A history of the book in Devon, by Ian Maxted
51: The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars
There must have been many in Exeter who were sympathetic to the ideas of the revolutionaries in France. In Exeter in 1782 the Constitutional Society for the Redress of Grievances was established and in a letter to the paper in November 1784 it urged that members of the Chamber should be elected by the citizens. The citizens of Exeter were also supportive in the campaign to abolish slavery with a meeting at the Guildhall in 1788. In 1791 Robert Trewman's bookshop was selling Thomas Paine's The rights of man.
It is relevant here to draw attention to the role of freemasony in the printing industry in Exeter. In the age of enlightenment many of the more progressive thinkers were freemasons and the printer Andrew Brice was master of St Johns Lodge from at least 1756 to 1760. In 1769 he printed a work by Isaac Head A confutation of the observations on free masonry by an anonymous author or a pamphlet, entitled "Masonry the way to hell". The Exeter lodge met in the Apollo Room at the new Inn and it was here that the remains of Andrew Brice were laid out after his death on 7 November 1773. The public were admitted at a charge of one shilling to defray the expenses of his grand funeral. Brice had requested in his will that he be attended to his grave by his brother masons of St John's Lodge. In the event some two hundred members of various lodges processed in full masonic regalia from the New Inn to St Bartholomew's Churchyard on 14 November 1773. Robert Trewman printed an account of the proceedings in the Exeter flying post of 19 November. Trewman was himself a prominent mason and in 1767 he had printed A select collection of masonic songs with several originals never before printed. In 1777 he printed his own compilation The principles of freemasonry delineated. In Plymouth too there was a strong masonic presence with several publications issuing from presses there in the 1780s, including a number of items by Edward Spry, one, Six extemporaneously-compos'd masonic songs, having the imprint "Printed by Brothers Trewman and Haydon, to be had of the tilers at the various lodges" (1786). And might it be going too far to speculate that a brotherly agreement left the field free for the widowed Elizabth Brice to print all last dying speeches in the 1780s? Why otherwise should only gallows literature produced by this execrable printer survive in Exeter for this period?
On 21 May 1792 a royal proclamation was issued against the publications of various societies and their correspondence with the French Assembly, and across the country battle lines began to be drawn. It was no coincidence that it was in the Freemason's Tavern in London that the Friends of the Freedom of the Press was established on 23 December 1792. In Exeter the resolutions of the local meeting of the Friends of the Liberty of the Press were published in Trewman's Exeter flying post on 31 January 1793. But Trewman had turned to support the loyalist cause. In 1792 the Association for the Maintenance and Support of the British Constitution had been formed and there were meetings across the country. Robert Trewman printed the resolutions of several of these including the one held at Teignmouth on 17 December. Other printers were also enlisted in the patriotic cause, for example J.Weatherdon of Newton Abbot printed the resolutions of the meeting held in there on 19 December and of the one in Kingsbridge on 5 January.
But Trewman went further than was strictly necessary to prove his loyalty. On 26 November 1792 a constitutional association known as the Country House Association was instituted and Trewman chaired a number of the meetings as well as publishing an account of their proceedings. Two loyal songs also survive: Church and King. "A song. Tune - Rule Britannia" and The loyal Briton. The imprint on both reads: "Printed by R.Trewman & Son, and delivered (gratis) by the Constitutional Society, at the Country-House".
Tom Paine was burned in effigy along with his works across Devon late in 1792 and early in 1793. The Exeter flying post refers to such events in Chagford, Newton St Cyres and Okehampton on 20 December 1792 and at Rewe, Netherexe and Huxham on 14 February 1793. On 17 January 1793 it was reported that Tom Paine was taken from Exeter gaol in a cart and hanged in effigy at Heavitree. His countenance was descibed as sly, treacherous and seditious.
There were many individuals who took it upon themselves to support the status quo. In Redruth one Catharine Phillips drew up an injunction on 12 December 1792 To the lower class of people in the western part of the county of Cornwall, which was printed for her by James Phillips in London in 1793. From the present-day view-point it is difficult to take seriously and perhaps even then it only reached print because the printer was related in some way. Highlighting her main points in italic, she requires the lesser mortals to "study to be quiet and mind your own business." It was sufficent to "fear God and honour the King" and not to be lured by the "pleasing but delusive cry of Equality". Just as fervent in its loyalty is an item handsomely printed in quarto by B.Haydon at the Clarence Press in Plymouth and sold by Trewman in Exeter: A letter to His Grace the Duke of Portland, on the late alarming parties in this country, written by Mrs J.Webb in 1795.
