Where better to start than 1855? This was the year when, with the final abolition of stamp duty, the popular press really got going and the nation saw its first one penny daily newspapers aimed at a mass readership. Inevitably, it wasn’t that simple but, indisputably, 1855 was one of the key years of the nineteenth century, not just for the way the newspaper industry was transformed but for the impact that this was to have on politics and society at large.
There was a time when Liverpool’s Daily Post (note the absence of “Liverpool” in the title) was commonly believed to have been the first one penny daily in England. This is not surprising because its proprietor Michael James Whitty had been the star witness at the 1851 Select Committee on Newspaper Stamps and had famously declared that, if duties on newspapers were abolished, he himself would publish a one penny daily instantly. In May 1855 Whitty proudly announced that his promise was about to be redeemed and on Monday 11 June he published the first edition of the Daily Post. Whitty was taking a risk because the abolition of stamp duty did not take effect until the very end of June but he was not the only one to jump the starter’s gun. The proprietors of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph brought out their first edition on Friday 8 June and it is their newspaper that is generally recognised now as the first one penny daily. This claim to precedence has been bolstered by the paper’s longevity. (Sadly, the Daily Post survives only in a North Wales offshoot, the Liverpool Daily Post having issued its last daily edition in 2012.)
But should the Sheffield Daily Telegraph really be considered the first one penny daily in England? This is vexed issue and a lot has been written about the first penny dailies, notably by A P Wadsworth (1955), A E Musson (1956), A J Lee (1976) and, most comprehensively, Martin Hewitt (2014). The situation is much complicated by any number of factors: the definition of what constitutes a newspaper; longevity (or, more accurately, transience) of titles; the lack of surviving copies; and less-than-complete cataloguing.
The first provincial daily to establish itself as a long-term going concern (though not the first ever, as we shall see in a later posting) was Liverpool’s Northern Daily Times, founded by Charles Willmer in 1853, but it did not reduce its price to one penny until Saturday 30 June (and only reluctantly). By then the Sheffield Daily Telegraph and the Daily Post had been joined at one penny by (amongst others) the Manchester Daily Examiner & Times (18 June) and Darlington’s Northern Express (28 June) and, at a mere halfpenny, by the small-format and short-lived Manchester Halfpenny Express (13 June) and Sheffield’s Morning’s News (19 June). The enterprise of the northern towns and the absence of any enduring one penny daily in London are both striking. However, before we make a final award of precedence, the claims of two other newspapers need to be acknowledged.
On 19 May 1855 Willmer brought out a specimen edition of a new tabloid-sized afternoon newspaper in Liverpool, Events, priced at a halfpenny. He intended to commence daily production when stamp duty was abolished but, seizing the moment, he advanced publication to Monday 4 June. Events was a bold venture – a newspaper aimed at the masses and, being almost totally devoid of advertising, dependent for its survival on large sales. Until recently only the first two issues were know to have survived and Events was reckoned to have had a fleeting existence but further copies have now come to light and it is clear that the newspaper continued into 1857. Events can thus claim to have been both the first provincial afternoon/evening newspaper issued daily and the first halfpenny daily anywhere in England. Once could also make a case for Events having been the first enduring daily newspaper at one penny or less but, in magnanimous mood, Liverpool should perhaps on occasion defer to Manchester!
On 22 March 1855, well before the abolition of stamp duty could be taken for granted, the Daily Telegraph and Northern Counties Advertiser was published in Manchester at one penny. Its title and content characterise it as a genuine newspaper and not a war newssheet or purely commercial advertiser. The title changed on 9 April to the Manchester Daily Telegraph and Northern Counties Advertiser, presumably because Daily Telegraph had already been registered by the London paper of this name that would shortly appear. The Manchester newspaper had originated in late 1854 as the Daily War Telegraph, also at one penny, and, by initially eschewing any news content not war-related, had tried to exploit a loophole in order to avoid paying stamp duty. It had a complex and troubled existence, at one stage being forced to pay stamp duty, but gradually transformed into something much more than a Crimean War newssheet. It folded at the very end of 1855 but survived just long enough to be fairly considered the first one penny daily newspaper. It is currently believed to be salted away for posterity deep underground in Cheshire.
Image [Daily Post]: Courtesy of British Newspaper Archive and The British Library Board
Image [The Events]: Courtesy of Nick Foggo
Image [The Daily Telegraph]: Courtesy of Manchester Central Library