Religious Newspapers in the Nineteenth Century

Appendix 1: ‘Thirty Years of The British Weekly’, part of the leading article from November 2 1916.


WRN would often look back on his career as a journalist and reflect on the changes and developments that had taken place. It enabled his readers to reflect with him and his assessments were often shrewd and helpful. This extract is typical of his approach on such occasions:

“It is thirty years, almost to the day, since the first number of THE BRITISH WEEKLY appeared. We cannot pass by such an event in silence, though much must be left unsaid that might have been said in other circumstances. The feeling that dominates every other in our hearts is one of profound gratitude. We believe that since the first number of THE BRITISH WEEKLY appeared every editorial chair in London – of daily papers, of weekly papers, of monthly magazines – has been emptied and filled again. We alone remain at the same post. It is a great thing to have accomplished so far as the passage of the troubled sea of London journalism. There is no security of tenure in our profession, and the changes, in London at any rate, are altogether disproportionate to the changes in other occupations.

We are also full of gratitude for the unfailing prosperity that has attended our journal. We commenced very quietly and made way very slowly. But all through the years, there have been fresh accessions to the number of our readers, until now the paper goes over the whole world and has friends everywhere. We are stating the truth in a very restrained way when we say that THE BRITISH WEEKLY is the most widely circulated journal of its kind inexistence. There is something very helpful and gladdening in a quiet and steady success, and with a keen consciousness of failure in many respects, we cannot be too thankful for a fact that has often cheered us in times of weariness.

We cannot help thinking of the many brilliant men and women who have helped us. Not a few have gone before. We have had the sorrowful task of writing tributes to their memory. Some of them were dear to us as our own soul. The friendships that it has been our pride and privilege to form, with the living and with the dead, have enriched and gladdened our life.


To our readers our gratitude is unspeakable. Never has a day passed without bringing a message of cheer from some part of the world. Without such a constituency our work could not have been done. It is they who have made the paper known and added to the number of its supporters. We have tried many of them severely at times. Owning very humbly our numerous errors and failures, we claim to have never written anything we did not thoroughly believe. We have never taken up a cause because it was popular, and we have never forsaken a cause because it was unpopular. Again and again, we have taken a line, which has not commended itself to a large portion of our constituency. But our friends have shown magnificent tolerance and sympathy, and we believe that even from the lowest point of view it is wise to cultivate the accent of conviction. At all events, for us there was no other policy. We could have a thousand times rather abandoned the work than written against our faith. All those thirty years, from the beginning until now, we have had a perfectly free hand. No one has exercised the slightest control over THE BRITISH WEEKLY, or even made any suggestion as to its methods and policy. We have been, in the full sense of the word, free, and have habitually used our freedom.”






Appendix 2: The Religious Newspaper world in Britain at the time of the British Weekly


The second half of the nineteenth century saw vigorous growth in all newspapers, but it was also a time of expansion for specifically religious papers. There was a burst in religious-journal activity, stimulated by the easing of restrictions on the production of papers.[1] Further, there were considerable technological advances which stimulated the process of producing the papers; paper became cheaper with the introduction of wood pulp and the machinery for producing it was continually improving, add to this the improvements in printing and distribution. Yet the greatest stimulus to the growth of newspapers was the rapid growth of a reading public that was clamouring for papers to read. Following the Education Acts passed by Parliament from 1870 onwards, the need to have a literate and educated workforce to work the increasingly sophisticated machines, also produced a readership of the newspapers. Many of these ‘new’ readers had no strong traditions and little real education; however, they did possess a great thirst for knowledge and understanding.[2] The sacred and secular divide was not so apparent in the early papers, although some papers did specialise in some areas, such as politics or commerce. The early newspapers were mainly written for men, but changes saw the growth of popular papers that would appeal to the whole family. Many of the ‘new’ readers came to see their reading as a relaxation from their long hours of work, and though they wanted to be informed, increasingly expected diversion and entertainment. Such factors help account for the extraordinary explosive growth of the press, at this time, in both secular and sacred areas.