Many took refuge in religion during this time of upheaval. Two religious broadsheets published during this period in Exeter bear the titles A journey from time to eternity (T.Brice, c1790) and Paradise lost and paradise regained (M'Kenzie, c.1795). Indeed it was a period when fanatical ideas could easily take root. Joanna Southcott (1750-1814) was born in Gittisham, near Honiton, the daughter of a farmer. After the death of her mother she entered service, first in Honiton and later in Exeter. In about 1792 she declared herself to be the woman in chapter twelve of the Book of Revelations and began to prophecy. One of her early prophecies, made in May 1796, seemed to predict the course of Napoleon's Italian campaign. Napoleon became for her the Black Beast of the Apocalypse and she considered the war against him as a crusade. Her first publications appeared in Exeter in 1801 and 1802, namely the first six parts of The strange effects of faith, part one printed by Thomas Brice and the remainder, as well as A continuation of the prophecies by George Floyde. In 1802 she moved to London, where her many later outpourings were printed, although they were distributed in Exeter by the Misses Eveleigh. Ironically her growing crowds of followers alarmed many, who considered her to be planning an insurrection and her enemies even designated her as Napoleon's brother. Her career was cut short when she died after a false pregnancy, during which she claimed to be pregnant with Shiloh, the Messiah.
If revolutionary sentiments were expressed in print in Devon during this period few examples survive. In fact there was considerable suppression of any ideas which were held by the authorities to be disloyal. On 25 July 1793 William Winterbotham, assistant preacher at How's Lane meeting, Plymouth, was tried before a special jury at Exeter on the charge of having issued seditious words during a sermon preached at the chapel on 5 November 1792. The proceedings were taken down in shorthand by William Bowring and The trial of Wm. Winterbotham was published in London for the defendant who was then in prison in Newgate. Winterbotham, who was a Baptist, evidently attracted hearers from outside the regular congregation. On this particular occasion he was charged with saying, referring to the 1688 revolution: "the laws made at that time have since been abused and brought into disuse." Further: "I highly approve of the Revolution in France and I do not doubt that it has opened the eyes of the people of England... Why are your streets and poor houses crouded with poor and your goals [sic] with thieves but because of the oppressive laws and taxes. I am astonished that you are quiet and contented under these grievances ... You fancy you live under a mild government and good laws but it is no such thing... We have as much right to stand up as they did in France for our liberty. His Majesty was placed upon the throne upn condition of keeping certain laws and if he does not observe them he has no more right to the throne than the Stuarts had." Serjeant Rooke, the counsel for the corown called the congregation "ignorant people" liable to be lead astray. According to Winterbotham one hearer, a Devonshire Associator for Preserving the British Constitution, began to query what kind of constitution is endangered by open discussion and "began to read, mark, learn and inwardlly digest several good books on the subject of government ... and is now fully satisfied that he has been deluded and blined by projudice ... and declares that he will never more vote for any member of Parliament that will not vote for parliamentary reform" (p.71). There was suspicion that the jury had been packed: "Mr Woolmer of Exeter (the printer and bookseller) ... declared that he had a gentleman with him, one of the special jury on Mr Winterbotham's trial who swore he was determined to convict him at all events". And despite that fact that many testified that the alleged words had not been uttered or had been distorted, and despite a sympathetic summing up by the judge, Winterbotham was found guilty. On the following day, 26 July, Winterbotham was further accused of saying in a sermon preaced on 18 November: "Darkness has long cast her veil over the land; persecution and tyranny have carried universal sway ... The yoke of bondage among our neighbours seems now to be pretty well broken." The judge claimed that he found it difficult to believe that such ideas would have been broadcast by an individual already accused over his previous sermon, but the jury found Winterbotham guilty on this count also. He was sentenced to four years in prison and fined £200.
Significantly the Exeter printer Thomas Brice has his name in the imprint of the account of the trial. Brice was seen as having republican sympathies. During this period he produced a broadsheet Hell in an uproar; or, Tom Paine below stairs. An infernal drama, perhaps written tongue in cheek and an iteresting typographic Map of the seat of was, on the frontiers of France, Germany, and the Netherlands (1794).
