Fishponds Local History Society

Publications by FLHS members

An Examination of the Eighteenth Century Newspapers of Bristol and Gloucester

by John Penny

(Bath Spa University College, December 1996)

The English provincial newspaper was a child of the eighteenth century. It took its first faltering steps in the reign of Queen Anne, by about 1760 had overcome its youthful inhibitions and was taking a healthy adolescent interest in politics and religion, before consolidating its position as an established part of English life by the end of the century.

Although when judged by modern standards early provincial journals contained a relatively small amount of purely local news items as G.A.Cranfield wrote in 1962: 'The newspaper press had a close and vital connection with almost every phase of human endeavour, and there are few aspects indeed of life in eighteenth century England upon which these newspapers do not throw a revealing, and often novel light. Indeed, the social, economic and political life of the time might almost be written from them - and a very unusual and stimulating history it would be' 1. However, in order to make the most effective use of such papers it is essential to know just how the press developed in ones locality, the backgrounds, both political and religious, of the most important of the printers, and the location of surviving examples of their work.

Since its introduction, printing in England had been subjected to long periods of prohibition and repression, with only brief intervals of official tolerance. This ensured that the few newspapers permitted consistently followed the Government line. The Printing Act of 1663, the principal obstacle to the establishment of uncensored publications was, however, not renewed in 1695, and newspapers were soon flourishing in London, where by 1709 some 18 were being produced 2.

In the latter part of the seventeenth century the provincial reading public was quite small, being confined generally to the gentry, clergy and prosperous tradesmen, but during the reign of Queen Anne, a large number of Charity Schools were set up all over the country to encourage literacy amongst the children of the poorer classes, and these were complemented by the network of schools established by the various Dissenting sects. These movements were to provided the potential market for newspapers outside of London, while the steadily growing competition in the capital inevitably lead to a migration of trained printers to provincial towns where printing presses had previously been banned.

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Among the pioneers was William Bonney who in 1695 arrived in Bristol to set up the first printing press in the area, and the oldest surviving copy of an English provincial newspaper is The Bristol Post Boy published by him on Saturday August 5th 1704 3. It is numbered 91, indicating the first issue appeared in November 1702. Unfortunately this 'calculating back' technique is notoriously unreliable due to the careless numbering adopted by many eighteenth century printers, and so the the claim by the Norwich Post to be the country's oldest provincial newspaper (by back calculation from 1708 to 1701) is equally suspect.4 The Bristol Post Boy was a simple two page weekly containing, in common with the other provincial journals, intelligence copied from the London papers. No local news items ever seem to have appeared, and in the earliest surviving copy there is only one advertisment, although that is for a Bristol physician.

The Bristol Post Boy survived until at least December 1715, by which time a rival paper had been set up in the city by one Samuel Farley, a member of a dynasty which was to play the prominent part in the development of the newspaper press in the West (see appendix). Sam. Farley's Bristol Post Man, first appeared in August 1715 and probably lasted until 1725 when a new and more draconian Stamp Act was introduced, closing loopholes which had been exploited in the original 1712 regulations. A competitor had made an appearance in Bristol in 1716, but only one copy of the Bristol Weekly Mercury, published by Henry Greep, has survived 5.

Newspaper publication now spread into Gloucestershire the first issue of The Cirencester Post or Gloucestershire Mercury probably appearing in late 1718, but this appears to have been a short lived affair 6. Much more important was the arrival in Gloucester in 1722 of Robert Raikes and William Dicey who were already proprietors of a Northampton newspaper. They commenced publication of the Gloucester Journal in April 1722 and in 1725 Raikes, a man with decided Whig sympathies, became the sole owner of a paper which quickly established its influence in and around the county 7. It soon crossed political swords with the Bristol based Samuel Farley who, in 1727, accused Raikes of suppressing the unwelcome news of the return of two Tory Members for Gloucester 8. The following year Raikes himself incurred the displeasure of Central Government and was fined �40 for illegally reprinting in the Gloucester Journal a report of a Parliamentry debate which had previously appeared in a London paper 9.

