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10. How Readers Used the Local Paper

© 2018 Andrew Hobbs, CC BY 4.0

In 1890, Guildford Workhouse housed

one inmate who has a local paper sent him, but (wicked man!) he keeps it to himself, reads it all through, and keeps it under his bed. He calls it his only remaining comfort. The matron thinks it should be lent round and then used for waste paper. He says NO!1

What is comforting about a local newspaper? Perhaps it was full of familiar names and familiar places, and enabled this man to imagine that once again he was part of a community. Although, if indeed it made him part of an imagined community, with a shared local identity, he nevertheless insisted on using the paper privately (‘wicked man!’). The local paper also enabled individual pleasures to be shared communally. In Fig. 10.1, members of the mythical Slocum Football Club shout ‘We’re in!’ as they read about themselves in the Sheffield sporting newspaper, the Green ‘Un. They are triumphant that their achievements on the pitch have been validated before the entire imagined community of Green ‘Un readers. Not only had the new team played its match, this public event had now been validated, elevated, by being recorded in the local paper.

But the local paper was more than a record; as David Paul Nord writes, it offered not only facts, but also a forum, the facilities for a local public sphere, where citizens could debate public matters.2 In the same way that only a local publication could sustain the workhouse inmate’s local identity, only the local paper had the space, and the market demand, to host discussions of local issues. The content was local, as in the continued debates of the 1870s and 1880s over whether to spend ratepayers’ money on improving Preston’s port on the River Ribble; but the form of the debate was also a unique product of its place. Readers wove the Ribble into similes to strengthen the rhetoric of their letters to the editor, or resorted to Lancashire dialect in an appeal to the local patriotism of other readers.

Fig. 10.1. ‘“We’re in! [A ‘Green Un’ is bought by special subscription] A banquet follows.’ Cartoon from Football and Sports Special [The ‘Green ‘Un’], Sheffield, 21 September 1907, British Library NEWS979. © The British Library Board,
all rights reserved

Earlier chapters have established that the local press was popular. This chapter explains why — by examining how readers used it, publicly to circulate the information necessary for Victorian society to function, and privately to sustain local identities. Many of the uses were unique to these types of publication. The local newspaper was still merely raw material when it came off the press. Readers completed the manufacturing process, as they brought local newspapers to life through the many uses to which they put them.3

We are all familiar with the idea that reading books changes lives, but Jonathan Rose gives only one example of a newspaper having the same impact, in his survey of autodidactic reading habits. The future Labour Party leader J. R. Clynes recalled how ‘some of the articles I read from the local Oldham papers of the time must have been pretty poor stuff I suppose, but they went to my head like wine […]’4 The rarity of newspaper epiphanies points to an important contrast with book-reading, due to newspapers’ serial nature: newspaper reading tends to be a continuous process, while reading a book in volume form is experienced more as a discrete event.

The local press was an important part of public and private life in this period. However, the scarcity of evidence for how readers used the local press might raise doubts about its significance. It is hard to argue from an absence, but this study, following Lucy Brown, has demonstrated that the local press was like furniture, or a roof over one’s head, part of the basic infrastructure of life. The lack of historical evidence for the appreciation of chairs or roofs does not mean that they were not significant in people’s lives. The provincial press was ‘embedded in the social fabric of [readers’] everyday lives’, integrated through networks, ‘habits (more or less unreflective routines) and interests (more conscious or rationalised calculations)’. Local papers mediated ‘between the system-world and the life-world’.5 Preston newspaper reporter and editor Anthony Hewitson could not have done his job without reading scores of local papers from near and far every week, yet his diary mentions only high-status books he read for relaxation on Sundays. Like the Burton Daily Mail in the background of Fig. 8.1, the local press formed the background to many aspects of readers’ lives. The quantitative evidence of Chapter 6 — numbers of titles, copies sold, and copies taken in reading rooms — demonstrated that local papers were a significant part of each place’s reading world. Most individual readers did not think that reading the local paper was important or unusual enough to be worth recording, but evidence does exist, in oral history material, autobiographies, diaries and company histories. One of the most important types of evidence for readers’ uses of the local press comes from correspondence columns within the papers themselves, although these can be problematic.

Readers’ Letters as Evidence

Historically, newspapers developed from manuscript and printed newsletters, so that letters from readers to the editor could be seen as the vestigial core of the newspaper as a form.6 These origins are more visible in certain types of overtly reader-led periodical such as Notes and Queries, consisting entirely of questions posed and answered by readers; or the English Mechanic, also mostly written by its readers.7 Even in the second half of the nineteenth century, local newspaper genres that we might expect to be produced by professional journalists were submitted as correspondence: a letter from Leicester political activist William Biggs to the Leicestershire Mercury in 1850 appeared as a leading article, as did some of the young W. T. Stead’s letters to the Northern Echo in 1870.8

On the one hand, a lively correspondence column was considered essential to a newspaper; on the other, publishers, journalists and readers understood that some letters were not genuine.9 They might be the Victorian equivalent of online ‘sockpuppeting’, written by a journalist to stimulate genuine correspondence;10 or for rhetorical effect where an opinion would gain more support if it was seen to come from the public rather than the press, as when Edward Baines began the campaign for a literary and philosophical society in Leeds with a pseudonymous letter in the newspaper he owned and edited, the Leeds Mercury, in 1818.11 But evidence from journalists, readers and commentators suggests that most letters were genuinely from readers, with only a minority written by journalists or other local ‘insiders’, and passed off as readers’ efforts. The difficulty is knowing which ones. Even made-up letters need to tap into something genuine to be convincing, but nonetheless it is unsafe to put much weight on any individual letter. Using letters in aggregate, quantitatively, can overcome this problem, although the number of letters rose and fell, depending on the news agenda and the amount of space available (itself partly dictated by the week’s news — war news often squeezed out correspondence, for example). But taken together, readers’ letters point in the same direction as evidence from outside the newspaper such as readers’ diaries, correspondence, oral history interviews and lists of periodicals provided by free libraries.

We may accept that most letters were genuinely from readers, but who were those readers who wrote, who used a local newspaper in a public way, leaving historical traces? They probably had more in common with the publishers and journalists than with the readership as a whole, so we should be careful not to generalise too much from their evidence. Letter-writers were representative of what Stanley Fish called ‘interpretive communities’ from which each local paper sprang, rather than the wider readership, yet their output was read avidly by less active readers. At mid-century only public figures signed letters with their real name; everyone else used pseudonyms. This practice declined rapidly, from fifty-nine per cent of letters signed pseudonymously in 1860 to only ten per cent in 1900, in the Preston Herald at least (mirroring a similar trend from anonymous to signed periodical articles). However, both pseudonyms and genuine signatures tell the same story, of the local newspaper correspondence column as an overwhelmingly male, bourgeois public sphere. Indeed it is quite possible that the lifting of the cloak of anonymity reduced the opportunities for women and working-class letter-writers, who had previously been judged on the merits of their letters rather than their class or gender.

