CUMBRIA'S FIRST NEWSPAPERS
Until the establishment of the Cumberland Pacquet at Whitehaven in 1774, Cumbrians were largely dependent on the Newcastle Courant (founded some six decades earlier) or even the London papers, for the traditional combination of news and county-wide advertising. However, there were exceptions to this sad state, thanks to an enterprising gentleman named Thomas Cotton. On or around Christmas Day, 1731, Thomas published, at his printing works in Kendal, the first issue of the Kendal Weekly Courant- or rather:GLEANINGS FROM THE COLUMNS OF AN OLD WHITEHAVEN NEWSPAPER
"The KENDAL Weekly COURANT. Containing the most Material Advices, Both Foreign and Domestick."
Although issue 1 does not survive, most of the first year's output from issue 2 onward does, and it can be seen on microfilm in the Local Studies Department at Kendal Public Library. Other odd issues survive elsewhere, indicating that the Courant was still being published by the summer of 1736. Like most provincial newspapers of the 18th century, its focus was not local news, but a summary of national and international stories, mostly taken from the numerous London papers (and from "the Written Letter", a survivor of an older form of news distribution, written by hand and posted to an exclusive clientele).
Intriguingly, the early issues started not with the latest major stories, but with readers' letters and poems. Even more intriguingly, the letters rarely had much direct connection to the news, but were more in the spirit of modern "blogs"- the authors presenting their personal thoughts on whatever topics they chose, and sometimes using a reply to a previous correspondent as a springboard for intellectual flights of fancy. Whatever was left of the first page (not usually a great deal, for the paper was smaller than a modern tabloid, with just three columns to a page) was then used for news reports from the London papers, which usually continued, summarising each day's papers in turn, until about the second column of the fourth- and last- page. Then sometimes would follow a few lines of local news, but the most important items on the last page were the advertisements. The most common subjects for the adverts were estate sales, major events such as race meetings, and patent medicines (almost invariably brands for which Mr Cotton had the local distribution rights).
For three years, Thomas had the local market pretty much to himself, but around 8 February 1735 (or rather 1734 by the Old Style official calendar then in use, which had New Year on 25 March) a rival was launched by Mr Thomas Ashburner, titled the Kendal Weekly Mercury. Finally, in the autumn of 1736, Thomas Cotton decided to abandon Kendal to Mr Ashburner (who remained in business until about 1747) and establish a press monopoly in another bustling Cumbrian town- Whitehaven. The first issue of his Whitehaven paper would have been published on 16 December 1736, but no copy is known to survive, and we are only aware of its existence because of the newspaper articles which follow, written over 100 years later [which I have attempted to reproduce exactly as written, in all their smug, long-winded Victorian glory, but identifying actual quotations from the Courant in bold type]:
from the Cumberland Pacquet, 21 Nov 1848:
During the last week a friend of ours in London, having accidentally met with a gem, in the shape of a country newspaper upwards of a hundred years old, kindly transmitted it to us, and, to use that most stereotyped expression of a certain clique of newspaper writers, called penny-a-liners, our surprise may "be better imagined than described," when we ascertained at a glance that it was the copy of a journal published in this very town of Whitehaven, of the existence of which we had never before heard, and of which, equally with ourselves, we doubt not, a large portion of our readers were altogether uninformed. This early specimen of newspaper printing is upon a sheet of paper now technically termed "foolscap," of a rough laid texture peculiar to the existing manufacture of the times. There are four pages, printed in large type squandering a small quantity of matter over a comparatively large space,- indeed the more prominent news, that which is now usually given in newspapers under the head of "Latest Intelligence," of "Postscript," appears in a description of type called "great primer," the use of which is now confined almost exclusively to the composition of handbills. In fact, the whole paper, although produced with every attention to typographical effect, as far as practical knowledge had then extended, does not contain more matter than is usually brought within a single column and a half of the present local organ- the Pacquet. Its contents include as copious extracts as space will permit, from "The Daily Gazetteer," "The London Evening Post," "the London Gazette," and "The St. James's Evening Post," which were, at that period, leading journals in the Metropolis. These extracts consist of news from various parts of the Continent, from Ireland and Scotland, notices of King George's visit to Germany, prices current, chit-chat, political and otherwise, and paragraphs relative to various offences, from murderous assaults down to those of a lower grade in the catalogue of crime. From these different departments of news, sent forth to an eager and admiring public by "Thomas Cotton at his printing House, in James Street, next door but two to the Meeting-House, and near the Market-place in Whitehaven" we purpose making some lengthened extracts, in illustration of the newspaper literature of the remoter period alluded to, and also as affording an unusual amount of recreation to the curious in all such matters.