The 1725 Stamp Act caused Samuel Farley to reduce his journal from twelve to four pages, re-naming it Farley's Bristol Newspaper. Its title changed again in 1733 to Sam.Farley's Bristol Newspaper and as such continued until at least 1738 when, probably following Samuel's death, it was being published by Samuel and Felix Farley 10, his sons, who had been working with him since 1718 11, and who soon after established themselves as the chief printers of newspapers in Bristol.

Towards the end of 1742 Felix Farley, who appears to have been the dominant partner in '

Felix Farley & Company', began to issue two newspapers with a number of titles which appeared on alternative Saturdays in an ingenious attempt to evade Stamp Duty. This arrangement was continued until January 1748 by which time the papers were known as S.Farley's Bristol Journal (published by Samuel) and F.Farley's Bristol Advertiser (published by Felix). During that month alternate production ceased, a single weekly known as Farley's Bristol Journal, and published jointly by the brothers, taking its place. This in turn was re-named Bristol Journal in March 1748, but in 1751 Samuel and Felix appear to have quarrelled violently and split up, Samuel continuing to produce the Bristol Journal, while Felix moved to new premises and set up a rival publication Felix Farley's Bristol Journal, whic h first appeared in May 1752 12.

In national politics the Farley's views had become so provoking that printers with opposing sympathies had by now become encouraged to establish their own newspapers and during the 1740's we see several make their appearance, but none achieved long term success. Andrew Hook's Oracle survived from 1742 to 1749, during which time the title was changed a number of times in an attempt to evade advertising duty regulations, which had been introduced in 1712 and which were causing printers throughout the country so much financial pain 13. At this time only about five to ten advertisments normally appeared in a local paper, with the result that the earnings of the publishers were so meagre that they were forced to eke out a living in unusual ways as, in the case of Robert Raikes, by the sale of quack medicines!

Andrew Hook was one of the most colourful characters in the history of the Bristol press. He had been born into an old Bristol family which had once been very wealthy, but had lost their money through speculation. He appears to have been well educated and had been a Gloucestershire J.P., but is said to have been in prison for debt when he started the Oracle! Hook, unlike the Farley's, was not a newspaperman and therefore was forced to have his journal produced by various jobbing printers in Bristol. He was, however, a stickler for geographical detail and delighted in ridiculing his competitors lack of knowledge in that discipline 14.

Apart from the odd snipe at Robert Raikes and despite their strong Tory, almost Jacobite, views the Farley's barely mentioned local politics at all until the appearance in 1749 of yet another Bristol newspaper, the Weekly Intelligencer. This publication, with a strong Whig bias, continued to be produced until around 1758 by one Edward Ward 15 who had previously, and much to Felix Farley's contempt, conducted business as a haberdasher, maltster, distiller and vinter 16. This newspaper appears to have been a continuation of a re-launched Bristol Mercury which Ward had begun about 1747 17.

As the Farleys seem to have been united in political thought the cause of the family feud appears to have been religion, a fact which came to light with the publication of the wills of the Farley brothers, both of whom died in 1753. Felix, who passed away in April, was a Methodist describing John and Charles Wesley as his 'honoured and much-esteemed friends and pastors'. At the time of his death he was still in conflict with his brother Samuel, leaving him a token guinea 'that his eyes may be opened that he may see the injury that he has done me and my poor family, and that he would soften his heart and conscience to end the partnership affair with justice, honour and integrity'. Samuel, who died in the autumn, reacted in a similar manner with a bequest of one shilling to Felix's widow, Elizabeth, who was had assumed proprietorship of Felix Farley's Bristol Journal. The feude now continued as an all female affair for Samuel had willed the Bristol Journal to his niece Sarah, daughter of Edward Farley of Exe ter, on condition that she remained a Quaker. The family was now irreconcilably split along religious lines, the two ladies remaining staunch rivals until Sarah died over 20 years later 18.

Elizabeth was a formidable woman and only months after her husband's death was carrying out a major propaganda campaign against Jews in general, and the proposed Bill to give a wealthy minority of them rights without having to take the Anglican Sacrament 19. In 1754 she refered to her Whig opponents as 'a Plague of Locusts ... devouring Insects who have their Origin in Filth and Ordure, and whose very Existence depends on corruption' 20, while in 1757, this controversial lady became the first Bristol journalist to be prosecuted for libel, unsuccessfully as it happened, following her spirited support of the Tory Member for the city in the elections of March 1756 21.

