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Online Dating and the Lonely Hearts Ad

As internet dating booms, Jonathan Freedland explores the origins of its forefather, the Round About, a social network in 1898 aimed at bringing strangers together.

With the annual surge in online dating at the start of the New Year, Jonathan Freedland takes the Long View of internet dating by looking at a social network from 1898 devised to bring strangers together in marriage or companionship.

The 'Round About', set up by newspaper editor and philanthropist WT Stead, encouraged subscribers to submit a profile and a photo and an album of users would be sent out monthly to other subscribers. Potential suitors could then correspond via the "Conductor" at the Central Office of the publication.

The Lonely Hearts Classified Ad was born and took off in popularity at a time when the middle classes in London, living increasingly in suburbia, found it difficult to make romantic acquaintances. It was, however, not without controversy as allegations of moral corruption flew about when it was suspected that illicit liaisons were being sought through the adverts.

Producer Neil McCarthy.

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28 minutes