In nineteenth-century Preston, readers used the local paper correspondence column in many different ways, as an interactive reference source, as a noticeboard, a stimulus to action, a visitors’ book, a substitute for the duel in defending reputations, as a permanent record, and most of all, as a debating forum, an essential tool in the creation of a public sphere in the late nineteenth century. They may have been a minority, but their contributions were one of the most popular parts of the paper. One self-deprecating letter-writer claimed ‘that proud prerogative of the Englishman […] to thrust his grievances into the columns of newspapers’, and grievance was indeed the default register, typically complaints about local government, or public nuisances.12 Others sought fellow feeling and community (imagined and real), such as John Hagan, incensed at the injustice of poor tenants having to pay their own rates: ‘Last Saturday morning, as soon as I could get a Preston Guardian to buy I did so. I thought to find your columns devoted to letters of correspondence filled up with indignation […]’13 But some had a lower opinion of readers’ letters, with one writer dismissing ‘those foolish persons who wish to see their names in print, by writing long letters to the papers’. This was a short letter, of course.14

The popularity of readers’ correspondence was due in large part to its local focus. It concerned matters close to the hearts of most readers, with local topics accounting for the majority of letters in the Preston Herald in all but one of the sampled years.15 The only exception in the Preston papers was 1870, when the Franco-Prussian War dominated the correspondence columns. Local identity was a common topic in readers’ letters, explicitly and implicitly.16 Correspondents debated the state of the town, compared it to other places, looked back on its history and tried to characterise it. Writers occasionally used local metaphors, for example arguing that one could ‘as well try to stop the flow of the Ribble as to stop the advance of public opinion’ or that ‘a Protestant might as well attempt to fly up to the pinnacle of the Town Hall spire as attempt to get work at [a hypothetical Catholic-owned] mill […]’17

Read all About Us:
The Appeal of Local News and Views

The local press was successful because it fulfilled the desires of readers to read about themselves, and about others who lived their lives in the same place as them. In 1890, a Staffordshire letter-writer described how ‘one opens one’s Leek Times on a Friday night, to see what one’s neighbours are doing […]’18 In one home in Barrow, the North Western Evening Mail was taken every night ‘to see who was dead and born’. A Lancaster interviewee, referring to the early twentieth century, stated the rarely-spoken obvious when he said: ‘the only literature that ever came into the house was the Lancashire Daily Post which we used to read for the local news.’19 In 1820, the preface to a bound volume of the Lonsdale Magazine, or Provincial Repository for the Year 1820 declared:

we build our hopes of obtaining the support and patronage of our neighbours (and we solicit no higher honour) upon this simple excellence, that ours is a PROVINCIAL work. The subjects are consequently within the sphere of the reader’s acquaintance — the allusions are familiar to his mind — the contributors are his neighbours — and the scene is his home. These are properties, and valuable ones, which no other Magazine can boast of.20

This reason for reading local newspapers, not available to metropolitan or national publications, has been underplayed in press history and the history of reading, in which betting news and romantic fiction have been highlighted as more significant motivations for new working-class readers to develop and maintain their literacy skills.21 For example, the compiler of an anonymous 1890s scrapbook of cuttings from the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle appears to have treasured the localness of this weekly news miscellany; most of the scrapbook is filled with images of beauty spots near Newcastle, and columns of ‘local anecdotes’, full of amusing stories about local characters.22

The ability of local media to report on people and places known to its audience has continued. In the mid-twentieth century, readers of small weekly community papers in Chicago evinced the same desire to know and be known through the local press, seeing these papers as an extension of their own social networks. One Chicago interviewee liked the paper because there were ‘so many people you see in it that you know’, while another said: ‘I like to read about the people I know.’23 Janowitz describes this pleasure at seeing one’s community captured in print as the democratisation of prestige.24 In late twentieth-century Lancaster and twenty-first-century Australia, people read in order to take part in their local community, with the local paper a key text, and this seems equally true for nineteenth-century Preston.25

It was one thing to read about people you knew in the local paper, but to read about oneself was even better.26 There are numerous examples, from this period and others, of readers’ pride in becoming part of the text they revered. W. E. Adams, a compositor who went on to edit the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, had his first letter published in the Cheltenham Free Press in 1851, defending the right of asylum of Polish and Hungarian fighters against Russia: ‘The printing of that letter produced an exaltation that no similar honour has ever produced since,’ he wrote at the end of a successful career.27 Most of the 300 or so wedding guests listed (with details of the presents they gave) in a 2-column report of the marriage of Arthur Mossop and Mary Catt in Lindfield, Sussex in 1892 probably bought a copy of the Sussex Agricultural Express to read what they already knew, that they had been there.28 Fred Ching sold the Dursley Gazette on Dursley station on Saturday mornings in 1918, where the ‘workmen who played for the local football teams […] would come rushing up to buy a Gazette, to see their names and the teams listed for the weekend matches.’29 Likewise, a company history of the Eastern Football News (the Pink ‘Un’, established 1913) remarks: ‘Isn’t it strange how the Norwich City match reports are always most eagerly devoured by people who were actually at the game?’30 These representations of local people and local places, the recording of names and deeds, did more than confirm that they existed or had happened, they made them glow with significance. Once again, Carey’s insight applies: for such readers, ‘nothing new is learned but […] a particular view of the world is portrayed and confirmed’.31 The local paper enabled a worldview in which any reader, even a child, was granted cultural citizenship, as part of a cultural democracy.

Frederick Milton believes that hundreds of thousands of children were motivated by the desire to have their lives affirmed by the prestige of local print, when they joined the national network of wildlife protection clubs set up by local newspapers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. ‘The overriding impression from this mass of correspondence is the sheer pleasure they took in simply seeing their names in print in a newspaper that was likely to be read by their parents, relatives, neighbours and, possibly, their peers.’ ‘It is my greatest desire to see my name in print,’ Annie Trousdale wrote to the Northern Weekly Gazette in 1911.32 A similar club in Preston, the Preston Guardian Animals’ Friend Society, had a membership of more than 8,000 children, each of whom had the pleasure of seeing their name included in the lists of new members published every week.

Adult readers also believed that the local paper conferred status on its subjects. One reader of the York Herald, on seeing his verses published in 1827, wrote: ‘I cannot describe the sensation I felt. It was the pride of a conqueror. That, I thought, is celebrity.’33 John Rushton, a coalminer from Walkden near Bolton, gave a paper at a mutual improvement class in 1868, on gas in coal mines, and ‘had preserved — and quoted in full — the short report which the Farnworth Weekly Observer published of that meeting.’34 The memoirs of many nineteenth-century journalists describe the same pride at first seeing their name in the local paper.35 Entering competitions was another way to get into print — with the chance of a prize, too, and this channel of reader involvement was as popular in the local press as in metropolitan publications. Children entered a competition to select extracts for reading in the Preston Herald in 1890, while women competed in a prize draw for ladies’ gloves in the same paper in 1900. Readers responded enthusiastically to competitions promoting local identity in the Preston Monthly Circular in 1896, in which they nominated their favourite local people, places or objects, and they sent their photographic work to the Empire Journal in 1897. Even the Vicar of Wrightington, who favoured London papers over the local press, was eager to see the reports of his parish and its events in local and regional papers, and for his Preston friend to read them too. ‘Please look in your Manchester Courier beginning with yesterday’s under the heading of local Gleanings — Lancashire and Cheshire — for something about Heskin School’, he wrote in 1877.36

Private scrapbooks often included cuttings from the local press, suggesting that readers prized reports of themselves and their families, further testament to the status conferred by publicity in the local paper. The scrapbook of J. J. Myres, a Preston solicitor and alderman, includes his electoral addresses and reports of his and his family’s activities and achievements, all from the local press.37 The scrapbook pictured in Figure 4.7 was used to save cuttings from Northampton and Norfolk newspapers from the 1860s to the 1890s, about the achievements, lives and deaths of members of the inter-related Jeffery, Hawes and Ratcliffe families, including school prizes, amateur dramatic performances and obituaries.38 Here was evidence of involvement in local life, sanctioned and recorded by local newspapers, and preserved by readers because of its importance to them. The status of the local press meant that the promise of appearing in print was sometimes used as an incentive, as when ‘a lady’ was encouraged to attend a meeting in defence of the Irish Church in 1868, with the promise that ‘arrangements had been made for the accommodation of ladies […] all of whose names it had been arranged to publish in a certain Church paper [probably the Preston Herald], whose reporter was sure to be in attendance.’39

This is a supercharged version of Benedict Anderson’s ‘imagined community’, the idea that the very act of privately reading a newspaper encourages each reader to imagine the thousands of others who are performing the same act or ‘ceremony’ — thereby connecting them, in their imagination, to other readers.40 ‘I should say nearly every home took the [Lancashire Evening] Post’, one interviewee said of Preston in the early decades of the twentieth century.41 Whether they did or not, this reader imagined that they did. But when local newspaper readers saw their own names in print, two further dimensions were added to the reading experience: both the readers and the place of reading were known and loved by each reader.

