On this day January 20, 1838
Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser
O'Connor's Northern Star was at its apogee in 1839 selling 48,000 copies per weeks, its demands for the democratisation of politics were read by a much wider audience (Harrison, "A World...").
"'Reader', said Feargus O'Connor, in the first number of The Northern Star ...'behold that little red spot in the corner of my newspaper. That is the stamp; the Whig 'beauty' spot; your 'plague' spot. Look at it: I am entitled to it upon the performance of certain conditions. I was ready to comply, and yet, will you believe that the little spot you see has cost me nearly eighty pounds in money, together with much anxiety, and nearly one thousand miles of night and day travelling? Of this they shall hear more, but for the present suffice it to say there it is; my licence to teach'" (Bourne).
Established November 22, 1837.
"This is a weekly newspaper, projected in the Chartist interest, and strongly imbued with the principles of Ultra-Radicalism. It had at one time a great extent of popularity in the district which may be designated its birth-place the north of England; whence it has recently removed to the metropolis, with no proportionate increase of circulation; for its prosperity was mainly dependent on the growth of Chartism, the decline of which it has somewhat shared. Its circulation, however, is not inconsiderable; but of course, chiefly, if not entirely, among the working classes, operatives, and small tradesmen" (Mitchell, 1846).
"It was originally published at Leeds, where it obtained, in a short time, a larger circulation than any other country newspaper ever realised. The party to which it is attached [ie. Chartist], however, losing its popularity, the sale fell off, and the publication of the paper was transferred to London. Its articles are written in a bold uncompromising spirit...." (Mitchell, 1847).
"The Chartist paper, The Northern Star , continued to be an organ for Feargus O'Connor's ranting, and the agitation of 1848 produced a crop of radical papers to replace those that had died around 1840..." (James, p. 42).
"...[R]arely seen as a vehicle for sensationalized accounts of murder and mayhem. Yet nearly one quarter of each weekly issue was devoted to reports of crimes, accidents, and police proceedings, using the sensational to underscore a political program....the state, constructing itself upon an inherently unstable of class division and inequity, caused the acts of suicide, murder, and abuse that filled the columns of the Northern Star ....an expression of working class protest against the Poor Law and demands for factory reform.... Its circulation rivalled that of The Times in 1839...Circulation subsequently dropped off...before peaking a second time in 1848...then dropped precipitously, to less than 5000 per week by 1850. When Harney purchased the paper in 1852, circulation was down to 1200 and he was forced to end publication that same year" ( VPR ).; This paper began as a Factory and Anti-Poor Law journal. When O'Conner purchased the paper, he turned it into "a national vehicle for his brand of Chartism" but published other Chartist viewpoints, including those of his critics within the movement. The Northern Star was the definitive and comprehensive voice of the Chartist movement; it succeeded in uniting Chartism by publishing local and regional initiatives and according them national significance (Barker p.215, 216). "Feargus O'Conner, editor of the Northern Star , insisted that the paper was a 'mirror' of the people's mind"...written with public readings very much in mind...readings of radical papers were not met with reverential silence but formed the basis of listeners subsequent discussions...(Barker p.25, 55).
The paper also "claimed to serve a largely working-class readership, which had previously found 'no single provincial organ through which their wants and wishes could be adequately expressed, and by which their rights could be duly asserted and their interests maintained' " (Barker p.49).
Founded as a legal, stamped publication with the intention of surviving the rigours of commercial competition (Jones, p.147).
At first, the Northern Star was a working-class paper. It is fairly obvious that Feargus intended to use the Northern Star to advance his personal career. His role in the paper was publicized, and his public speeches reprinted therein in full. Accepted as the national organ of the Chartist movement (Cranfield, p.194).
In 1839 the paper achieved its full glory. It had six columns on each of its eight pages. It was out-of-date in appearance, and its advertisement were reminiscent of 18th century newspapers (Cranfield, p.195). Published the prospectus for the Nottingham Chronicle in 1839 (Cranfield, p.195). The Northern Star claimed on 2 February 1839 that it had sold 17 640 papers the previous week, and that it had 27 000 orders for the next. It was able to substantiate its claims with a record of stamp purchases. A similar record in 1839 gave the Northern Star a weekly average of 42 077 (Cranfield, p.197). "Its maximum sale at this time  was probably over 50 000 a week" (Cranfield, p.198). 1842 was the key year for the Northern Star . When the middle classes finally began to realise the needs of the working classes, the great days of the Northern Star were over (Cranfield, p.198).; "The Reporter , like the Chartists' Northern Star at a later date, provided an important organizational framework and a focal point for a diffuse political movement" (Walvin, p.157).
"Bronterre O'Brien, the 'school master of Chartism', whose journalism in the Unstamped Poor Man's Guardian and then in the Northern Star taught a generation of working men to 'read' capitalism as the systematic theft of their labour" (Hollis, p.296).
"The early editions concentrated on the anti-poor law campaign and the Glasgow cotton spinners..." (Brown).
Part of the Northern Star's apparent editorial agenda was to establish links between crimes and social conditions (Rodrick).
"In politics it was the extreme of Radicalism, or Chartism as it was then called, from advocating the People's Charter. It advocated six distinct changes which were deemed constitutional departures from the law and customs of the realm" (Wood 308).
