September 15, 1914

libel

While Britain’s national newspapers are reporting the last ditch defence of Paris along the banks of the River Marne, the biggest conflict noted in the Market Harborough Advertiser of September 15, 1914, is the libel spat between the country’s  two great tea companies Lyons and Liptons.

The battle for the French capital was the first major confrontation with thousands of casualties on both sides. Fleet Street was relying on the Army’s Press Bureau to keep abreast of the action but the Advertiser gave it no mention at all.

For the first time the list of names on the Daily Telegraph’s Roll of Honour stretched over more than a column, even though in this case mercifully the majority of people were wounded in action. The Market Harborough Advertiser lists only one death and a few casualties – and one of those is due to appendicitis.

So, six weeks into the war and Kitchener’s famous Call to Arms is dropped from the front page of the Advertiser and there is very little national war news. But the acrimony between two of Britain’s High Street names spills over as far as the town’s four-page newspaper of mid-September.

Liptons has clearly been angling for a commercial edge over their rivals by ‘implying’ that Lyons has German connections – connections which of course in the early part of the war would mean consumers taking their business elsewhere.

So Lyons are defending themselves with the most prominent advertisement in the paper: headed ‘Action for Libel’, the company proclaims it has won an Interim Injunction ‘restraining Lipton Limited, their Agents and Servants, from speaking or publishing or writing and publishing any words to the effect or of the substance that Lyons & Co., Limited, or the Directorate thereof, is composed of Germans and that by purchasing their commodities the public is assisting the enemies of Great Britain’.

The advert goes to trumpet: ‘J Lyons & Co is an all-British company with all British directors, has 140,000 all-British shareholders and 160,000 all British shopkeepers selling Lyons’ Tea.’

relief fund

The other big news in this week’s Advertiser is the support for the Prince of Wales’ National Relief Fund which has been set up to help families in need when their husbands or sons are killed or injured in the fighting.

Instead of publishing lists of dead or injured men like the Daily Telegraph, the Advertiser has a long list of who has donated to the fund – and exactly how much: the St Peter’s Lodge of Freemasons tops the list with £26 and 5 shillings and at the bottom is the single name of Mrs Ann Carter who has donated 2 shillings and sixpence.

There is also a large advert from the Council Chairman Howard W Symington who states: ‘We cannot all volunteer for the Front, but those of us who remain at home can do our share in assisting our country in the serious crisis. Each one of use can help alleviate the distress we fear will be caused by the great war in which we are now engaged. I am confident that everyone will realize the urgency of the call and will respond promptly and generously.’

And there is an early example of how show business becomes involved in raising money for charity: it’s not quite LiveAid, Comic Relief or Children in Need, but the town’s only cinema, The County Electric Palace, is donating all of next Wednesday’s takings from its two shows to the Fund.

The Advertiser not only supports the advert with some editorial – a common enough practice in today’s local and national papers – but it mixes in some opinion as well.

‘The cause is such a worthy one that no words of ours are needed to extol it, and we feel sure that at both performances there will be crowded audiences who, in addition to spending an enjoyable evening, will have the added pleasure of knowing they are assisting a most worthy object.’

And a show business charity event wouldn’t be anything without some extra glitz: step forward baritone Mr Jack Goosey who will also perform ‘Soldiers of the King’ with military drum effects by Mr E Capel before each film.

  • Check out this week’s Harborough Mail for current news from the Market Harborough area.
  • My fellow researcher and De Montfort University colleague David Penman is conducting a similar real-time project with the Ashbourne Telegraph. Check out his Great War Reports.
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