The Public Sphere and Other Uses of the Local Press

In the second half of the nineteenth century, long after Habermas and other scholars believe that the public sphere had been corrupted by commercialisation, reasoned argument was thriving in the correspondence columns of the local press in England (although there may have been a splintering into smaller local public spheres at the end of the century).42 This was one of the most significant ways in which readers used their local newspapers — to discuss matters of local, national and international import, but particularly the local. The provincial press provided a forum for debate and for the art of controversy, an art often practised by skilled and self-aware rhetoricians. These debates could move back and forth between the page, the platform and the street, revealing the integration of oral and print cultures. Readers sometimes created national networks through their local correspondence.

Readers used correspondence columns to talk to each other, rather than to the paper or its editor. This can be seen when readers’ letters are analysed according to their orientation — whether they were responding to leader columns, news articles, or other readers’ letters (Table 10.1 below).43 It is rare to find a letter beginning ‘Thanks for your leader […]’ so that ‘letters from readers’ would be a more accurate description than ‘letters to the editor’.44 Readers were much more likely to make announcements, complain, take issue with the reported comments of a public figure, or to respond to other readers, for example arguing over rival conceptions of local identity, as in the political dialect letters in Chapter 8.45 Some proactive letters (setting their own agenda, rather than responding to someone else’s) stood alone, generating no response, while others initiated long-running debates. (The proactive category is probably overstated, as it includes responses to public meetings, sermons, placards and rumours, and no doubt responses to news articles and leaders to which allusions have been missed.)

Table 10.1. Orientation of readers’ letters, Preston Herald 1860–1900.46

Proactive (setting own agenda)


Response to news report, same publication


Response to letter, same publication


Response to news report, other publication


Response to letter, other publication


Response to leader column


Response to advert




Editorial concerns, reflected in leader columns or the proportion of Preston news, were not reflected in readers’ letters, suggesting that readers brought their own frames of reference to the newspaper, rather than any mechanistic following of the newspaper’s worldview. Lack of response to leader columns also calls into question their use by historians as an index of public opinion (although there were other types of response to the editorial view, as will become apparent).47 As we saw in Chapter 7, readers were more negative than public figures quoted in news reports, and much more negative than editorial comment in the newspapers themselves (see Table 7.3). This only partly explains the mismatch between the point of view of readers and the publications they read — they also preferred to engage more with other readers, or follow their own agendas. Similarly, the proportion of readers’ letters about Preston in the Preston Herald bore little relation to the proportion of Preston news in the paper, as Fig. 10.2 shows.

Fig. 10.2. Letters about Preston and proportion of Preston content, Preston Herald 1860–1900. Author’s graph, CC BY 4.0.

The anonymity of the letters helped to achieve one of the conditions of a public sphere, or deliberative democracy, that participants meet as equals (although badly written letters were less likely to be published, because of the extra editing time required, if for no other reason).48 Pseudonymous correspondence was like a masked ball, at which readers did not know who they were dancing with — although they knew who the host was, and therefore the sort of guest who might attend. As Barker argues, pseudonyms were used ‘to suggest that an individual was speaking not for him or herself, but as the representative of a wider social group, or even of the public as a whole.’49

Controversy and the art of rhetoric were central to this public sphere, as they were to the nineteenth-century press as a whole.50 The Preston Herald boasted that it ‘advocates the principles of the Constitution in a vigorous and argumentative manner’.51 Rather than something to be avoided, disputation was pursued and embraced, and was seen as a high-minded exercise in establishing and defending the truth, involving courage and skilful technique, akin to a martial art. It was important to know one’s enemy, and to use the right methods. Catholic letter-writers who had defeated the Anglican controversialist Richard Littledale were commended to other Catholics for using

the simple tactic of going straight at him, like a fox-terrier at a rat, utterly neglecting all the side issues which he raised up, and forcing him to keep to the point first raised, until he either owned himself in the wrong, or took refuge in sullen silence […]52

This analysis was published in a Preston publication that claimed a small national circulation in the early 1890s, and was devoted to equipping and encouraging Roman Catholics to use the public sphere of the correspondence column — chiefly in the provincial press — to defend and promote their faith. It provides further evidence of the importance of the provincial newspaper letters column as a public sphere. The publication in question, the Antidote, began as a column in the Catholic News, a weekly paper published from Preston for a regional readership; the column was also issued separately as an independent inquarto (roughly A4-size) publication from 1890 to 1892, and operated as a Victorian Catholic ‘rapid rebuttal’ service, similar to those established by Bill Clinton’s Democratic party and Tony Blair’s New Labour in the late twentieth century.53 Every week it carried this appeal on its front page:

It would be doing a great service to the cause of Catholic Truth if our friends up and down through the country would send us — immediately they come across it — any slander upon the Catholic religion published either in the Press or from the platform. A prompt refutation will be given in these columns, and the evil can be met by circulating THE ANTIDOTE freely on the spot where the slander arose.54

This publication sustained a ‘counterpublic’, to use Nancy Fraser’s phrase, a community who used print to resist dominant narratives, in this case anti-Catholicism.55

The cultural capital of rhetorical skills and supporting facts was needed to take part in the public sphere of the correspondence column, according to a book reviewer in the Antidote:

anyone who can write correct English and condense his ideas, armed with this little book, need not fear to do battle in the public Press with any of the champions of Church Defence. There is not one whose sophistries, shallowness and unhistorical fables cannot be refuted […] by the treasures of facts crowded together in these pages, and wisely woven together in a letter to a newspaper.56

Controversy was also pleasurable, as evinced by one letter-writer who was attempting to initiate a debate about the financial problems of local co-operative societies:

I think a good newspaper discussion might help them. I did get two on in one paper some time ago, but I cannot draw them out now. I have just had a discussion in a Chorley paper with two co-operative persons […] I intend to keep the subject sore and open.57

The Manchester poet Edwin Waugh records in his diary that, after a pub discussion on the existence of God, ‘Wm Mallalieu, an intelligent and hearty man about forty-five years of age, owner of the Jacky Lane Brown Woollen Mill, challenged me to a correspondence on the subject. I accepted it, and agreed to write first.’58 This was probably published in a Manchester paper.

A letter from ‘Fakradeen’, a pseudonym taken from Disraeli’s novel Tancred, reveals sporting pleasure, an appreciation of rhetoric and promiscuous reading habits ranging between rival local titles:

I have ascertained that my good friend “Saxon” has, in another quarter, undertaken to demolish the Rev. J. Taylor on the very points that “Deplorer” defends him. I intend, therefore, to let “Deplorer” off this week, as I intend next week to throw all my strength and energy in an endeavour to help W. Singleton to smash “Deplorer’s” twin-brother “Explainer,” if that gentleman “shifts” himself into the Chronicle again on Saturday […] meantime, I would advise “Deplorer” to read “Saxon’s” ebullition, against the Turkish part of the Rev. J. Taylor’s sermon. As a matter of reasoning, it is a species of small thunder. It is really.’59

As with any well-matched contest, there was mutual respect between combatants, and an ‘agreed behavioural code to which even bickering groups within communities can subscribe’, as in a tribute to a Southport paper from the Dean of Liverpool, who recalled ‘good scrapping with the Visiter and that in itself is one of the best compliments I know […]’60 Editors also subscribed to this view, with a journalism handbook from 1894 advising that

wordy strife may provide a means of escape for bitterness, malice, and uncharitableness […] enabling […] a visible and immediate growth of the spirit of toleration and of sweet reasonableness.61

Controversies between public figures were treated respectfully, as when a Catholic and a Protestant clergyman took part in an eleven-month debate on Papal jurisdiction in the Manchester Courier in 1889–90 and ‘the editor, with much courtesy, placed a column at the disposal of each of the disputants, and carefully shut out all intervention of others than themselves.’62 Debates at such length were not uncommon. These exchanges were sometimes considered valuable enough to be re-published as pamphlets.63 Not everyone admired such disputes, however. A Barrow clergyman wrote that, ‘of all religious controversies, so called, those carried on [in] a newspaper are the least profitable.’64

