their ‘existences mingled’. ‘How large a place she has occupied in my life,’ he wrote of her. ‘How my life has broadened, my views widened, and intensified. What friends have I not made. What work have I not done.’ ‘But I do not wish,’ he confessed, that ‘I had married O.K.’109 A year later, in January 1880, his home was still unhappy, but his agony over the end of the affair was easing. He tried to revive family worship at home with Emma and the children but it was, he confessed, a ‘sad failure’. He remained friends with Olga, and continued to correspond with her about the cause of Anglo-Russian friendship. ‘I am still deeply attached to her and would still do anything for her,’ he confided to his journal, ‘but I no longer love her with that sinful passion the memory of which covers me with loathing, remorse and humiliation … I love her intensely, but no longer as a second wife.’110

He knew he needed a change in his life. His wife wanted to leave the house at Grainey Hill where she felt isolated and depressed. He missed his frequent trips to London and being at the centre of national political life, and sometime before January 1880 he had a ‘premonition’ that he would be called to edit a major London newspaper. He was, in many senses, no longer the Nonconformist Radical he had been in 1871, and this was a reason for moving on from the Northern Echo. The campaign against the Bulgarian atrocities, in which he had played so prominent a role, had closed. The war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire had ended in 1878, and the great powers had met that year in Berlin at the invitation of Germany’s chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. The Congress of Berlin had redrawn the map of the Balkans, loosening Ottoman control over its Balkan territories, but failing to placate Russia or the Balkan nationalists. Bulgaria had not won its independence, but neither had there been war between Britain and Russia. In 1879–80, the Liberal Party was reinvigorated by Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign, demanding a more ethical foreign and imperial policy.

The general election of April 1880 gave the Liberal Party an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons, with Stead’s Northern Echo contributing in no small way to the Liberal victory in the north of England. Gladstone, brought back as Liberal leader, formed a government. It seemed the birth of a new, more ethical (p.35) political order, and Stead was elated. ‘I will not attempt to express,’ Stead wrote to Gladstone on 9 April 1880, ‘…my sense of our indebtedness to you for the brave part which you have played in the great revolt of the national conscience which began in 1876, and is now being crowned with such complete success.’111 ‘The explosion of popular sentiment which has destroyed Lord BEACONSFIELD’S majority,’ thundered his Northern Echo editorial of 13 April 1880, ‘was the protest of the national conscience against a policy which ignored the elementary principles of morality––to say nothing of the essential spirit of Christianity.’ He was recovering his faith in Britain as a Christian state. ‘Above all,’ he added of the Liberal triumph, ‘it proves that our national profession of Christianity is not a hollow farce and a ghastly sham.’112

In July 1880, Stead was invited, probably on Gladstone’s recommendation, to become assistant editor to John Morley, the newly appointed editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, a London evening newspaper. Formerly a Conservative paper, the Pall Mall was taken over after the general election of 1880 by a Gladstonian Liberal proprietor, Henry Yates Thompson, who appointed Morley as editor and then was in touch with Stead. Interestingly, Stead sought advice on whether to accept from his two High Anglican friends, Canons Liddon and Church of St Paul’s cathedral, and they both recommended that he come to London.113 After negotiations, Stead accepted the appointment, at a salary of £800 a year, beginning in October 1880.

During his years at the Northern Echo he had matured as a journalist, developing an energetic, forthright, highly personal style. He had created a form of participatory journalism, calling on his readers, especially during the Bulgarian atrocities campaign, to attend public meetings and participate in political action. He made his editor’s chair a pulpit, and his readers a congregation. He insisted that it was not enough for readers to read righteous editorials; they had to go forth into the world to act righteously. The Bulgarian atrocities campaign of 1876 made him a national figure, and his relationship with Olga Novikoff in 1877–8 introduced him to leading public figures in London and gave him international contacts in Russia. While he continued to portray himself as a Nonconformist Radical and heir to the Puritans, he was no longer so close to his Nonconformist roots. His friendships with the High Anglicans Liddon and Church softened his views on disestablishment and Anglican liturgy. He retained an (p.36) intense Christian faith, but was less concerned about doctrinal differences and more about Christianity as a call to sacrifice and service. He was in many respects a chastened figure. His love for Novikoff had expanded his horizons, but at the cost of great pain to his wife and to himself; he knew he had done wrong to enter into the affair, and he ended it. It is not clear how Novikoff viewed matters or Stead’s behaviour. She accepted the end of their affair, and they remained friends for life and continued their political co-operation. Stead was now thirty-one years of age, and with little formal education but with valuable journalistic experience and an abiding sense of divine calling, he was now second in command of an evening newspaper in the capital city of the largest empire in the world.


(2.) W. T. Stead, ‘My Father’, Jarrow Guardian (29 February 1884).

(7.) Stead, The Revival of 1905, pp. 4–5; Stead, My Father, p. 18.

(8.) Stead, The Review of 1905, p. 10.

(9.) Stead, My Father, p. 24.