The first half of the nineteenth century saw a steady growth of religious periodicals, such as the influence of the Record (1828), which built up under the editorial skills of Alexander Haldane, was able to champion causes for Evangelical churchmen and even “challenged the authority of the Bishop of London in his own diocese and force him to yield”.[3] After Haldane died in 1882 the paper became more moderate. Known for aggressive journalism, the Record was “excelled by The Rock, which did not spare even trusted Evangelical leaders like Ryle and Hoare”.[4] The English Churchman took over the stance of the aggressive ‘Protestant’ journal from 1884 onwards. Amongst other early journals were, The Evangelical Magazine first published in 1793, by a group of Churchmen and Nonconformists. Zachary Macaulay and members of the Clapham Sect started The Christian Observer in 1802. The Eclectic Review started in 1805 as a monthly and its appeal was to Evangelical Churchmen and Nonconformists. Josiah Conder (who also edited The Patriot) was editor from 1814 to 1837 and early contributors included James Montgomery, John Foster, and Robert Hall. It struggled to maintain viability, with J.B. Paton and R.W. Dale assisting, but, “it finally perished at the close of 1868 under the editorship of Paxton Hood, who had taken charge of it in 1862 and in the end practically wrote it all himself”.[5] Thomas Smith of Tiverton founded The Baptist Magazine in 1809, which ceased in 1904. The British Critic began in 1814, and in 1834, J.H. Newman became the editor, when it served as the chief organ for the ‘Oxford Movement’. In 1841, Thomas Mozley took over and continued until it ceased in 1843.  The Christian Remembrancer (1819) took over from the Critic and became a High Church quarterly. It had contributions from H.P. Liddon and R.W. Church, but it ceased publication in 1868. The Methodist Magazine was started by John Wesley, after which came The Watchman (1835).  The editor of The Witness from 1841 was Hugh Miller.

Edward Miall edited the Nonconformist (1841) for forty years,[6] but even in prosperous years, it had always struggled for existence. Darlow noted, “In the middle years of the century it had enormous influence, but like many other similar productions it failed to keep pace with the change of thought and outlook and in 1875 was absorbed in The Independent”.[7]The Christian Witness (1843) and The Christian’s Penny Magazine and The British Banner were edited by John Campbell. The British Quarterly Review was started in 1845 and edited by Robert Vaughan.[8] “For twenty years he maintained it at a high level, which appealed to intelligent Nonconformists and advocated a conservative theological position ... in its prosperous days the British Quarterly sold 2500 copies, but sank to 500 copies before it died in 1886.”[9] The Guardian was first published in January 1846: “Its mainstay was RW. Church, who contributed a review and one or more political articles every week from 1846 until he became Dean of St Paul’s in 1871, and continued to write down to his death in 1890 ... the Guardian maintained High Church principles with excellent fairness and ability.”[10] The Church Times was begun in 1846, “and owed much to the regular contributions of R.W. Church.”[11]


There was a great increase in competition among the religious periodicals in the second half[12] of the Nineteenth Century. “Religious periodicals were adopting the methods of the new secular large-circulation weekly for readers who already identified themselves as religious. This pattern of imitation, rather than withdrawal, [was] the ... response by religious periodicals to general periodical developments”.[13]  There were further new titles, such as, The Leisure Hour: a family journal was launched in 1852 and the Sunday at Home followed this in 1854 by the Religious Tract Society, both of these followed the success of the secular fiction weekly, Family Herald. The London Quarterly Review started in October 1853 as a Wesleyan paper. The Freeman was the oldest Baptist weekly journal, founded by W. Heaton in 1855 and nominally edited for some years by Joseph Angus, the Principal of Regent’s Park College, but changed to The Baptist Times and Freeman on being taken over by the Baptist Union in 1899/1900 directed by J.H. Shakespeare.