Active readers who wrote regularly to the Preston papers formed a small community, with regular signatures continuing to appear over the years, such as ‘Saxon’, ‘Fakradeen’ and some writers who gave their names, such as E. Foster and Albert Simpson. No doubt other readers tired of their constant appearances in the correspondence columns, but there is evidence from the twenty-first century that many readers grow fond of such characters, and that they are missed when they go.65

The public sphere created by readers’ letters, and other newspaper content, provoked oral debate, too. We saw in Chapter 2 that newspaper-reading was associated with discussion, in pubs and in news rooms. Edward Ambler told the Preston Liberal candidate George Melly that Ambler’s anonymous letters promoting Melly’s cause were being talked about.66 Letters sometimes went beyond ‘wordy strife’ and broke out of the rule-bound safety of rational discussion. In 1860 a letter published in the Blackburn Times, criticising the Darwen shoemakers’ union, led to the picketing of a cobbler’s shop after he was heard to agree with the letter, and the same letter was then the subject of a public meeting.67 Violent opposition to the stance of a local paper can be interpreted as readers defining their identities in opposition to the views of particular publications, as when a Church and King mob let off a cannon near the offices of the Preston Review in 1793, and Chartists fired a pistol at the Preston Pilot offices in the 1840s.68 (These were, of course, also attempts to intimidate and silence those papers.) In 1893 striking dockers in Hull burnt copies of two local evening papers (whilst a band played the ‘Dead March’ from Saul), as a sign of their displeasure at the reporting of their dispute.69 Crowds who burnt piles of newspapers and editors’ effigies, and individuals who physically assaulted editors such as Hewitson, obviously cared about what the local press wrote.70 In 1844 the Hull Advertiser claimed that one old Holderness farmer was so attached to the paper that he shed tears when it declared itself against the Corn Laws.71 Readers and non-readers alike cared deeply about what was written in the local press. These violently non-textual reactions to editorial opinion suggest that the correspondence columns under-represented the wider readership’s response to leading articles.

We saw in Chapter 4 that the provincial press functioned as a national system and as a national network, thanks largely to the efforts of publishers and journalists. However, readers were also involved in knitting publications into national networks, by using one paper to reply to a letter or editorial comment in a rival paper (particularly at the start of the period). They also did this on a national and even international scale. Their responses to the content of one paper, when published in another, wove the publications and their readers into a larger public sphere. At the local level, for example, ‘An Old Political Pioneer’ wrote a letter to the Preston Chronicle, encouraging Catholics to vote Liberal in the November 1868 general election. A rhetorical question in his letter was quoted out of context by a Conservative councillor at a public meeting and then printed on placards posted around the town. The original correspondent then replied to his Tory opponents, from the safety of the Liberal Chronicle’s correspondence column.72 The same process of dialogue and controversy across a number of publications also linked distant papers, as when ‘Latris’ wrote a letter from Preston to the South Bucks Standard, nearly 200 miles away:

A friendly controversy has been going on between the editor of the Wycombe Leaflet and myself, writing in the CATHOLIC NEWS, a Preston paper, and I understand that it has been followed with interest by several of your readers. May I ask the favour of insertion of this short letter, in reply to what appears in the current number of the Leaflet?73

This letter was then republished in the Catholic News and the Antidote, thus connecting four publications hundreds of miles apart through one correspondence. Such long-distance exchanges were not unusual, and if drawn on a map, they show how these active reader-correspondents created a national network of local papers, by circulating, recirculating and responding to texts from these publications. ‘Such correspondence provides the clearest indication that the reading of newspapers was a creative process that could add to or alter intended meanings and in turn produce a vast amount of new, unsolicited writing.’74 This public sphere encompassed other forms of print, including pamphlets, placards, books and magazines, and also the platform and the pulpit. In 1870 ‘Fakradeen’, a regular correspondent to the Preston Herald, wrote a letter mocking the ‘mad teetotal preachers in the Orchard on Sunday night’ (Chadwick’s Orchard was a public meeting place in the centre of Preston). The following week ‘Fakradeen’ returned to the Orchard and saw one of the preachers

with the Herald in his hand, and I tell you, Mr Editor, he did give your paper a character and no mistake, simply because you had allowed a poor simple correspondent like me to have my say on a few matters […]75

These active readers had a clear understanding of the networked nature of the press. In 1851 a Preston Catholic bookseller described how ‘newspaper transcribed from newspaper’ to publish slanders against the Catholic church.76 In 1891 The Antidote asked readers ‘to have an eye on [Anglican] parish magazines’ after one had repeated the supposed Catholic ‘curse’ from Tristram Shandy: ‘This paragraph will probably be repeated right and left, and be spread through hundreds of towns and villages in England.’77 In 1890 The Antidote warned readers about a false reference to Aquinas first used by Charles Hastings Collette, the ‘no-Popery lecturer’, in a controversy in the Midlands Counties Express in 1867–68. Such detailed reference to correspondence from more than twenty years earlier suggests some kind of cuttings archive, perhaps an indexed scrapbook or the use of a press cuttings agency.78 Active reader-correspondents were numerous enough to have publications such as the Antidote dedicated to them; likewise, ‘the editors of Temperance periodicals despised the passive reader: they wanted readers who would […] scrutinise hostile papers for heresies requiring exposure […]’79 Such readers may have been cranks, but they were legion.

The local press was particularly important to these readers in allowing them to express and defend their religious, moral and political identities and views. Of the eighty-six publications dealt with in the first volume of the Catholic rapid response journal the Antidote, the most common type was the local press, with thirty-one mentions.80 Local papers, particularly Conservative ones, were routinely anti-Catholic, but no more than other types of publication.81 The next most common category, London non-denominational papers and reviews, received twenty mentions. When the local press was cited, it was the correspondence columns that provoked response, while for London papers and Anglican publications, it was the editorial content, typically articles or answers to correspondents. This shows the importance of the provincial letters column to this public sphere (albeit a far-from-inclusive public sphere). Local papers may have been at the heart of such public debate because it was easier to have one’s views published there (a strength, not a weakness), but also because the local press was more pervasive.

However, this reasoned argument no longer took place in a unified public sphere in Preston’s press at the end of the century. Instead, there was a growing divergence between papers in the topics addressed in letters. Earlier in the period, in September and October 1860, 72 per cent of letters in the Liberal Preston Guardian and the Conservative Preston Herald were on the same topics (62 out of a total of 86). But by the last decade of the century, this common ground had reduced from 72 per cent to 29 per cent (58 out of 198 letters), in a comparison of letters published in the Herald and the Liberal Lancashire Evening Post for the same months of 1890 and 1900. The same story is told in a decline in the number of readers’ letters responding to either news or correspondence in other papers. In September and October 1860, the Preston Herald published 9 responses to material in other papers, and in 1868, the Preston Chronicle and Preston Guardian each published 10 letters in response to other papers. But by 1900, the Herald published only 1 such letter in the same 2 months, and the Evening Post only 3. At the end of the period, there were 2 distinct readerships, members of politically differing interpretive communities, who probably bought a copy of their favourite paper, rather than reading it in a news room alongside rival titles.

