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Newspapers

Image of the County Express title, 1936
Title taken from the County Express Newspaper, April 1936.

Introduction

Provincial newspapers were first published in the early 19th century and by 1800 there were about 100 titles. They were published weekly and were mainly a digest of what the London daily papers had to say. There was little local news reported at this time, these early papers contained information mainly about international & national events, prices of commodities and court news. Taxes kept the newspapers small, they often consisted only a single sheet.

Growth came about with the reduction of stamp duty in 1836 and its abolition in 1855. The introduction of new technology in printing and improvement to the distribution networks due to the proliferation of the railways from the 1840s also helped, by reducing the production costs. From this period provincial papers increased in size enabling local news to be reported. Newspapers can be useful for historians writing the social history of and area and for family historians as they may give details about individuals.

Brief Chronology of Newspapers

1622 - earliest English newspaper produced.

1641 - first newspaper produced containing domestic news.

1655 - most newspapers suppressed after Civil War – state monopoly e.g. Mercurus Politicus, Publick Intelligencer).

1690-3 - first Provincial newspapers published (Worcester Postman [later Berrow’s Worcester Journal] – 1690; Lincoln, Rutland & Stamford Mercury - 1693.

1693 - press censorship abolished.

1712 - first tax on newspapers introduced (1d on whole sheet; 1/2d on half sheet) during war with France.

1756, 1789,1798,1804,1815 - taxes rose again.

1831-1835 - hundreds of newspapers (mainly sensational types) appeared during this period without tax stamps, despite prosecutions.

1836 - tax reduced – newspaper circulation rocketed from 39 million to c.122million.

1855 - tax abolished.

1855 - new provincial dailies were introduced both morning and evening – evening papers became very popular as they recorded sporting results.

News items

Factual reporting of events such as meetings was usually impartial. Speeches, sermons, etc. were usually reported verbatim, however, newspapers must be used with caution: they very often revealed the political view of the owner. The Newspaper Press Directory published from 1846 onwards provides details of owners, editors and their politics. Editors may be selective, e.g. no theatre activities, nothing that would cause the owner offence. In small villages, details might be reported by the local schoolmaster or clergyman and this might reflect their personal views.

Image of County Express 1936
Article entitled 'Feminine Reflections' taken from the County Express, 1936.

Contents

The contents usually vary depending on period. Early newspapers were often single sheets, but by the mid 19th century they were recording the following:

  • Events e.g. fires, floods, epidemics, mining & other disasters (may give lists of those killed & injured).

  • Strikes and industrial disputes.

  • Notices of Births, Marriages & Deaths.

  • Obituaries, marriages.

  • Criminal trials.

  • Coroners inquests.

  • Court proceedings – renewal of licences, crime reports including misdemeanours.

  • Deaths of soldiers, records deeds of valour (medals won).

  • Adverts for businesses.

  • Notice of bankruptcies.

  • Sale of properties.

  • Police notices.

  • Entertainment & cultural activities.

  • Literary reviews.

  • Feature articles.

  • Lectures.

  • Railway supplements.

  • Education.

  • Details of philanthropic gifts.

  • Municipal affairs.

  • Meetings of Boards of Guardians.

Layout

From the mid 19th century, many provincial papers consisted of 4 pages. Unlike today when sensational news is given precedence on the front page, then the first page usually consisted of adverts. The format usually followed this pattern:

Page 1 – Adverts

Page 2 - International, National, County and Political News. Sensational happenings announcement of Births, Marriages & Deaths

Page 3 - Reports of Quarters Sessions (Jan, Apr, June, Oct), Magistrates Court, Petty Sessions; Local events (alphabetical order of village)

Page 4 - Continuation of local evenings, announcements, adverts, letters, short articles, stories.

Holdings at Dudley Archives and Local History Service

A newspapers area of circulation was determined by commercial factors and not by county or ecclesiastical boundaries, provincial newspapers often covered a wide geographical area. The earliest newspapers held at DALHS are the Wolverhampton Chronicle (from 1830) and The Brierley Hill Advertiser (from 1856). The earliest Dudley newspaper was the Dudley Weekly Times produced in 1856, but it was short-lived. Newspapers are available both on microfilm and, in some cases, in the original.

N.B. DALHS completed the re-packaging and re-housing of our newspaper collection in October 2010 and they are now available for consultation. A full list of the newspapers we hold is available in the searchroom.

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