Jonathan Whittemore was the original founder of The Christian World, which first appeared in 1857, but it was James Clarke,[14] who became the editor in 1860, who brought in innovative improvements enabling religious periodicals to hold their own with their secular competitors in their coverage of current news. Clarke ensured the Christian World’s success as an ‘undenominational and progressive religious weekly’ by his creative and innovative journalism. “For many years the Christian World wielded remarkable influence as a pioneer of progress both in politics and in theology”.[15] Up until the advent of the British Weekly in 1886, “no other religious journal in the country had a circulation approaching that of the Christian World”.[16]

In 1859, The Revival was first published, changing its name to The Christian in 1870. “Theologically this had much in common with the ‘Open Brethren’. It gave prominence to evangelistic movements ... during D.L. Moody’s first visit to England the circulation of The Christian more than doubled through its reports of his remarkable revival meetings”.[17] In 1860, Alexander Strahan brought out Good Words, with Norman Macleod as its editor. Macleod not only made a decision to use signed articles, as a way of making each contributor responsible for his own work, but also introduced serial fiction,[18] which proved successful. Good Words ceased publication in 1910.

The Methodist Recorder was first published in 1861.[19] The Christian Ambassador (1863) became the Primitive Methodist Quarterly Review, then later the Holborn Review in 1910 and edited by A.S. Peake. The Church Times was established in 1863: “The Church Times was always courageous, caustic and definite in convictions, the vigorous organ of a vigorous party”.[20] The Contemporary Review (1866) had a prospectus written by Dean Alford and its first editor was James Knowles. “Ten years later ... owing to a dispute with his proprietors, the editor resigned and in 1877 founded the Nineteenth Century. In December 1882 Percy W. Bunting became editor of the Contemporary, with J.B. Paton until 1887 as consulting editor.”[21] The Christian Herald appeared in1866/7 and was originally called Signs of our Times. It proved popular and “attained a great circulation under the editorship of the Rev. Michael Baxter, an interpreter of Biblical prophecies”.[22] The English Independent was published by James Clarke & Co. in 1867 and was sustained by J.G. Rogers and edited by William Braden. It amalgamated with the Nonconformist in 1880 and in 1890 changed its title to the Nonconformist and Independent. In 1900, a group of Congregationalists acquired the paper and brought it out as the Examiner, edited by W. B. Selbie. In 1909, the title changed to the British Congregationalist, but the paper failed and finally ceased publication in 1915.

The Christian Age was brought out by John Lobb in 1871, which, “gained considerable vogue by regular reports of sermons by T. De Witt Talmage, a striking American pulpit orator, whom it practically introduced to English readers”.[23] In 1872, Eliot Stock published The Baptist. Initially, G.A. Hutchinson (who had founded the Boy’s Own Paper) edited it for fourteen years, and then T.H. Stockwell took over in 1886. In 1910 it was acquired by the Baptist Union and amalgamated with the Baptist Times and Freeman. The Christian Signal began to be published in 1874 by J.B. Paton, but although he was a ‘true-hearted philanthropist’, he had no editorial instinct and it collapsed after several months. The Christian’s Path to Power (1874) was the monthly paper for the Keswick Movement and changed its name to the Life of Faith in 1879. Evan Hopkins edited the paper as a weekly. The Christian Globe was founded in 1874. The Church Quarterly Review founded in 1875 with Charles Knight Wilson as an early editor: “It represented High Church orthodoxy, and in its early days was opposed to modern Biblical criticism”.[24]

The Christian Commonwealth was founded in 1881. The Christian Million was brought out in 1885. The same year saw the launch of The Methodist Times (1885), which was the paper of the Forward Movement started by Hugh Price Hughes. The British Weekly was founded in 1886 by W. Robertson Nicoll: his paper had “the advantage over papers which are connected with specific religious bodies, as they are preserved from having to descend to the petty personal details which seem inseparable from a Denominational organ”.[25] The British Weekly gradually declined after Nicoll’s death, with a tradition of Scottish editors seeking to maintain “the crusading aspects of a radical and independent journal in the Nicoll tradition”.[26] The British Weekly acquired the Christian World in the 1960s, but in the 1970s, it passed into the ownership of the Christian Weekly Newspapers, the publishers of the Church of England Newspaper. The Congregational Review began in January 1887 under the editorship of J.G. Rogers. In 1890, it was absorbed into the Congregationalist, which had begun in 1871/2 with R.W. Dale having editorial interest. It ceased publishing at the end of 1886. The Church of England Newspaper was founded in 1894.


