Articles from the Thoroton Society Newsletter
A MAN MOVED BY A CHILD'S CURIOSITY
This article is derived from one of the same title which appeared in the Newsletter of Keyworth & District Local History Society and which your Editor felt was of wider interest. It is reproduced by kind permission of that Society's Editor, Alan Spooner, who was the compiler of the article.
2009 was the 90th anniversary of the founding of a publication by a Stapleford man which, at its height, sold 500,000 copies a week and ran for 46 years - over 2,400 issues.
Arthur Mee was born in Stapleford, the second of ten children in a working class family. His father, Henry, was a mechanical engineer and a deacon in the Baptist Chapel which the family attended Arthur's Christian upbringing remained a strong influence on his work throughout his life.
Arthur's formal education ended when he was 14 and his first job was to work in the proof-reading room of the Nottingham Evening Post. He showed some flair for journalism and a couple of years later he became indentured as a reporter on the Nottingham Daily Express. He was successful and at the age of 20 took over the running of the paper. In 1896 he moved to London where he worked on various publications including Tit Bits and the Daily Mail.
Arthur married Amy Fratson and in 1901 they had a daughter, Marjorie. According to Mee's own account, it was her constant childish questioning that turned his thoughts towards publishing for children:
'... As the [child's] questions came, when the mother had thought and thought, and answered this and answered that until she could answer no more, she cried out for a book: 'Oh for a book that will answer all the questions.'
So, inspired by his little girl's curiosity, Arthur Mee's famous Children's Encyclopaedia came into being, launched in 1908 and published in parts over two years.
As a writer Mee disliked the use of technical terms, and would try to convey concepts in everyday language - so that, for example, diameter was expressed as width, and circumference as so many feet or yards round. If a technical term was not familiar to him, he argued, then it might be unfamiliar to thousands of others. As well as striving to make knowledge accessible to the young, Mee also wanted his publications to reflect his Christian beliefs. (It is interesting to note as we emerge from a year which has celebrated the work of Charles Darwin, that Mee believed firmly in evolution, seeing it as a wonderful discovery whereby people could see how God had created the world). His writings also reflected his patriotism and his optimism that the world was getting better.
One outcome of his patriotic love of his country was his editing of the forty books, county by county, of the famous 'King's England' series. He produced many other books conforming to his fundamental principles, including biographies, a Children's Bible, and a Children's Shakespeare. He died in May 1943.
The Children's Newspaper was launched in 1919, the very first issue dated 22 March 1919 was priced at three halfpence. It was tabloid in format with four columns of small type and Mee's earnest educational intention is tempered with a clear desire to engage young children with material which would appeal to and entertain them.
For half of its 46 year life, The Children's Newspaper had Arthur Mee at its helm. After his death the editorship fell to Mee's deputy, Hugo Tyerman, who continued to pursue the founder's principles However, from the 1950s as circulation dropped to around 200,000, Sydney Warner, Tyerman's successor, found it hard to continue with Mee's high ideals in a changing social climate, more and more dominated by TV, popular culture and fashion.
In 1965, The Children's Newspaper was taken over by a new, colourful magazine, Look and Learn.