17 Mar 2017 - Courtney Floyd

On Unifying Structures in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (1879-1880)

In The Nineteenth-Century Press in the Digital Age, James Mussell argues that to fully appreciate and understand the material produced by the nineteenth-century press (and how that material interacted with and informed 19C culture), "we now need to cultivate two sets of skills...familiarity with the forms and genres of the periodical and newspaper press; and the ability to interrogate the resources that present them in digital form." He goes on to argue that two of the most important characteristics of nineteenth-century periodicals and newspapers are miscellaneity and seriality or random/unique elements that appear once or twice and then disappear and serial elements that stay the same over time. Noting that the use-value of these print texts "imposed contradictory conditions of stability and fluidity upon periodical form: each 'number is different, but it is the same periodical,'" Mussell argues that "both miscellaneity and seriality might be predicated on difference - this article is different to the others on the page; this issue is different to the last - but this difference is tempered in each case by various recurrent features." And, he concludes, "it is these predominately formal aspects of the publication, running across and between issues, that permit it to assert its identity and establish its persistence over time...Repetition is a vital and overlooked component of periodical form. It operates both synchronically, within the issue, and diachronically, between them in order to posit unifying structures that can manage difference." 

Today, as you may have guessed, we'll be taking a look at these unifying structures as they exist in Saturday supplement of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph in 1879-1880.

The British Newspaper Archive's digital facsimiles of The Sheffield Daily Telegraph reproduce the newspaper page by page, instead of lifting specific articles and reformatting them. While I can't physically pick up the newspaper and see two pages at once, as I would when reading a hard copy, this mode of digitization makes it easy to see the juxtaposition of elements on the page and preserves important things like type face, illustration, and even marginalia when they exist.

During this period, the first page contains advertisements. On Saturday, September 13th, 1879, for example, the supplement opens with an advertisement for the latest by Wilkie Collins:

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The column below advertises a number of cultural events: a theatre's upcoming performances, an opera, a circus, and a number of group meetings.

Other advertisements on the first page include what appear to be wholesale lots of clothing (166 dozens umbrellas, ladies' seal jackets, etc.); a special sale of Cole Brothers' clothing, with special notice given to "trimming department," "ribbon department," "flowers and feather department," and "mourning department."

These types of advertisements appear fairly consistently on the first pages of the issues I've been looking at. I should note, however, that it is not at all uncommon to see the same advertisement on multiple pages of the same issue.

Actual news articles don't appear until page two. These begin with a long, untitled article about local happenings. Then, usually, an article titled "On Things in General" with the byline "by our Erratic Correspondent." This is, in turn, usually followed by a letter from the London correspondent.

The third page almost always has updates on Colonial goings-on and, during this period, updates on "The Zulu War" (England had annexed the Transvaal in 1877, and there was--to put it mildly--some fallout). These military updates were usually followed by a section on "General Foreign News," which was in turn followed by a section on what I would call "sensational" news, or macabre news, full of headlines such as "Horrible Murder in Paris," "Brutal Ill-treament of a Step-daughter," "Shocking death of a child at Warrington," and "Fatal Railway Accident at Church Fenton."

But this part of the page might also include articles like "Work and Wages," which updated readers about union activity--disputes and strikes--which might affect a number  of people in a manufacturing town like Sheffield.

We then have a section on Derbyshire news and a rundown of what is happening at local schools (which consistently appears on p. 2 or 3). Page four is usually comprised of more advertisements, though these are often more personal in nature. There are estate and land sales, sales of freeholds and leaseholds, auctions, public notices, a lost and found section, wanted ads (usually for domestic servants), and a tuition wanted section.

These types of ads spill over onto page five, with advertisements for "female assistants," clerical and medical work, day laborers, apprentices, rooms for rent, and "miscellaneous wants." These are followed by rental and sale property listings for residence and then for commercial use, items such as musical instruments, animals and transportation, and furniture sales notices appear next.

Page six is the "business page" in modern parlance. It details "Trade of Sheffield and District,""Commercial News," provides a share list, a run-down of "Yesterday's Markets," and then transitions abruptly into the sports page There's an article about "The Cup Day" in this particular issue, with information about betting and meets and more. Depending on space, there might be some medical  or cosmetic advertisements filling the last column.

Page seven provides weather forecasts (as well as a paragraph on "Yesterday's Weather.") A brief overview of "Events of the Day," Birth and Death announcements, correspondence (open letters, if you will), more sports news (Cricket, in this instance), more macabre or sensational news (here, "Dreadful Colliery Explosion. Five men killed."

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Page eight includes advertisements for education of varying kinds (kindergarten, dancing and music, etc.). A section on publications, a variety of financial and insurance advertisements, the shipping section (with little ship illustrations!), and a number of medical and cosmetic advertisements.

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Page nine of the supplement always contains whatever fiction is currently being serialized by the newspaper. Between September 13th 1879 and January 31st 1880, this included Jezebel's Daughter (see advert above).

Page ten is also fiction.

Page eleven is often more foreign news, and anything that was reported too late to fit in its proper section. Page twelve is much the same (as well as news from the Sheffield Town Council).

This mix of local and foreign news and inclusion of London (and other metropolitan) correspondents tells me that The Sheffield Daily Telegraph not only wanted to depict itself as a contender--up there with the big London papers--but also wanted to create a sense of Sheffield as a city in the big mix of things, not just a manufacturing town, but a place which keeps up with the times.

Next time, I'll take a look at these elements in 1894 -- what's changed? what's remained the same? And how does the paper envision itself and its community?