Up in Gloucester Robert Raikes died in 1757 to be succeeded as proprietor of the Gloucester Journal by his son, also named Robert, who managed the paper until 1802 when he sold out, the title remaining independent until 1879 22. His sympathies were, like his fathers, towards the Whigs and in addition he used the paper as a vehicle for publicising and furthering his philantropic aims, particularly the Sunday School movement, which cynics reported he had started in Gloucester to avoid interruptions from noisy children whilst reading his proofs prior to the Journal's publication on Mondays! 23 Nevertheless, he was a practical newspaperman and the Gloucester Journal had no serious rival in the northern part of the county during the eighteenth century, although a Gloucester Gazette was published in several editions between about 1784 and 1796 24.

January 1760 saw a new newspaper, the Bristol Chronicle commence publication, probably to fill the gap left by the demise of the Whig Intelligencer and bring the number of newspapers in Bristol back to three. The Bristol Chronicle, was launched by John Grabbham who had been apprenticed to Felix Farley, and afterwards worked for his widow. He was joined in the venture two months later by his brother-in-law William Pine, who appears to have become sole proprietor in January 1761. Just how long the paper remained in existence is not known, but by August 1767 Pine was producing another title, the Bristol Gazette, which was published on Thursdays unlike the Farley newspapers which appeared on Saturdays 25. The Gazette, which throughout the remainder of the century was the organ of the Corporation and the Whig party, was a great success and went on to retain an independent existence until 1872.

The death of Sarah Farley in 1774 resulted in yet more religious squabbles within the family and their associates, for Sarah bequeathed the Bristol Journal to Hester Farley, daughter of Felix Farley whose widow Elizabeth who was still running the rival Felix Farley's Bristol Journal ! Hester's interest in the paper did not, however, last long for in September 1775 she sold out to George and William Routh, printers, and Charles Nelson her brother-in-law. Nelson withdrew from the partnership in 1777, at which time the newspaper was re-named Sarah Farley's Bristol Journal, but the two brothers continued in partnership until 1784, after which William, occasionally aided by others, continued publishing the paper until his death in 1800. His widow succeeded him, but by 1808 the paper which, during the late eighteenth century had probably been second only in popularity to Felix Farley's Bristol Journal, had ceased publication 26.

Sarah Farley's death also affected her employees for it appears that Samuel Bonner, a Quaker, who had been her Foreman and Richard Middleton, her ex-Clerk, refused to work with Hester their new Methodist proprietor. Consequently the men left and set up in business together, and in August 1774 established a fourth newspaper in the city, Bonner and Middleton's Bristol Journal which, published on Saturday's, went on to become another of Bristol's long runing papers, continuing under various titles until 1864 27.

In late October 1777 there appeared in Bristol the first issue of Bee and Sketchley's Weekly Advertiser, in which it was stated 'Notwithstanding there are already four respectable newspapers in this city, it is the opinion of many, that a magazine or repository for the reception of advertisments, essays etc. published on Monday is still wanted (there being five days space between the publication of the Saturday and Thursday newspapers)'. Extant copies exist until December 1777, but just how long after that the paper survived is unknown 28.

From the retirement of Elizabeth Farley in 1767, until her death in 1779, Thomas Cocking had been responsible for the production of Felix Farley's Bristol Journal. He continued as proprietor until March 1785 when, on account of ill health, he took into partnership one John Rudhall who became sole proprietor on his death in 1787. Cocking continued to produce the paper until 1803 when he also died, the famous title eventually merging with The Bristol Times in 1853 29.

A rival to Bonner and Middleton's Bristol Journal is known to have been published on Thursdays from December 1780 until at least April 1782 by Hill and Blagden, but exactly how long the Constitutional Chronicle continued to be printed remains a mystery. More successful, however, was the third time resurrected Bristol Mercury, which commenced publication in March 1790, this time successfully accommodating the 'Monday Slot' in competition with the four well established titles. Under the proprietorship of William Bulgin and Robert Rosser who were both printers and booksellers, the Mercury was a success continuing as an independent title until 1909 30.

