It is important to realize that "objective journalism" is a 20th Century concept. In the 17th through 19th Centuries all of the papers practiced an "advocacy" journalism. The papers were for or against a cause, or the government. It mattered greatly to its publishers and readers whether the paper was Tory or Whig. The Tatler intended to differ, as it would contain only "accounts of gallantry, pleasure and entertainment" according to its first issue in 1709, but of course a slant is and was shown by the choice of gossip printed. These editorial slants changed with the owners, editors, or the payments received to print stories. For example The Times, under its first editor, received stories and funds directly from the government, and all papers through the early 19th printed only favourable theatre review because they were written and paid for by the theater owners. In defence of The Times, they were the the first to do their own reviews, and found themselves in a battle with the theater owners.

A tax was first imposed on British newspapers in 1712. The tax was gradually increased until the 1815 Stamp Act increased it to 4d. a copy. As few people could afford to pay 6d. or 7d. for a newspaper, the tax restricted the circulation of most of these journals to people with fairly high incomes. Some radicals, such as Richard Carlile, ignored the law and continued to publish his newspaper, The Republican without paying stamp duty. The tax remained high until 1855 when it was reduced to 1d.

Where did the British citizen get his news? What follows is a list of the better known newspapers with information about their inception and editorial slant.

The London Gazette

The London Gazette got its start in 1665 at Oxford. In the autumn or that year Charles II sought shelter from the Great Plague by removing to Oxford. He and his courtiers wanted newspapers to read, yet feared to even touch the London papers for fear that they might be infected. Therefore Leonard Litchfeld, the university printer, was authorized and ordered to bring out a local paper. On Tuesday, November 14, 1665, the first number of "The Oxford Gazette" appeared, and it continued afterwards through eleven weeks on Thursdays and Mondays. These papers were reprinted in London. After the courts return to London the Paper followed and "The London Gazette" made its first appearance, labelled as issue No. 24, on February 5, 1666.

James Perry moved to The London Gazette in 1783. Perry edited the newspaper for eight years but when it was purchased by a group of Tories, he left to publish the Morning Chronicle.

The Tatler/The Spectator

The Tatler was founded by Richard Steele with the first issue published on April 12th, 1709, followed by thrice weekly issues. The Tatler's the main contributor was Issac Bickerstaff, the pseudonym used by Richard Steele and Joseph Addison. The Tatler was immediately succeeded by the Spectator in 1711.

The Tatler criticised the follies and foibles of society by the light of common sense. Its avowed intention was to present accounts of chivalry, pleasure, gossip, provide entertainment, and poetry. The aim of The Spectator, Addison said, was " enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality." Steele attacked the false notions of honour that kept duelling in fashion.

The kindly and witty essays by these men appealed to the middle class in the coffeehouses rather than to the nobility in their palaces. The Spectator was issued six days a week and occasionally sold 3,000 papers at 1p. each. Part of the reason for the demise of the spectator was a stamp tax of 1p. which doubled the price of the paper.


Morning Chronicle

In 1769 William Woodfall became the founding editor of the Morning Chronicle and pioneered the idea of Parliamentary reporting. Note-taking was not allowed in the House of Commons, so Mr. Woodfall remembered what was said and wrote it down afterwards. The paper was Whig and reform slanted. In 1779 Woodfall was found guilty of libel and was sentenced to twelve months in Newgate.

In 1789 James Perry formed a partnership with James Gray and purchased the Morning Chronicle from William Woodfall as a result of the purchase of The London Gazette by a group of Tories. The newspaper now became a firm supporter of the Whigs in Parliament. Sales of the Morning Chronicle gradually increased and by 1810 the newspaper had a circulation of 7,000. He survived one prosecution for "seditious libel" but by 1798 he spent 3 months at Newgate for libelling the House of Lords.

The papers popularity and sales gradually increased gaining a circulation of 7,000 by 1810. By 1810 he was printing stories by Britain' best radical journalists. He was again prosecuted for Libeling George III in February of 1810. In 1813 William Hazlitt was employed as the parliamentary reporter for the Morning Chronicle. Hazlitt criticised both Tories and Whigs

This is the paper that Charles Dickens first wrote for as a reporter 1834. The Morning Chronicle conducted the first investigative reporting in history with an 1849 story about the conditions of the labouring classes. The Morning Chronicle ceased publication in 1862.

The Morning Post

The Morning Post was founded in 1772. Daniel Stuart purchased the newspaper in 1795 and by employing writers such as Samuel Coleridge, Robert Southey, William Wordsworth and Charles Lamb, increased its status and its circulation.

Daily Universal Register/ The Times

Despite The Times illustrious reputation, its beginnings were less than auspicious. It was another business attempt by John Waters in 1785. He had been an underwriter at Lloyds and lost severely due to a hurricane in Jamaica. He had enough money left to buy the patent rights to a typesetting process and started an advertising sheet to promote the process. He included minor news items in his sheet. After a couple years of advertising and publishing his sheet, he was still unable to sell his typesetting process but Waters was making money with the paper, then called the Daily Universal Registar.

