Studies in Newspaper and Periodical History: 1995 Annual

By Michael Harris ; Tom O'Malley | Go to book overview

4
Early Nineteenth-Century Reform Newspapers in the Provinces: The Newcastle Chronicle and Bristol Mercury

Peter Brett

Reform-minded provincial newspapers consciously regarded themselves as the voice of the liberal middle classes while at the same time seeking to reflect their predominant interests and concerns. The extent to which readers were influenced by information and comment contained in their newspapers was a question earnestly debated in all of the leading contemporary periodical magazines at one time or another, 1 and the question has continued to exercise historians down to the present day. Professor Aspinall went so far as to argue that, "It was the mass pressure of public opinion, formed by the Radical Press, acting on a reluctant Legislature which brought about the reform of Parliament in 1832." 2 If the press was neither as crude nor, indeed, as effective a mechanism as this, newspapers did undoubtedly form a crucial part of that amalgam of contradictory voices and interests known as public opinion. In any explanation of the elusive relationship between ideas and events at the center, and the actions and views of the rank and file in the constituencies, newspapers are both a major source of information often not available elsewhere and a significant subject of interest in their own right. There have been surprisingly few attempts, however, to build upon the work of historians such as Asa Briggs, Derek Fraser and Donald Read on early nineteenth-century newspapers in Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield, mostly written over thirty years ago, and it would still be fair to say

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