The title of this Paper, which had succeeded one with a similar cognomen published at Kendal five years previously, is a curiosity of its kind, and would appear more so if we could place before our readers a fac simile of the thing itself. It runs thus:-
THE WHITEHAVEN Weekly Courant, Containing the most Material Advices, Both Foreign and Domestick. Number 6. THURSDAY, January the 20th, 1736. Whitehaven Printed and Sold by Thomas Cotton. Also Sold at Mr. Edward Holmes's Shop in Kendal. At both which places Advertisements are taken in.
[N.B. The above facsimile of the Courant's masthead is not a photographic reproduction, but a reconstruction, using the Cumberland Pacquet's typefaces- the original almost certainly used the same typefaces as can be seen on the microfilm of the Kendal version. Note also that January 1736 would be January 1737 by the modern calendar.]
In alluding to the Continental insurrections and changes of those times, when there was a far more profound abhorrence of peace than of war, such as shewn in the landing of Spanish troops in Tuscany, and the cession of the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily to the King Don Carlos, on his surrendering certain pretensions to Parma, Placentia, and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, also the domestic troubles whichhad interrupted all commercial intercourse with the dominions of the Emperor of Morocco,- these Journalists quaintly commence each paragraph with the words "They write from Leghorn," "They write from Naples," or "They write from Cadiz."
Under this head, there is a curious, matter-of-fact description of an "Accursed Negroe Plot," discovered in Antigua, where a ball in commemoration of the King's birthday was fixed upon by a negro conspirator, named Court, and others, as a fitting opportunity for conveying a quantity of gunpowder into a cellar, and blowing up the house in which the State entertainment was to have occurred. The plot was happily discovered, and the executions of the ringleared and others are thus described, with a total absence of all those flourishes with which so horrible an affair would have been chronicled in these more "enlightened" times:-
"At last about noon Mr. King Court (for so they had actually made him, and bowed the knee to him at a very great feast they had a little before the day they intended to prosecute their accursed Design) was broke on the Wheel, and his Kingly Cap and Canopy was found in some Negroe's possession; Tomboy was broke on the wheel on Thursday, and Hercules on friday; their Bones were broke, and after that their heads cut off, and stuck up on a Pole of some considerable Height. Four more of these honest Gentlemen were burnt, and tomorrow there will be seven more, and so many as they can find leading men in the plot."
In the large handbill-type we have a very important national event chronicled in the plainest possible language, suited to the comprehension of the newspaper readers of that date, when delicate allusions about ladied loving their lords, &c. would have been considered as a very squeamish mode of informing the country that there was not the slightest possibility of a void occurring in the Royal succession:-
"On Thursday it was said that her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales is with Child."
Then again we have a paragraph, which is intended to recall to
_____"business and debate
The disencumbered Atlas of the state."
The assembling of the Legislature is thus most briefly told:-
"The Parliament will meet on Friday next, to sit and do business."
Then follows an announcement, from the tenor of which it appears that if there were no enlarged revolutionary movements then afloat to affright the Isle from its propriety, such as was contemplated by the Whigs in 1832, to carry the second Magna Charta, some minor outbreaks of popular disaffection and resistance to lawful authority, were familiar to the public mind, especially as we approach a land where the Rebeccaite outbraks of a later date are not dissimilar to one described in the subjoined pithy paragraph:-
"Last Thursday Se'nnight about 200 Persons assembled themselves near Ross in Herefordshire, about 80 of them were in Arms and on Horseback, and cut down the Turnpikes, and burnt down the Turnpike House there."
It appears that the lines of a poet of a later age might be strictly applied to the clergy of 1736-
Church ladders are not always mounted best
By learned Clerks, and Latinists profess'd."