Part of the money that John Waters expected to make from his publishing enterprise was from an agreement that he would be paid 300 per year to print stories favorable to the government. In 1788 he changed the name to The Times and began to print gossip in an attempt to make the paper more popular. This led to his being fined and put in Newgate for two years over a story that he printed about the Prince of Wales.

In 1803 his son John Walters II became the publisher and began to move the paper away from government control. He and his succeeding editor Thomas Barnes supported political and parliamentary reforms, especially after the Peterloo Massacre. In a debate that took place in the House of Commons on 7th March, 1832, Sir Robert Peel argued that The Times was the "principal and most powerful advocate of Reform" in Britain. By 1834 the paper was respected enough that it is given credit for helping to bring down and force the replacement of the government.

In 1810 Dr. John Stoddart, now the editor of The Times, appointed Thomas Barnes as the newspaper's parliamentary correspondent. In 1817, Dr. John Stoddart retired and Thomas Barnes became the new editor of The Times. When Barnes took over the newspaper it was selling around 7,000 copies a day and was failing to make a profit. John Walter II still held most of the shares in The Times, but by 1819 Barnes had sought and obtained full control over the editorial content of the newspaper.

The Observer

W. S. Bourne borrowed £100 to start a Sunday newspaper, The Observer. The first edition was published on 4th December 1791. Bourne expected a Sunday paper would make him a "rapid fortune". He was wrong and by 1794 the newspaper was 1,600 in debt. Bourne tried to sell the newspaper to an anti-government group in London. When this failed his brother paid his debts, and tried to sell the paper to the government. This also failed, but the government did agree to subsidise the newspaper in return for influencing its content.

The Home Office also decided to recruit Dowling, the newspapers first, and primary reporter, as a government spy. In 1815 Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, became worried about the growing demands for parliamentary reform. One group of radicals causing particular concern was the Spencean Philanthropists and Dowling played a large role in the apprehension and trial of those involved in the Cato Street Conspiracy.

In 1814 The Observer was bought by William Innell Clement. As he was also the owner of the Morning Chronicle, Bell's Life in London and the Englishman, Clement was now the most important press magnate in Britain. Clement continued the policy of taking a government subsidy in return for an influence over the political opinions expressed in the newspaper.

The Observer is the oldest, still published, Sunday newspaper.

Bell's Weekly Messenger

Founded in 1796, first issue on May 1st.

The Political Register

On January 1st 1802 William Cobbett published the first issue of his newspaper, The Political Register. At first Cobbett's newspaper supported the Tories but he gradually became more radical. By 1806 Cobbett used the newspaper to campaign for parliamentary reform. William Cobbett was not afraid to criticise the government in The Political Register and in 1809 he attacked the use of German troops to put down a mutiny in Ely. By 1815 the tax on newspapers had reached 4d. a copy. As few people could afford to pay 6d. or 7d. for a newspaper, the tax restricted the circulation of most of these journals to people with fairly high incomes. The following year Cobbett began publishing The Political Register as a pamphlet. Cobbett now sold The Political Register for only 2d. and it soon had a circulation of 40,000.

Cobbett's journal was the main newspaper read by the working class until 1817 when he fled prosecution. The paper continued to be published until 1820 thanks to the efforts of William Benbow. In 1820 Cobbet returned and continued to publish. He was charged three more times before but avoided trial without flight and in 1831 successfully defended himself against the charges.

The Globe

The Globe was launched in 1803. It merged with the Pall Mall Gazzette in 1921.

Radical Newspapers

Top of page |    British Newspapers with Founding dates

Most of the papers and magazines that started in the last of the first decade of the 19th Century through the 2nd decade were radical and reform minded. The rare exception were ones started by Tories because they thought a particular publication went too far and wanted the truth to be told.

The Edinburgh Review

The Edinburgh Review, a quarterly magazine, was founded in October, 1802 by Francis Jeffrey, Sydney Smith and Henry Brougham. The owners of the journal favoured the Whigs in Parliament and most of the writers for the journal such as William Hazlitt and Thomas Babington Macaulay tended to favour political reform. Walter Scott, an early contributor, eventually refused to send in articles because he found the journal was in conflict with his Tory views.

The Edinburgh Review was the most influential magazine of its day and by 1818 circulation had reached 13,500. Francis Jeffrey, the editor between 1802 and 1829 was an outspoken critic of certain writers such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge. An article written by Henry Brougham that attacked the work of Lord Byron resulted in the writer replying with the poem English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.

The Edinburgh Review ceased publication in 1929.

The Quarterly Review

The Quarterly Review was established by John Murray in 1809 as a Tory rival to the Whig supporting Edinburgh Review. The idea for the journal came from Sir Walter Scott, a Tory who had previously worked for Francis Jeffrey. The Quarterly Review stood politically for preserving the status quo. The journal was very hostile to the work of writers in favour of political reform.

