About ‘The People’s Journal’

A Short History of the ‘Journal’

First published in January 1858 as the ‘Dundee, Perth and Forfar People’s Journal’ the weekly publication quickly became the ‘Dundee, Perth, Forfar and Fife People’s Journal’. The man behind the launch was John Leng, a Hull born Newspaper magnate who had become editor of the ‘Dundee Advertiser’ in 1851. As Leng took greater control of the Advertiser (John Leng & Co became the primary owner in 1852) he began to have ideas of widening his scope.

The conception of a weekly paper costing one penny, and aimed at the working class, probably originated from the abolition of stamp duty in 1855. The aim of ‘The People’s Journal’ was to provide news for working people in urban areas and the countryside. This rural demographic, in particular, did not previously have a source of news beyond word of mouth, and reaching these isolated villages was a truly revolutionary and socially important aspect of the paper.

By April of 1858 ‘The Journal’ had amassed a circulation of over 10,000 a week, and was already reaching the capacity of the Leng & Co’s printing presses. It is therefore at this time that work started to be done on creating a new home on Bank Street and purchase of new equipment, which was completed in 1859.

It was also around this time (December 1860) that John Leng made William D. Latto editor, as Leng concentrated on ‘The Advertiser’ which had just become a daily. Latto remained editor for 38 years until he retired at the end of 1898 at 75 years old. His editorship saw ‘The People’s Journal’ gain the widest circulation of any weekly outside of London, and in the 1890s the circulation averaged comfortably above 200,000 copies a week.

‘The People’s Journal’ continued publication until 1990 (from 1905 under the ownership of D.C. Thompson & Co) but here I will focus only on the period under its first two editors Leng and Latto (1858-1898).

The paper was a fervent supporter of the Liberal Party (and from the 1890s there was also Labour Support) which placed it in contrast to Thompson’s ‘Courier’. Latto wrote about local social problems (regularly under his pseudonym Tammas Bodkin), and launched campaigns for better wages for factory workers and an eight hour working day.

One of the most fascinating features of the People’s Journal for historical interest is the correspondence from its readership. Letters, stories, essays, poems and other tales were sent in every week and regularly published. So many in fact that a sister publication, ‘The People’s Friend’, was launched in 1869 to account for the sheer volume being received. Here I will attempt to archive as much as this material as possible, with a particular focus on short stories, essays and letters that give an insight into the lives and interests of working people in this period, as well as Latto’s own current affair column.

Bank Street

As mentioned above, in 1859 the home of ‘The People’s Journal’ in Bank Street was completed. The following description of the building and its operations is from the 20 July, 1861 issue of the paper.

The New “Advertiser” and “People’s Journal” Offices

Although these offices have been occupied some time, the present is perhaps the fittest opportunity to notice them, as it is only within the last few weeks that the several designs formed previous to their erection have been fully carried into effect. Since first being opened, they have been inspected by a number of gentlemen who have had opportunities of seeing the best printing offices elsewhere—and, amongst others, by one of the partners in the firm of Hoe & Co, the great printing machine makers in New York, by the leading proprietor of the ‘Melbourne Argus’, by a gentleman formerly connected with the press in Bombay, by Mr H.G. Bohn, the celebrated London publisher, and by several of the leading typefounders, who have all stated that, in external elegance, and internal adaptation for the work to be done, it is unsurpassed by any, and equalled by few, printing offices they have ever seen. As many of our distant readers have no opportunity of calling in upon us, we may give the following description of them:—

The ‘Dundee Advertiser and People’s Journal Offices’ are situated in Bank Street, immediately opposite the Corn Exchange and Public Hall, and form the centre of a block of buildings, the right wing of which is the Stamps and Taxes office, a stance on the left being reserved for the extension of the ‘Advertiser’ Office whenever required. It has two entrances—one to the editorial and publishing departments, the other to the printing and machine rooms. The first door opens into the Publishing Office, which is fitted up in the style of a bank, with accommodation or about a dozen clerks and assistants. Its dimensions are 36 by 24 feet. Here advertisements are received, orders for the paper entered, news agents supplied, and the many and bulky parcels of the ‘Advertiser’ and ‘Journal’ made up for the country districts. On one side of an elevated portion of the room are the files of the ‘Advertiser’ since its commencement in 1801, when it was sold for 6d, although considerably less than the sheet we now sell for 1d. One row of the desks faces the Howff, now closed, and the clerks standing at which have been humorously said to have “a pleasant prospect beyond the grave.” Branching out of this office is the Cashier’s room, the lobby, and the Editor’s room—the latter perhaps the most cheerful and comfortable room of the kind which an editor was ever fortunate enough to possess, being 22 feet in length by 16 feet in width, and, like all the other rooms on this and the upper floor, is 16 feet high. The unusual height was resolved upon from the consideration that, as the greater part of the work in newspaper offices is night work—done with artificial light—it is specially desirable to have room to breathe the air uncontaminated by the gas, the fumes of the printing machines, types, &c. To ensure the freest ventilation, every room has one or more ventilating shafts in the ceiling to carry off the deteriorated air, while there are gratings in the floor to supply fresh air—the latter being warmed in winter as we shall have occasion to mention hereafter. The editor, it may be mentioned—besides speaking tubes leading upstairs and down—has bells connected with every room attached to his desk, which he can pull without rising from his seat. Immediately behind the editor’s is the subeditor and reporter’s room, where, when needed, five or six reporters can extend their notes at the same time; and on this, as on each of the other flats, are retiring closets, fitted up with every modern contrivance.