There was undoubedly discontent over high prices and scarcity of food, and this is reflected in several broadsheets printed in the 1790s. The Exeter weavers in 1791, issued a broadsheet in justification of their actions beginning : "To all whom it may concern, and to the public in general. We, the weavers in general of the city and neighbourhood of Exeter, being charged by our master with raising our wages, and the contrary being the case, we shall lay before the public the following facts ... " In 1795 George Floyde printed a series of reports of meetings held by the journeyman fullers of Exeter and the merchants relating to the vexed question of wages.
Elections and electioneering continued throughout the period of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. In 1812 at least nineteen broadsheets were printed for the Ide burlesque election by Cullum, Trewman, Hedgeland and Besley all of whom had printed for the parliamentary election. As in the 18th century they pre-supposed an awareness of politics for there were allusions to personalities in the real election, for example in the 1812 election for Devon the Whig Samuel Colleton Graves stood against John Pollexfen Bastard and Sir Thomas Dyke Acland on a platform of peace and reform - a brave stand at the height of the Napoleonic wars. He polled only eight votes against the 823 of Bastard and 840 of Acland. One of the writers of the Ide broadsheets signed himself as a Graves-Digger which would be a cause of knowing laughter among those of the readers who had been following the elections.
One of the more eccentric participants in political exchanges during this period was the honest saddler of Exeter Captain John Cooke, who writes in his reminiscences: "the many hour I have knocked my head as it were against Samuel Johnson to find words; my first loyal step in 1793, I put out handbills and advertisements at my own expence to avoid all such inflammatory pamphlets as Tom Paine's. One Brice, then a printer, in Exeter, a scholar though of republican principles; he posted me about the streets with halfpenny papers; he and the poor hawkers got many pence through me; but all he could do or say was to degrade my orthography, but to lessen my loyalty or character he could not."
In the period of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars newspapers were avidly devoured, and the London papers were at least as keenly sought after as the local ones, the news being that much fresher. In October 1810 the painter Joseph Faringdon reached Exeter on a tour of the west of England. On 12 November he wrote in his diary of a city eager for gossip and news: "Exeter was spoken of yesterday as being a place in which there is much gossiping and that perhaps more among the men than even the women. There are many men who have settled there with their families from motives of general oeconomy & convenience, have no occupation, & exercise their minds in hearing and reporting occurrences, great and little, as they arise." On 20 October he commented on the crowd of people surrounding the bulletin of political information posted up by the local character John Cooke, the honest saddler of Exeter. Cooke himself says in his reminiscences that during the Napoleonic wars he had at his door "a large sheet of paper written as a daily monitor gratis, a bulletin of news to cheer people in the worst of times, to guide them in the constitutional road ... both citizens and country-folks of a market day looked up to Cooke's bulletin as natural as they look to their parish dial." These bulletins were often in rhyme and displayed a considerable humour. A sample is cited by a contemporary: "The Russians have beat the French, and King Joey is taken prisoner in Spain. Observe Spain is not in Portugal."
Farington notes on 26 October 1810: "I observe that the public are in anxious expectation of news from Portugal and that this is the subject most thought of beyond each man's personal affairs." Faringdon himself was an inveterate newspaper reader and when unable to fill the pages of his diary with scurrilous comments on others, he rehearses what he has read in the papers. In Exeter he was able to keep up with national events for on 4 November he notes the meeting of Parliament only three days previously. Cossins (p. 44-5) describes how the people of Exeter would anxiously await the arrival of the Telegraph coach from London at 10 p.m. to grab the London papers from the guard and read them to the crowd.
Nor was the eagerness for news confined to Exeter, as is revealed by a letter from Beavis Wood, the Tory town clerk of Tiverton, dated 2 April 1799. He is writing to the Member of Parliament Dudley Ryder about the circulation of newspapers: "First I will notice the cock Jacobin paper called The courier. One of them is taken daily and goes first to Mr. Smith the surgeon, then to Mr. Alier, an alien, in St. Peter's Street - hence it proceeds to Mr. Follet (the Congregational minister) and Mr. Quick the druggist and then to Parson Leigh, the undermaster at Blundell's School. The next morning it goes to Mr. Geo. Dunsford - and then it is sold to Mr. Chilcot, a sergemaker for 26s a year and he sends it and lends it among the common people." Another copy is traced through fifteen avid readers before reaching Parson Lewis of Clayhanger, there "to poison the honest countrymen" (Chalk 1936, 117).
