Page 4 - December 2017
P. 4

|  A Fleet Street Rag  |                          |  Bob Richardson  (9718)  |

               e take our newspapers for granted   blank sheets were marked with the red tax
               these days. So many are handed   stamp at Somerset House before the pages
       Wout free of charge that they have    were printed, but in reality the levy made it
       been devalued in our consciousness. Where   very diffi  cult for the working man to access
       I live, in the London Borough of Ealing, we   the news stories of the day.
       have three regular papers, distributed at no     Newspaper tax crept up in halfpenny
       cost to the reader. Each weekday morning   increments until it had reached 4d by
       Metro appears, fi lled with more adverts   1815, when The Times cost 7d. Paper duty,
       than news, but an interesting diversion on   introduced in the reign of Queen Anne
       the way to work nonetheless. The London   (who died in 1714) plus advertising tax
       Evening Standard occupies the attention   made newspapers a very expensive luxury,
       of commuters on the way home, and the   equivalent to £5 or £6 a copy.
       Ealing Gazette provides coverage of local     People obtained their daily news ‘fi x’
       stories each Friday. Every major city in   through coff ee shops, where copies of daily
       the UK now has free newspapers, but for   newspapers were available to browse,
       quality journalism we still need to reach   although even coff ee was beyond the
       into our pockets for a few coins.     pockets of the poor, who lived largely in
        The fi rst regular daily newspaper in   ignorance. Such was the scarcity of quality
       this country appeared in 1702 with the   news journalism that even old newspapers
       launch of the Daily Courant “published by   changed hands for a few pence, long after
       Mr. Mallett, next door to the Kings Arms,   they were published. The newspaper levy
       Fleet Bridge” (now New Bridge Street). It   was viewed by many as a tax on knowledge,
       took the government ten years to realise   and attempts were made to dodge it by fair
       that there was money to be made for the   means and foul.
       Exchequer through newspaper taxation,     James Catnach, a Covent Garden printer,
       and in 1712 a levy of one penny was applied   produced a series of salacious broadsides;
       to each newspaper sold. This was offi  cially   single-page tabloids carrying details of just
       not an attempt at press censorship, for the   one news story. Catnach’s version of events

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