And here we have an instance that if some clerical gentlemen did not then, as in more recent times, indulge in "potations pottle deep," narrating, with reverend gusto, the glorious incidents of a day's otter hunting,- there was no lack of disposition to enter into a little "speculation," and open a "book" much after the more modern fashion prevailing at Tattersalls, and on the race course, to wit:-
"The day after Christmas Day, a Clergyman near Goodwood in Sussex, gave 100 Guineas, to receive 10 Guineas per Diem 'till his Majesty should arrive at his Palace at St. James's from Holland." [It appears that the parson was a "cute one," for, as the King did not return till the 15th of the following month (January), there was a clear gain of 100 guineas by this singular wager.]
We have repeated references made to the very protracted visit which George the Second was the paying to his Hanoverian subjects. We are informed that his Majesty "set for Hanover on Saturday the 22nd of May last; and last Tuesday was 5 weeks he set out from Hanover on his return, and hath been detain'd on the Coast of Holland five weeks yesterday." The King, owing to adverse winds, was, it seems, compelled to remain at Helvoetsluys, where we are told by this precise chronicler, "that on New Year's Day his Majesty received the usual Compliments there, upon that Occasion, and afterwards dined in Publick."
Upon this subject, great consternation and serious misgivings appear to have pervaded the minds of many of the Sovereign's English subjects, among whom it is historically true there was no little jealousy at the King's partiality for German associates, manners, and customs. The following is admirable in its way:-
"His Majesty having been so long Wind-bound, People begin to recollect several Instances of Great persons, who have waited at this Time of Year, Four and sometimes Five Weeks, for an East Wind to go on board. Every Body almost remembers, that this happened once to the Duke of Marlborough, and at a Time too, when the Presence of that great General was almost as necessary at London, as his Britannick Majesty's is now: And it cannot be forgot by many now living, that his majesty, K. William III, of glorious Memory, was more than once detain'd for several Weeks in Holland, by contrary Winds and bad weather."
There is also an attempt to invoke the Muses, in commemoration of that instance of elemental strife which had so long delayed His Majesty's voyage homewards; the poetry is slip-shoddish, and the sentiment partaking of a servility peculiar to the times when speaking or writing of anything or any body at all associated with "the Divinity of Kings." This attempt at rhyme is printed in italics, thus:-
"When GEORGE propitious left the German Strand,
Impatient to arrive on British land,
The grateful Sea, with Wonder and Surprise,
Extols her much lov'd Monarch to the Skies;
The Winds, in dreadful Gusts, his Praises sing,
And with united Blust'rings hail their King:
What dastard Soul in such a Storm could fear,
When the great Ruler of the Sea was there?"
There is only one article of news especially applicable to Whitehaven, and that briefly relates to the arrival of shipping at the port, and to as many as thirty vessels laden with coal being detained at this harbour by stress of weather. This sample of intelligence, whilst giving some imperfect idea of the nature and extent of the trade then carrying on at our port, affords a striking contrast to those extended lists of shipping news common to the Journalism of a later date. Here is the intelligence as we find it in one of the twelve short columns which composed the entire limits of our predecessor:-
Arrived, the Neptune Capt. Taylor from Haverfordwest, with a loading of Oates. The Globe Capt. Walker, and the Elizabeth, Capt. Gale, both from Virginia. The Liffy, Capt. Piper, from Dublin, and a Sloop with Groceries &c. from Liverpool.
Remain Windbound, the May Flower, Capt. Tubman, for Virginia, and above 30 Sail of Loaden Colliers, for Dublin, and other parts of Ireland. Wind W.N.W."
It will appear to our readers a singular omission, when we state that we do not find in the Journal before us, any of those interesting local announcements, births, deaths, and marriages.
The Courant, however, after recording the few bankruptcies of the week, one in London and another in Gloucester, gives its readers a statistical account of the Casualties, Diseases, Christenings and Burials, for the current week, in London; from which it appeared that the number of christenings was 325; and burials, 447.
In another column of the Courant, we are thus quaintly informed of a visit which the father of George the Third had paid some time previously to the scene of an extensive conflagration:-
"yesterday the Benchers of the two Temples waited on his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, to return him Thanks for the great service his Royal Highness did by his Presence at the Fire in the Temple."
Amongst the whole contents of this antique specimen of newspaper labour, there is nothing to be found approaching in any respect to that miscellaneous character of intelligence in reference to which a poet, whose lays always charm from their admirable touches of truth and reality, thus sums up his graphic description of "the newspaper" of his, a later, time:-
"The rest appears a wilderness of strange
But gay confusion, roses for the cheeks,
And lilies for the brows of faded age,
Teeth for the toothless, ringlets for the bald,
Heav'n, earth, and ocean, plunder'd of their sweets,
Nectareous essences, Olympian dews,
Sermons, and city feasts, and fav'rite airs,
Æthereal journies, submarine exploits,
And Katerfelto, with his hair an end
At his own wonders, wond'ring for his bread."