The local press made relatively slow progress during the first half of the nineteenth century, but the final removal of Advertisment Tax in 1853 and Newspaper Tax in 1855 opened the way for new developments, culminating on June 1st 1858 with the arrival of the Western Daily Press, the first daily paper to be published in the West of England 31. From then on the regional press took on a form clearly recognisable today, the amount of local news and advertisments carried immediately expanding to levels previously unthinkable.

Although not all that many local newspapers survive from the first half of the century from the 1730's reasonable runs of the Gloucester Journal are available to historians. In addition a practically unbroken sequence of Felix Farley's Bristol Journal exists from 1752, while relatively complete collections of other Bristol papers become available from the late 1770's. The majority are preserved at the Bristol Central Library and Gloucester Divisional Library, but other can be found at the British Museum, the Newspaper Library at Colindale, The Press Club of London, and at The Bodleian and All Souls College Libraries at Oxford (as a finding aid see attached hand-list compiled by the author).

When judged by modern standards even early nineteenth century newspapers report relatively little local news, usually restricted to a column or so on page three. Although the papers are important contemporary documents certain events failed to get reported at all. A good example of this occurred in 1797 when for two days the rooms of the radical Constitutional Society in Bristol were besieged and ransacked by a mob, but no local paper published any details for fear of alerting Central Government to problems in the city.

Although from about 1715 provincial papers had incorporated illustrations in their titles, and the Northampton Mercury had published crude political cartoons in 1720, the wooden blocks used only had a short life and inserting them into the frame along with the text slowed production down when time was already too short for reliability. As the readership reacted with only mild interest illustrations, except for small logo's in titles and certain advertisments, quickly faded from the pages of local journals and did not return until the arrival of better technology in the 1840's 32. Advertisments, by contrast, were by the end of the eighteenth century reasonably numerous and contain an amazing amount of data such as prices of produce, property and travel, as well as providing useful inventories of premises offered for sale, both industrial and domestic. For certain subjects such as road and sea travel and early ballooning they provide one of the few contemporary sources available to the local historian.

The value of such papers, however, is not just confined to the news items, advertisments and occasional illustrations they contain, but equally importantly to the effect they had in spreading a thirst for knowledge, and therefore literacy amongst even the lower orders of society. In addition they stimulated a widespread interest in the discussion of religion and politics on a national scale, an important step in the development of a modern democratic state, and one which certainly deserves further investigation.


Anon, 'Early Bristol Newspapers', House Journal of Packers Vol.3 No.8 (May 1925), pp 145 - 149.

A.A.Allen & A.G.Powell, Bristol and its Newspapers 1713 - 1934 (Bristol, 1934).

R.Austin, 'Robert Raikes the Elder and the Gloucester Journal', Library (January 1915), pp 1-24.

R.Austin, 'Historical Record of the Gloucester Journal', Bicentenary Gloucester Journal 1722 - 1922 (Gloucester, 1922).

Rev.A.B.Beaven, 'Notices of the Farley Family', Bristol Times and Mirror (15 April 1911).

Rev.A.B.Beaven & E.R.Norris Matthews, 'History of Bristol Journalism', Bristol Times and Mirror (1 December 1909).

British Library Board, Catalogue of the Newspaper Library Colindale - England & Wales (Vol.2 London, 1975).

G.A.Cranfield, The Development of the Provincial Newspaper 1700 - 1760 (Oxford, 1962).

G.A.Cranfield, A Hand-List of English Provincial Newspapers and Periodicals 1700 -1760 (Cambridge, 1952).

D.F.Gallop, 'Chapters in the History of the Provincial Newspaper Press 1700 - 1855' (unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Reading, 1954).

W.George, 'The Oldest Bristol Newspaper', Bristol Times and Mirror (4 August 1884).

J.Gibson, Local Newspapers 1750 - 1920 - England & Wales, C.I. & I.O.M. A Select Location List (Birmingham, 1991).

J.H.Harris (ed), Robert Raikes - The Man and His Works (Bristol, 1899).

W.S.Haugh (ed), Early Bristol Newspapers - A detailed catalogue of Bristol Newspapers published up to and including the year 1800 in the Bristol Reference Library (Bristol, 1956). Piece B21662 at the Bristol Central Library with additional notation.

