BE­HIND THE HEAD­LINES

1785

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - Jad Adams is a writer and Fel­low of the Royal His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety

1785: The first edi­tion of The Times news­pa­per is pub­lished

When a new ad­ver­tis­ing sheet ap­peared on the streets of Lon­don, no one thought it would grow into a na­tional in­sti­tu­tion.

The Times news­pa­per was the brain­child of John Wal­ter, one of the cre­ative busi­ness­men who were com­ing to the fore at the start of the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion.

Wal­ter was prob­a­bly born in 1739 – the un­cer­tainty re­flects the paucity of records at this time – the son of a Lon­don coal mer­chant. His father died when Wal­ter was 16, so he took up the fam­ily busi­ness be­fore mov­ing into in­sur­ance un­der­writ­ing. He was bankrupted by the losses caused by a hur­ri­cane in Ja­maica and the war with the rebel Amer­i­can colonists, whichh none of our Bri­tish an­ces­tors at this time called a ‘war of in­de­pen­dence’, it was sim­ply known as ‘the Amer­i­can war’.

Wal­ter saw a way out of his fi­nan­cial prob­lems with a new in­ven­tion that he hoped would rev­o­lu­tionise the all-im­por­tant trade of print­ing. A prin­ter called Henry John­son had in­vented a sys­tem of us­ing fonts con­tain­ing com­plete words rather than sep­a­rate let­ters; this was ex­pected to speed up com­po­si­tion and cut down on print­ing er­rors. John­son had thought of it for print­ing lot­tery blanks but Wal­ter bought the pa­tent, in­tend­ing to adapt it to gen­eral print­ing.

He set up in a build­ing in Black­fri­ars and opened the Lo­go­graphic Press. In or­der to have a daily ad­ver­tise­ment of his revo­lu­tion­ary print­ing method, he launched a news­pa­per, The Daily

Uni­ver­sal Reg­is­ter, which car­ried a ban­ner say­ing, “Printed Lo­go­graph­i­cally”. It was four pages in length with four col­umns per page. Three years later the ti­tle was changed to The Times, which was catchier and less likely to be con­fused with other news­pa­pers.

The first edi­tion, on 1 Jan­uary 1785, did not demon­strate the greater ef­fi­ciency of the

lo­go­graphic type­set­ting method over oth­ers. Print­ing de­lays meant it came out mid-morn­ing rather than early and so was poorly dis­trib­uted. This set­back was quickly over­come and the news­pa­per flour­ished. The front page was ad­ver­tise­ments – in­deed, for an­other 180 years The Times was to have a front page of ad­ver­tise­ments, not news. It was the ad­ver­tise­ments, not the cover price of two-and-a-half pence that made a profit for the news­pa­per.

Ad­ver­tise­ments showed the in­ter­ests of the buy­ing pub­lic: the first col­umn an­nounced com­edy per­for­mances at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and at Covent Gar­den. An­other col­umn of­fered ship­ping ad­ver­tise­ments, and ads for new nov­els fea­tured promi­nently. It an­nounced: “A News-Pa­per... ought to be the Reg­is­ter of the times and faith­ful recorder of ev­ery species of in­tel­li­gence.”

In fact, it was mainly com­mer­cial in­tel­li­gence that oc­cu­pied the news pages, cov­er­ing mat­ters such as bank­ruptcy and im­port du­ties. Court news took up some space and there was an ‘ Ode for the New Year’ by the Poet Lau­re­ate Thomas White­head. There was al­ways a col­umn headed ‘ Poet’s

Cor­ner’ that was of­ten filled with a quotation from a con­tem­po­rary play, cal­cu­lated to please the theatre man­ager and en­cour­age him to take ad­ver­tis­ing space.

Im­proved dis­tri­bu­tion

In Lon­don, news­pa­pers were sold by hawk­ers who cried out the names of their pa­pers on their ‘walk’. They also dis­trib­uted to book­sell­ers and coffee houses.

It was a good time to set up a news­pa­per as a new Con­troller-Gen­eral of the Post Of­fice was im­prov­ing mail coaches. Now they were fast, reg­u­lar and car­ried arms to deal with high­way­men whose at­tacks had been erod­ing prof­its. With this sys­tem, the Post Of­fice un­der­took the bulk of the dis­tri­bu­tion of news­pa­pers out­side Lon­don.

Your an­ces­tors may well have started read­ing daily news­pa­pers at this time. They didn’t have to buy news­pa­pers in or­der to read them: they were passed around be­tween fam­i­lies and col­leagues, and their pages were of­ten used to wrap prod­ucts like cheese and but­ter, so a news­pa­per had a longer life than the sin­gle day of its print­ing, and quite hum­ble peo­ple could see them.

The path of a news­pa­per pub­lisher did not al­ways run smoothly. Wal­ter was im­pris­oned for 16 months in New­gate for a se­ries of li­bels. He later claimed that his im­pris­on­ment had “pro­duced a cor­pu­lence of habit, and I was fre­quently at­tacked by fits of the gout”, which in­di­cates that he could have his own food and drink sent in, re­flect­ing the lux­u­ri­ous con­di­tions in which a wealthy pris­oner might be kept.

