The editor of The Lady has quit over the magazine’s move from its historic home on London’s Bedford Street, where it has been published since 1885, to a “business park” outside the capital.
Sam Taylor told Press Gazette she “wouldn’t be leaving for any other reason”, having worked on the fortnightly women’s magazine for more than eight years, including four years as editor.
The high-society title, which still runs job adverts for domestic staff, is moving some 14 miles to Borehamwood in Hertfordshire, home to the set of BBC soap Eastenders.
Its creative director has also resigned over the move, it is understood, with some freelances opting to work remotely. Outgoing staff left on Friday.
“We all love this building,” Taylor said of the The Lady’s office in Covent Garden, central London, where it has published through two world wars and become a landmark for black cab drivers taking the Knowledge.
“The building and the magazine are inextricably linked in a way,” she said. “The Mitford sisters were in this building. Would Nancy Mitford have gone to Borehamwood? The answer to that is no.
“She would have said that a business park in Borehamwood is ‘non-U’ (a reference to Mitford’s rules for being Upper Class, or U).”
But she said she hoped the magazine would “outlive us all”.
The Lady’s move is the result of its 130-year-old home having been sold off by the title’s owner and chief executive Ben Budworth to property firm Capital and Counties Properties for £12.4m at auction.
Capco, as it’s known, already owns property in Covent Garden which it has turned into retail and dining space as well as residential homes and offices.
The sale was not approved by Ben’s 87-year-old mother Julia Budworth, granddaughter of politician Thomas Gibson Bowles who founded The Lady in 1885 and also set up Vanity Fair magazine.
Mrs Budworth, together with her four sons, took over The Lady in 2008 from her brother Tom Bowles and invested half a million pounds “to get it flying again”, installing her son Ben as managing director.
Each family member got a 20 per cent stake in the company but later sold all their shares to Ben in a bid to save it from fears of large debt repayments.
Since then Budworth has had full control of the company, with some of his business decisions causing a rift in the family and pitting him against his mother and brothers.
“It was very much a family firm,” Mrs Budworth told Press Gazette. “But it has been dragged away from us…” She added: “What I have to say [on the matter] is probably not printable.”
She claimed to have been “blocked out” by her son and said she was not made aware of the sale of the Bedford Street building.
Mrs Budworth said she has “happy memories” of the London office, which her father George Bowles called the “Old Lady of Bedford Street”.
“It’s a handsome building and it epitomises Englishness and English honesty, I hope, and a certain amount of stability and good sense. It’s sad to see it broken up in this way,” she said.
“I hope it flourishes, but it’s so much to do with our family.”
Budworth, 55, said the office in Covent Garden “had been incredible before when we had 50 staff or so”. But with about 20 staff now, “we just don’t need all that space,” he added. “We just don’t need the building.”
He told Press Gazette the company was moving its IT services to the cloud, which presented a “very good opportunity for a wholesale re-look at everything we do”.
He said the move out of London was not a “walkout” but a “planned strategic move to the country” and that 90 per cent of the magazine’s staff were moving with the title.
Budworth said Borehamwood had some “sizable royal connections”.
“We have the Royal Mail next door to us and the Royal British Legion within a stone’s throw. It’s a great place. It’s incredibly convenient for a lot of the staff,” he said.
“The editorial team – it’s very sad that there have been some resignations but it didn’t suit their travel plans nor their lifestyle, as far as I could work out.
“I’m sad to say goodbye to them – I think Sam Taylor has done a remarkable job given the constraints over the last few years – but now is the time, in our new offices, with a new outlook, to have a fresh look at prolonging and rejuvenating The Lady in a market that is diminishing.
“It’s all well and good to sit still and look at the past, but before you know it, it comes back to bite you, so we are making positive moves to get ahead of the game.”
He added: “The idea that it dents our reputation [to move out of Bedford Street] would only be considered by the most shallow of observers in that the move actually strengthens our position and shows our resolve to continue to invest in The Lady.”
Budworth said The Lady had run an office in Norfolk, where he also lives, for the past five years, so “moving to the country is nothing new to us”.
But he said the move “didn’t suit my mother”.
On the rift with his family, which centres on claims about The Lady’s finances, he said his takeover was “absolutely straight as a die in so far as the various solicitors, accountants and family members all agree”.
“If there was any wrongdoing or anything even close to not being squeaky clean, one of them would have picked that up,” he said. “It’s in my mother’s mind and that’s it.”
He went on: “She wants us to remain in Covent Garden until the cows come home. It’s just not the way of the world. The world has moved on.
“You only have to look at the number of publishing businesses who have gone out of business.”
The Lady has an average circulation of 23,254 per issue, of which 3,000 are free, according to ABC figures for December 2018 (the latest available).
Accounts filed with Companies House this month show The Lady made a £1.4m loss in 2018, but Budworth said this was a “balance sheet figure” and the actual loss for the year was about £230,000.
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