There is much background to Tiverton's social and political life in these troubled times in the letters written by Beavis Wood to his MP Sir Dudley Ryder (Wood 1986, 134-6).
He was always critical of radicals or "crabs" as he termed them, among whom he placed the historian of Tiverton, Martin Dunsford. On 5 February 1793 he writes that Dunsford and his disaffected associates had provoked disloyal expressions. Complaint about them had been made to the mayor who summoned the radicals and warned them to be more careful what they said in the future. Wood writes that a paper was "dropt and handed around the town, which alth'o insignificant caused some laughing on all sides. And I put it up in my office window that all might read it as they passed."
One week later on 12 February he writes that, in order to please some of his friends who did not like to be too much laughed at and in order to promote a more general amusement he wrote and put up another paper which made the Mayor help to the laugh of the patriots". The authorities were not having much success that month as an attempt to have a holiday to burn the works of Tom Paine "went off heavily" with very few attending and Ryder felt that this caused Tiverton to have "a very disaffected and disloyal character throughout the country".
In order to support the character of the Corporation the Mayor of Tiverton held a Common Council on 15 February when the resolutions were published but not put in the newspapers. On 19 and 25 February Beavis Wood put out two advertisements under the name of Pam "in order to keep on the laughs by the desire of my loyal assistants. This I fancy made the patriots resolve to attack the last resolution of the corporation and they now appeared to expect something very particular to be laughed at." Within a couple of days the expected leaflet appeared. Wood writes on 28 February "In order to ridicule the last Corporation resolutions now approved a few of the printed papers signed Bunyan senior, by way burlesque, but it produced more groaning than laughing and yet went off very well as a joke. The loyalists again desired me to think how a parody might be put out to Bunyan". This clearly occupied Wood for some little time as he does not write again until 11 March: "I published the paper of Snap as a parody to Bunyan, which turned the laugh all round again and kept the little Dr. Abell in his water for some days." Abell was the local apothecary, a man of wit but a prodigious drinker whose addiction lead him at times to outrageous behaviour. Wood expressed the hope that this seemed likely to be the end of "all this idle amusement and no harm or any degree of ill will had been produced by it as could be discovered." However Wood was wrong. On 16 March he wrote that somone had become a little serious with him and he had received a letter though the post. "I wrote the note under it and put it up in my window for all (who chose) to read them. By which means I have had as many attendants before my door as at any country private shop."
These extracts show the atmosphere in which such squibs circulated and demonstrate too the mixture of word of mouth, written and printed messages. There is no surviving evidence for a printing press in Tiverton before 1797 and such items would probably have to be printed in Exeter, some twelve miles distant. One of the items in this exchange has recently been found in a collection in the Westcountry Studies Library.
Parliament shared the misgivings of people like the Town Clerk of Tiverton and on 12 July 1799 a bill received the royal assent which ordered that any person owning a printing press, including private persons, should register them with the Clerk of the Peace. Typefounders were also to be registered and to keep an account of all those to whom they supplied type. Significanly freemasons' lodges were required to be registered at the same time. The registration records for Exeter do not appear to survive but in Devon the first printer to register was James Chave of Tavistock on 7 August. He was followed on 21 August by James Spurway of Honiton, on 22 August by Joseph Jackson of Dartmouth and three days later by John Weatherdon of Newton Abbot and John Huxtable of South Molton.
These restrictions did not prevent private individuals from getting access to printers. In January 1809 the Beer smuggler John Rattenbury was wanted for desertion. He assisted a brig, the Linskel off Lyme Regis, which had several officers on board. After he had rescued them from the gale he told them his predicament. "They said that, as soon as we got ashore, I should get printed a hand-bill, describing what I had done on their behalf. They even presented me with a guinea to defray the expense. As soon as I got on shore I went to a printer and had a hand-bill struck off, which was to be of great use to me." The text of the handbill was also published in the Exeter flying post on 9 February 1809. Rattenbury still kept a low profile but some weeks later Lord Rolle came to Beer to visit a charity school. His wife presented one of the handbills. "She begged him to read it, which he did, with considerable attention. As he went down the street he said he would do something for me." Rolle returned later and told Rattenbury's wife that he could do nothing as "he is the man who threatened to cut my sergeant's guts out". In desperation Rattenbury himself ran after the carriage and presented a copy of his handbill to Lady Rolle "entreating her to use her influence with his Lordship". Coincidence or not the soldiers were called away from Beer about a week later and for Rattenbury at least this was a personal proof of the power of the press (Hathaway 1994, 88-90).
