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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

Newspapers in Norwich

Newspapers in Norwich

The first English newspapers were the news sheets or "corantos" of foreign news - they appeared in the early 17th century in London and Holland in particular. They were viewed with suspicion by the governments of these countries, who saw them as dangerous and embarrassing - as a result information of this nature was subject to vigorous checks by the licenser of the press.

Relaxation of these laws came in 1695, when Parliament agreed not to renew the licensing act. This left the way clear for the publication of such material, and the opportunity was quickly exploited by Francis Burges, who attempted to make his fortune by setting up the press in Norwich. On 6th September 1701, Burges published the first provincial newspaper, the Norwich Post.

Burges no doubt chose Norwich as his base because of its prominent position at this time - a leader in trade and industry, Norwich had a significant population and was thus a promising place for the extension of the press. He moved from London to settle in St Andrew's Parish, Norwich in 1700, where he established his printing office at the top of Redwell Street.

The newspaper, which was a weekly publication consisting of four pages, was viewed with suspicion by government officials who thought Burges' actions were a political threat and danger. However, for Burges, the Norwich Post was more a commercial than a political venture and an exciting novelty for the people of Norwich.

Burges died in 1706 aged only 30. His death marked the start of what has been termed 'newspaper warfare' - by the end of 1706 Norwich had more newspapers than any other provincial city. Sadly, the Norwich Post disappeared in c.1712-13.

Two of the leading newspapers to come from this period in Norwich were the Post-Man and the Gazette. The Gazette fought hard to become the most successful newspaper once Burges had died - its owner tried without success to blackmail and force the widow of Francis Burges to join with him and combine the resources and reputations of these newspapers together, primarily to put a stop to the by now growing success of the Post-Man. The Gazette changed its name in 1771 to become the Norfolk Chronicle. The Post-Man, which also originated in 1706, later in c.1712-14 merged with the Weekly Mercury. This became the Norwich Mercury in 1726. It was published on the corner of Castle Street and London Street - the premises stood here for over 150 years.    

The Mercury was printed by the Whig William Chase and the Gazette by the Tory printer Henry Cross-Grave. Both men sailed close to the law in terms of the content and material they published. Attempts were made by government to stop the newspapers from continuing (especially under the rule of Queen Anne) - high taxes were imposed to make publishing material much more difficult, most significantly with a tax on advertisements and stamp duty on each sheet published. However, this did not deter the publishers and the success of the newspapers in Norwich grew significantly.

Significant improvements in the publication of newspapers in Norwich were seen through the Norwich Mercury and the leadership qualities of Richard Mackenzie Bacon (1776-1844). By this time Norwich had a highly influential middle class growing up. Bacon himself was from a well educated, liberal background, and tried hard to find a line between the Toryism of the Norfolk Chronicle and the declamations of the radicals and Republicans (such as those who followed the ideas of Thomas Paine) who flourished in the City. Interestingly, Bacon was also a music critic, and founded the 'Quarterly Music Review'.

Despite his attempts to find a suitable 'middle ground', Bacon's liberal Mercury was not radical enough for some and forced the creation of another newspaper. Non-conformist lawyers, manufacturers and tradesmen were particularly prominent in the city from the 1840s, however, the Mercury would not report on the meetings of these groups. As a result, in 1845 they formed their own paper - the Norfolk News, Eastern Counties' Herald, and Norwich, Yarmouth, and Lynn Commercial Gazette, was dedicated to the principles of civil, religious and commercial freedom. It was from this newspaper that the Eastern Daily Press developed, with significant backing from the liberal industrialist Jeremiah James Colman.

By 1855 the abolition of the Stamp Act led to the increase in the number of newspapers and their circulation across not only Norwich but the whole country also. The editors and proprietors of the Mercury and the Norfolk News etc., realised the potential to reach a far wider audience than ever before, and in October 1870 they launched morning papers.

Sources:

  • A. D. Euren, The First Provincial Newspaper, a brief survey of the earliest of Norwich newspapers (published by the Norwich Mercury, May 17th and 24th 1924)
  • The Norwich Post, its contemporaries and its successors (published by the Norfolk News Company, 1951)

Victoria Golden

November 2008