London's "The Daily Universal Register" and "The Times" 1785-1820, with later issues covering the US Civil War and The Great War
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The early years: 1785-1820
Each of the earliest editions of The Times is four pages. Pages 1 and 4 are filled with advertisements covering services and items for sale, schools, want ads, and employment opportunities. The inside spread focuses more on the news, covering military, governmental, commercial, social, and op-ed topics.
As a new publication, the layout evolved over time, but advertisements remained on page one until May 3, 1966, when The Times replaced advertisements on its front page with the news.
Following this arrangement, within a typical issue, one might find:
Pages 1 and 4
Board and Lodging: A gentleman seeks accommodations with a genteel family with no young children or other boarders.
Lost and Found: A reward of two guineas offered for the return of a violin taken by mistake.
Items for sale:
- Portable water closets, with hydraulical improvements, suitable for families, shipping, infirmaries, etc.
- Theatre tickets: Drury Lane.
- Medicine: Paregoric lozenges and remedies for coughs and colds.
- Phaeton, “strong, and fit for a journey.”
Education: Mr. Hogg’s Academy on Paddington Green, opens July 25, 1796 and seeks pupils under ten years of age at 20 Guineas per annum
Dancing Instruction: "to expeditiously acquire the most elegant variety of the present favourite Scotch and Irish Steps, with all the fashionable Requisites.”
Sales by Auction: Homes, estates, a vicarage, furniture, live and dead stock, Japan and plated goods, etc.
Announcements of birth, marriage, and death.
Reports on the monarchy, like this one describing the queen's 57th birthday celebration, including detailed descriptions of what the guests were wearing.
John Walter (1739-1812), a former coal merchant, founded The Daily Universal Register on January 1, 1785. After over-speculating in London's Coal Exchange, he switched entreprenuerial interests. He purchased a patent for logography, a new printing process using words and groups of letters instead of individual letters, and ultimately bought a printing business and started publishing books in 1784. Shortly afterward, he realized the potential of printing a tabloid, and thus The Times was born. Three John Walkers, in succession - founder, son, and grandson - managed the paper. It was owned by the family until 1908.
The Daily Universal Register evolved into The Times on January 1, 1788. Since then, it has become a publication known for its journalistic integrity, although John Walker, the founder, was found guilty of libel several times for the opinions he voiced in his columns, resulting in fines and some time spent in Newgate Prison. John Walker, the son, began managing the paper in 1803. It was he who turned it from a gossipy tabloid into a respected periodical.
Learn more about "The origins of The Times" in an online article at the Times Online website.
Using the collection
What interested Londoners between 1785 and 1820, the time period covered by the newspapers in this collection? Bearing in mind that, during this era, much of what concerned London impacted the entire globe, we can readily come up with numerous events that changed world history. At the top of the list, we might consider post-revolutionary America, the Napoleonic Wars, and the French Revolution, but there are plenty of other incidents and remarkable events to include as well. Reading an issue cover-to-cover is an entertaining and informative snapshot of a day in the life of Georgian Britain.
Each edition of the newspaper, published Monday through Saturday, is only four pages, yet within those pages are the mundane and the remarkable. From Parliamentary reports to the news from Buckingham Palace, from an ad seeking a reliable tutor to opinions by the editors on America's shortcomings, the daily items run the gamut. Within the four pages, today's reader will gain a great sense of what was on the mind of the average citizen and consumer. Breaking stories, as well as published items reflecting moods and trends in London, in England, and in the world, are encapsulated here for us to evaluate and enjoy.
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Search or browse "The Times" (London) 1785-1820 here.