On 8 March 1813 a new newspaper appeared in Exeter to compete with Trewman's Exeter flying post and Woolmer's Exeter and Plymouth gazette. The two existing newspapers were both four-page broadsheets with five columns to the page and closely set text. The mastheads were modest affairs, typical of the provincial press of the time. The newcomer was a cast in a different mould. It was of a much smaller format with eight pages in each issue instead of four, printed on the largest sheet of paper allowed by the Stamp Office, and had only three columns to the page as opposed to five, generously separated by double rules. It had a wood engraving for its masthead depicting an eagle with the motto "Semper fidelis" and a decorative engraved rule at the foot of the first page. It is perhaps no coincidence that among the advertisements on the front page of the first issue was one for Caslon's printing types.
Its title confirmed that it set out to appeal to a broad range of readers: Flindell's Western Luminary : the Family Newspaper of the Nobility and Gentry, Farmers & Traders of the counties of Devon, Cornwall, Dorset & Somerset ... In a prospectus Thomas Flindell had set out his aims in starting this new publication - an attempt also to justify its high price of 8d an issue as opposed to 6½d. His plan to "promote the solid interests and rational pleasures of the various classes which happily compose our English fabric of social order" lead him to devote at least one page "solely to the interests of Agriculture, Mining, Trade, and Domestic Economy", "another page shall be devoted to te drawing room and the fireside; - to Fashion, Literature, and the Arts." This section, soon to be entitled the 'Literary and Fashionable Repository' was given prominence by being set in a larger type. "The next feature ... is a comprehensive detail of the various occurrences of its own district". Coverage of international affairs would benefit from "facilities for obtaining original intelligence, by the two great naval rendezvous of Torbay and Plymouth, and the important packet station of Falmouth. The editorial function "the summing up" was also seen as important by Flindell. Entitled the 'Review', it provided an opportunity for the editor to make utterances on matters of the day, often in outspoken terms.
Flindell concluded his prospectus with testimonials to answer the question that would doubtless be asked: "Who is this man, that would introduce his newspaper into my Family?" In the first issue he seeks further to reassure his readers by declaring his "fixed determination not to admit into his columns any of those filthy advertisements, which would indeed ill become a family newspaper. He had also learned that "he cannot publish his paper on Monday mornings, without a serious infringement on the Sabbath. He has, therefore, resolved that Tuesday morning, instead of Monday (as first announced) shall be his settled time of publishing" (8 Mar 1813). Perhaps it was more than a happy coincidence that Tuesday was the only day when a London newspaper did not arrive in Exeter.
The newspaper's pages were numbered sequentially and it may be that Flindell intended to produce an index. None has been traced and sequential numbering was dropped after the first volume. Similar experiments with new forms of newspaper were being undertaken elsewhere in the country at this period, for example the Liverpool Mercury, established in 1811 by Egerton Smith, which was provided with a title-page and index to each annual volume (Perkin 1990).
Thomas Flindell brought to Exeter a wide experience of work in printing offices across the country. He had been born in Helston, probably in 1767, and apprenticed in Falmouth, probably to Philip Elliott. It may have been Elliott's death in 1787 which set Flindell on his years of travel. This period took him to Bath, Edinburgh, London and Doncaster, where in 1790 he became editor of the Doncaster Gazette. In 1798 he returned to Helston to found the Stannary Press where he began the publication of the Bible in fortnightly parts. In 1800 he moved to Falmouth where, on 7 March 1801 he founded the Cornwall Gazette and Falmouth Packet, the first newspaper in Cornwall. His partners in this undertaking failed in business and Flindell himself was imprisoned for debt in Bodmin gaol, the last issue of the paper appearing on 16 October 1802. At that time a subscription was raised among Cornish landowners to start a weekly newspaper. Flindell offered his services as printer and on 2 July 1803 in Truro he launched the first issue of the Royal Cornwall Gazette. It was vigorously conducted but fell into the hands of the Tory party, a factor which lead to the launching in 1810 of the Whig West Briton. Two years warfare with the rival editor resulted in the sale of the newspaper to Nettletons and Flindell's move to Exeter to establish a newspaper on his own principles (Potts 1963, 307-9).
