Exhibitions Long read Series

Guardian Exhibition: Anniversaries: The Guardian newspaper through time and place

This anniversary blog, written by the Guardian Exhibition Curator Janette Martin, highlights objects from our bicentenary exhibition and from the wider Guardian (formerly Manchester Guardian) Archive including an exciting new addition.

It is human nature to mark anniversaries, whether personal milestones like birthdays or wider national events such as royal weddings or anniversaries of key historical events. Institutions and businesses are no different and each major milestone is an opportunity to pause and reflect. I am writing this as we approach the bicentenary of the Guardian newspaper, one of Manchester’s most enduring success stories. Telling the story of key moments in the Guardian’s last 200 years would be a mammoth task. Instead I have selected a few evocative objects from our collections that speak to ‘firsts’ and ‘lasts’ and other memorable milestones in the history of this famous newspaper. From first editions, excursions and anniversary dinners to a metal stereo plate of the last issue printed here in Manchester, this blog examines how and why we mark time and what we keep for posterity.

Origins of the collection

In 1971, as the Guardian newspaper closed operations in Manchester and cleared its production sites and warehouses, a vast collection of business records, correspondence, dispatches and printed materials was gifted to the University of Manchester Library. It is a business archive full of the records that capture the day-to-day running of the newspaper rather than simply back issues of the newspaper itself. The Guardian (formerly Manchester Guardian) Archive and related collections are held in the John Rylands Research Institute and Library, Deansgate. They date from the newspaper’s foundation in 1821 to the early 1970s, just as the newspaper began relocating all its production to London. This vast collection offers an outstanding resource for every aspect of nineteenth and twentieth century history. From politics, sport and theatre to international politics and changing social attitudes.

First edition of the Manchester Guardian, Saturday May 5 1821

The first edition of the Manchester Guardian appeared on Saturday 5 May 1821 and from modest beginnings, it grew in national and international significance. The opening words of this legendary newspaper are a brief notice of a lost dog (a black Newfoundland bitch). Hardly an auspicious start for an organisation that would one day be recognised on a world stage. As you can see, the front page of the first edition is not very enticing — column after column of densely packed type. Photographs had yet to be invented and the first page is given entirely to advertisements and notices. Not until September 1952 did the Manchester Guardian finally ditch the front page adverts and shift to the more modern practice of front page news and headlines.

Initially the Manchester Guardian appeared weekly. But in 1836, when newspaper duty was reduced from 4d to 1d, the Guardian became a bi-weekly paper. In 1855, when the paper tax (the ‘final tax on knowledge’) was abolished, the Guardian became a ‘daily’ — a status it retains to this day. In 1919 the Guardian Weekly was launched for international subscribers.

1871 Jubilee outing to Hoo Green, Cheshire

Our first piece of anniversary ephemera is a small brochure with a green cover recording a fiftieth Jubilee outing to Hoo Green, a picturesque village near Knutsford, Cheshire. The excursionists left Cross Street at 12 noon on Saturday 6 May travelling in ‘five omnibuses with four horses each’ and a sixth omnibus which conveyed the the band. Their destination was some 15 miles away. All in all 191 people (including the bandsmen) went on the excursion and I imagine the journey was very much part of the fun. Attendees would have each received a copy of the brochure as both a souvenir and a useful guide to the day’s itinerary.

‘The Jubilee of the Manchester Guardian’. Ref. GDN/Add Box 2. Copyright Guardian News & Media Archive

It is interesting to see CP Scott in the list of attendees (helpfully underlined — perhaps by the man himself) and listed as one of 5 proprietors. He would not become full editor until January the following year. However, what intrigued me most, was that this was an entirely single-sex excursion. There were no women there, not a single one! Wives and daughters were not invited to this works outing. Does this suggest women were not employed at the paper in the 1870s, or were their stations too lowly to include on the guest list? 12 clerks from the commercial department were listed. In the late Victorian period, clerical work was still an entirely male occupation. We know from the Centenary Photograph Album (discussed below) that, fifty years later, the male clerks were largely replaced by women.

The afternoon was spent playing cricket, football and bowls all while the band, ‘on loan from the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards,’ played in an adjacent field.

Menu printed in the ‘The Jubilee of the Manchester Guardian’. Ref. GDN/Add Box 2. Copyright Guardian News & Media Archive

The souvenir programme gives a full list of all the songs they played. In the style of all good outings, the day ended with a rather lavish high tea at 5.30 and speeches.

100 years of readable righteousness: 5 May 1921

Throughout April and May 1921 the Cross Street offices (headquarters of the Manchester Guardian) were bustling with activity. It was the centenary year of Manchester’s most famous newspaper and a flurry of commemorative events were planned. The Guardian produced a special supplement to celebrate its centenary which included: a detailed history of the paper, a facsimile of the first edition and the much-quoted article by CP Scott, ‘A Hundred Years’ where he outlined the principles of the Manchester Guardian: ‘honesty, cleanness, courage, fairness’. A quote from the essay, ‘Comment is free’ appears on the ‘Opinion’ page of the Guardian today.

