Punch Magazine and the origin of cartoons

The first issue of the famous satirical magazine Punch was published today in 1841. It was subtitled The London Charivari in homage to Charles Philipon’s French satirical magazine Le Charivari. Punch is why we call cartoons, well, cartoons. In 1843, the Houses of Parliament were to be decorated with murals, and preparatory sketches, or "cartoons", were displayed for the public. This coincided with a period of great poverty in London, cholera outbreaks, and grumbles over payments given to the Duke of Cumberland. They might have been starving, but they had this groovy art exhibition to attend. After John Leech's Substance and Shadow sketch, humourous drawings would forever be cartoons. 

Some say Punch hit the peak of its popularity was in the 19th century but it came to an end on April 8th, 1992 after 151 years of publication. Towards the end, there were jokes about it not being as funny as it used to be (Viz have pinched that line lately) and being the magazine that piled up in dentist waiting rooms.

About four years later, it was revived by Mohammed El Fayed, who owned Harrods. This new version lasted until 2002.

The original Punch office in Fleet Street is now a pawnbrokers but is a short walk from the Punch Tavern, which does/did some decent nosh and a good pint. It started life as a Gin Palace frequented by the 19th century satirists, hence the name. Also near-by, The Old Bell Tavern which was built by Sir Christopher Wren.


  • I remember buying, reading (and enjoying) the magazine in the 1970s when it had some good writers. For those who want to enjoy the first edition it is on Gutenberg: https://gutenberg.org/files/17216/17216-h/17216-h.htm

  • Our library used to stock some of the collections they published in the Seventies. Fun stuff. I suppose the Eye and The Oldie bridge similar turf to Punch but it is missed.

    Thanks for the Guttenberg link. Interesting reading.

  • Such fascinating history - thank so much for sharing.

  • I first read the Private Eye in the 60s (1963?) when a school mate brought back an early issue from London, then in its glorious rough and ready cheap paper and typewritten format. In the mid 70s I started buying it regulary and I think that I bought every copy until about 2018 (a lot are still up in the attic, I think) when I felt it was no longer as "funny" as it used to be but had become bitter and rancorous.

    Oh how I miss "Barry MacKenzie","Mrs Wilson's Diary", "The Cloggies", the Pevsner column, the NHS column, the Parliamentary column et al. I now read the The Oldie, another Richard Ingram's creation, which has the occasional interesting content (not up to Alan Coren's Punch standard); the loss of William De'Ath is a shame, he really got up the nose of some of the pompous "right on" contributers, never a bad thing for a magazine writer...

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