It was clearly in Flindell's interest to cultivate his readership and to make them feel part of a wider community, a community with shared ideals and common loyalties - including, of course, loyalty to his newspaper. A complex network of distribution had been set up, the outlines of which were laid down in the prospectus: "Such of the inhabitants of Exeter as are disposed to receive it, are requested to give their orders to the person appointed to wait on them for that purpose; or leave their address at the printing-office as soon as convenient. Other persons within the four counties (if not personally waited on by the Traveller for the Luminary) will have the goodness to give their orders through some reputable bookseller or news-agent in their nearest post town. All persons wishing to have it sent to them beyond the boundaries of Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset, must send their orders through some respectable inhabitant of Exeter who will at the same time undertake for the payment, quarterly".
Flindell made efforts to involve subscribers in the paper. In the first issue Flindell offered to "lay open his paper to any and every writer, whose object it may be to promote useful knowledge, or rational amusements" (8 Mar 1813). A question and answer section was introduced and of course Flindell was reliant on subscribers for local intelligence.
According to Flindell it was at the request of "some very respectable Subscribers" that he was induced during 1814 to commence a most unusual undertaking for a newspaper, the publication of a complete list of subscribers. This however was easier said than done for reasons stated by the publisher in his "Explanations to the list of subscribers" which incidentally demonstrate the extent to which the newspaper penetrated communities throughout the region. Perhaps two thirds of the impression was estimated to go into the hands of small groups of from two to six persons or families who clubbed together to meet the costs of subscribing. "In some cases", said Flindell, "a single copy serves a whole village or little country parish." In such cases only the name of the person who paid the subscription could be included on the list. Copies of newspapers were often forwarded by residents of larger towns to friends in more remote areas or to gentlemen on country estates at a distance from the nearest post town. Also some of the agents who received weekly parcels of papers wholesale did not send the names of the individuals for which they had ordered. Nevertheless the resulting list, which appeared in 1815, indicates that the printer and many of the readers regarded the Western luminary as something different from an ordinary newspaper.
The list includes 1695 names including eight multiple subscribers to 33 copies, bringing the total number of copies accounted for to 1720. Details given are sparse and, as Flindell admits, "some are perhaps mis-spelt or improperly designated". However duplication appears to be rare and many names can be more closely identified from other sources, which provides a unique insight into the newspaper reading community assembled by Flindell.
The multiple subscribers are in all cases printers or booksellers except for Tarring, postmaster at Brixham who subscribed for three copies. The others are Bligh of Bodmin (3 copies), Boyce of Tiverton (6), Haydon & Co. of Plymouth (2), Hoxland and Co of Plymouth Dock (3), Salter of Tiverton (4), Syle of Barnstaple (8) and Salter of Dartmouth (4). These printers were doubtless acting as agents but there are in all at least 40 members of the book trades represented, the majority subscribing to single copies, perhaps for their own information, or to make them available to their customers - this must certainly have been true of the five librarians mentioned.
Other places where newspapers were made publicly available were inns and taverns and a total of 64 innkeepers or publicans have been identified as well as two hotels. Other subscribers are known to have run assembly rooms, coffee houses or similar institutions, for example J.Stockford of Teignmouth. Five coffee houses are also included.
The clergy are well represented with 155 bearing the title of Reverend. The armed services can be identified by a total of 45 captains. Other professionals to be found are 33 attornies, 16 bankers, 20 surgeons, 5 physicans and 15 schoolmasters. Commerce is represented by at least 53 merchants, including dealers in wine, spirits, textiles and timber. There are 13 MPs, nine lords and three ladies. The gentry can be identified thanks to the lists of country seats provided in the Cornwall and Devon volumes of Samuel and Daniel Lysons Magna Britannia (vol. 5: Cornwall, 1816, vol. 6: Devonshire, 1822). Of the 148 country seats listed for Cornwall 41 are represented among the subscribers (28% of the total) and slightly better than Devon where 94 subscribers can be found for the 351 seats listed (26% of the total). The 135 gentry thus identified account for 8.0% of the total number of 1695 subscribers. There are a total of 150 women (8.8% of the total) made up of 99 Mrs, 48 Misses and 3 Ladies.
