In an age before the television or the internet, newspapers were the easiest way for a gentleman to keep up with current events. By 1790 newspapers had already been available in England for over two hundred years.
A daily newspaper would usually be four pages long, printed in very small black print. Illustrations, rarely included, were black and white engravings of important events. The first use of illustration in The Times was for Nelson's funeral in 1806.
Often, when stories arrived in London they were already old news. Information from Paris took four days to reach London, and almost as long from Edinburgh and Dublin. News from America might take five or six weeks, and stories from Australia or India would not reach London until three or four months later.
By 1795 there were thirty-eight newspapers in London, seventy-two in the rest of England, thirteen in Scotland and thirty-two in Ireland, making a total of 158 newspapers. Of the London papers, fourteen were daily, ten were published three times a week, two twice a week and twelve were weekly papers. In 1818 "Leigh's New Picture of London" recorded fifty-one London newspapers published once a week or more frequently.
The tax charged by the government on newspapers increased the prices until they were beyond those with modest incomes. The Morning Chronicle cost six pence daily in 1801, six and a half pence in 1812, and seven pence in 1816. (four pence of which was tax)
Newspaper owners and editors were often biased in favour of their preferred political parties. Papers could change their political allegiance whenever it was bought by a new owner. A few newspapers were not interested in politics at all, and concentrated on improving trade through advertising.
Middle class gentlemen could visit their local coffeehouse or a library to read the daily newspapers, rather than buy a copy themselves. Working class men and the poor would sometimes meet in a local inn or public house, where the vicar, school master, or another educated man would read the news aloud for the benefit of those who were illiterate.
Gentlemen and members of the peerage would subscribe to have a London daily newspaper delivered by mail to their houses in the country. Because of the time it took to deliver around the country, the evening editions of London daily newspapers were the rest of the country's morning paper the following day. Once the master of the house and his family had read it through he would then pass it on to a friend or neighbour. It was said that at this time a single newspaper could pass between twenty people, and could even be resold down the line, before being recycled.
What would you find in a newspaper?
The newspapers of the early 1800s were not so different from our local newspapers of today, except without photographs. If you'd opened the Morning Chronicle in 1812, it would have looked very much like this:
A first page full of advertisements: businesses and property for sale, notices for upcoming auctions, medicines and household items, and a list of newly published books.
The second page contained minutes of political and committee meetings, and details of political and military movements in Europe.
On page three, a column titled "The Mirror of Fashion" provided society news and gossip, following the movements of the Royal family and highlighting fashionable events, such as recent weddings, balls or card parties. Also on this page you would find theatre notices, advising which plays are showing at which theatres. Ship news provided the latest news about ships arriving or departing from the London docks. Crimes, court appearances and executions were also listed on page three, along with a small section of births, marriages, deaths and the very occasional obituary.
YOU ARE READING
Reading the RegencyNon-Fiction
A guide to Regency England for readers of classic literature or historical fiction set in the early 19th century. England, as it was in the early 1800's, can sometimes be as confusing to a modern reader as travelling to a foreign country. Their clot...