The Guardian’s centenary number cost 2d and by all accounts they sold like hot cakes as Manchester inhabitants clamoured to get their commemorative souvenir. The May 1921 edition of the House Journal, the staff newsletter for Guardian staff at both the Cross Street and London offices, paints an amusing picture of ‘centenary riots’.

House Journal 5 May 1921 p 8. Copyright Guardian Media and News

Centenary dinners held May 1921

A centenary would not be a centenary without the time honoured tradition of a public banquet with food, drink, musical accompaniment and speech-making. There were two events held in Manchester, the first was a civic affair for city dignitaries, politicians and celebrity friends and supporters. The second was a much lower key celebratory dinner for all the staff.

The formal civic dinner took place on the 3 May 1921 in the lavish surroundings of the Midland Hotel. 500 guests were invited. It was a politically diverse and non-partisan affair with attendees ranging from the suffragist Millicent Fawcett and the poet John Masefield, to the Conservative politician, the Earl of Derby. ‘Principal Guests’ can be see in the photograph below — these numbered a ratio of 3 ladies to 16 men.

The menu was suitably splendid, with numerous courses described in French, and was followed by a series of toasts to the health of the King and many speeches praising CP Scott. Musical entertainment was provided by Vladimir Rosing, a much celebrated Russian opera singer. We have in the collection, a ribbon-tied souvenir dinner menu which bears on the front page the owner’s name — CP Scott.

Menu for Centenary Dinner, 3 May 1921. Ref. GDN/150/24. Copyright Guardian News and Media

Of course the Midland Hotel did not have dining space for the grandees and the Manchester Guardian’s entire staff. Besides, some of the more illustrious guest might have been disconcerted to find themselves alongside stable boys and typesetters. Instead the rank and file employees were treated to what, I imagine, was a more riotous dinner (albeit with plainer fare) at Belle Vue Pleasure Grounds. This took place on the 7th May 1921 and CP Scott was the honoured guest at both dinners. Judging from the crowds at both events there was certainly plenty of money spent on these public celebrations, which reflects the confidence and the prosperity of the Guardian at this juncture.

Centenary Staff Dinner, House Journal May 1921. Ref. GDN/324/8/6 Copyright Guardian News and Media

Commemorating Scott and his fiftieth year of editorship

The centenary of the Manchester Guardian served as a dual anniversary as the year also marked CP Scott’s fiftieth year at the helm. (It never ceases to amaze me that, in total, Scott held the top job for 57 years!). It is clear that he was held in great esteem by his staff, as the grand old man — a stern but fatherly figure. The staff newsletter, The House Journal, report how gifts were bestowed on the elderly editor at the Belle Vue dinner.

The staff also paid for another very special gift, a Centenary Album, which featured group photographs, department by department, of the entire staff of the newspaper.

The cover bears the dedication: “Presented to CHARLES PRESTWICH SCOTT by his Staff on the Centenary of the ‘Manchester Guardian’ and in the 50th year of his Editorship May 5 1921”

Everyone is there — from the editor and sub reporters to cooks, porters, errand boys and cleaners . Each employee got a photograph of their particular division. I often wonder how many of these survive in family papers, stashed away with other family heirlooms. If you should have one, do get in touch!

From a historian’s perspective the album is an evocative snapshot of life in a busy newspaper office in the early 1920s. It tells us about new and emerging technology (note the ‘state of the art’ camera Walter Doughty, the Guardian’s official photographer, holds in the photograph below) and the changing pattern of female employment. The editors’ photograph includes Madeline Linford, one of the first British women to join the editorial board of a mainstream newspaper. The clerical roles are now predominantly filled by women not men. It also captures a major change in transport and distribution. One of the final group portraits is captioned ‘Stables-Motor Drivers etc’ — horses were still widely used for deliveries in the 1920s.

Centenary Album Ref. GDN/140/2. Copyright Guardian News and Media

How do we know so much about the centenary celebrations? The dinners, speeches, gifts and notices from well-wishers were reported at great length in the Manchester Guardian. In the days following the centenary, staff carefully cut out Guardian columns and pasted them, alongside other newspaper accounts into the Manchester Guardian Centenary Cuttings book. The range of individuals and organisations who wrote congratulatory notices is impressive, from the Lancashire United Methodists to the Armenian United Association of London. Press associations and newspapers from around the world also sent hearty congratulations.

Manchester Guardian Centenary Cuttings book. Ref. GDN/113. Copyright Guardian Media and Archives

The controversial name change in August 1959

We shall now fast forward to August 1959. That summer there was a chorus of disapproval when the Guardian dropped ‘Manchester’ from its title. For many years most sales were outside Manchester and northern England; indeed the Guardian had quite outgrown its home city. Its overseas sales were substantial too.