We have a small budget of Irish news, in which, as usual, with regard to everything Irish, crime is the distinguishing feature:-
"Roscommon, Dec 18. A Robber, call'd James Lynold, was committed to our Gaol, by Edward Ormsby, Esq. He was about a year since transported, from whence he return'd, and robb'd John Haggin, innkeeper in the County of Mayo, of several Pieces of Plate. The Gaoler first secur'd him by a Neck Yoke and Hand Cuffs, but on his earnest Intreaty, he took them off, and put him into a Dungeon, upwards of 20 Feet deep, where he has not the least Light of any sort."
"Mallow, Dec 26. A Priest of a Parish here, coming to give the Rights of his Church to a dying Woman, one of her Neighbours to whom she ow'd a little money came in, and disturb'd her in her last Moments, upon which the Priest being enrag'd, beat her, and she died two Days after, declaring her Death was owing to his Blows. The Gentleman has for that Reason thought proper to withdraw."
Under the head of Ireland, there is also a paragraph which contains the only approach to the humorous throughout the entire sheet, and it is well worthy of being copied in its entireness, as a record faithfully illustrative of Irish manners and festivities in the days of George the Second. It is subjoin'd:-
"Mullingar, Dec. 28. On Monday a large fine Windmill being finished by the famous Mill-wright Mr. Barrett; the Miller or Owner, one Mr. Fagan, gave a most elegant Entertainment to the Clergy, Gentry, Merchants, and Traders of this Town, and his Mill christen'd the Royal George, at which Mrs. Laurentia Tallon, and old Gentlewoman of this Town, stood Godmother, and by Beat of Drums, Sound of Trumpet, and a Discharge of Small Arms, the following Healths were drank, viz. His Majesty, the Royal Family, Prosperity to Ireland, the Drapier, and the Right Honourable the Earl of Granard Lord of the Manor; afterwards two Boxes of Chests of Lemons and Oranges, with the just Proportion of Spirits, &c. were thrown to the Millstones, the Mill being set going, the same Ingredients were immediately ground down to Punch thro' a Conduit prepar'd which convey'd the Liquor into a Cistern without-side for the use of the Populace, who also drank the aforesaid Healths, with Acclamations of Joy; the whole concluded with the Dusty Miller, admirably well danced by the Miller Fagan and his Wife. It's remarkable, that with a brisk Gale of Wind, the Windmill will grind fifty Barrels in an Hour."
We will conclude our gleanings from the Courant, the latest intelligence in which comes no nearer than within five days of publication, by copying the only Advertisement contained in the columns of our venerable predecessor,- a step which we are prompted to take not less from the peculiar style of the announcement itself, than from the innumerable local associations which the names of individuals therein contained cannot fail to revive in many of their descendants, who are now to be found among the wealthiest and most respected families of Old Cumbria:-
Doctor Daffey's Elixir, the most famous Cordial in the World truly prepar'd in London, and appointed to be Sold by Thomas Cotton at his Printing House in James Street, next-door but two to the Meeting-house, & near the Market place in Whitehaven, where it is sold by Wholesale or Retail, with good allowance for such as sell it again, not taking less than one Dozen at a time, and paying ready money. The good Sale that this Cordial Elixir hath met with, and the many great Cures it hath done in most of the Principal Towns in Great Britain and Ireland, particularly in our Neighbouring Countries, has encouraged some ignorant Quacks to send hither a Spurious Sham Sort into the Country, publishing the same to be truly Genuine.
This may inform the Public that a fresh Parcel of this right Sort of Elixar truely prepared, is lately come to Thos. Cotton's Printing-house aforesaid: besides which Place, it's also sold by Mr. Robinson in the Market-place, Mr. James Winnington in Egermond, Mr. Whitaker in Workington, Mr. James Holme in Cockermouth, Mr. Blackwell in Keswick, Mr. Bigland in Wigton, Mrs. Langcake and Mr. Cooke in Carlisle, Mr. Sam. Towers in Bootle, Mr. Richard Myers in Broughton, Mr. Wm. Strickland in Dalton, Mr. Edward Petty in Ulverston, Mr. Bryan Mackreth in Lancaster, Mr. John Jackson in Kirkby Lonsdale, Mr. Harrison in Ingleton, Mr. Birbeck in Sittle, Alderman Lowry in Kendal, and Mr. Rob. Wharton in Kirkland near Kendal.
