When Joshua Hobson published his Voice of the West Riding in the early 1830s, he is said to have built the wooden frame for the printing press himself. However, the Northern Star was conceived from the first as a newspaper on a whole different scale. It was, as its first editor, William Hill, repeatedly told his readers when admonishing them for submitting their letters and reports for publication late, not something that could be put together ‘in one forenoon’, and printing enough papers every week to satisfy the demands of its rapidly expanding circulation in 1838 and 1839 meant that the small-scale presses that had always been sufficient for the radical press before this would no longer do.
I have been thinking for a while about the practicalities involved in printing and publishing the Northern Star, and after trawling through both Hobson’s own account of getting the paper up and running and clues to be found in the Star itself, I have finally committed ink to paper. I’ve looked at why Hobson chose Leeds as the paper’s home, how he and Feargus O’Connor sourced a suitable printing press and the vast amount of metal type that was required, how they got the press running fast enough to meet demand for 50,000 copies some weeks, at how many people worked in the paper’s editorial, commercial and print offices (and who they were), and at the schedule that had to be adhered to if the paper was going to appear every Saturday - as it did for some fifteen years.
It is a rather long account of all this - almost, but not quite, enough words to fill a single page of the Northern Star itself. So rather than try to cram it all into a single over-long web page, I have created a PDF document that can be downloaded and read at leisure. And as a way in to it, have written a shorter, introductory ‘Five things you didn’t know about the Northern Star.’ Part of the write-up is based on my own experience as a print journalist starting work in the 1980. Technology had obviously moved on a long way in 140 years, but the print processes in use when I began work still had enough in common with those of the 1840s that the work involved looked at least a little familiar.
So, here it is…