190 not out — how The Journal came to be the daily of the North East

North East England daily The Journal marked its 190th anniversary this month. Graeme Whitfield, appointed editor of the historic title earlier this year, looks back at how The Journal came into being — and where it’s going next

The first edition

“WE HAVE to commence our editorial labours by proclaiming the momentous intelligence of the defeat and dissolution of the Grey administration! The immediate causes of this great, and, we will add, most gratifying event, are fully developed in other divisions of our Journal.”

So began — on May 12, 1832 — the first edition of The Newcastle Journal, set up by businessmen John Hernaman and Robert Perring at the request of local Tories to oppose Earl Grey’s Reform Act, which reformed Parliament and gave the vote to many more men than had previously been allowed. The eight-page edition cost 7d, with tales of agriculture, commerce and shipping mixed with adverts for businesses of the day.

From that slightly inauspicious beginning, The Journal is now celebrating its 190th anniversary, with more than 50,000 editions having recorded matters local, national and international as they have affected people in the North East.

The Journal was initially a weekly newspaper and it aroused passions among its readership that would seem strange in the current day. Just a few months into its operation, a gang of men in the pay of Lord Lambton, Earl of Durham, burst into John Harnaman’s office and “with stick and whip they fell upon the proprietor of this journal and perpetrated an assault the result of which is considerable personal injuries.”

Journal Editor Graeme Whitfield

Two weeks later another attacker grabbed Mr Harnaman by the throat and called him a scoundrel who should be booted out of town and threatened to blacken his eye. Other attacks would follow as the Newcastle Journal maintained strong, and often unpopular, political opinions.

Whether or not this influenced Mr Hernaman’s decision to get out of the newspaper business is not clear, but in the late 1850s he sold both the paper and his printing business to Andrew Carr. The paper went daily in January 1861 under the name Newcastle Daily Journal, though not before having broken from its weekly publication schedule in 1854 for a special edition to report on the great fire of Newcastle and Gateshead, which destroyed almost all the buildings of the two quaysides.

“Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead were on Friday morning last and in the course of Friday the scene of a series of catastrophes, comprising fires, explosions, fall of buildings, and destruction of property, and loss of life, the like of which never perhaps befell these towns,” the coverage said. “The damage from concussion, and falling debris but the explosion, extended more or less over nearly the entire of the two towns, and consisted of riddled roofs, broken windows, extending considerably up Pilgrim Street, the Side, Dean Street, Grey Street, and along Clayton Street, on the north side of the Tyne, and over a similar area on the south side.”

The Journal has always been a paper committed to national and local news

The great fire came at a time of huge societal turmoil, with the North East’s mines fuelling the Industrial Revolution but at great cost to many of those working in them. In the Journal’s early days, the paper’s sympathies were very much with the mine owners, calling pitmen’s demands for better pay and conditions ‘unreasonable’. But over the coming years it would be reports on countless mining disasters — from Wallsend and Haswell to Seaham and West Stanley — culminating with the New Hartley pit disaster of 1862, where the deaths of more than 200 men and boys finally prompted a change in the law to improve mine safety.

Reporting from the village in the aftermath of the disaster, The Journal said: “All the blinds were drawn; but, looking in at the open doors, we saw coffins in every house. In most instances, they lay upon the large bed, so characteristic of the pitman’s dwelling. Sometimes the bed would not contain all the coffins; and then they were disposed on chairs beside it.

“And so we passed up the row, and saw two, and three, and four coffins all in one little room, till, at last, coming to the end house, we were appalled to see a perfect pile of them; and looking round, we were informed that seven dead bodies lay in the cottage. In every house women were sitting by the fire nursing their grief; and strong men, pale and dejected, were visibly suffering from the reaction of the excitement of the past week.”

The early decades of The Journal’s history were also a time when the North East led some of the more positive elements of the Industrial Revolution, with pioneers like the Stephensons and Lord Armstrong making regular headlines and Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society — seven years older than The Journal — becoming a a hub of learning and enlightenment that drew speakers from around the world.

Ownership of The Journal passed in 1867 to Northern Counties Conservative Newspaper Company for a sum of £2,357 (where it would remain for the next 70 years). Mergers with the Newcastle Courant, The North Star and the North Mail followed in the coming decades.

The 20th century brought reporting on two world wars, the Jarrow March and — in more positive news — Newcastle United’s football league triumph of 1927 and three FA Cup wins in the 1950s.

Sales in the 1950s topped a now unimaginable 130,000, the paper finally became simply known as “The Journal” and ownership would pass in 1960 to Thomson Newspapers.

The paper moved to Thomson House, close to its former Kemsley House offices, with Prime Minister visiting in 1965 to open the new HQ.

Innovations continued, with colour photographs published for the first time in 1990 and The Journal going tabloid — officially launched at Grey’s Monument by Kevin Keegan — in 1992. Ownership of the paper passed to Trinity in 1996, which became Trinity Mirror and later Reach plc through a series of mergers.

Along with our sister titles The Chronicle and The Sunday Sun, The Journal moved to new offices in Eldon Square in 2018, with our stories available online as well as in print. The North East we serve has changed massively over the course of The Journal’s history and the newspaper has — in stark contrast to its original mission — been politically neutral for many years.

But in many ways its mission is the same as that envisaged by Mr Hernaman and Mr Perring at its outset in 1832: to keep the people of Newcastle and the North East informed and entertained, to champion the best interests of the region and to hold power to account.

Not many institutions last 190 years and we have no intention of stopping any time soon.

  • In 2022, Behind Local News aims to celebrate local journalism in all its forms through our 365 Acts of Local Journalism Project. Lets us know what you think should be included. You can email us here or contact us via Twitter on BehindLocalNews or on Facebook here.

>> See the series so far, here

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The stories behind the stories, from the regional press in the UK

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