Other Uses

The local press was woven into the expanding public life of towns such as Preston in many other ways besides the public sphere, lubricating local life with information. The local press served as a noticeboard on which information could be posted, for example to attract support for new initiatives such as a free library, public readings or the campaign against steaming in weaving sheds.82 This sharing of information led to action, as with some of the complaints made in readers’ letters. In Preston, a reader thanked the tram company for following his suggestions for a more efficient service, and in Barrow, the council’s surveyor returned a ‘fine, fat goose’ sent by a builder after the gift was revealed in a reader’s letter.83 Sometimes this noticeboard function was exploited by visitors to the area, such as the letter from ‘A Fortunate Visitor at Poulton-le-Fylde’ keen to record his favourable impressions of the town, using the newspaper like a visitors’ book.84

Readers in business needed the local press, alongside regional and metropolitan publications, for commercial information, and, logistically, publications from elsewhere were unable to compete in offering such detailed and up-to-date information as could be found in the ‘market editions’ of the Preston papers, which listed that day’s prices at Preston’s markets within hours of the farmers’ carts trundling into town.85 In Kent, William Hickson told the 1851 Newspaper Stamp Committee that only the local press could provide some types of commercial information: ‘I am sometimes a buyer of stock, and I want to know what the price of heifers and horses is, and what the price of corn is especially, not at Mark-lane [in London] as the “Times” gives it, but at Maidstone Market.’86 The members of Preston’s Exchange and News Room ordered later editions of the three Preston papers and the Manchester Guardian, presumably for these purposes, as well as receiving market prices and other information from across the country by telegraph.87

Earlier, in the mid-1830s, the Manchester Guardian increased its sale when it focused on local news, according to an unpublished analysis by Alfred Wadsworth, editor of the paper between 1944 and 1956.88 Wadsworth compared weekly sales figures with content, to analyse what attracted new readers to the paper, and identified a pattern of ‘intensely local interests. The Guardian was still very much a local Manchester paper and clearly its readers liked it that way. The paper’s reporting of local events seems to have had a direct relation to its circulation’.89 Readers seemed to like national politics with local impact, such as the Manchester Improvement Bill, news affecting local businesses, such as the Budget, local railway ventures, and local bankruptcies, and court reports and meetings of local government bodies. ‘Local government was a topic of great interest, sales always increasing when the Guardian contained a report of an important meeting of the Police Commissioners […]’90 In Shrewsbury in the 1860s, Henry Lucy claimed that readers preferred leader columns about ‘the new sewage system and the proposed Market Hall’ rather than the American Civil War, ‘and when they found these matters discussed in the columns of the Observer […] they rushed to buy the paper. Its sale went up in inspiriting fashion […].’91

The local press was used for political manoeuvring, as seen in the letters from the Liberal ‘wire-puller’ Edward Ambler in support of Parliamentary candidate George Melly.92 Reputations, personal and civic, were defended publicly, such as the letter claiming that Preston, rather than Garstang or Lancaster, had the oldest charter in Lancashire; or the plea from the curate of Leyland to his accuser over allegations of rabble-rousing at an election meeting:

I respectfully request you, as a gentleman, to give to another gentleman all the satisfaction in your power by making me an apology for the serious charges contained in your letter published in the Preston Guardian and Preston Chronicle of Saturday last.93

The role of the local press, in aggregate, as a major publisher of a wide range of literary genres enabled it to offer opportunities of self-expression to many readers (see Chapters 4 and 5). Amateur poets, novelists, historians, naturalists, archaeologists, travel writers, literary critics and journalists all contributed significant amounts of material that rivalled if not outweighed the output of book publishers. These readers who wrote formed interpretive communities around each newspaper and their large numbers cast further doubt on any decline of a public sphere in the nineteenth century.

Less active readers sometimes relied on the local press to put into words thoughts and feelings that they could not express themselves. Rev W. D. Thompson, vicar of St Saviour’s in Preston, quoted from Hewitson’s Preston Chronicle series ‘Our Churches And Chapels’ (later republished in book form) when recounting the history of his church’s schoolroom.94 In Lancashire’s northern Furness peninsula, an editor’s catchphrase became part of the local vocabulary. J. A. Bernard, editor of the Ulverston Mirror, often ended his leaders in condemnation of the police with the phrase, ‘Who rules in Furness?’ When a police superintendent was told to move out of a private train carriage at Furness Abbey station, an onlooker mocked him by shouting,’’Who rules in Furness?’ ‘and a host of voices, in concert, rejoined, “Who rules in Furness Abbey?”’95 Here, the words of the journalist were taken off the page by the mocking passengers and used against their target, demonstrating these readers’ support of the paper’s editorial stance.

Local Identity

The local press moved from background to foreground at times of crisis for local identity, as seen in the twentieth-century examples of local government reorganisation that threatened the status of Accrington and Herefordshire.96 Individuals also turned to the local press when the geographical aspects of their personal identities were threatened, particularly by exile from their birthplace. The contrasting reading matter available in Preston and Barrow Free Libraries is a good example of how the local press was used to sustain expatriate local identities. The more settled population of Preston required only four weekly papers from other parts of the country at any one time, while the ‘shifting and fluctuating’ population of Barrow, a smaller town full of migrants, required sixteen such publications.97 The papers in Barrow free library were from other parts of Furness and Lancashire, from Cumberland, Westmorland, the Isle of Man and Cheshire, matching the places of birth revealed in the Census. The only surprise is the lack of any papers from Staffordshire, a significant source of immigration to Barrow, although the publications auctioned at Barrow Working Men’s Club and Institute in 1870 included one from Wolverhampton, among a similar geographical spread of titles.98 A generation later, around the turn of the century, the parents of Barrow oral history interviewees preferred local newspapers, from their places of origin and from Barrow, to London papers. The local press was mentioned in similar numbers as in Preston, and more than in Lancaster, but there were also more non-local papers, especially from Scotland, where many interviewees’ parents were born. Often the same family took a Barrow paper and a paper from their home town — of the nine families who took provincial papers from elsewhere (including Manchester mornings and Sundays), six also took a Barrow paper. These six families felt no need to choose between their previous home and their present one, perhaps like those cricket fans whose parents were born in Pakistan, who see no contradiction between being British and supporting Pakistan.

Expatriates who travelled further afield likewise used local papers to keep informed of events back home, and to sustain their local identities.99 Thomas Parkinson, who emigrated from Preston to the United States in 1851, regularly received Preston papers from his mother and sister, and almost a century later, Southport clergyman Rev N. C. Oatridge described the response of local soldiers to receiving copies of the Southport Visiter overseas: ‘their letters of appreciation show what it means to them. The provincial paper […] provides an indispensable link for those away from home […].’100 Nearer home, ‘Bert’, reading his paper by the fire with his Woodbine at the ready (Chapter 3), probably read the Blackpool Evening Gazette because he was a Blackpool expatriate exiled to Preston. Similarly, a Lancaster oral history interviewee’s parents, both from Penrith, received the Penrith paper every week in Lancaster, 50 miles from their birthplace.101 The most eloquent evidence for the use of the local paper to nourish local identities is found in John O’Neil’s diaries. O’Neil, born in Carlisle but settled in Clitheroe, 100 miles away, summarised in his diary what he learnt from the paper each week, but rarely recorded his feelings. Yet when he occasionally received a paper from his home town, his writing became more emotional:

I got the Carlisle Journal today which was sent me and I was very glad to get it, it is the first news I have had from Carlisle this many a month and it is very full of news it being the assize week. I read it all through advertisements and all I was so keen of it.

