11th March 1702. Birth of the Press.
Not until the advent of the printing press was the news-sheet introduced.
It was after Caxton’s death in 1491 that Wynkyn de Worde, an Alsatian born pioneer of printing, took control of the business, bringing printing to Fleet Street for the service of St. Paul’s and other churches, this at a time when the printed word was for an educated clergy.(1)
In time newspapers appeared, the first published in England being the Weekly Newes (sic), edited by N.Bourne and Thomas Archer published in 1622.
Then came The Oxford Gazette of 1665, when Charles II having fled the plague was, with his Courtiers, unwilling to touch London Newspapers for fear of infection.
However it was only a subscriber paper, and set later to become the London Gazette, which still appears twice weekly as the official organ of government. (2)
The birth of a daily press can be traced to the Daily Courant published Today in 1702 by Elizabeth Mallet, next to the King’s Arms, Fleet Street.
She eventually sold it to Samuel Buckley who moved to premises in Little Britain at the sign of The Dolphin. Buckley later became the publisher of the Spectator which along with other news journals, The Tatler and Defoe’s Review, which provided political, social and commercial articles. In 1735 The Courant merged with the Daily Gazetteer.
With the growth of newspapers, however Parliament was terrified lest the popularity of the press spread to, and inspired the working masses to radical thought, so it promptly, via a Stamp Act, slapped a stamp tax of 1d a sheet on all newspapers and periodicals in 1712, ostensibly for revenue, but also as a means of censorship.
The Poor Law Commissioners’ Report of 1834: ‘The dearness of newspapers in this country is an insurmountable obstacle to the education of the poor. I could name twenty villages within a circuit of a few miles in which a newspaper is never seen’. Not surprising when the minimum price of the ten London dailies in 1851 was 5d.
The Stamp Duty on newspapers was abolished along with Paper Duty in 1855, when new forms of journalism such as the Illustrated London Times, the Manchester Guardian and The Daily Telegraph were published.
Within two years more than hundred newspapers were founded.
(1) de Worde was the first to employ italics.
(2) The Oxford Gazette was first published on 7th November 1665.