‘The Guardian in London and Manchester’, c.1977. Ref. GDN/Add Box 322/1. Copyright Guardian News & Media

As news of the name change spread, the Guardian offices on Cross Street received a barrage of correspondence, some offering congratulations but many more lamenting the loss of the word ‘Manchester’ from the mast head.

Our exhibition includes a letter from South Africa signed by a Mr P H Hamer. We know almost nothing about Mr Hamer, other than he was an exiled Mancunian living in Cape Town. Over two pages he reflects on what the Manchester Guardian and his home city means to him.

Letter from P. H. Hamer to the Editor of the Guardian. Ref. GDN/223/38/28. Copyright Guardian News & Media

The final paragraph of the second sheet poetically recalls the sights and sounds of his native city:

‘painted barges on the canal near Whitworth Street, bales dropping from a height next to a nonchalant man on a lorry; the skyline of buildings by moonlight in a black out; ocean going ships far from the sea … and the Manchester Guardian”

P. H. Hamer

The last edition to be printed in Manchester

Why do we keep things, in particular the last and the first? This intriguing item arrived at the Library only a few weeks ago. A Rochdale woman called Joan Stock (1931–2020), who was a sub editor at the Guardian, bequeathed it to the Library. She had kept it wrapped in cardboard and safely stored under her bed for decades. Joan’s metal plate commemorates the last edition of the Guardian printed in Manchester. The date reads ‘28 August 1976′.

Metal plate of the Guardian, 28 August, 1976, (uncatalogued). Copyright Guardian News and Media

“Guardian front page flong — last page from Manchester”

Joan Stock

In a hand written note that accompanied the gift Joan describes it as a ‘flong’. In relief printing a ‘flong’ is a temporary negative mould created to cast a metal stereotype which can be used in a rotary press. This process is called stereotyping. Strictly speaking ‘flongs’ are made of papier-mâché and are a negative rather than positive. Perhaps instead this is a stereotyping metal plate? If you are a former printer or knowledgeable about hot metal processes I would love to hear from you and learn more about this object.

But regardless of terminology this piece of newspaper history harks back to a day when newspapers were printed using hot metal technology. By the 1980s hot metal was dying out. It was complex and required highly skilled labour and, as new cheaper technologies emerged, it became increasingly expensive and inefficient. The end of hot metal printing at the Guardian followed the Wapping dispute in 1986, when Rupert Murdoch shut down News International’s print operation and moved to a new east London plant overnight.

And there ends the historical jaunt through time and we arrive now in 2021 to what is happening at the John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Today’s lovingly-crafted commemorations

To mark the bicentenary there is an online exhibition, Manchester’s Guardian: 200 years of the Guardian newspaper and a fascinating digital collection both of which launch on 5 May 2021. Followers of this blog can also look forward to a series of Guardian-themed posts and, as restrictions ease, a physical exhibition (that mirrors the virtual). Plus, throughout the remainder of 2021, an online and physical events programme.

This blog is the perfect opportunity to celebrate the work carried out by dozens of Library staff to commemorate the Guardian’s 200-year milestone. Collections and exhibitions staff, photographers and imaging, conservators, reader services, metadata specialists, IT staff, visitor engagement staff and MA students have all worked together during this extraordinary period of pandemic turmoil. There has been many a twist and turn in our plans over the last year but I hope you agree that our joint efforts have produced something special.

We are also very grateful for support from our London colleagues at the Guardian News and Media Archive, the ever helpful Phillipa Mole and Margaret Holborn; Dr Rebecca Gill, University of Huddersfield; Professor Robert Poole, University of Central Lancashire and we would also like to thank The Guardian Foundation and The Scott Trust.

I shall close with an apt quotation from CP Scott, in praise of my Library colleagues and our shared bicentenary adventures.

“ the staff … should be a friendly company. They need not, of course, agree on every point, but they should share in the general purpose and inheritance … they should be like a racing boat’s crew, pulling well together.”

‘One Hundred Years’, Published in the centenary edition of the Manchester Guardian 5 May 2021. Ref. GDN/242

Further Resources

  • Click here for the Exhibition page for Manchester’s Guardian: 200 Years of the Guardian Newspaper
  • Click here for details of events around the Guardian exhibition
  • For a detailed account of the Guardian Archive written after its arrival at the University of Manchester Library see: Peter McNiven (1992). ‘The Guardian archives in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester‘, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library74(2), 65–84.

Please note — Post 1970s materials created by the Guardian newspaper are held in London at The Guardian News and Media ArchiveThey have a reading room and an Education Centre and welcome enquiries.

1 comment on “Guardian Exhibition: Anniversaries: The Guardian newspaper through time and place

  1. John Hodgson

    A wonderful blogpost Janette. The Jubilee trip to Cheshire sounds rather like the printers’ traditional summer outing known as a Wayzgoose: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayzgoose

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