Robert Raikes Snr is best known as the father of Robert Raikes Jnr, one of Gloucester’s most famous sons, who founded the Sunday School movement. Yet the elder Raikes (1683-1757) is equally worthy of recognition for the role he played in developing the regional newspaper industry with his pioneering Gloucester Journal in the early part of the 18th century.
His story is one which exemplifies the spirit of the entrepreneurs who strove to bring newspapers to England’s provinces at a time when inland transport routes were so bad that it was easier to sail round the country than travel across it. Media historians have tended to typify these early newspapers as simple products, produced by provincial printers, who filled their pages with content ‘cut and paste’ from the London titles. However, recent research suggests, these newspapers formed part of complex business arrangements which depended on sustainable distribution networks. As such we can think of them as nodes in commercial networks by which other products were sold, most chiefly books and patent medicines.
Raikes exemplifies these arrangements. The Gloucester Journal was founded as a spin off from the Northampton Mercury which he had published as part of a successful partnership with William Dicey. Circulation areas in the 18th century were of necessity much larger than we think of now – largely due to limited levels of literacy which meant a much greater area was needed to reach a sustainable sale of around 1,000 copies. As such, Raikes choice of Gloucester for his venture would have enabled him to create a circulation which complemented that of Dicey, who stayed in Northampton. The two continued to continued to co-operate in business, not least in the sale of the patented Dr Bateman’s Pectoral Drops and the books which Dicey also produced, via the same networks which sold the newspaper.
Most historians turn to newspapers as a source of information; much less information can be found which evidences how these titles functioned as businesses. The Gloucestershire Archives include two holdings which give us information on Raikes’ entrepreneurial intentions.
One is a photo of a facsimile of an original advert for the newspaper (reference NV26.4) which tells us that it will “contain not Only the most authentick Foreign and Domestick News, but also the Price of Corn, Goods, etc, at Bear Key in London, and all other Trading Cities and Market Towns 50 Miles round. The Paper will be suitable to all Degrees and Capacities, and will be collected with all the Care that money or Industry is capable of procuring.”
Here Raikes is making claim to the truth and quality of his content, in a forerunner to the values which will underwrite Journalism, which was not at that time established as a profession in its right. Similarly we get a feel for the wide circulation area to be covered by the Journal. This is perhaps best evidenced by an advert which lists the distributors and the areas they cover (item number NV26.1) – which stretched across the West Midlands, Wales and the South West.
Finally, the success of Raikes business is evidenced in his will (reference D3109/1). This shows that he left a considerable legacy, including rented property in Upton St Leonards, Matson and St Mary Seaford – the income from which he was able to bequeath to two of his business associates. This is because he wife and son were, one assumes, well provided for by the business in its own right. The Gloucester Journal stayed in the family until Robert Junior sold it for £1,500 and an income of £300 a year in 1802. In 1992 it was incorporated into the Gloucester Citizen.
Author note: Dr Rachel Matthews is Principle Lecturer in Journalism at Coventry University with a research interest in the provincial newspaper. She worked as a journalist for 15 years, 10 years of which were spent at the Gloucestershire Echo.