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Victorian Press and the Working Classes

Extracts from this document...


Paul Savva-Andreou

Level 2

Research and discovery

Semester 2

Victorian Press and the Working Classes


The mainstream newspapers did not represent the working classes, as they were not considered part of the readership.  The only representation came from radical newspapers such as the ‘Northern Star’.


The key concepts involved in discovering how the Victorian press represented the working classes it is important to choose an era of unrest amongst the working classes.  Taking in to account that the Northern Star is the most well known of the radical working class newspapers, it is easy to map this to the Chartist period in Britain.  Taking this as a guideline the period should be between 1838 to 1852, following the rise and fall of Chartism.  To contrast the views of the Northern Star it is advisable to find another newspaper.  The best would be the Leeds Mercury.  Being a northern paper it will give good contrasting views to that of the Northern Star.

Research Methodology:

Taking in to account of the amount of issues available for both sets of newspapers it is paramount to filter them in some way.  To do this I will take an issue every ten years or so from each and contrast the stories in each.  In doing this it will enable me to look at certain issues involved in both of the newspapers.  How they deal with parliamentary debates, passing of acts and the normal stories of general interest.  It is also a key issue to see how they both deal with the foreign stories and how they contrast.  Having taken three issues from each newspaper six in all it will be easy to see how the items and style develop over three decades.

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In the second issue of the Northern Star 13th of January 1838 the main focus of the newspaper is on the war in Canada.  The Mercury matches this as it also has information about the Canadian Civil war.  However in the Star the article is only on half a page and shows no interest in extending its views on this situation.  This shows that the interests of the working classes that they are no that bothered about the growing unrest in a country of the empire a few thousand miles away.  This viewpoint from the Star shows that the chartist opinions are being brought through in to the paper.  In comparison the Mercury places the Canadian issue on at least four pages.  This includes ‘Foreign Intelligence’, the movement of troops, and the commanders in charge of certain columns in the war in Canada.  With all of this information or ‘Intelligence’ included in the issue it is clear to see the main story is that concerning the plight of the colony.[2]  This shows a very empirical view from the mainstream paper.

The other news included in the issue of the Star is meeting of the Leeds Working Mans Association.  However in the article the paper begins the story of how the hall which was said to fit 300 hundred people could only fit 200.  Then it precedes to tell how the meeting was about political equality for all:

“The people: May they soon enjoy those political and social rights which their utility deserves, and their birthright demands”

Mr G White member LWMA.[3]

This was the main argument upheld by the chartists throughout their existence.  It may not seem so radical now but during the Victorian era it was unheard of for all men to have equal rights to voting.

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[10]  Showing again the views of the world.

Then issue also has political views about the Liberals and their lack of cohesion at the time.  News of train crash.  Importantly news on a meeting of the mechanics institute.  It gives details of the events of the meeting;[11] this again shows that a mainstream newspaper can concern itself with the working classes.


It is clear to see that the Mercury did not wholly deject from printing stories of interest of the working classes.  They ran a number of stories throughout the Victorian era.  However it is fair to say that the Northern star did more for the working classes than the Mercury.  The Star included the times of the meetings for the trade unions and more.  The Mercury by 1858 had included the motions of meetings by the trade unions so it does indicate that the Mercury was coming round to the idea that the part of the readership was coming from the working classes.  In light of this it is wise to change the view of my hypothesis:

The mainstream press did not initially represent the working classes as well as the more radical newspapers did such as the Northern Star, however as time progressed they were soon given the recognition they deserved.

[1] Leeds Mercury, May 01 1858

[2] Leeds Mercury and Northern Star, January 13 1838

[3] Northern Star, January 13 1838

[4] Leeds Mercury, January 13 1838

[5] Northern Star, January 08 1848

[6] Northern Star, January 08 1848

[7] Leeds Mercury, January 08 1848

[8] Northern Star, June 26 1852

[9] Leeds Mercury, May 01 1858

[10] Leeds Mercury, May 01 1858

[11] Leeds Mercury, May 01 1858



Leeds Mercury, January 13 1838, January 08 1848, June 26 1852, May 01 1858

Northern Star, January 13 1838, January 08 1848

Star of Freedom, June 26 1852

Secondary Sources:

Black, Jeremy, “The Press”, History Review (March 1998), 31-33.

Brown, Lucy, Victorian News and Newspapers (1985)

Reed, Donald, Press and People, 1790-1850 (1961)

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