The arrangement of the list is also revealing. It is alphabetical as far as the first letter only. Nobility and MPs are listed first under each letter, then others in apparently random order although persons from the same locality tend to be grouped together. Closer examination however reveals that each letter is presented in the same geographical order and it is possible to identify six or seven distribution routes for the newspaper which were used to gather details of subscribers who were then probably entered into a ledger with one or more pages allocated to each letter. The first route that can be identified starts in Penzance and pursues a tortuous itinerary across Cornwall, and then direct from Launceston via Okehampton to Exeter. These meanderings do not necessarily reflect the actual route of the traveller for Cornwall, which would probably have been more direct, leaving parcels to be collected by more local distributors. A second route leaves Exeter via Crediton, North Tawton, Hatherleigh and Holsworthy, doubling back to take in Torrington, Bideford and Barnstaple, possibly going on to South Molton. Ilfracombe may have been served by this traveller or by another via Tiverton. The route from Plymouth may well have proceeded via Tavistock and across the Moor to Ashburton where it may have picked up subscribers' names for Modbury, Kingsbridge, Dartmouth and Totnes. The route from Brixham and Torbay, apparently served from Newton Abbot, is unclear and may be different from the coastal route from Teignmouth, Dawlish and Starcross. The east coast is served by a route through Topsham, Lympstone, Exmouth, probaby continuing to Ottery, Honiton and Axminster.
While trades are only rarely given, the place of residence can be ascertained in all but a very few cases, permitting precise identification of the catchment area, and an estimate of market penetration. Of the 1695 subscribers, only 264 (15.6%) are Exeter residents. In all 1160 (68.4%) are Devon residents and 391 (23.1%) Cornish. Although Flindell claims in his subtitle that his paper serves Devon, Cornwall Dorset & Somerset, Dorset with 15 subscribers and Somerset with 27 only account for 2.5% of the total subscribers. London has 36 subscribers and Oxford 15, mainly members of the University, five of them at Exeter College. Outside Exeter the town with the largest number of subscribers is Plymouth with 57 but this is closely followed by Falmouth with 47 subscribers and Truro with 45, a tribute to the loyalty of those who had supported his early newspaper ventures in those towns. Barnstaple equals Truro with 45, then comes Teignmouth with 43, then there is a considerable gap before we reach Dawlish and Bideford, each with 31, Exmouth with 30 and Penzance and Tavistock, each with 28.
At least as important as mere numbers is the question of market penetration using numbers of households based on the 1811 census. Registration districts have been adopted as the means of grouping wider areas. Thus, applying the 264 Exeter we arrive at a figure of 5.4% or one household in 19. Exeter, though, is not at the top of the table. Other towns which exceed it are Newton Abbot (6.6%) Teignmouth (6.9%) Kingsbridge (7.1%) Truro (8.4%) and Dawlish (10.1%). Analysis of registration districts reveals none approaching Exeter's 5.4%. Only the adjacent districts of St Thomas (2.5%) and Newton Abbot (2.6%) exceed the 2% level. Falmouth with 1.9% comes next, then Barnstaple with 1.7%. Only Honiton, Tavistock, Plymouth, Saint Columb and Truro exceed 1.0% and outside Devon and Cornwall no towns or areas exceed 0.5% except perhaps Oxford. It should be noted though that these figures represent a minimum level of readership. Bearing in mind Flindell's statement that the majority of copies are subscribed for by groups of from two to six persons and the fact that others go into libraries, coffee houses and inns, the figures could be at least doubled.
Comparison can be made with other newspapers for this period. While we do not have the detailed subscription information which is available for the Western luminary, lists of distributors, the names of local agents cited in advertisements for national products such as patent medicines, insurance companies and lotteries, and the addresses of regional advertisers can provide an approximate indication of the newspaper's catchment area. Other newspapers parallel the pattern of Flindell's paper and show that generally the catchment area, while centred on the place of publication, extends further on the side away from the metropolis.
The circulation of The Western flying post; or, Sherborne and Yeovil mercury of 2 Jan 1809 has this feature, the circulation area extending only 20 miles eastward of Sherborne but 150 miles westward to Penzance. The Taunton Courier of 7 January 1824 extends its coverage westward through north Devon and southward to the Dorset coast. The eastward limit is affected by the presence of the large towns of Bath and Bristol where there are agents although the level of circulation would have been much lower than for the papers actually printed in those towns. The Plymouth and Dock telegraph circulation area on 16 June 1810 does not show the rapid tailing off towards London, but extends well into Devon as well as Cornwall, perhaps because the naval and foreign intelligence from a port close to the western approaches was sometimes in advance of the news available from London.