I got a newspaper from Carlisle […] I read the local news and advertisements which makes me think I am at home again.102

Similarly, James Lonsdale, a Blackburn man who had emigrated to South Africa, wrote to a hometown paper in 1889, describing ‘the pleasure with which I receive my Standard & Express each week in this far-off land. It seems to take me once again amongst old friends […] But there is another pleasure, and that is the really good poetry and prose in our dear old dialect […].’103

The Uniqueness of the Local Press

Readers took from the local press things they could not find elsewhere, which explains why the mid-nineteenth-century prophecies of doom for the provincial press did not come to pass. Nowhere else could people read so much and so often about people and places they knew or knew of, about other Prestonians’ activities and opinions, thereby connecting them with their neighbours or former neighbours, family and friends. Nowhere else were they as likely to gain the prestige of print themselves, with a positive mention, set in the permanence of type. The local press offered active readers a platform for self-expression and for action. None of this could be supplied in such quantity, or so powerfully, by non-local publications. While all newspapers were prestigious, the limited space and subject matter of the high-status London press could not provide the opportunities, spread across the nation, that the local press exploited, for distributing and democratising the prestige of seeing oneself and one’s place in print. The hundreds of names printed in each edition, of people at public meetings, members of committees, subscribers to charitable causes, defendants and witnesses, public officials, people at funerals, pub cricketers and church football teams, all provided fifteen minutes of local fame, a century before Warhol’s prediction. The Dudley Weekly Times eloquently expressed the unique role of the local paper in 1856:

In the economy of nature we have not only great and stupendous objects, but also, those which are minute and apparently of little importance […] As in nature, so in the world of letters — so with the public press. It is not only important that great national events should be chronicled and commented upon, but also those which are of a local character and of a more limited interest, and this can only be done by the local press.104

It could be argued that the popularity of the regional and local press lay not in its localness but in its faster, more up-to-date news service. For Preston readers, Manchester and Liverpool papers had several hours’ advantage over London papers; and in the twenty-four hours before publication of any Preston paper, a local title had the same advantage over the big-city Lancashire dailies. For the most important stories, they published special editions within minutes of receiving telegraphed news. However, speed was not the main attraction. In Nord’s words, ‘how readers read the newspaper suggests what the newspaper is’, and in Preston as elsewhere, the local newspaper was valuable to readers in two ways: for its local content, and its ability to validate and elevate readers’ lives in a particular place.105 No other print product performed these functions as effectively.


The active readers discussed in this chapter responded as journalists hoped, in many instances, such as supporting the editorial stance, defending the paper against attacks, basking in the status of print and deferring to the editor’s bottomless knowledge. But they also maintained an independent attitude, often setting their own agenda when writing to the paper, and rarely responding to the hallowed leader column. They constructed their own networks of readers, through correspondence with other papers. Readers’ uses of the paper were influenced by but not determined by the content of local papers, nor by the conscious decisions and intentions of publishers and journalists.106

We have seen how readers used the local press as public persons — to build and sustain political, social, commercial and cultural infrastructures and to take part in a local public sphere of reasoned discussion. In the same way today, use of local news media in the United States is associated with a sense of place and active citizenship.107 The importance of the provincial press to the public sphere is shown by its dominance (particularly its readers’ letters) among the publications which the Antidote responded to in the early 1890s. Such reader-to-reader relationships are not a given — twenty-first-century research has found it lacking in Italian newspapers, for example.108 However, it is important not to overstate the role of the local press in fostering deliberative democracy. The papers more often followed local initiatives than led them, as with the Preston shop assistants’ half-day holiday in 1890. The success of the initiative was due mainly to canvassing of shopkeepers, rather than publicity in the newspapers. This chapter has also shown how readers used local newspapers as private persons, for relaxation and leisure, and to feel part of a community.

Readers liked local news of local personalities and places; they saw the local press as a welcoming platform on which to perform dialect writing; they valued fiction, poetry and historical writing about the locality; and they believed that a mention in the paper raised the status of local people and places. When newspapers organised social and cultural events and competitions on a local theme, readers and their families took part enthusiastically. Readers relied on the local press as the infrastructure for local professional and amateur sport, particularly football. They used the local press to argue about local identity. All these are positive responses — no doubt the majority response was more passive, as with readers’ responses to leader columns; only one type of negative response has been found, that of readers’ resistance to the boosterism of local newspapers. In Chapter 7 we saw that the local press in the new town of Barrow tried harder to evoke and exploit a rapidly developing local identity, but the only reader evidence traced so far suggests that many readers looked to the press ‘back home’ for sustenance of their local identities.

Readers used the local paper to propose, sustain and contest local identities by taking generic journalistic methods and focusing them on their own locality; they enjoyed the prestige that print gave to local people and places, and the permanence bestowed on fleeting events by their being recorded in the local paper. They also brought their interpretations of other aspects of local identity, such as dialect and local history, to the newspaper. Usually these uses of the paper were implicit, but crises of local identity — public and private — made the value of this cultural product more explicit. When distance from home threatened the local identity of the reader, or when the continuity of a place was disrupted, as in local government reorganisation, people turned to the local press. Many of the local newspaper’s functions could not be fulfilled by publications from elsewhere.

1 Report of Guildford Workhouse, ‘The Association of Helpers: Service for July’, Review of Reviews, July 1890, p. 14.

2 David Paul Nord, ‘Introduction: Communication and Community’, in Communities of Journalism: A History of American Newspapers and Their Readers (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), pp. 1–27 (p. 4).

3 Similar ideas can be found in Elihu Katz and Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Personal Influence; the Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications (Glencoe: Free Press, 1955); Heikki Heikkilä, Risto Kunelius, and Laura Ahva, ‘From Credibility to Relevance: Towards a Sociology of Journalism’s “Added Value”’, Journalism Practice, 4 (2010), 274–84 (p. 279),

4 Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (London: Yale University Press, 2001), p. 26.

5 Heikkilä, Kunelius, and Ahva, pp. 274, 278, 275.

6 Charles John Sommerville, The News Revolution in England: Cultural Dynamics of Daily Information (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 6.

7 James Mussell, Science, Time and Space in the Late Nineteenth-Century Periodical Press: Movable Types (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), p. 29,

8 Derek Fraser, ‘The Press in Leicester c. 1790–1850’, Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, 42 (1967), 53–75 (p. 67); Tony Nicholson, ‘The Provincial Stead’, in W. T. Stead: Newspaper Revolutionary, ed. by Roger Luckhurst and others (London: British Library, 2012), pp. 7–21.

9 ‘How to improve a country business; or, hints to a young beginner’, London, Provincial, and Colonial Press News, 16 January 1871, p. 10.

10 Press News, 16 January 1871, p. 10.

11 Leeds Mercury, 26 September 1818, cited in John B. Hood, ‘The Origin and Development of the Newsroom and Reading Room from 1650 to Date, with Some Consideration of Their Role in the Social History of the Period’ (unpublished FLA dissertation, Library Association, 1978), p. 163.

12 Letter complaining about uncomfortable trains, from Lumbaginiensis, Preston Guardian (hereafter PG), 12 October 1872, p. 6; Ian Jackson, The Provincial Press and the Community (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1971), p. 153; Gabrina Pounds, ‘Democratic Participation and Letters to the Editor in Britain and Italy’, Discourse and Society, 17 (2006), 29–64 (p. 55), For quantitative analysis, see Andrew Hobbs, ‘Reading the Local Paper: Social and Cultural Functions of the Local Press in Preston, Lancashire, 1855–1900’ (unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Central Lancashire, 2010), Tables A30-31, appendices.

13 Letter from John Hagan, PG, 28 September 1867.

14 Letter, ‘Mr Harper and the Orangemen of Preston’, from TB, Preston Chronicle (hereafter PC), 25 April 1868, p. 6.

15 Hobbs, p. 219. This British preference continues into the twenty-first century, when readers’ letters are still more likely to be about ‘specific and localised topics’ such as the quality of Bury black puddings, whereas Italian letters, by contrast, ‘tend to deal with issues of more general interest such as the meaning of life’: Pounds, p. 53.

16 Hobbs, Tables A30 and A31, appendices; Table 42, p. 219.

17 Untitled letter, from ‘W. W.’, PG, 11 April 1868; Letter, ‘Messrs “Atticus” and Tate,’ from ‘A Conservative From Conviction’, Preston Herald (hereafter PH), 12 September 1868, p. 6.

18 Letter to Leek Times, quoted in letter, ‘Controversy’, from John Hobson Matthews, Cardiff, Antidote, 4 November 1890.

19 Mrs C2B (b. 1887), ‘Social and family life in Preston, 1890–1940’, transcripts of recorded interviews, Elizabeth Roberts archive, Lancaster University Library (hereafter ER; the letters P, B or L at the end of the interviewee’s identifier denotes whether the interviewee was from Preston, Barrow or Lancaster). The transcripts are being digitised, with some available at; Mr M1L (b. 1910), ER. ‘Community news’ was the most popular type of content in mid-twentieth-century Chicago local papers: Morris Janowitz, The Community Press in an Urban Setting (Glencoe: Free Press, 1952), p. 133.