J.Latimer, The Annals of Bristol in the Eighteenth Century (Bristol, 1893), pp 48 -52 and 292 - 294.

H.Lewis, History of the Bristol Mercury 1716 - 1886 (Bristol, 1887).

K.Williams, The English Newspaper - An illustrated History to 1900 (London, 1977).


1) G.A.Cranfield, The Development of the Provincial Newspaper 1700 - 1760 (Oxford, 1962), pp.269-270.

2) K.Williams, The English Newspaper - An illustrated History to 1900 (London, 1977), p.19.

3) W.S.Haugh (ed), Early Bristol Newspapers - A detailed catalogue of Bristol Newspapers published up to and including the year 1800 in the Bristol Reference Library (Bristol, 1956), pp.5 & 9.

4) Cranfield, 'Development of Provincial Newspapers', p.13.

5) Haugh, 'Early Bristol Newspapers' pp.9-10.

6) G.A.Cranfield, A Hand-List of English Provincial Newspapers and Periodicals 1700 -1760, (Cambridge, 1952), p.5.

7) R.Austin, 'Robert Raikes the Elder and the Gloucester Journal', Library (January 1915), pp.1-24.

8) Felix Farley's Bristol Journal 23/9/1727 & 30/9/1727.

9) Gloucester Journal 12/3/1728 and Cranfield 'Development of Provincial Newspapers' p.159.

10) Haugh, 'Early Bristol Newspapers' pp.9-13.

11) W.George, 'The Oldest Bristol Newspaper', Bristol Times and Mirror, 4/8/1884.

12) Haugh, 'Early Bristol Newspapers', pp.13-16 & 25.

13) Ibid. pp.20-24.

14) J.Latimer, The Annals of Bristol in the Eighteenth Century, (Bristol, 1893), pp.279. also The Oracle 21/8/1742 when critisising Felix Farley, 'We hope he will never afterwards be guilty of such an egregious Blunder as to set the Russian fleet sailing on dry land, among Rocks and Mountains in Transilvania in Quest of the Swedish Fleet in the Finnish Gulph'. Also The Oracle 21/7/1744 where the Bath Journal was critisised, 'for want of knowing that the real Distance of any two Places is compounded of the Longitudinal and Latitudinal Differences of those Places'.

15) Latimer, 'Annals of Bristol', p.52.

16) F.F. Bristol Journal 11/1/1755 & 2/6/1744.

17) Latimer, 'Annals of Bristol', p.52.

18) Rev.A.B.Beaven, 'Notices of the Farley Family', Bristol Times and Mirror, 15/4/1911.

19) F.F.Bristol Journal 12, 19 & 26/5/1753; 2, 9, 16, 23 & 30/6/1753; 7, 14 & 21/7/1753; 10 & 17/11/1753; 12 & 19/1/1754.

20) Ibid. 9/3/1754.

21) Ibid. 20/3/1756.

22) R.Austin, 'Historical Record of the Gloucester Journal', Bicentenary Gloucester Journal 1722 - 1922 (Gloucester, 1922).

23) 'Raikes Robert' (1735 - 1811) Dictionary of National Biography(Vol.XVI London, 1896), pp.611-613

24) Pieces 5154 & 5155 in the Gloucester Colletion, Gloucester Divisional Library.

25) D.F.Gallop, 'Chapters in the History of the Provincial Newspaper Press 1700 - 1855' (unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Reading, 1954), pp.93-96.

26) Ibid. pp.75-91.

27) Bristol Journal 6/8/1774 and Haugh, 'Early Bristol Newspapers', pp.29-30.

28) Haugh, 'Early Bristol Newspapers', p.30.

29) Gallop, 'Chapters in the History of the Provincial Newspaper Press', pp.88-91.

30) Latimer, 'Annals of Bristol', p.294 and J.Gibson, Local Newspapers 1750 -1920 - England & Wales, C.I. & I.O.M. A Select Location List - (Birmingham 1991) p.19.

31) A.A.Allen & A.G.Powell, Bristol and its Newspapers 1713 - 1934 (Bristol, 1934), p.15 and Williams, 'The English Newspaper', p.25.

32) Williams, 'The English Newspaper', p.79.


�1996 John Penny

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