William Thomas Stead

In 2004,  I was commissioned by the American-based W.T.Stead Society to organise the unveiling of a commemorative plaque to the famous journalist and socal campaigner, William Thomas Stead.

The event was to mark the centenary of Stead's move to Smith Square in Westminster where he lived until his untimely death in 1912.

There were several logistical challenges, not the least being the distances involved.  Those who had funded the project lived mainly in the USA.  Stead was from the north-east of England, so both his influence and his descendants were spread widely, and many guests would have long journeys including those from his alma mater, Silcoates School near Wakefield.   I was based in Leicestershire, but the plaque was to be unveiled in London.

Stead moved to 5 Smith Square to be close to Parliament where he would lobby MPs about social issues of the time.  So with the help of the late David Taylor, MP,  I arranged for a reception to be held in the Houses of Parliament.  Following the unveiling, we would walk as a group in the footsteps of Stead to Westminster.

The W.T.Stead Society received the approval and support of the owner of the house and provided the funds for the plaque.  Westminster City Council was contacted to discuss planning permission and the making and wording of the plaque.

I booked the Footstool Restaurant in the crypt of the Church of St John Smith Square as a venue for guests to meet and where refreshments and washroom facilities were available.  From there it was only a two minute walk to where the ceremony would take place.

On the day, I brought the catering supplies for the reception and delivered them to David Taylor's office in Millbank (from where David and I took a short cut to Smith Square by walking under Westminster!)

Unveiling the plaque (from left)  : Mchael Marland, Chairman of Westminster Arts Council, Cllr Catherine Longworth, Mayor of Westminster,  Miles Stead, great great grandson, and myself, representing the W.T.Stead Society.

W.T.Stead (1849-1912)

William Thomas Stead was born in Embleton, a small village in Northumbria, the son of a Congregational minister.   At the age of twenty-one he became the editor of the Northern Echo in Darlington, Co. Durham, and the youngest newspaper editor in the country.

He became a figure of great controversy and influence,  regarded by many as the father of modern investigative and campaigning journalism.

For many years Stead was editor of the campaigning journal, the Pall Mall Gazette.  In this role he is best-known for his Maiden Tribute to Modern Babylon, a series of groundbreaking reports which highlighted child prositution by taking a young girl along the path of dealers that he had identified.

As a consequence, the Criminal Law Amendment Act was pushed through Parliament which raised the age of consent for girls from thirteen to sixteen years. 

Stead and several of his accomplices, including Bramwell Booth of the Salvation Army, were brought to trial as a result of the allegedly unlawful methods used in the investigation.  Stead became a target for those men of power whose feathers he had ruffled and spent three months in Holloway Prison having being convicted of child abduction.

In his later years, Stead became a fervent spiritualist like many newspaper editors and publishers of that time including Sir George Newnes, Alfred Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

He died on board the RMS Titanic which sank on 15 April 1912. He was travelling to America to attend a peace conference at the Carnegie Hall at the the invitation of the President of the United States.

The unveiling of the plaque took place on 28th June 2004.