20 Lonsdale Magazine, 1820, LA12/NOR, Lancashire Archives.

21 David Vincent, Literacy and Popular Culture: England 1750–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 190,

22 Scrapbook in author’s collection.

23 Morris Janowitz, ‘The Imagery of the Urban Press’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 15 (1951), 519–31 (pp. 522, 529).

24 Janowitz, ‘Imagery’, p. 527.

25 David Barton and Mary Hamilton, Local Literacies: Reading and Writing in One Community (London: Routledge, 1998), p. 153; Kristy Hess and Lisa Waller, Local Journalism in a Digital World (Palgrave, 2017), p. 94,

26 Sommerville argues that the Athenian Mercury and London Spy, followed by Steele’s journals, saw ‘the commercial possibilities in periodicals as a way of reading about oneself’ in the early eighteenth century: Sommerville, p. 148.

27 William Edwin Adams, Memoirs of a Social Atom (London: Hutchinson, 1903), pp. 271–72.

28 Sussex Agricultural Express, 21 October 1892, p. 8.

29 Anne Hayes, Family in Print: Bailey Newspaper Group Ltd, a History (Dursley: Bailey Newspaper Group, 1996), p. 21.

30 Tony Clarke, Pilgrims of the Press: A History of Eastern Counties Newspapers Group 1850–2000 (Norwich: Eastern Counties Newspapers, 2000), p. 31.

31 James Carey, Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 20,

32 Frederick Milton, ‘Uncle Toby’s Legacy: Children’s Columns in the Provincial Newspaper Press, 1873–1914’, International Journal of Regional and Local Studies, 5.1 (2009), 104–20 (pp. 112–14).

33 Yorkshire Herald, 7 September 1920, cited in N. Arnold, ‘The Press in Social Context: A Study of York and Hull, 1815–1855’ (unpublished PhD dissertation, University of York, 1987), p. 126.

34 Unpublished autobiography of John Rushton of Walkden, coalminer, 1833-c.1914, written 1908, in John J. Bagley, Lancashire Diarists: Three Centuries of Lancashire Lives (London: Phillimore, 1975), p. 178.

35 ‘Journalistic Autobiographies. I. Sir John Leng, MP, DL, Etc.’, Bookman, February 1901, p. 157.

36 Anne R. Bradford, Drawn by Friendship: The Art and Wit of the Revd. John Thomas Wilson (New Barnet: Anne R. Bradford, 1997), 22 September 1877; see also 10 January 1879.

37 J. J. Myres’s scrap book relating to Preston, 1857–1892, Community History Library, Harris Library, Preston, LE02. See also Scrapbook of Douglas C Logan, 1901–1916, Highland Council Archives, Lochaber, GB3218/L/D1, which includes reports of shooting matches in which he was successful, his activities as a committee member of local sporting and social bodies, and a letter published in the local paper.

38 Scrapbook, author’s collection.

39 ‘How to enlist the sympathy of the ladies’, letter from ‘One in the Secret’, PG, 19 September 1868.

40 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 2006), pp. 35–36.

41 Mr G1P (b.1907), ER.

42 Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Oxford: Polity, 1992), pp. 168–69; Mark Hampton, Visions of the Press in Britain, 1850–1950 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), pp. 30, 130.

43 See also Hobbs PhD, Table A34, appendices. Similar categories are used in Sarah Pedersen, ‘Within Their Sphere?: Women’s Correspondence to Aberdeen Daily Newspapers, 1900–1918’ (unpublished PhD dissertation, Robert Gordon University, 2004) and David Paul Nord, ‘Reading the Newspaper: Strategies and Politics of Reader Response, Chicago, 1912–1917’, in Communities of Journalism: A History of American Newspapers and Their Readers (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), pp. 246–77.

44 For a rare exception, see ‘The Next Election and the Liberals of Preston’, Correspondence, PC, 16 May 1868, p. 6; Ross Connelly, ‘“Letters from Readers” a More Appropriate Heading’, Grassroots Editor, 47 (2006), 14.

45 Nick Hayes, ‘The Construction and Form of Modern Cities: Exploring Identities and Community’, Urban History, 29 (2002), 413–23 (p. 416),; Nord, ‘Introduction: Communication and Community’, p. 13.

46 Based on all letters published in September and October of five sample years (1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1900).

47 See, for example, the otherwise excellent Donald Read, Press and People, 1790–1850: Opinion in Three English Cities (London: Edward Arnold, 1961), p. 73.

48 Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, ‘The Construction of the Public in Letters to the Editor: Deliberative Democracy and the Idiom of Insanity’, Journalism, 3 (2002), 183–204 (p. 71),; Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, ‘Letters to the Editor in Local and Regional Newspapers’, in Local Journalism and Local Media, ed. by Bob Franklin (London: Routledge, 2006), pp. 221–31 (p. 223). In 1820 an eighteen-year-old Manchester machine maker John Bagguley invited the editor of the Manchester Observer to ‘select the Wheat and burn the Chaff’, in a note accompanying his letter for publication: Robert Poole, ‘The Manchester Observer: Biography of a Radical Newspaper’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, forthcoming (2019), p. 8.

49 Hannah Barker, ‘England, 1760–1815’, in Press, Politics and the Public Sphere in Europe and North America, 1760–1820, ed. by Hannah Barker and Simon Burrows (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 93–112 (p. 94). Paradoxically, the same value — the public sphere — is expressed in exactly opposite terms in modern US newspapers, many of which now refuse anonymous letters, even if the writer supplies their name and address as bona fides: ‘the newspaper is a public forum. If one enters a public forum they need to be public about who they are’: Connelly, p. 7,

50 For the tradition of controversy in religious publishing, see Josef L. Altholz, The Religious Press in Britain, 1760–1900 (London: Greenwood, 1989), pp. 16, 18, 141.

51 Advertisement, Mitchell’s Newspaper Press Directory, 1871.

52 Antidote, 1 February 1890, p. 14.

53 Thomas Quinn, Modernising the Labour Party: Organisational Change since 1983 (Springer, 2004), p. 167,

54 An antidote to poison was a common metaphor in cultural debates about the press, and was chosen as the title of publications opposed to Chartism, Tractarianism and the Mormon church among others: Aled Gruffydd Jones, Powers of the Press: Newspapers, Power and the Public in Nineteenth-Century England (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1996), p. 99; The Waterloo Directory of English Newspapers and Periodicals, 1800–1900, ed. by John S. North (North Waterloo Academic Press),

55 Nancy Fraser, ‘Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy’, in Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. by Craig J. Calhoun (Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 1997), pp. 109–42,, cited in Ellen Gruber Garvey, Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), ch. 4, ‘Alternative histories in African American scrapbooks’,

56 Anonymous review of Continuity or Collapse? by Canon McCave DD, and Rev J. D. Breen BA, OSB, edited by R. J. B. Mackinlay OSB, Antidote, 19 August 1890, p. 224.

57 ‘Co-operation’, letter from ‘Live and Let Live’, Correspondence, PC, 24 August 1889.

58 Edwin Waugh, The Diary of Edwin Waugh: Life in Victorian Manchester and Rochdale 1847–1851, ed. by Brian Hollingworth (Lancaster: Carnegie, 2008), Sunday 8 October 1848.

59 ‘A few words from Fakradeen in reply to “Deplorer”, Correspondence, PC, 29 October 1870.

60 Hayes, p. 416.

61 John Beveridge Mackie, Modern Journalism, a Handbook of Instruction and Counsel for the Young Journalist (London: Crosby, Lockwood and Son, 1894), p. 76.

62 ‘The last of a long controversy’, Antidote, 23 September 1890, p. 265.

63 For example, this pamphlet advertised in the Antidote, 16 December 1890, p. 36: “All roads lead to Rome,” an account of a recent controversy in the Lakes Herald […] To be had of Father Sellon, Ambleside (Westmoreland), price 2½d, post free.’