"O'Connor, whose Northern Star was rapidly gaining readers, used physical force as a threat ("peaceably if we may, forcibly if we must") but never came to the point of countenancing it in fact" (Cole 238). O'Connor was also quoted as writing and saying of his rival Weekly Dispatch , "You unmitigated ass! You sainted fool! You canonized ape! You nincompoop!" (Cole 263).
Poems and extracts of poems by Byron, Shelley and Keats appear in the publication (Shaaban, p.38-9).
"During the years 1845-46 the Northern Star regularly and consistently printed on its literary page extracts from Byron's poetry" (Shaaban, p.41). A number of issues have a feature in a continuing series entitled "The Beauties of Byron". The focus on Byron includes features on "To a Lady" and Childe Harold among others (Shaaban, p.39). Poems by Byron are published in full, including "Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte" "From the French" and "Prometheus" (Shaaban, p.42). No 336 contains a poem by John Fergusson called "To the Memory of Shelley" (Shaaban, p.38). An article in 10 Jan, 1846 compares and contrasts the work of Byron and Shelley (Shaaban, p.40). The subject of Byron's poem "The Prisoner of Chillon" is argued to be "deeply interesting to all haters of tyranny" (2 May, 1846, p.3). Frost compares Scott, Byron and Shelley in the 2 Jan, 1847 publication. Twedell "acclaims Shelley as the prophet and patriot of liberty" (Shaaban, p.42).; Read weekly by a Primitive Methodist preacher at a miner's meeting (Webb, p.34).
Jones and Harney became leading members of "the international socialist group of Fraternal Democrats and friends of Marx and Engels" (Epstein, 76).
"O'Conner's rise to popular leadership was rapid in the extreme. Within fifteen months from the foundation of the Northern Star , he was the universally acknowledged leader in those parts...The paper could make or unmake reputations, and local leaders went in terror of its censure. Place declared that the Northern Star had degraded the whole Radical Press. It was truly the worst and most successful of the radical papers, a melancholy tribute to the low level of intelligence of its readers...In the palmy days between 1839 and 1842 the Star had been not only the oracle of northern industrial discontent, but a veritable gold mine to its proprietor, and the source of the lavish subventions with which he sustained the tottering finances of the cause. But the greatest prosperity of the Star had been in its early days of identification with Chartism. Founded in 1837 before the Charter had been devised, it was not before 1839 that it had grown into the position of the leading Chartist organ. It was in the great year 1839 that the Star had attained the highest point of its prosperity. But after the great year 1839 the sales of the Star had steadily declined. Even in 1840 it had only half the circulation of the previous year: each succeeding year was marked by a further drop, and by the summer of 1843 the state of affairs was becoming critical...Accordingly in 1844 the office of the paper was transferred from Leeds to London...But if the step had been undertaken in hope of reviving its sales, the result finally was the completion of its ruin...It was now called the Northern Star and the National Trades Journal, and a desperate effort was made to win new readers by appeals to the Trades Union element which in early days had seemed of little account. Before long it almost ceased to be a Chartist paper at all...Early in 1852 he sold the Northern Star to new proprietors, who forthwith dissociated it from the Chartist cause" (Hovell); Read states that the Northern Star was the "first great British popular newspaper" (p.56).
This publication gets its name from an Irish publication of the same title that was closely associated with Feargus O'Connor's uncle, Arthur O'Connor (Read, p.56).
No 688 is incorrectly numbered 687 (Canney). Superceded by The Star of Freedom (q.v.); Harney purchased the Northern Star in 1852. "Very popular Chartist paper" (Williams, vol 2, p.519).
After its inception, The Northern Star ". . . speedily outpassed all other Radical journals not only in violence of language but also in the extent of its circulation" (Cole, p.47).
The Northern Star ". . .began not as a Chartist organ, but much more as the expression of working-class protests against the Poor Law and demands for factory reform. It advocated Universal Suffrage and the rest of the Chartist demands, primarily as means to these ends. Only when the London Working Men's Association had published the Charter, and began to secure for it the support of Radical working men's associations in many other places, did The Northern Star take up the Charter. . ." (Cole, p.312).
John Cleave was the London "agent" for this periodical. Other agents for the Star : James Ibbotson of Bradford, Titus Brooke of Dewsbury, Christopher Tinker of Huddersfield. Richard Lee was the London correspondent from 1839-1840. Abel Heywood had the Manchester agency for the new series. Of total 3,000 issues, 1,220 copies were ordered in Ashton-under-Lyne (Flick, p.38).
" Sunshine and Shadow appeared in weekly instalments in the Northern Star between 31 March 1849 and 5 January 1850. Its author was the Chartist administrator and schoolteacher Thomas Martin Wheeler (1811-62)... He became the London correspondent of the Northern Star in 1840" (Haywood, p.65).
Source: The Waterloo Directory of English Newspapers and Periodicals: 1800-1900.
For this newspaper, we have the following titles in, or planned for, our digital archive:
- 1838–44 The Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser
- 1845–52 The Northern Star and National Trades' Journal
This newspaper is published by an unknown publisher in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. It was digitised and first made available on the British Newspaper Archive in May 6, 2013. The latest issues were added in Jun 3, 2013.