Victorian London - Publications - Newspapers - newspapers in London

THE NEWSPAPER PRESS. The newspaper establishments of the kingdom are of vast importance; the number of morning papers being about 28,000, and of the evening papers, about 12,000; the circulation of the Sunday papers has been stated at 110,000 copies. The duty on advertisements was lowered in 1833 from 3s. 6d. to 1s. 6d., and the stamp duty in 1836 from fourpence to a penny. The profit derived by the Revenue from Newspapers will be rendered apparent by the following statement, which is further accompanied by an account explanatory of the effect produced upon the Revenue by the reduction of the stamp duty on Newspapers. The reduction of the newspaper duty took effect on the 15th September, 1836. In the half year ended 5th of April, 1836, the number of newspapers stamped in Great Britain was 14,874,652, and the net amount of duty received was 196,909l. In the half year ended 5th of April 1837, the number of newspapers stamped in Great -- Britain was 21,362,148, and the net amount of duty received was 88, 502l. showing an increase, in the number in the last half year as compared with the corresponding half year before the reduction, of 6,487,496, and a loss of Revenue of 108,317l. Of the above number of stamps taken out in the half year ending 5th of April, 1837, 11,547,241 stamps have been issued since 1st of January, 1837, when the distinctive die came into use; whereas only 14,784,652 were issued in the six months ending April, 1836. The establishments of the leading morning papers are upon a vast and comprehensive scale; the most distinguished literary talent being enlisted in their service, an observation peculiarly applicable to the Times, that, like the administration of the Government, has its home and foreign department, the ramifications of the latter extending to all parts of the world. The editorial and mechanical departments are, during the sitting of Parliament, unceasing in their operation, day and night being equally devoted to the early publication of a morning paper. These combined efforts, however, would prove utterly unavailing, as regards an early appearance, but for the introduction of mechanical power, that, propelled by steam, produces, with almost magical celerity, Impressions executed in a style of superior excellence. The expenses of the daily Journals thus conducted must be enormous; they defy calculation, and can only be accurately known to the proprietor. The evening, as well as the weekly papers, are upon a diminished scale of expenditure, enjoying as they do, the advantage of extracting from their predecessors of the day, the chief articles of interest; they are nevertheless, in many instances, conducted by gentlemen possessing, not merely literary attainments of the highest order, but also by others of distinguished ability in their several departments. To give an accurate list of newspapers, that from their perpetual introduction, and equally sudden withdrawal is ever deviating, would, under such circumstances, be clearly impossible; it must therefore sufiice that, for this work, we subjoin a list of the principal. Of all these, the Times takes decidedly the -- lead the superiority of its general information, its continental in particular, having long since designated it with the honourable appellation of The leading Journal of Europe. The Morning Herald is also conducted in a style of great excellence. The Morning Post is more limited in its sale than the Times and Herald; its circulation being chiefly confined to the leaders of fashion. The Times, Herald, and Post, through strictly speaking independent, are the staunch advocates of Conservatism. The Morning Chronicle, long since fallen from the enviable notoriety it attained when under the conduct of its talented proprietor, the late James Perry, Esq., nevertheless enjoys, from its advocacy of Whig principles, a very extensive sale; as does the Morning Advertiser, the property of the Society of Licensed Victuallers.  The Standard, an evening paper, conducted with great ability, floats, like the Standard of England, in triumph over its opponents, and enjoys, in consequence, a very extensive circulation. The Globe and the Sun are the evening advocates of the Whigs; the Age, the John Bull, the Spectator, the Examiner, the Satirist, the Sunday Times, the Weekly Times, the Observer, the Court Journal, the Dispatch, the Atlas, the Pictorial Times, Punch, and London Illustrated News* (*the illustrations of the three last being of great excellence), complete the catalogue of the weekly papers. All the country newspapers may be seen at Deacon's Coffee House, Walbrook; Peele's Coffee House, Fleet Street; and the Chapter Coffee House, Paternoster Row.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

    In one point only, the English political press is over-estimated, Its issues and its profits are generally considered to be much larger than they really are. It is not difficult to discover the grounds of this erroneous view. People think mostly of the Times, because it is best known and most frequently quoted. The condition of the English journalistic press is estimated after this, its most important representative. The premises are false, and so is the conclusion. We do not here propose to open the ledgers of the English newspaper offices, and to take down the number of copies sold. A great deal of falsehood, and a great deal of truth, has been published in Germany on this subject. We will here only say, that the Times prints daily from 40,000 to 50,000 copies, and that the other journals together have an issue of the same amount. This is enough to show, that no conclusions can be drawn from the statistics of the Times to the statistics of the other great morning papers. These numbers prove also, that English journalism has fewer readers than journals in Germany or France, though certainly its geographical diffusion is by far greater. But it were equally wrong to draw