64 Letter from T. D. Anderson, Barrow Herald, 29 October 1870.

65 Jackson, pp. 169–71. The prolific British newspaper letter-writer Keith Flett is a case in point.

66 Letter from E. Ambler to George Melly, 21 April 1864, George Melly Collection, Liverpool Archives, 920 MEL 13 Vol. IX, 1996.

67 PG, 1 September 1860, p. 7.

68 Edward Baines Jr, The Life of Edward Baines, Late M. P. for the Borough of Leeds, by His Son (Leeds: Reid Newsome, 1851), p. 20.; ‘Death of Mr T. W. Clarke’, PG, 15 August 1863, p. 5.

69 Lancashire Evening Post, 14 April 1893, p. 3.

70 Frederick Large, A Swindon Retrospect, 1855–1930 (Wakefield: S. R. Publishers, 1970), p. 73.

71 Hull Advertiser, 12 April 1844, cited in Arnold, p. 126.

72 Correspondence, PC, 3 and 17 October 1868.

73 Antidote, 25 November 1890, p. 335. In 1868 a Preston Chronicle reader wrote to comment on an article in the Belfast Times: Correspondence, PC, 12 September 1868.

74 Aled Gruffydd Jones, Press, Politics and Society: A History of Journalism in Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1993), p. 198.

75 Correspondence, PH, 10 September 1870, p. 6; see also ‘A few words from Fakradeen in reply to “Deplorer”, Correspondence, PC, 29 October 1870.

76 Speech of Evan Buller reported in ‘Catholic Defence Association, meeting in Preston’, PC, 18 October 1851; a similar organisation, the Preston Society for the Defence of Catholic Principles through the Medium of the Press, had been formed in 1823: Tom Smith, ‘Preston Catholics before Emancipation’, North West Catholic History, 26 (1999), 33–61.

77 Antidote, 24 February 1891, p. 53; much of the content of Anglican parish magazines was indeed syndicated: Jane Platt, Subscribing to Faith? The Anglican Parish Magazine 1859–1929 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015),

78 For example, Walker’s “Century Scrap & Newscuttings Book (patented) No.2, c.1901, ‘for authors, clergymen, students, lawyers, and all literary men. specially prepared for those who desire to conveniently keep their cuttings relating to one subject within two boards for ready reference.’ For the use of a cuttings service by an active provincial newspaper reader, see Pedersen, p. 51.

79 Brian Harrison, ‘“A World of Which We Had No Conception.” Liberalism and the English Temperance Press: 1830–1872’, Victorian Studies, 13 (1969), 125–58 (p. 130).

80 Hobbs PhD, Table A35, appendices.

81 Denis G. Paz, Popular Anti-Catholicism in Mid-Victorian England (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), pp. 1–2.

82 Letter from J. A. Ferguson, Secretary of Preston Temperance Society, PG, 13 October 1860.

83 PG, 6 December 1890, p. 4; Peter J. Lucas, ‘The First Furness Newspapers: The History of the Furness Press from 1846 to c.1880’ (unpublished M.Litt, University of Lancaster, 1971), pp. 72, 82.

84 PH, 2 October 1880.

85 Stephen Caunce, ‘Market Reports’, in Dictionary of Nineteenth Century Journalism, ed. by Laurel Brake and Marysa Demoor, C19: The Nineteenth Century Index, Online Edition (London: ProQuest).

86 House of Commons, ‘Report from the Select Committee on Newspaper Stamps; Together with the Proceedings of the Committee, Minutes of Evidence, Appendix, and Index 1851 (558) XVII. 1’, para. 3201.

87 Preston Exchange and Newsroom minutes, 4 January 1869, 3 December 1872, Lancashire Archives, CBP 53/4.

88 Alfred Wadsworth, typescript, Manchester Guardian archive, John Rylands Library, Manchester, 324/5A.

89 Wadsworth typescript, 324/5A, p. 4.

90 Wadsworth typescript, 324/5A, p. 3.

91 Henry W. Lucy, Sixty Years in the Wilderness: Some Passages by the Way (London: Smith, Elder, 1909), p. 46.

92 H. A. Taylor, ‘Politics in Famine Stricken Preston: An Examination of Liberal Party Management, 1861–65’, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire, 107 (1956), 121–39.

93 ‘Garstang Historical Oratory’, letter from ‘A Preston Freeman’, PC, 7 June 1879; ‘The great Jacques question’, letter from Rev Kinton Jacques, PG, 19 September 1868.

94 ‘Tea-party at St Saviour’s: Inaugural opening of the new schools’, PC, 10 September 1870, p. 6.

95 Ulverston Mirror, 4 August 1860, cited in Peter J. Lucas, ‘J. A. Bernard’s Challenge: Journalists on Journalism in a Victorian Country Town’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society 7 (2007), 193–213 (p. 206).

96 For Accrington, see Chapter 7, p. 281, n. 57. When the county identity of Herefordshire was threatened by its planned merger with Worcestershire in the early 1970s, the county paper, the Hereford Times, was the obvious forum in which to protest. Correspondence grew to ‘record proportions’ and sales of the paper increased: C. R. Goulding, ‘Defeat in the battle for Herefordshire,’ Hereford Times 150th anniversary special, 2 July 1982.

97 Barrow Free Library annual reports, Cumbria Archive and Local Studies Centre, Barrow. As well as looking back to their places of origin, Barrow Library’s readers also looked forward to opportunities elsewhere, as seen in the higher number of specialist migration titles; John Duncan Marshall, Furness and the Industrial Revolution: An Economic History of Furness, 1711–1900, and the Town of Barrow, 1757–1897 (Beckermet: Moon, 1981), p. 310.

98 See also Marie-Louise Legg, Newspapers and Nationalism: The Irish Provincial Press, 1850–1892 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1999), p. 69. ‘Barrow Working Men’s Club and Institute’, Barrow Herald, 8 October 1870, p. 3. In 1871 40.7 per cent of Barrow’s population had come from Staffordshire, Westmorland, Ireland, Cumberland, Yorkshire, Worcestershire and Scotland, in that order. During the 1880s, an estimated 12 per cent of the town’s population, 5,700 people, migrated elsewhere: Marshall, p. 355; T. H. Bainbridge, ‘Barrow in Furness: A Population Study’, Economic Geography, 15 (1939), 379–83 (pp. 380–81).

99 Bill Bell, ‘Bound for Australia: Shipboard Reading in the Nineteenth Century’, in Journeys through the Market: Travel, Travellers, and the Book Trade, ed. by Robin Myers and Michael Harris (Folkestone: Oak Knoll Press, 1999); Andrew Crisell and Guy Starkey, ‘News on Local Radio’, in Local Journalism and Local Media: Making the Local News, ed. by Bob Franklin (London: Routledge, 2006), p. 23,

100 Thomas A. Parkinson, ‘A Preston Emigrant to America 1851, His Diary & Letters from England’ (1983), typescript, Marian Roberts Collection, University of Central Lancashire; Anon., A Century of Progress 1844–1944, Southport Visiter (Southport: Southport Visiter, 1944), p. 29.

101 Mrs W2L (b.1910), ER.

102 John O’Neil, The Journals of a Lancashire Weaver: 1856–60, 1860–64, 1872–75, ed. by Mary Brigg (Chester: Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 1982), Wednesday 13 August 1856, 2 March 1857. See also 14 August 1859.

103 Letter, Blackburn Standard & Weekly Express, 22 June 1889, p. 6.

104 Dudley Weekly Times supplement, 20 December 1856.

105 Nord, ‘Reading the Newspaper’, p. 247.

106 Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), pp. xiii, xvi–xvii.

107 Michael Barthel and others, ‘Civic Engagement Strongly Tied to Local News Habits’, Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project, 2016,

108 ‘The writer’s interaction with the readers is markedly stronger in Britain than in Italy […] references and direct address to the readers are much more common in Britain’: Pounds, p. 49.