Patrick Scott summarised the impact and influence of the religious journals of the period: “The enormous quantity and varying functions, of Victorian religious periodicals ... challenged the monopoly status of Church or chapel based religion, just as much as once dissent had challenged Church. The periodicals, in their variety, divisiveness and patterns of development may image Victorian religious allegiances in a way at least as significant historically as the development of denominational organisations. Subscription to a religious periodical was a form of religious commitment, alongside commitment to Church or chapel”.[27] These religious periodicals had a unique ‘window’ in the development of the social, cultural and religious life of Britain. However, the competition from daily newspapers and then the further development of cinema and television saw the place of religious journalism decline and become a shadow of its former self.

[1] There was the reduction of the stamp-duty in 1836; the duty on advertising was abandoned in 1853, followed by the ending of Newspaper Stamp Duty in 1855, the duty on paper in 1861, and an optional duty on newspapers in 1870.

[2] “The effect of this changed market situation for general periodicals elicited two different kinds of response from the publishers of religious periodicals. One response ...was to cling to the older-fashioned model, and keep to a monthly format of ‘religious’ material. The other was to try and replace the ‘secular’ press for their readers, to imitate the new patterns of periodical journalism, and hope for the necessarily-larger readership needed.” Scott, Patrick: ‘Victorian Religious Periodicals: Fragments that Remain,’ The Materials Sources and Methods of Ecclesiastical History, edited Derek Baker (Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1975) 327

[3] Elliott-Binns, L.E.: Religion in the Victorian Era (Lutterworth Press, London 1936) 332-3

[4] Ibid 332

[5] Darlow: op cit 64

[6] The paper protested against the restrictions, which hindered the Nonconformists: “Edward Miall maintained that education, like religion, was no affair of the State. He printed in 1842 a series of articles on ‘The Proper Sphere of Government’ by Herbert Spencer.” Ibid 60

[7] Elliott-Binns: op cit 335

[8] “Dr Vaughan was succeeded by Dr. Reynolds, of Cheshunt College: with him was associated Dr. Henry Allon, who ultimately became sole editor.” Darlow: op cit 64

[9] Ibid 64-5

[10] Ibid 63

[11] Elliott-Binns: op cit 333

[12] “Of course, with the pressures of weekly journalism in the later part of the century, there were very virulent controversies between periodicals, ostensibly in theological terms, all fighting to control the same readership: weekly journalism demanded bigger circulations, while with monthly magazines there was more possibility of peaceful co-existence.” Scott, Patrick: ‘Victorian Religious Periodicals,’ op cit 329

[13] Ibid 330-1

[14] Nicoll described Clarke as “the greatest and most influential of Nonconformist journalists”, cited Darlow: op cit 58-9. Darlow added, “He was a born editor. By rare ability, energy and courage he made his penny weekly paper the popular organ of English free Churchmen, who laboured under bitter grievances and disabilities.”

[15] Ibid 59: “Clarke arranged the use of the telegraphed news for his weekly coverage, but relied for continued subscriptions also on the fiction of Emma Jane Worboise. By 1880, the circulation had reached 130,000 weekly.” Scott, Patrick: ‘Victorian Religious Periodicals,’ op cit 335

[16] Ibid 58: The Christian World ceased publication in 1961.

[17] Ibid 59-60

[18] “Macleod’s evolving policy was rewarded by a rapid increase in circulation, to the scale of his secular rivals. Sales reached 110,000 monthly by 1863. Such innovations, in a magazine started as orthodox evangelical in backing, did not go unchallenged.” Scott, Patrick: ‘Victorian Religious Periodicals,’ op cit 333-4

[19] “In 1886 the Rev Nehemiah Curnock was made editor in succession to Dr. W.T. Davidson. The Recorder became the official organ of the Wesleyan Conference, with a wide and influential circulation.” Darlow: op cit 62

[20] Ibid 64

[21] Ibid 65

[22] Ibid 59

[23] Ibid 59

[24] Ibid 65

[25] Elliott-Binns: op cit 334

[26] Duncan, D.: ‘British Weekly’, Dictionary of Scottish Church History & Theology, op cit 96

[27] Scott, Patrick: ‘Victorian Religious Periodicals’ op cit 338


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