Sherwin's Political Register/The Republican

Richard Carlile was a tinsmith who needed work when the economy slowed down after the wars. He became interested in reform and in 1817 Richard Carlile decided to rent a shop in Fleet Street and became a publisher. Instead of publishing works such as Paine's The Rights of Man and the Principles of Government in book form, Carlile divided them into sections and then sold them as small pamphlets.

Carlile also began publishing a radical sheet called "Sherwin's Political Register". ( As well as reporting political meetings, the newspaper also included extracts from books and poems by supporters of the reform movement such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. Carlile's newspaper was very popular and it was not long before he was making £50 a week profit from his publishing venture.

He was present at the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester as a scheduled speaker. He published stories critical of the governments role in the August 1819 massacre. When the government seized his paper and presses he changed the name of his sheet to The Republican and continued to publish. Richard was soon sentenced to three years at Dorchester prison, but continued to write and his wife continued to publish the paper. The notoriety meant that the radical paper was soon outselling The Times. Richard's wife Jane was soon in prison but the paper continued under his sister Mary.

When Richard finally exited prison he was still for reform and became a strong supporter of women's rights. (Are we surprised?) He argued that "equality between the sexes" should be the objective of all reformers. In 1826 he also published Every Woman's Book, a book that advocated birth control and the sexual emancipation of women.

The Black Dwarf - radical journal

Thomas Jonathan Wooler was born in Yorkshire in 1786. Wooler moved to London where he was apprenticed as a printer. After working for the radical journal, the Reasoner, Wooler was appointed editor of the Statesman. Wooler took a particular interest in legal matters and in 1817 he wrote and published the pamphlet An Appeal to the Citizens of London against the Packing of Special Juries.

In January 1817 the British government persuaded Parliament to pass the Gagging Acts. Whereas William Cobbett responded to this act of government repression by leaving the country, Wooler was motivated to start publishing a new radical unstamped journal, The Black Dwarf. When the journal first appeared in January 1817 it was an eight page newspaper but it later became a 32 page pamphlet.

The Gorgon

In 1818 John Wade began to publish his own radical newspaper. The Gorgon dealt mostly with trade union matters. In 1819 Wade stopped publishing The Gorgon and instead concentrated on collecting evidence of inequality and corruption. This information was eventually published in "The Black Book: Corruption Unmasked" (1819). The book contained detailed information on the revenues of the aristocracy and clergy, the Civil List, the police and the law courts, and the relationship between government and companies such as the East India Company.

The Black Book: Corruption Unmasked was a great success and sold over 50,000 copies.


Top of page |    British Newspapers with Founding dates

Gentleman's Magazine

Gentleman's Magazine was founded by Edward Cave in 1731. It is believed that Cave was the first person in Britain to use the term magazine to describe a publication. The original intention was to republish a collection of items from other journals and news-sheets. Gradually the Gentleman's Magazine began to include original material, including literary criticism, essays and parliamentary reports. Dr. Samuel Johnson, a friend of Cave, was a regular contributor and helped Cave run the journal. The Gentleman's Magazine ceased publication in 1914.


or Monthly Calendar of the Transactions of the Turf, the Chase and every other Diversion, Interesting to the Man of Pleasure, Enterprise and Spirit

Sporting Mag, issue 1 The first issue was published in October of 1792, and expressed astonishment that there was no publication in circulation "expressly calculated for the sportsman". It promised to report racing, archery, cricket, coursing, and every other respectable sport. This included boxing and cock fighting and fly-fishing. They included complete, round by round, blow by blow accounts of fights, whether of 10, or 69 round fights.

The Examiner

The Examiner, a radical weekly magazine, was founded by John Hunt and Leigh Hunt in 1808. John and Leigh Hunt, in addition to supporting radical causes and politicians such as Henry Brougham and Sir Francis Burdett, published the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Hazlitt. If this was not enough to upset the more conservative, they also reminded readers every issue that half the cost of the paper was a government "tax on knowledge". The paper had a long life for a political publication, lasting until 1881.

Blackwood's Magazine

William Blackwood, a publisher from Edinburgh, started Blackwood's Magazine, a monthly periodical in April, 1817. Blackwood started the magazine as a Tory rival to the Whig supporting Edinburgh Review. The first editor of the magazine was John Lockhart, who led the campaign against what he called the Cockney School of Poetry of Leigh Hunt and William Hazlitt.

In 1821 John Scott, the editor of the London Magazine, accused Blackwood's Magazine, of libel. A representative of the journal, J. H. Christie, challenged Scott to a duel. Scott accepted and died as result of the wounds received during the fight.

The London Magazine

The London Magazine was founded in 1820 by John Scott (1783-1821) as a rival to the Gentleman's Magazine. It was a non-political magazine that concentrated on the world of literature.

The Athenaeum literary review

The Athenaeum, a weekly literary review, was founded by James Silk Buckingham in 1822. It was to publish and critique the poems and prose in current publication.

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