Expulsion of the Whigs from office!

The Newcastle Journal. Saturday Morning, May 12, 1832.

The Newcastle Journal. Saturday Morning, May 12, 1832.

To the numerous friends who have crowded round to aid and patronise us ­ to those who have, unsolicited, honoured us with their advertisements ­ we return our most grateful thanks.

The Newcastle Journal starts with a bona fide circulation much greater, we have reason to believe, than those of several of our contemporaries who have long occupied the ground; and in a few weeks we hope that we shall hardly be exceeded in that respect by the most fortunate of our rivals.

To Advertisers of all kinds we beg to say that our list of subscribers is such that we can do ample justice to their favours.

"WE HAVE to commence our editorial labours by proclaiming the momentous intelligence of the defeat and dissolution of the Grey administration!

"The immediate causes of this great, and, we will add, most gratifying event, are fully developed in other divisions of our Journal."

So began the editorial in Issue 1, Volume 1 of the new, weekly newspaper, The Newcastle Journal, setting its stall out in rather uncompromising fashion.

On May 12, 1832, North-East businessman John Hernaman founded The Newcastle Journal with his great friend Robert Perring at the request of local Tories.

They were the party of the Church, landowners, industry - and money. It quickly established a solid reputation; its influence was enormous and, difficult as it may be to understand today, it opposed Earl Grey's Reform Act which had reached the Lords barely two months previously, denouncing it at every opportunity. Perhaps it could see that, despite the sweeping changes to voting and parliamentary constituencies it brought, very few ordinary people actually gained by it.

The 1830s were a time of great political and social tumult - and it was a class-ridden society. Drinking was a serious problem with almost any householder being able to sell beer. The areas in which the "lower classes" lived had changed little since medieval times, although Richard Grainger was laying down his massive development plans for the city that would result in what we know today as Grey Street, Market Street, Grainger Street (plus the Grainger Market) and Clayton Street.

There was no proper sanitation or water supply - it would be 16 more years until the Public Health Act was passed - and homes were poorly ventilated, dark and damp. It was accepted that there would always be rich and poor and moral standards, as a consequence, were low. A labourer's pay was around eight shillings a week, but these difficult social conditions led to a growth of political consciousness among the working classes.

In May 1832, riots had broken out in County Durham as striking miners claimed more pay. Miners, like agricultural workers, were hired and rehired annually with their pay and conditions settled at the same time. A blackleg striker had been shot dead in Hetton and the miners refused to be rehired. Unsurprisingly, The Newcastle Journal was on the side of the mine owners - moneyed men - calling the pitmen's demands "unreasonable".

It believed that "men have the undoubted right to sell their labour, which is the only capital they possess, to the highest bidder, or if it so please them, to remain inactive or engage in other pursuits".

Whilst not quite slavery, those working conditions smack of bondage. As part of their conditions, the pitmen lived in colliery houses and The Newcastle Journal was not slow to raise the consequences of strike action, saying: "It may not be known to our distant readers that in the vicinity of each colliery there are about a sufficient number of houses, the property of the owners, to accommodate the requisite number of workmen only. To each of these houses, there is in most cases, a garden, generally sufficiently large to raise vegetables."

It was clear call to experienced miners elsewhere that not only could there be jobs going, but reasonably comfortable homes.

Almost by comparison, the first issue also contained the following news story:

"Alston Moor - During last week upwards of a hundred individuals have left Alston for the purpose of emigrating to North America by the ship Samuel, now laying at Maryport, bound for Quebec. The persons thus expatriating themselves are chiefly miners who, from the ruinous depression of the lead trade, have long been out of employment, exposed to a situation of extreme misery and want."

If labourers were earning eight shillings, the price of newspapers - sevenpence - would seem extortionate (which works out at 7% of their weekly wage, equating to £35 in 2007).

With the likes of the French Revolution still resonating in its ears barely 40 years on, the Government had little appetite in educating the masses or allow them to have access to political opinion, so huge taxation levels had been set on newsprint and advertising. Out of that 7d, 5½d went straight to the Government. Happily, advertising duty would be reduced the following year and three years after that, excise duty on newsprint was quartered.

Huge amounts of information had to be crammed into four pages. The type was tiny, headlines only slightly larger, if they appeared at all.

Local MPs' speeches and long reports vied for attention with municipal affairs, shares and commodities, social events and news items. The was no room for feature articles or specialist material such as sport.

Not all was plain sailing in those early days, however. Just two months after publication of the first issue, half-a-dozen men in the pay of Lord Lambton, Earl of Durham, burst into John Harnaman's office. Lambton had taken offence to an opposing view.

"With stick and whip they fell upon the proprietor of this journal and perpetrated an assault the result of which is considerable personal injuries..."

A fortnight after this, the son of one of the attackers grabbed Harnaman by the throat and called him a scoundrel who should be booted out of town and threatened to black his eye.

In 1844 Hernaman was again attacked in a Newcastle city street, this time by one Addison Potter who had waved the previous issue of the paper in the proprietor's face, screaming objections to a political editorial.

Potter, the son of Alderman-Justice Addison Langhorne Potter, "inflicted a series of heavy blows on his head and other parts of his body".

He was later sent to Morpeth Gaol for two months.

Different times

Snapshots from the first seven decades of The Newcastle Journal emphasise the extraordinarily different - and difficult - times the North-East endured during its early years of publication.

October 25 1834

"Gateshead - A drunken savage named Thomas Daly on Saturday night last commenced an attack upon the passengers whom he met in coming along Bottle Bank... The ruffian was subsequently captured and on Wednesday last he was committed to the tread-mill for three months."

"Suicide in Morpeth Gaol - Samuel Worrel Fenwick, who was committed to the new gaol at Morpeth about a fortnight ago on a charge of being accessory to the murder of his new-born illegitimate child, put a period to his existence on Wednesday last, by cutting his throat."

February 21 1835

Foreign and domestic news

"Van Dieman's Land - The Strathfieldsay had arrive there with 286 female emigrants on board and created a great sensation in the colony.

Such was the great demand for female servants that all except 40 were provided with situations before the lapse of many days, some of them obtaining wages as high as £20 per annum."


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Graeme Whitfield
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