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Treasure hunt riots: continued

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Secret London
Murder Ballads

The seeds of all this trouble had been sown six months earlier when Tit-Bits, a rival weekly had unleashed a brand new circulation gimmick.
The 1890s and 1900s were a turbulent time for British newspapers, pulling together several big social changes which suddenly meant a high circulation was essential for any paper that wanted to survive. The introduction and rapid growth of the railways had made national distribution a much more practical proposition, and increasing literacy rates meant there was a vast new audience out there to be reached. Workers were moving from the countryside to the cities – again making distribution easier – and new technology was making bigger print runs affordable.
This led to the launch of a new wave of popular newspapers, including the Daily Mail in 1896, the Daily Express in 1900 and the Daily Mirror in 1903 (4) . The new readers they wanted to reach demanded shorter, snappier news stories, plus plenty of human interest, sport and gossip. They couldn't afford to pay much for their newspapers, so cover prices had to be low. Publishers needed to increase advertising revenue instead, and that meant delivering the high circulation figures which potential advertisers demanded. Many papers decided the best way to pull in new readers was to bribe them with cash competitions (4) .
There was no arguing with the success this new economic model produced. Four years after its 1896 launch the Mail had increased circulation from an initial 400,000 to a ground-breaking one million readers, making it the UK's top seller (5) . Any newspaper which wanted to keep a hold on the popular market was going to have to fight back hard, and that meant launching cash competitions of its own.

Many newspapers decided to pull in new readers by bribing them with cash competitions

The first treasure hunt competition was launched by Tit-Bits, another relatively new publication. Launched in 1881 to provide a weekly miscellany of short, easily-digested items, the paper racked up a circulation of over 300,000 in less than a year. Its June 20, 1903, issue carried the first instalment of Hidden Not Lost, a detective story featuring two characters endlessly discussing the clues they had uncovered to finding a £500 bag of gold sovereigns hidden somewhere in Britain.
Each weekly issue contained another instalment of the story, packed with more clues. Anyone solving them would be guided to a real location, where a real £500 bag of sovereigns was hidden. That prize was found at the end of August, and Tit-Bits immediately launched a sequel.
The new story, Gold in Waiting, had a Holmes-and-Watson duo called Pike and Meggs chasing round the country trying to prevent a royal murder plot. The dastardly villain, Count Tabritz, had selected ten spots around England where his intended victim might be vulnerable. At each of these spots, he buried £100 in gold sovereigns to pay the hired assassin he planned to use. Pike and Meggs uncovered clues to each location in turn, which readers were invited to solve in their search for one of the ten prizes. In an ingenious twist, Tit-Bits' man concealed each real £100 stash by packing the sovereigns into a pointed metal tube and banging it into the ground with a mallet.
Gold in Waiting, which began in the September 12, 1903, issue, proved an immediate hit. On October 10, Tit-Bits announced the first £100 tube had been found by George Brown, a London journalist, who followed the story's clues to Turpin's Pond in Epping Forest. By Christmas, just one of the original ten tubes remained undiscovered.
It's only when you look at how much work the Tit-Bits clues required to solve that you realise just how determined the finders must have been. Take tube nine for example, which was eventually found by WJ Randall, the general manager of Manchester's Trade Protection Office.
Before he could secure his prize, Randall had to narrow down the possible cities to Newcastle and Carlisle, rule out Carlisle by deducing that Tabritz' foreign pronunciation of the city's “Citadel” station could be mistaken for “the hotel”, find a district of Newcastle that sounded a bit like “Edward Green” and realise that the serial number Meggs had overheard must be attached to a lamp post. He then had to go to the Newcastle suburb of Jesmond Dene, find post number 6594, work out where the tube was buried in relation to that post, return to the site after midnight and – finally – dig it up.
Randall was particularly proud of making the Edward Green/Jesmond Dene connection. “The clue appeared a very thin one,” he later confessed. “However, as I had previously obtained careful information regarding every other place in the British Isles which bears a name at all similar to 'Edward Green', and as I had struck all these names off my list one by one, Newcastle district only remained” (6) .
Few of Tit-Bits' readers would have been as hard working or as ingenious as Randall. But the clues clearly intrigued even those who made only the most token efforts to solve them, and the promotion was counted a great success. By the end of 1903, newspapers in Paris and America had launched treasure hunt promotions of their own. Austria would follow soon. The first British newspaper to copy Tit-Bits' idea was the News of the World, but the Dispatch was not far behind.
The Dispatch was a lively broadsheet, founded in 1801, which advertised itself as “the paper that grips the masses”. Acquired by the Mail group in 1903, it found itself fighting hard to retain its working class readership. New papers like the Mirror were targeting exactly the same people, and using every technical innovation they could to tempt Dispatch readers away. As 1903 drew to a close, the Mirror was just weeks away from becoming the first British newspaper to fill its pages with photographs. “See the news through the camera,” it boasted in a front-page box. “Yesterday's events in pictures” (7). Meanwhile, the Dispatch was still relying on line drawings. Something had to be done.

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