Dr Nick Foggo, on Friday 11th March 2022

Dr Foggo informed the meeting that Liverpool newspapers digitised by the British Library in support of his project are available without charge on the British Newspaper Archive site. Liverpool has the distinction of having more of its local papers digitised than anywhere else in England outside London. Newspapers have been published in Liverpool for three hundred years, too. In living memory, the Daily Post ceased publication as recently as 2012; the Evening Express was around until the middle of the 20th century. In the past the city had a variety of newspapers: first was the Leverpoole Courant, as long ago as 1712, which filled only two sides of A4 paper, and included extracts from other newspapers. It started when newspapers had become free of regulation. Tax, as opposed to regulation, could be used by government to try to control the newspaper press: the first attempt was the ½d (halfpenny) stamp duty on newspapers in 1712; even adverts in the papers were taxed! By 1756, Robert Williamson had started Williamson’s Liverpool Advertiser, a weekly paper, that appeared on Fridays, with lots of adverts, and not much news: the paper threatened “wit and humour”, but Dr Foggo found little, if any, of this. The next long-lived paper on the scene was Gore’s General Advertiser, published from 1795 until 1876. (Gore would also produce a series of Liverpool Directories, most of which can be seen on microfilm in the Central Library.)  

A very different Liverpool newspaper proprietor was Dr Samuel Solomon, better known as the manufacturer of Balm of Gilead, a quack remedy. He started a newspaper, in 1803, his Mercantile Gazette, the first English provincial daily. The content was broad, “pro rege, lege, grege” (for the King, the law, the people). It dwindled into a twice weekly, but struggled. The Phoenix, a Tory paper, was reputedly government-backed. In 1803 the Liverpool Chronicle, a nonconformist paper, appeared, followed by Egerton Smith’s (1774 – 1841) Liverpool Mercury, which survived, in different forms from 1811 to 1904, supporting the Liberals. It also opposed public executions, an unpleasant feature of early 19th century life. It also had the first chess column in an English newspaper. The quality of Liverpool newspapers steadily improved, their proprietors generally running, as well as owning the papers. The Tory, Thomas Kaye, published a guidebook, The Stranger in Liverpool, from 1807, in addition to his newspaper, the Liverpool Courier, which survived under different names from 1808 to 1929, and could be delivered to the homes or counting houses of the merchant classes.  

In 1855 the stamp on  newspapers was abolished, and newspapers became cheaper. Irish-born Michael J. Whitty (1795-1873) produced one of the very first penny dailies in time to catch many new readers, as mass education was introduced. It continued to appear until 2012. Charles Willmer founded the Northern Daily Times, which was originally 3d, but later reduced to 1d. He also produced a paper for workingmen, The Events, costing just a halfpenny and appearing in the afternoon.

A notable innovation which revolutionised the production of provincial newspapers was the Victory printing press, which could print both sides of the paper simultaneously and fold them automatically, which arrived in 1870. An interesting development has been the inception of Ken Burnley’s Museum of Printing at the Amorini Antiques & Craft Emporium in Birkenhead.

Ethnic groups in the city also had smaller-scale newspapers and magazines, perhaps the most notable of which was the Islamic periodical The Crescent, published in the city from 1893, and edited by Abdullah Quilliam. 

Nick delivered an original and detailed account of an aspect of the city’s social history that deserves a much wider awareness. His talk was enhanced by his thoughtful display of several newspaper titles from Nick’s own collection.

John Cowell, with additional details provided by Dr Nick Foggo 

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