Newspapers & Magazines - part 1

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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, business in Parliament, 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.

The fourth page was often entirely taken up with more notices of property sales and auctions. Property, livestock and horses, and even furniture were sold by auction, and the notices describe each lot - sometimes in great detail, like this example from the Morning Chronicle in May 1804:

"A very eligible, Freehold, substantial brick-built HOUSE, with a handsome modern front and portico entrance by a double flight of stone steps, neat forecourt and carriage sweep, enclosed by folding gates and stone piers, coach house, stabling for five horses, detached wash-house, laundry, and numerous requisite out-offices, large yard, lawn, shrubbery, gravel walks, productive gardens and rich meadow, containing together nearly five acres. The situation of this estate is in the much admired village of Crouch End, near Hornsey, five miles only from London, commanding pleasant views of the surrounding rich country. The house contains several good proportioned bed chambers and servants' apartments, elegant drawing room, dining parlour, morning rooms, good kitchen, housekeeper's room, store rooms, numerous closets, and every other requisite accommodation for a genteel family, the whole in substantial repair, and may be entered into immediately. Also a freehold cottage nearly adjoining.—To be viewed by tickets only, which with descriptive particulars may be had of Mr. Winstanley, Paternoster Row."


Newspapers provided regular snippets of gossip for their readers, which would have been eagerly perused by the ladies of the house. The editors employed various types of people as "sources" to listen for salacious news and gossip in the fashionable world. These sources were paid according to how interesting and exclusive their information was.

During the season, lists of upcoming parties and routs would be published, like this example from the Morning Post, June 1804:

This evening: Mrs Coke's rout, Hanover Square
Tomorrow: Viscountess Sudley's rout, Dover Street
Wednesday: Lady Monson's ball, Charles Street, Berkeley Square
Thursday: Duchess of Marlborough's ball, Pall Mall
                     Countess of Balcarras's rout, Cumberland place
                    Mrs Plowden's ball, Devonshire Place
Friday:      Marchioness of Hertford's rout, Manchester Square
                    Mrs Lawrell's rout, Grosvenor Street
Saturday: Mr and Miss Julius Angerstein's public breakfast, Woodlands, Blackheath"

One informant might bribe servants to allow him to stand in the hallway on evenings when parties were held, so he could hear the names of the guests as they were announced. Another, if invited to a private concert, would provide a newspaper with details of music pieces played, and the names of the other guests who made up the audience, for a bit of extra money in his pocket.

So one of the guests could have provided this information to the newspaper:

"On Monday last Sir Thomas Wilson, Colonel of the Blackheath Cavalry, gave a magnificent dinner, ball and supper at his elegant villa near Shooters Hill. The Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Brunswick was of the dinner party. A most sumptuous banquet the company partook of about seven o'clock. About nine o'clock the whole of the interior of this beautiful residence was brilliantly illuminated by chandeliers and lustres. The dancing commenced soon after nine in the elegant saloon; about twenty-five couples stood up to the lively tune of "Tekeli". The Princess of Wales and the Misses Angerstein were among the dancers. An elegant supper was set out in the grand dining room soon after twelve o'clock. The dancing was afterwards resumed, and kept up with the proper degree of spirit until a late hour. The Volunteer Cavalry escorted the Duchess of Brunswick and the Princess of Wales to and from Montague House. Lord Hood and Mr. Angerstein were present."
[Morning Post, 24th August 1808]

The third source was a gentleman called Little Bridgeman, who received money from multiple newspapers to stand under the gateway at St. James' Palace and note down the names of all the people who attended court. The fourth type of source for gossip columnists were the servants themselves: ladies maids and footmen in the employ of upper-class families who supplemented their income by sharing information they'd overheard during their work.

It was also recorded, in the Flowers of Literature for 1801 & 1802 (pub. 1803) that: "...several ladies of title write the accounts of their own festive recreations, and pay at the rate of five guineas a column for their insertion!"

Fashionable arrivals and departures revealed which families had returned to town and who had recently left:

"Sir Henry and Lady Frances Wilson have arrived at their house, Chelsea Park, from their seat in Yorkshire, and in a few days set off for a tour through Kent.
Lady Pomfret is returned from Oxford, where her ladyship was on a visit to Mrs Trollope.
The Dukes of Kent and Cambridge, Lord Stopford, and all the fashionables of the neighbourhood of Richmond, were present at Mrs Jordan's admirable representation of 'A Soldier's Daughter', on Monday evening."
[Morning Post, 2nd September 1808]

And, of course, there was the normal everyday sort of gossip that would set tongues wagging, even today:

"Matrimonial alliance in High Life
The Fashionable World will be surprised to hear that a young and very rich nobleman, of the highest rank, is about to attend the Hymeneal altar with the blooming and beautiful widow of a lately deceased baronet. All the necessary arrangements are completed; and the lawyers are gone to the continent with the marriage settlements. Rumour assigns the capital of a great Northern Potentate as the spot where the celebration will take place; but we have reason to believe the nuptial ceremony will be performed in Paris. The Lady was an heiress of large fortune; but her property has been settled on a son and daughter; she is only 23 years of age. The Peer alluded to, it is said, went abroad for the express purpose of soliciting the honour of her hand."

[Morning Post, 2nd August 1817]

"No less than thirty six dresses are now making up at Miss Stuart's for the Duchess of Bedford elect!
The marriage of a young lady of fashion with an illustrious Duke, some recent circumstances considered, reminds us of the sentiments of Lady Rodolpha Lumbercourt in 'The Man of the World': "For Maister Egerton or Maister Sandey, it's all one to Rodolpha." - a happy compliance which did not compel her to take her affections out of the family."

[Bell's Weekly Messenger, 19th June 1803]

"On Thursday morning a meeting took place in Hyde Park between a Mr. S--------- of the city, and Lieut. P--------- of the Navy, attended by their seconds; the first fire missed; then they closed to six paces, and fired a second time. The ball of Lieutenant P---------- passed through the right thigh of Mr. S---------. A surgeon was present, and by his attention we are happy to state no danger is to be apprehended from the wound. The quarrel between the parties arose on Monday last."
[Morning Chronicle, 22nd January 1803]

We might feel sorry for today's young celebrities, who are stalked by the paparazzi and their every youthful mistake plastered over the front pages. However, this is not a recent problem, as this editorial comment from the Morning Chronicle in May 1804 shows:

"The present practice of giving an account in the public journals of whatever happens in private parties must lead to very serious consequences. What is to become of fashionable society, if a young lady cannot make the slightest slip overnight without the circumstances appearing in print the next morning."

It appears that even two hundred years ago gossip sold newspapers, just as it does today.


[Image: Front page of the Morning Post, Tuesday 9th August 1814]

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