conclusions from the number of copies sold to the number of readers. The position of the periodical press to the public is so peculiar in this country, that a detailed account is necessary for its proper understanding. We propose to give that account in the following pages, and begin by stating the well-known fact, that the English political papers are divided into morning, evening, and weekly papers, into monthlies and quarterlies, and into metropolitan and provincial journals. The essential difference between the morning and evening papers, is to be found in the time of publication. The first edition of the latter is published at four, or half-past four, in the afternoon; a second edition is published at six o'clock ; and, on important occasions, a third edition, containing the parliamentary intelligence of the evening, badly reported, and in execrable style, is published at seven o'clock. Some of the evening papers, too, are cheaper than the morning papers, and they are all half a sheet in size; but they have the advantage of giving the contents of the day-mails, and the accounts of the money-market. The evening papers generally contain much less matter than the morning papers. Their sale too is small, and with the exception of the Globe and the Sun, they are none of them independent, but form part of the property of certain morning papers. The Standard, for instance, is but a later edition of the Morning Herald; the same is the case with the Express, which belongs to the Daily News; with the Evening Mail which belongs to the Times; and the Evening Journal, which is a satelite of the Morning Chronicle. The sale of these papers is limited, and their expense is not generally thought to be very large.
    The morning papers are published in time for the early railway trains. The first few thousands of the copies printed, are at once despatched into the provinces, and the copies which are destined for metropolitan circulation, reach the readers generally about nine o'clock, when a great many Londoners are at breakfast. The Morning Post alone is in the habit, as it appears, of receiving very important intelligence, such as "Elopements in High Life," or "the last odds against Black Doctor," between the hours of six and eight in the morning, for this fashionable journal appears frequently at the break of day, with the exciting heading, "SECOND EDITION!" The first edition, it seems, was sold in the course of the night; perhaps between one and three, AM. The less important papers publish their second edition at twelve o'clock, and in it their foreign correspondence, which has arrived with the morning mails. In the case of any extraordinary event, they publish a third edition at three o'clock.
    It is impossible to speak too highly of the despatch and correctness of the printing in the English newspaper offices. Where so much praise is due, there has, as a matter of course, been some exaggeration likewise ; and the newspaper offices are the subjects of many a popular myth, which it is worth while to reduce to simple truth. Both Englishmen, and the foreigners that are within their gates, will now and then, at eight o'clock in the morning, read "our own correspondent's" letter in the Times, and be struck with some remarkable piece of intelligence it contains. An hour or so afterwards, perhaps, the postman brings them a letter from some continental friend, and lo! that letter contains the very news which they have read, printed in large type, in the morning paper. Now, however expeditious compositors, printers, and newsmen may be, the setting up of matter, the striking it off, and distributing it through the various channels of trade, to the farthest ends of the town, require a certain amount of time. How, then, is it possible, since my private letter and the Times correspondence came by the same mail? how, in the name of all that is strange, does it happen, that the paper prints the news so much sooner than I receive it through the Post Office? Why it looks "nae cannie," as a Scotchman would say!
    Still the result is brought about by the most natural and simple means. The morning papers have their continental correspondence sent by mail, but the letters are not directed to London, but to an agent in Dover. That agent, who is generally connected with the railroad or the Post Office, receives his parcels immediately after the arrival of the steamers from Calais and Ostend. He directs them to his principals in London, and sends them off with the express train. Of course the mail letter-bags reach London by the same train; but the mail-bags have to go to the Post Office, where the letters are taken out and sorted, and distributed among the various district offices, which, in their turn, distribute them among the letter-carriers. The letters cannot, therefore, reach their various destinations before eight o'clock, though it frequently happens that they come at a much later hour. But the parcels sent direct from Dover are emancipated from the necessary delays of the Post Office. A messenger receives them as the train dashes into London Bridge Station; they are at once hurried away to the printing offices, set up, printed, and despatched to all the news-shops of London. And while this is going on in the printing office, the Post Office clerks are opening the mail-bags, and sorting and stamping the letters for the regular delivery. A certain portion of time, say a few hours, are necessarily lost at the Post Office ; and this loss of time to the public, and the advantage to which the newspapers turn it, has puzzled many persons, particularly strangers. All the popular tales of special trains and steamers are mere fables. The Times, with all its power of capital, cannot have faster vessels than the mail steamers that run between Calais and Dover; and if at Dover it were to engage a special train, that train could not go faster than the express. But even if greater speed were attainable, the experiment would be too costly for daily use.