This Noble Elixir which exceeds all Medicines yet prepared, has been above 60 Years experienced, and recommended by several eminent Physicians, particularly by Sir Edmund King, Dr. Radcliffe, & many others in most Distempers incident to human bodies.
To prevent being imposed upon carefully mind that the Bottles be sealed with the above Coat of Arms, and not with a Bucks Head or Lyon." [The coat of arms is not illustrated]
Next week, we will copy from the same source, the price of grain, &C., at "Bear-Key," the then Metropolitan Mart for produce of all kinds.
[In practice, the prices from London's Bear Key market did not appear until two weeks later:]
from the Cumberland Pacquet, 5 Dec 1848:
PRICES OF GRAIN, GROCERY GOODS, SPIRITS, &C. IN 1736 AND 1848.
In accordance with our promise of the 21st ultimo, we resume our extracts from the Whitehaven Courant, of January the 20th, 1736, by quoting the subjoined list of prices then realized at "Bear Key," which was at that time the great Metropolitan market for grain and other commodities; and by way of contrast, we append the value of the same articles of produce in these days of progressive enterprise:-
| ||1736|| ||1848|
| || |
|Wheat, Eight Gallons to the Bushel and Eight Bushels to the Quarter ||30 0 to 32 6|| ||55 0 to 64 0|
|Rye||12 0 , , 17 0|| ||00 0 , , 00 0|
|Barley [should first price be 13 0 ?]||18 0 , , 17 6|| ||55 0 , , 64 0|
|Oats||10 0 , , 15 6|| ||19 0 , , 24 0|
|Peas||20 0 , , 32 0||}||40 0 , , 44 0|
|Hog Pease||16 0 , , 17 0|
|Horse Beans [should third price be 38 0 ?]||20 0 , , 21 0|| ||88 0 , , 40 0|
|Pale Malt||20 0 , , 28 0||}||62 0 , , 68 0|
|Brown Malt||16 0 , , 18 0|
|Grocery Wares per cwt. [hundredweight]|| || || |
|Raisins of the Sun, N.||80 0 , , 00 0|| ||60 0 , , 00 0|
|Currants, N.||82 , , 00 0|| ||39 0 , , 00 0|
|Sugar, Jamaica||28 0 , , 30 0|| ||35 0 , , 40 0|
|Fine ditto||35 0 , , 42 0|| ||40 0 , , 42 0|
|Powder Sugar, best||54 0 , , 59 0|| ||50 0 , , 56 0|
|Country Tallow||27 0 , , 00 0|| ||37 0 , , 00 0|
|Town melt Tallow||28 0 , , 00 0|| ||46 0 , , 47 0|
|Irish Tallow||23 0 , , 27 0|| ||46 0 , , 47 0|
|Bees Wax||120 0 , 00 0|| ||140 0 , 00 0|
|Old Hops||80 0 , 100 0|| ||50 0 , , 56 0|
|New ditto||100 0, 130 0|| ||50 0 , , 80 0|
|Bohea Tea, per lb. [pound weight]||10 0 , , 12 0|| || 2 6 , , 00 0|
|Green Tea|| 9 0 , , 12 0|| || 8 0 , , 8 6|
|Coffee|| 5 0 , , 5 3|| ||0 10 , , 1 6|
|French Brandy per gal. [gallon]|| 7 0 , , 0 0|| ||24 0 , , 0 0|
|Jamaica Rum|| 7 0 , , 7 4|| ||11 0 , , 12 0|
|Barbados Rum|| 8 0 , , 8 10|| ||11 0 , , 12 0|
It will be observed that in some of the above commodities the prices at the present day exceed those of 1736 nearly fourfold; whilst on the other hand, in the article of tea, for instance, the rates of 1736 are four times higher than those of 1848. In several other articles there is also a singular disparity in prices.
And that's it; those two articles seem to be the only record of the existence of Whitehaven's first newspaper. Though Thomas Cotton did not die until 1743, the newspaper may have lasted no more than a few weeks.