The Times, London
The Times newspaper was founded by publisher John Walter on 1 January 1785 as The Daily Universal Register, with Walter in the role of editor. His career as a Lloyd’s underwriter in London finished after an increase in insurance claims arising from a hurricane in Jamaica ruined his business.
While at Lloyds, he’d heard of the new typesetting method called logography invented by Henry Johnson who claimed this typesetting was faster and more accurate because it set more than one letter at a time. John Walter purchased Johnson’s patent and started a printing company and a daily advertising sheet.
When the newspaper started, it competed with eight other daily newspapers in London but Walter was determined to make it profitable, which was helped by a secret deal where he was paid £300 a year to publish stories favourable to the
government. The Times included parliamentary reports, foreign news and advertisements, with John Walter at first primarily concerned with advertising revenue: “The Register, in its politics, will be of no party. Due attention should be paid to the interests of trade, which are so greatly promoted by advertisements.”
The newspaper appealed to a larger audience by including the latest scandals and gossip about famous people in London, one of which was about the Prince of
Wales and saw Walter being fined £50 and sentenced to two years in Newgate
Prison for libel printed in The Times. His efforts to obtain Continental news, especially from France, increased the paper’s reputation among policy makers and financiers.
The paper used contributions from significant figures in the fields of politics, science, literature, and the arts and during its early life, had very little competition because their large profits allowed them to offer better pay for information or writers.
In 1803, John Walter handed ownership and editorship to his son who wanted a newspaper independent of government control, so he employed young journalists who supported political reform, including Henry Crabbe Robinson, Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt and Thomas Barnes. The newspaper turned away from government minister’s handouts and developed its own news-getting organisation.
In 1809, John Stoddart became general editor and, in 1817, he
installed a steam-powered Koenig printing machine to increase the speed the
paper could be printed. By the end of 1817, it was selling over 7,000 copies a day. In 1817, he was replaced by Barnes, a strong advocate on independent reporting, who published several articles written by John Edward Taylor and John Tyas on
the Peterloo Massacre.
After the Peterloo Massacre, The Times argued for parliamentary reform and by 1830, it constantly urged the Whig government to take action. The government tax on newspapers meant 7d. was too expensive for most people to buy, but copies were in reading rooms. In 1831 the Tory St. James’s Chronicle claimed that “for every one copy of The Times that is purchased for the usual purposes, nine we venture to say are purchased to be lent to the wretched characters who, being miserable, look to political
changes for an amelioration of their condition.”
Under Barnes and his successor in 1841, John Thadeus Delane, the paper’s influence rose, especially in politics and amongst the City of London. Peter Fraser and Edward Sterling were two noted journalists, and gained for The Times the pompous/satirical nickname ‘The Thunderer’, (from “We thundered out the other day an article on social and political reform.”).
By using the steam driven rotary printing press very early on, The Times increased its circulation and influence and distribution via steam trains to rapidly growing concentrations of urban populations ensured it remained profitable. It became the first newspaper to send war correspondents to cover conflicts eg W. H. Russell’s dispatches from the army in the Crimean War.
The Times opposed the repeal of the Corn Laws until the number of demonstrations convinced the editorial board otherwise. It supported the Great Reform Bill of 1832 which reduced corruption and increased the electorate from 400 000 people to 800 000 people. During the American Civil War, it took the view of the wealthy classes and favoured secessionists, though it didn’t support slavery.
In a debate that took place in the House of Commons on 7th March, 1832, Sir Robert
Peel argued that The Times was the “principal and most powerful advocate of Reform” in Britain. The Times also campaigned for the rights of trade unionists and in 1834
became involved in the case of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and condemned the decision to prosecute six farmworkers at Tolpuddle for “administering illegal oaths”.
In 1834, a group of Whigs purchased control of the Morning Chronicle, but Thomas Barnes disagreed with the way they gave “slavish support to the government”. He talked the leaders of the Conservative Party into not interfering with reforms introduced by the Whigs, such as the 1832 Reform Act and the Tithe Act. In return, Barnes allowed The Times to support Peel and his new government.
Thomas Barnes remained editor of The Times until his death on 7th May 1841.The paper stayed independent and the third John Walter (the grandson) succeeded his father in 1847. But from the 1850s, the paper had rising competition from the penny press, notably The Daily Telegraph and The Morning Post.
(References from Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press and Wikipedia.)