Wal­ter’s pi­o­neer­ing ef­forts to ob­tain Con­ti­nen­tal news, es­pe­cially from France dur­ing a time of rev­o­lu­tion and civil war, helped build The Times’ rep­u­ta­tion among pol­icy-mak­ers and fi­nanciers in the early years of its life. Within seven years, it was sell­ing 4,000 copies a day. The Times was rel­a­tively suc­cess­ful for Wal­ter, but it was not un­til it came un­der the lead­er­ship of his son, also called John, in the early 19th cen­tury, that it be­came the best-sell­ing and most in­flu­en­tial news­pa­per in the coun­try.

Th­ese were the days of the gen­tle­man am­a­teurs, work­ing and pub­lish­ing in all ar­eas of sci­ence, though the word ‘sci­en­tist’ wasn’t coined un­til 1833. Th­ese peo­ple, of­ten cler­gy­men or doc­tors, de­scribed them­selves as “nat­u­ral philoso­phers”. One was James Hut­ton, a doc­tor of medicine from Ed­in­burgh, who had put his ex­per­tise as a chemist to prac­ti­cal use by set­ting up a chem­i­cal works to ex­tract valu­able am­mo­nium salts from soot. He turned to look­ing at rock for­ma­tions, re­mark­ing that he had “be­come very fond of study­ing the sur­face of the Earth”. In 1785, he read a pa­per called The­ory of the Earth; or an In­ves­ti­ga­tion of the Laws ob­serv­able in the Com­po­si­tion, Dis­so­lu­tion, and Restora­tion of Land upon the

Globe to the Royal So­ci­ety of Ed­in­burgh He pos­tu­lated that the in­te­rior of the Earth was hot, and was con­stantly (but usu­ally very slowly) push­ing up new rock for­ma­tions, with ge­o­log­i­cal fea­tures form­ing over very long pe­ri­ods of time.

This idea be­came known as Plu­ton­ism from the name of the god of the un­der­world, and su­per­seded a the­ory known as Nep­tunism, from the god of the sea, which be­lieved that all the land masses had been pre­cip­i­tated from the oceans.

Hut­ton was later known as the ‘father of ge­ol­ogy’ and was recog­nised for es­tab­lish­ing the study as an ac­cepted sci­ence.

His work was timely. It was clear that the

THE POST OF­FICE UN­DER­TOOK THE BULK OF DIS­TRI­BU­TION OF NEWS­PA­PERS OUT­SIDE LON­DON

Earth was of impo or­tance to the In­dus­trial Revo­lut tion: the place­ment of cana als, the dis­cov­ery and min ning of coal and iron de­posits meant huge for­tunes re­lied on pre­cise mea­sure­ments. Sci­ence had to sto op be­ing a leisure pur­suit forr cler­gy­men and sta art serv­ing com­merce e.

Hy­dro­gen bal­loon al­loon

The won­der of th he age was the hy­dro­gen ballo oon, with bal­loon­ists com­pet­ing on how w high or how far th­ese amaz­ing devices could go. This year saw the first Chan­nel cross­ing by bal­loon, a flight fr rom Dover, land­ing in the Forêt de Fel­moness, which took two-and-a-haalf hours.

The ad­dven­tur­ers were French­m­man Jean Pierre Blanchard, a proffes­sional bal­looon­ist, and Dr JJohn Jef­fries. Jef­fr­ries was bornn in Bos­ton, Mass­sachusetts, but as a lloyal Bri­ton he had fo­fought against the rebbel colonists in the re­cennt war and would nevver have been known as an ‘Amer­i­can’. Your an­ces­torrs may have heard whis­pers ab­bout the year’s great scan­d­dal, as the prof­li­ga­tee Prince of Wales gott mar­ried. It was not a state oc­ca­sion, as he was mar­ryi­ing a twicewid­owed CCatholic called Mrs Fitzher­bert.

Maria FFitzher­bert was 29 and from a Hamp­shire fam­ily of gen­try. She had en­rap­tured the fu­ture Ge­orge IV, who was six years her ju­nior, but re­fused to have sex with him with­out mar­riage. Thus they wed, at her house in Park Street, May­fair.

As heir to the throne, he was for­bid­den to marry with­out the con­sent of the King and the Privy Coun­cil, who would cer­tainly have re­fused as he was con­sti­tu­tion­ally for­bid­den to marry a Catholic.

As so of­ten hap­pened in his life, the Prince of Wales just did what he wanted and got away with it, and was happy for a while with the woman he called his ‘se­cond self ’.

Some of your an­ces­tors were dis­gusted by the Prince of Wales’ ex­trav­a­gance, debts and selfish­ness. Some had revo­lu­tion­ary sen­ti­ments and con­sid­ered his be­hav­iour a good rea­son to have no monar­chy at all: the Amer­i­can colonists were do­ing it, why couldn’t Bri­tain? How­ever, most peo­ple were glad they had a monar­chy, and viewed the be­hav­iour of its most colour­ful mem­ber with wry amuse­ment.

By 1785, mail coaches on the Lon­don to Ed­in­burgh route were in­creas­ing in speed and reg­u­lar­ity

The pub­lisher John Wal­ters was the founder and first editor of The Times news­pa­per

Jean Pierre Blanchard and John Jef­fries cross the Chan­nel in a hot air bal­loon

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