On the upper story, is what is technically known as the Case or Composing Room—where all the types are set. It is a large and lofty room, fifty feet long by thirty-six feet wide. It is lighted by eleven windows, and there are frames erected for thirty-six compositors. The whole of the types for both the newspaper and jobbing business are set in this room, which only contains a galley or proof press; and this arrangement is found, as it was expected to prove, highly conducive to the easy and right working of the department.

Communication is maintained between the Composing and Press Rooms by a lift, on the balance principle, made by Messrs Gourlay Brothers, Dundee. All the forms and chases—or pages—of type are sent down to be printed, and up again after printing by this lift, which saves not a little time and trouble. The height of this room is found to be a great comfort by preventing the excessive heat commonly found in printing offices late at night, consequent on the blazing for many hours of so many gas jets as are required.

Descending into the Machine Room, we may, first of all, notice the moving power—the steam engine. The ‘Advertiser’ and ‘Journal’ were, for a considerable time, printed by one of Sinclair’s admirable hydraulic engines, which, where there is an unfailing and cheap supply of water, are much better adapted for printing purposes than steam engines—having the advantage of being ready to work at any moment, keeping the premises cool, and free from risk of fire or explosion. Whereever there is a powerful supply of water at a cheap rate, we certainly recommend Sinclair’s water engine. As our business increased, however, we found ourselves driven to have recourse to steam, and the small horizontal engine made by Messrs Shanks & Son, of Arbroath—a remarkably well-finished piece of work—has given us much satisfaction. By adopting a newly-invented upright boiler, made by Mr Geo. MacFarlane, Dundee, we are enabled to raise steam in a few minutes, which is a great advantage when extra editions of the paper are required. This boiler is so small, and stands in so little room, that the boiler house where both it and the coals are placed is only twelve feet square.

The printing machines, worked by the steam-engine, are three in number. The newest and largest has just been fitted up by Messrs John Brown & Co, of Kirkcaldy, being their four-feeder, with a number of improvements, including, more particularly, the application of flyers, as in Hoe’s Machine, which dispenses with four attendants. This machine stands four feet lower than any one previously made on the same principle, which is a considerable advantage. The forms are fastened on the tables almost instantly by screws, so that no time is lost in imposing them—a great matter when there is danger of “losing the post.” This press will throw off 4500 impressions an hour. The most convenient times for seeing it at work are on Fridays from mid-day to two o’clock in the afternoon; from three o’clock to seven; and from eight until midnight. More papers, by a long way, are printed on this machine on Fridays and Saturdays than by any other printing machine in Scotland. There are in the same room other two [sic?] large printing machines, which will soon be replaced by one still father improved.

While speaking of machines, we may also mention a damping machine, which became indispensable to us when our impressions so largely extended. Formerly, the sheets of paper, previous to being printed, were passed by hand through a trough full of water. Now, this is done five or six times quicker by a very simple machine, improved by Mr Scott, pressman of the ‘Scotsman’, and made by a mechanic in Glasgow. The trouble of pressing the paper is also saved by this machine, which is in every way economical for any large printing establishment.

The arrangement of the rooms on the lower flat is of the simplest—the paper being stored in one, damped in another, and printed in a third. The floor of this part of the building is nine feet below the street—sufficient light being obtained from windows rising above the level—and the equality of temperature experienced in it is of great advantage in printing, neither of the extremes of heat and cold being felt which are so annoying to the “pressman.”

In the sunk flat is also the apparatus for warming the establishment, fitted up by Messrs George & Son, Glasgow. This we value as one of the best contrivances in the building. During the whole of the last severe winter not a fire was lighted in any of the fire places, which are regarded as so useless that they have been turned into presses. The only fire in the building is that in the apparatus, which, with a few shillings’ worth of coal weekly, warms the whole premises, dispensing with nearly a dozen other fires, and doing effectually what ordinary fires would do very imperfectly. In work like printing depending so much on dexterity or fingering, it is important that rooms should be so warm as to prevent the hands being benumbed with cold, which can scarcely be accomplished in large rooms heated with common fires. The plan adopted in this office is what is designated the general warm-water plan. The pipes are four inches internal diameter, and the water in them is not heated above 170 degrees, so that there is none of the offensive effluvia of heated iron felt under the high-pressure system, where the water is heated above the boiling point. In the upper and lower stories the pipes are exposed; in the centre flat they are enclosed, and the warm air from the pipes is conveyed through gratings—and the warm air from the pipes is conveyed through gratings—a supply of fresh air being kept up by a shaft from the outside of building. The plan succeeds admirably. There is no danger of fire or explosion, and either for private or public buildings it may be recommended as alike economical and effective.

We have, typically, now conducted our readers through the building, as we shall be glad to do personally if they call upon us any Friday, when the largest printing machine may be seen at work. That being market-day our numerous country friends will have an opportunity of seeing how newspapers are printed in these times of penny papers.