(10.) Whyte, Life of W. T. Stead, vol. i, p. 18.

(11.) W. T. Stead, ‘Oliver Cromwell and the National Church’, RoR (May 1899), p. 425.

(12.) Stead, My Father, pp. 32–3.

(13.) ‘A Biography of Oliver Cromwell’, The Boy’s Own Magazine 55 (1 July 1867), p. 4.

(14.) W. T. Stead, ‘James Russell Lowell: His Message and How It Helped Me’, RoR (September 1891), pp. 236, 123.

(15.) Ibid., p. 235.

(16.) Ibid., p. 238.

(17.) Ibid., p. 240; W. T. Stead, The Story that Transformed the World or the Passion Play at Oberammergau 1890 (London, [1891]), p. 158.

(p.37) (18.) Stead, ‘James Russell Lowell: His Message and How It Helped Me’, p. 240.

(19.) James Russell Lowell, The Biglow Papers (London, 1865), pp. 94, 95.

(20.) W. T. Stead, ‘Character Sketch: Sir T. Vezey Strong’, RoR (December 1910), p. 547.

(21.) Mary Stead to W. T. Stead, August 1885, cited in Whyte, Life of W. T. Stead, vol. i, p. 176.

(22.) The political and social background to the founding of the newspaper is related in Owen Mulpetre, ‘W. T. Stead and the New Journalism’ (University of Teeside MPhil thesis, 2010), pp. 40–54.

(23.) W. T. Stead, ‘A North Country Worthy’, RoR (July 1894), pp. 85–8; Whyte, Life of W. T. Stead, vol. i, p. 22.

(24.) J. Hyslop Bell, ‘Northern Echo Prospectus’, W. T. Stead Resource Site https://attackingthedevil.co.uk (accessed 28 September 2017).

(26.) Robertson Scott, Life and Death of a Newspaper, p. 94; [W. T. Stead], ‘Democracy and Christianity’, Northern Echo (14 October 1870).

(27.) Mulpetre, ‘W. T. Stead and the New Journalism’, pp. 59–65.

(28.) Quoted in Baylen, ‘The “New Journalism” in Late Victorian Britain’, pp. 368–9.

(31.) Robertson Scott, Life and Death of a Newspaper, p. 93.

(32.) Ibid., p. 92.

(33.) Stead, My Father, p. 24.

(35.) Irene Macleod, ‘A Real Ghost: Verifying the Sighting of James Durham of Darlington’, News-Stead, 20 (Spring 2002), pp. 18–19.

(36.) W. T. Stead to Olga Novikoff, 19 October 1877, Novikoff–Stead Corr., fos. 10–13.

(37.) W. T. Stead, ‘My Son’, RoR (January 1908), p. 24.

(38.) Robertson Scott, Life and Death of a Newspaper, pp. 100, 103; Mulpetre, ‘W. T. Stead and the New Journalism’, p. 68.

(39.) Baylen, ‘The “New Journalism” in Late Victorian Britain’, p. 370.

(40.) ‘Religious Revival’, NE (18 October 1873).

(42.) ‘The Work of Disestablishment’, NE (5 January 1870); ‘Disestablishment’, NE (19 November 1870).

(43.) Robertson Scott, The Life and Death of a Newspaper, p. 109.

(44.) ‘The Curse of the Church’, NE (6 April 1874).

(45.) ‘The Appeal to Protestants’, NE (30 August 1873).

(46.) ‘Sacerdotal Insolence’, NE (16 April 1874).

(47.) ‘The Regulation of Public Worship’, NE (11 July 1874).

(48.) ‘The Anti-Forster Ferment’, NE (24 June 1873).

(49.) ‘The Fallen Ministry’, NE (14 March 1873); ‘The Nonconformists and the Liberal Party’, NE (1 September 1873).

(50.) ‘Messrs. Moody and Sankey in Darlington’, NE (18 October 1873); ‘The American Revivalists’, NE (27 October 1873); ‘Moody and Sankey in London’, NE (11 March 1875).

(51.) ‘The Primate on Moody and Sankey’, NE (23 May 1875).

(52.) ‘The Missionary Meetings’, NE (1 May 1874).

(53.) Robertson Scott, Life and Death of a Newspaper, p. 96.

(54.) W. T. Stead, Josephine Butler: A Life Sketch (London, [1887]), p. 24.

(55.) Ibid., p. 42.

(56.) Ibid., pp. 34, 36.

(57.) ‘Bishop Frazer on the Social Evil’, NE (27 October 1871).

(59.) ‘An Ugly Prospect’, NE (22 May 1873).

(60.) ‘The New Abolitionists’, NE (3 April 1876).

(61.) Stead, Josephine Butler, pp. 85–6; Whyte, Life of W. T. Stead, vol. i, pp. 41–2.

(62.) Private journal entry of 26 December 1875, 5 July 1874, cited in Robertson Scott, Life and Death of a Newspaper, pp. 103–4, 100–1.

(63.) Private journal entry of 14 January 1877, cited in Robertson Scott, Life and Death of a Newspaper, p. 104.

