Sheffield Newspapers 1754 - 1978


The most succinct account of the history of Sheffield Newspapers appears in J E VICKERS book (1978) "A Popular History of Sheffield". As the Sheffield section of this site refers to both the local and the national press, I thought that it would be beneficial to post that page of the book as a point of reference.

"Prior to the advent of newspapers, what was happening in other parts of the country and overseas could only be learned by the Sheffield people from travellers, ballad singers, the town crier, sermons and printed broadsheets. Though there was a number of attempts to start a newspaper in Sheffield before 1754, "Lister's Sheffield Weekly Journal" was the first to claim any success. However, this newspaper only lasted just over a year before it was bought out by the "Sheffield Weekly Register", which was printed in Doncaster. The year 1787 saw the first real Sheffield newspaper, when Joseph GALES began publication of the "Sheffield Register", from his office and printing house in Hartshead. Because of his strong political views which continually annoyed the local authorities, GALES considered his safety threatened. He therefore decided to go to America, his wife and children joining him later.

Before he fled, GALES had taken on a new clerk, James MONTGOMERY, and it was left to MONTGOMERY to take over the newspaper, which he did in 1794. Deciding that it would be safer to change the name of the newspaper, MONTGOMERY called it the "Sheffield Iris" the latter word being Greek for rainbow. The "Sheffield Iris" continued until bought by John BLACKWELL in 1825. BLACKWELL being a bookseller who had shops in High Street and Norfolk Row.

In 1853 the "Sheffield Daily Telegraph" appeared for the first time, a Liberal newspaper that appealed to the townsfolk dissatisfied with the other Sheffield publications. The "Telegraph" was started by a Scot named BENSON, who unaccountably sold it after only ten days to a printer called Joseph PEARCE. He in turn gave up the newspaper in 1864 when competition from the "Sheffield and Rotherham Independent" become too fierce. It was then bought by Frederick CLIFFORD a London barrister, with WILLIAM LENG as editor. Thus began LENG's long and momentous connections with Sheffield, which lasted until his death in 1902.

So popular did the "Sheffield Telegraph" become that it was decided to produce an evening edition to be known as the "Sheffield Evening Telegraph". The first edition of this newspaper appeared on the streets on 7th June 1887. For a short time there was keen rivalry by the owners of the "Independent", but within a year the "Evening Star" had taken over and the "Evening Telegraph" became the "Evening Telegraph and Star". Ten years later this name was again changed to the "Yorkshire Telegraph and Star". A six page "Sports Special", printed on green paper, (the forerunner of the "Green Un") was first published in September 1907. In 1931 the "Sheffield Mail", a newspaper run by the owner of the "Independent", was incorporated into the "Yorkshire Telegraph and Star". This was followed, by the "Independent" being incorporated into the "Sheffield Daily Telegraph" in 1938.

Just before the second world war, these newspapers came into the ownership of Lord KEMSLEY and the names were then shortened to the "Sheffield Telegraph" and "The Star". In 1959 the Thompson Organisation Ltd acquired the Kemsley Group and from that time the "Star" was altered from its small tabloid form to its present size. The two Sheffield newspapers again changed hands in 1964, being taken over by the United Newspapers Ltd and in the following year the "Sheffield Telegraph" became the "Morning Telegraph" as it is today.

J E VICKERS book (1978) "A Popular History of Sheffield". (ISBN 0-906787-04-1)


Sheffield newspapers are available on microfilm at the Local Studies at the Central Library on Surrey Street in Sheffield. 

Independent 1819 - 1938 (daily from 1861)

Established in December 1819 by Henry Andrew Bacon, The Sheffield Independent soon needed more capital, and two new partners, Thos. Asline Ward and Michael Ellison, came to the newspaper in December 1820. Robert Leader (1779-1861) purchased the newspaper in 1829. He maintained the Liberal political and commercial principles of the paper established in 1819. He was succeeded in the ownership by his son, Robert Leader (1809-85), who was editor and chief writer from 1833 until 1875. An expert shorthand writer and reporter of local events, he did much to widen the reputation of the paper in these years. His two sons, John Daniel (b.1835) and Robert Eadon (b.1839), entered into partnership with their father in January 1860. Robert (b.1860), the son of John Daniel, joined the company in January 1887.

The reduction in stamp duty by the Liberal Government in 1836 from 4d to 1d led to a meeting of nine proprietors of Yorkshire newspapers, at which it was decided to reduce the price of the newspapers from 7d to 4 1/2 d. On 17 September 1836, The Sheffield Independent first published at this price. After the removal of the penny stamp duty in 1855, the price of the paper reduced from 5d to 3 1/2 d; from 1 October 1861, the price was 1d, daily. The circulation figures rose accordingly: by 1838, a weekly average sale of the paper was 1,272; by 1842, the circulation was 2,596; by March 1857, the figure was 12,525; by 1882, it was 35,000

Iris               1794 - 1848 (began as the Sheffield Register)

Mercury      1806 - 1848

Star             1887 - present

Telegraph    1855 - 1986 (but now a weekly again) The Sheffield Telegraph was founded in 1855, and didn't become a daily until sometime between 1857 and 1862 

An excellent Guide that was published in 2003 by Sheffield's Local Studies Library

There's a brief summary of the newspapers by Hugh Waterhouse at:

Last edition of the Morning Telegraph - 8th February 1986

In 1842 the main (weekly) papers were: The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, The Iris and The Sheffield Mercury

All of these had a deaths column, but actual obituaries were rare. There are other papers which were not so long lived, such as the Sheffield Times. These papers are all held on microfilm by Sheffield Local Studies Library. Some of these, particularly the Iris and Mercury at the end of their publication period may have gaps.