    On important occasions, indeed, in the case of unexpected arrivals of interesting continental news, or when large and important meetings are being held in the provinces, and the intelligence to be conveyed to town is too heavy for the telegraph, the great London journals do not shrink from the expense of special trains, which convey to them the reports of the proceedings, as taken down by their correspondents. But in the transmission of mere news?of those "facts," to which Mr. Cobden would confine the newspapers?the telegraph is at once cheaper and more expeditious.
    A few years ago, when there were no railroads, and when the steamers were neither frequent in their passages nor punctual in their arrivals, the Times had organised its own system of couriers, and for a long time it competed with the Morning Herald as to the greatest expedition in the conveyance of the Overland Mail from Marseilles to London. At one time the Times had the best of it ; on another occasion the couriers of the Times were beaten by the couriers of the Herald; the agents of the papers sowed their money broad-cast on the route between Marseilles and Calais; they outwitted one another in retaining all the post-horses, until these expensive mancoeuvres were finally rendered unnecessary by the railway service and the submarine telegraph. In this respect, too, the most fabulous stories have long been current in Germany, where, it is generally believed, that the Times has its score or so of special trains steaming away on all the railroads of England from year's-end to year's-end. The English newspaper service is by this time established on a firm, expeditious, and economical basis; and extraordinary means are resorted to only on extraordinary occasions.
    The weekly political papers are published on Saturday, and some of them on Sunday morning, while a few publish a second edition on Monday morning. They live on the news of the daily papers ; the better class among them have a single correspondence, a weekly Paris letter, but they have not the telegraphic despatches, nor do they maintain a staff of correspondents and reporters. They simply condense the news as given by the morning journals, while some of them spice the abstract with an original remark or two for the convenience of a peculiar class of readers. Besides these they have a few leading articles, and "Letters to the Editor." These letters are, in many instances, more interesting than any other part of the paper, and under an able editor their moral effect is greater even than that of the leading articles. This department has been utterly neglected by German journalism, though there can be no doubt of its being eminently suited to the capabilities and necessities of the German public.
    We have no intention of discussing the literary and political merits of the various "Weeklies." Their importance and popularity, too, is not a theme for us. These things are, moreover, well known in Germany. But in our opinion, it is worth while to inquire into the circumstances to which the weekly press in England owes its circulation and popularity, while it never prospered either in France or in Germany. A combination of causes produces this result. The morning papers are too expensive and too voluminous for the middle classes, especially in the country. Their price is a high one, not only according to the German, but also to the English mode of reckoning. But in the present state of the law, it is impossible to produce a daily paper which can compete with the other journals at a lower price. It has been proved to the satisfaction of Parliamentary Committees, that what with the paper, stamp, and advertisement duty, a great journal can only pay if it has an immense circulation. Still more strikingly has this been shown in the struggles and sufferings of the Daily News. That paper was set up in opposition to the Times. The Manchester men advanced a large capital, a fonds perdu, and the competition commenced with an attempt at underselling. The "Daily News" was sold at threepence per number; and the consequence was, that the funds of the party were really and truly "perdu." The price was raised to fourpence ; still the concern was a losing speculation. Finally the Daily News condescended to take fivepence, as the other journals do, and it is now more prosperous.
    But fivepence is a high price for a paper, even according to English ideas. It is very silly to say, that in England a sovereign is to the Englishman what a form or a thaler is considered to be to the German. The remark may hold good in the case of the favoured few?the dukes, cotton-lords, and nabobs; but among the middle classes, the relative value of a sovereign and a thaler assumes a very different aspect. The middle class forms the bulk of newspaper readers ; it is not so easy for that class to pay six pounds per annum for the " Times" or "Daily News," as the payment of six thalers (the average price of a Zeitung) is to the middle classes in Germany.
