20 July 1810
The first issue of the West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser, published by John Heard in Truro, editor Edward Budd
4 pages, price 6½d
The West Briton was founded by the liberal Whig Party to present an alternative view of events to the Royal Cornwall Gazette which reflected the conservative, Tory and pro-royalist views of businessmen and landowners. The West Briton favoured parliamentary reform and had the support of many Methodists. These two Cornish newspapers illustrated the fractious relationship between the Whigs and the Tories.
These rival publications should be seen against the contemporary political background. Some 20 years after the shock of the French revolution, the execution of Louis XVI and the establishment of a Republic, the year 1810 was also a turbulent time in British politics. Governments were unstable, King George was considered insane, and Britain was at war with France.
Initally the Royal Cornwall Gazette was not intended to be political1 but was seen by some as a useful means of promoting commerce. In 1803 William Jenkin wrote to his employer A.M. Hunt:
I note what thou art pleased to mention concerning the newspaper about to be printed in Cornwall - with respect to news of political affairs, I don't see much use in it, except on some occasions when packets and other vessels touching at Falmouth (where this paper is to be printed) may sometimes bring foreign news before it can reach the capital. But if it be patronized by the gentlemen of the county, it cannot fail of being useful as a vehicle of advertisements of the sale of woods etc, for leasing estates that may fall in hand, and other business of that kind.2
However the publication of the West Briton sharpened the Gazette’s views against reform which it shared with many of the local Anglican clergy and gentry. So began a major feud.
The front page of the West Briton contained events of national importance taken from the London Gazette and a list of nation-wide bankruptcies. There were properties to let and for sale, and some situations vacant. Page two included public notices, more situations vacant, and more national and international news which continued onto the following page along with local markets and Births, Marriages and Deaths; port news and the dates and destinations of the Falmouth Packets completed that page. Finally the back page consisted of Letters to the Editor and House of Commons Reports.
Indicative of the cost of printing and the lack of paid advertisements, the new paper was priced at 6½d for 4 pages while 68 years later [see 18 July] the Cornishman [sporting plenty of ads] cost a mere 1 penny for 8 pages.
For the following decades each of the local papers regularly accused the other of falsehoods and misrepresentations and the editors were subject to vitriolic attacks. However the West Briton had the last laugh as it incorporated the Royal Cornwall Gazette in 1951.
1. Appleby, Cedric CALH Journal vol 54, Autumn 2007
2. Hamilton Jenkin, A.K. News from Cornwall, Westaway Books, London, 1951.