Reading the article one person more than any stands out as a journalist and editor and that is William Leng

The following is from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Sir William Christopher Leng (1825–1902), journalist and newspaper proprietor, was born at Hull on 25 January 1825, the elder son of Adam Leng, a Hull businessman, and his wife, Mary, daughter of Christopher Luccock, architect, of Malton. Sir John Leng (1828–1906) was a younger brother. After education at a private school, where he showed a taste for literature, Leng was apprenticed in 1839 to a wholesale chemist in Hull, for whom he later worked as a commercial traveller before setting up his own business in 1847.

Meanwhile in anonymous contributions to the Hull Free Press, including sketches of notable citizens (published as a book in 1852), Leng campaigned vigorously for practical measures of reform such as slum clearance and improved safety on cargo vessels. He is credited with first suggesting to Samuel Plimsoll (1824–1898) the crusade which led to the introduction of the Plimsoll line, as a safeguard against overloading, following the Merchant Shipping Act of 1876. Alienated by the self-interested opposition of prominent Hull Liberals to slum clearance, Leng abandoned his original party affiliation and declared himself a Conservative, a relatively painless transition in the era of Disraelian ‘tory democracy’. Brought up as a Wesleyan Methodist, he joined the evangelical wing of the Church of England.

In spite of Leng's and his brother John's divergent political opinions, Leng, was a regular contributor of articles on municipal and national affairs to the Dundee Advertiser, which his brother edited from 1851. In 1859 he gave up his chemist's business in Hull and lived in Dundee until 1864, writing for the Advertiser. During the American Civil War he was prominent among Scottish journalists in supporting the cause of the north.

In 1864 Leng joined Frederick Clifford (1828–1904) in the purchase of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph. He became its managing editor, and lived in Sheffield for the rest of his life. As publishers, Leng & Co. invested boldly, purchasing extensive new premises at Aldine Court in 1872 and installing linotype machinery, at that time something of a novelty. The paper, which was almost moribund when Leng took over, quickly became a great Conservative power in the north of England. Its influence was sufficient to thwart Joseph Chamberlain's parliamentary ambitions when he stood at Sheffield in 1874. As J. L. Garvin later noted, the Telegraph at that time and under Leng's direction had become ‘the cleverest Conservative organ in the country’ (Koss, 1.219).

Leng was fearless in advocacy of what he deemed the public interest. In 1867, at some personal risk, he denounced the intimidation of non-union labour by Sheffield trade unionists under the leadership of William Broadhead (1815–1879), inducing the government to appoint a royal commission of inquiry which fully substantiated his allegations. He was the original of Mr Holdfast in Charles Reade's Put Yourself in his Place (1870), a novel based on Broadhead's career. In recognition of his services Leng was presented in April 1868 with his portrait by H. F. Crighton and a purse of 600 guineas, subscribed by men of all political opinions.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century Leng's Sheffield-based newspaper publishing business continued to expand; a Weekly Telegraph, a Sunday Telegraph, and, most important, the Evening Telegraph and Star were added to his stable. He remained active as a journalist, reporting descriptively for the Daily Telegraph on his travels in Europe, and was active, too, in local politics, where he served as vice-chairman and chairman of the Sheffield Conservative and Constitutional Association. Leng was rewarded with a jubilee knighthood, awarded on the recommendation of Lord Salisbury in 1887. Salisbury had a high regard for the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, that ‘clever organ of Jingoism’ (Koss, 1.295).

In 1860 Leng married Anne (1833/4–1893), daughter of David Stark of Ruthven, Forfarshire, and widow of Harry Cook of Sandhurst, Australia; her sister was first wife of his brother John. His two sons, C. D. Leng and W. St Quentin Leng, became partners in the Sheffield Telegraph. Leng died on 20 February 1902 at his home, Oaklands, Collegiate Crescent, Sheffield, and was buried in Ecclesall churchyard.

A. H. Millar, rev. Dilwyn Porter
Sources K. G. March, ‘The life and career of Sir William Leng: a study of the ideas and influence of a prominent Victorian journalist’, MA diss., Sheffield University, 1966 · In memoriam, Sir William Leng, kt (1902) · Sheffield Daily Telegraph (20 Feb 1902) · Dundee Advertiser (20 Feb 1902) · W. Shepherdson, Reminiscences in the career of a newspaper: starting a ‘daily’ in the provinces (1876) · S. E. Koss, The rise and fall of the political press in Britain, 1 (1981)

Wealth at death £163,897 5s. 6d. (in UK): probate, 17 April 1902, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

This page was last updated on 10/10/17 14:46

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