One way in which Flindell attempted to capitalise on and mould the cultural community that he served can be examined by looking at lists of subscribers to other publications. In 1815 he proposed to publish The works of Francis Gregor of Trewarthenick, a former M.P. From October to December 1815 he ran a vigorous advertising campaign eliciting subscriptions. Most weeks carried a lengthy advertisement for the publication, the first on 3 October, listing three persons who had set the ball rolling by subscribing to 45 copies. By 17 October this had grown to 15 patrons subscribing to about 80 copies. Each week new subscribers were listed to encourage others to join the ranks. By the end of the year 200 subscribers had been enlisted. When Flindell published the volume in 1816 272 subscribers are listed, 94 of whom also appear in the subscription list for the Western luminary. On 17 January Flindell advertised a new periodical The Devonshire adventurer. This was published in Tavistock and, although Flindell is not named on the title-page, of the 136 subscribers listed in the first issue, 36 also appear in the subscription list for Flindell's paper. Finally the subscription list for the revised edition of John Prince's Danmonii orientales illustres better known by its subtitle as "The worthies of Devon", which was published in Plymouth in 1810, before Flindell's Western luminary was established, and which sought out a national as well as a local market, contains no less than 78 subscribers to the newspaper among its 486 names. Clearly Flindell was cultivating and attracting an existing intellectual elite who were in the habit of subscribing to or purchasing relatively expensive publications.
In 1821 the opportunity arose for Flindell's community of readers to demonstrate their solidarity. Flindell's outspokenness, to which he had admitted in his prospectus for the Western luminary landed him in trouble on several occasions, but the most serious resulted from intemperate language on the subject of Queen Caroline. The wife of the Prince Regent had arrived from the continent on 6 June. Although not beyond reproach herself, her treatment at the hands of the profigate Prinny aroused widespread sympathy and she received a number of congratulatory addresses during July, including one from the City of London. The royalist Flindell did not share in this feeling of sympathy. He wrote in the issue of 11 July 1820: "Shall a woman who is as notoriously devoted to Bacchus as to Venus - shall such a woman as would, if found on our pavement, be committed to bridewell and whipped, be held up in the light of suffering innocence?" Although he had acknowledged the illegality and imprudence of his libel and declared his sorrow for it, on 19 March 1821 he was found guilty of a libel on the Queen and sentenced to eight months imprisonment in Exeter gaol. Under the direction of Alderman Phillips a committee was established to "manage a subscription to relieve Mr. Findell from the pressure occasioned by the loss and expence incurred by him in his trial." This was done without alerting Flindell to their intentions out of a "sense of his long and valuable services in the cause of Church and State" and the first advertisement appeared not in Flindell's paper but in Trewman's Exeter flying post of 7 June 1821. Within little more than a week more than sixty people raised about £160 and names of subscribers were listed in issues of the Western luminary in June and July. These contain a total of over 170 individuals subscribing a total of £418/19/6. Some were anonymous, such as The Man in the Moon, others reveal the political affiliations of the subscribers, for example Confusion to the Radicals or A King's Man or A True Patriot, and perhaps 40 are also to be found in the subscription list of six years before. These include Mrs Gregor, late of Trewarthennick, the widow of the M.P. whose works Flindell had published in 1816, Sir William Templer Pole of Shute House, Admiral Schank of Dawlish and the Rev. Dr. Fisher, Sub-Dean of Exeter.
The money raised was a considerable sum. At that time a craftsman in the building trades in Exeter could expect to earn 16/- for a full week's work (Newton 1954, 115, 133), so the total raised at 1999 prices could be in the region of £100,000. While this collection was in progress the king was crowned on 19 July and the Queen was refused admittance to Westminster Abbey during the coronation ceremony. She died a few weeks later on 7 August. Flindell's own health had been badly affected by his imprisonment and he died on 11 July 1824. The Western luminary passed into the hands of the Dewdney family, who were still conducting it in the 1850s.
This page last updated 15 May 2004
© Ian Maxted, 2001.