    Besides being too dear, the morning journals are too large for the majority of the public. Many persons cannot spare the time to read all the parliamentary intelligence, and the police and law reports, and the railway and mining articles; others are too lazy, while the majority of provincial readers combine the two objections with a third. They are too busy, lazy, and generally too indifferent. They would take a comfortable view of the events. They are not over curious, and will not be compelled to swallow a daily dose of news. They are not so hot-blooded as a French portier, who cannot think of going to sleep without a look at least at the evening papers; and in politics they enjoy a greater degree of phlegm than all the continental nations together. They say, and are justified in so saying, "We live in a quiet country, where everything and everybody has his place. Nothing whatever can happen that we are any the worse off for knowing a few days later. A dissolution perhaps? Why let them dissolve the parliament, there will be a general election?that's all. Resignation of ministers? There are as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it. A foreign war? Very well, we'll pay for it, but they wont invade us, thanks to the sea and the wooden walls of England. All of which proves that a man need not be in a confounded hurry to know the last news!"
    And as for the working classes they want money, time, and, indeed, they want the mind for the daily press. Weeklies are cheaper and more palatable. Their news is more condensed; it is more popular; they contain a deal of demonstration and furnish useful reading all the week through.
    It is therefore not at all astonishing that the weekly press should have experienced an enormous increase within the last few years, while the few daily papers that were started in that period, proved utter failures ; while the majority of even the old established papers were far from being prosperous. Hence, too, the enormous sale of the weeklies, whose prices range from three-pence to nine-pence. First and foremost in prosperity is the Illustrated London News, whose sale is said to amount to 100,000 copies. The Weekly Dispatch, selling from 60,000 to 80,000 copies, comes next. It is a radical paper, though I doubt whether any German reader would ever discover its radicalism. The Weekly Dispatch is the favourite of the lower classes. The Examiner and the Spectator, though superior in point of style and political ability, are less read than the Germans generally believe; but Punch (for Punch too is essentially a political paper), is prosperous, easy, comfortable, and influential, as indeed it fully deserves to be.
    The non-political papers, the monthlies and quarterlies, the clerical journals whose name is legion, the critical papers, the penny weekly papers which fatten on stolen property, the military and naval gazettes, the papers devoted to banking, architecture, gas-lighting, agriculture, mining, railways, colonial affairs, and all imaginable professions and branches of industry, these we mention only to say that we must leave them to scientific and professional travellers. 
   
 ?.. Not only does it stand to reason that a metropolitan journal is in a more favourable position than a provincial journal, since The national life and action radiates and is concentrated in the mighty heart of the country; but London, with its population of two millions and a half, is not merely the capital of a vast empire, it is also an imperium in imperio, a kingdom in itself. Many kingdoms have a less population than London has, and many countries furnish not half the amount of matter for journalism which London supplies. And though they had the matter it would be divided over a vast area, and its instant collection and publication would be impossible. Concentration has incalculable advantages for the daily press, as is plainly shown by the great journals of Paris and London.
    In another respect, too, the London papers are favoured by circumstances. The geographical extent of England is so small compared to its political power, the country is so completely covered with a network of railroads and telegraphs, that space is lessened in a marvellous degree. Thus is the London press enabled to collect intelligence in all parts of the country in less than no time, as the English say, to gather it by centripetal attraction and send it forth by centrifugal radiation. Sitting on the banks of the Thames, a short railway journey from the narrowest portion of the channel and thus, of all the large towns, most near to the Continent, London is the most efficient mediatrix and exchanger of news between the Continent and England and the Continent and America. As capital of England, of a country which has always carried the mails of all the nations and parts of the world to all the nations and parts of the world, London is the great political, mercantile, and scientific storehouse of the world. No other periodical
press can boast of such favourable circumstances; and the London press is safe from the competition of the periodical journals of the seaport-towns, because distance in England is of very little moment in the communication of intelligence, and, because favoured as it is, it can afford to pay, and occasionally to pay largely too for extra means of speed and priority of information.

Max Schlesinger, Saunterings in and about London, 1853

see also Newsvenders and News-boys - click here