(65.) ‘The Doomed Empire’, NE (17 April 1876).

(66.) Bebbington, The Nonconformist Conscience, p. 115.

(68.) Private journal entry of 14 January 1877, cited in Robertson Scott, Life and Death of a Newspaper, p. 104.

(69.) ‘Our Policy in the East’, NE (24 June 1876).

(p.39) (70.) ‘England and the Eastern Insurgents’, NE (13 July 1876).

(71.) Stead, ‘James Russell Lowell’, p. 243.

(72.) ‘England’s Duty in the East’, NE (3 August 1876).

(75.) ‘The Duty of the Hour’, NE (28 August 1876).

(76.) ‘The North Country and the Atrocities’, NE (26 August 1876); W. T. Stead to W. E. Gladstone, 26 August 1876, BL, Gladstone Papers, Add. Mss. 44303, fos. 230–1.

(77.) Shannon, Gladstone and the Bulgarian Agitation, p. 73.

(78.) Private journal entry of 14 January 1877, cited in Robertson Scott, Life and Death of a Newspaper, p. 104.

(79.) Stead, The M.P. for Russia, vol. i, p. 247.

(81.) W. E. Gladstone, Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East (London, 1876), p. 31.

(82.) W. T. Stead to W. E. Gladstone, 6 September 1876, BL, Gladstone Papers, Add. Mss. 44303, fos. 233–4.

(83.) Stead, My Father, p. 71.

(84.) ‘A Bulgarian Sunday’, NE (14 September 1876).

(85.) ‘Bulgarian Sunday’, NE (18 September 1876); Shannon, Gladstone and the Bulgarian Agitation, pp. 136–8.

(86.) ‘The Result of the Conference’, NE (9 December 1876).

(87.) Robertson Scott, Life and Death of a Newspaper, p. 104.

(88.) Stead, The M.P. for Russia, vol. i, pp. 296–305.

(89.) W. T. Stead, ‘Character Sketch: April’, RoR (April 1892), p. 352.

(90.) For accounts of Olga Novikoff, see Stead, The M.P. for Russia; Joseph O. Baylen, ‘Olga Novikov, Propagandist’, American Slavic and East European Review, 10 (1951), pp. 255–71; H. C. G. Matthew, ‘Novikov [née Kireev], Olga (1840–1925), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), vol. 41, pp. 229–30; Kathleen McCormack, ‘Sundays at the Priory: Olga Novikoff and the Russian Presence’, George Eliot—George Henry Lewes Studies, 67 (2015), pp. 30–42.

(91.) W. T. Stead, ‘Madame Olga Novikoff, née Kiréef, “O.K.”’, RoR, 3 (February 1891), p. 123.

(92.) Stead, The M.P. for Russia, vol. i, p. 382.

(93.) W. T. Stead to Olga Novikoff, 10 October 1877, Novikoff–Stead Corr., fos. 1–2.

(94.) Stead, The M.P. for Russia, vol. i, p. 382–3. (p.40)

(95.) W. T. Stead to Olga Novikoff, 15 October 1877, Novikoff–Stead Corr., fos. 3–7.

(96.) W. T. Stead to Olga Novikoff, 19 October 1877, Novikoff–Stead Corr., fos. 10–13.

(97.) W. T. Stead to Olga Novikoff, 18 October 1877, Novikoff–Stead Corr., fol. 9.

(98.) W. T. Stead to Olga Novikoff, 19 October 1877, Novikoff–Stead Corr., fos. 10–13.

(99.) W. T. Stead to Olga Novikoff, 22 October 1877, Novikoff–Stead Corr., fos. 14–17.

(100.) Stead, ‘Madame Olga Novikoff’, p. 133.

(101.) Whyte, Life of W. T. Stead, vol. i, pp. 57–60.

(102.) Stead, My Father, pp. 72–80.

(103.) Stead, ‘Madame Olga Novikoff’, p. 133.

(104.) W. T. Stead to Olga Novikoff, 22 July 1878, Novikoff–Stead Corr., fos. 28–30.

(105.) Stead, ‘James Russell Lowell’, p. 243.

(106.) Stead, The M.P. for Russia, vol. i, p. 383.

(107.) W. T. Stead to Olga Novikoff, 25 January 1878, Novikoff–Stead Corr., fos. 20–2.

(108.) W. T. Stead to Olga Novikoff, 28 October 1878, Novikoff–Stead Corr., fos. 32–3.

(109.) Private journal entry of 5 January 1879, cited in Robertson Scott, Life and Death of a Newspaper, pp. 107–8.

(110.) Private journal entry of 11 January 1880, cited in ibid., p. 111.

(111.) W. T. Stead to W. E. Gladstone, 9 April 1880, BL, Gladstone Papers, Add. Mss. 44303, fos. 333–34.

(112.) W. T. Stead. ‘What It Means’, NE (13 April 1880).

(113.) Robertson Scott, Life and Death of a Newspaper, p. 115.