Major improvements in printing processes in the 1790s led to a boom of printed material in England. London produced several daily newspapers, and over a dozen monthly magazines. Provincial newspapers were plentiful throughout England as well, adding to the London newspapers that circulated to the farthest reaches of the country. Improvements in the highway infrastructure – ie: better roads and turnpikes – coupled with the expanding and affordable postal system meant distribution was easier than it had ever been before. Booksellers set up shop in towns everywhere providing ready access for purchasing and people willingly passed the magazines, newspapers, and books to other readers. Starting in 1730 there were lending libraries for those who could not afford to buy a book or magazine, the number swelled to twenty-six by 1800.
By the turn of the nineteenth century newspapers and magazines were an integral part of life not only for the upper class but also the middle, working, and servant classes. Without a standardized education system, literacy remained poor. However, thanks to the efforts of religious groups — such as the Methodists — the ability to read was improving rapidly. The wide circulation of all types of periodicals undoubtedly helped.
Magazines were typically monthly publications, much larger than newspapers, and included colored prints. They varied in theme and primary articles, just like today. Yet no matter what the main focus, there were similarities in content. Almost everyone reported news – local, society, government, world events – and in each case the news bits were placed into the periodical in a haphazard fashion. A report on the war might be sandwiched between gossip of the Prince Regent and an obituary of a local shopkeeper! None of them had sections as they do now.
Other common content included: reviews or summaries of books, plays, art exhibits, poetry, and music (designed to share the experience with readers who could not attend or buy the book rather than to criticize the work); meteorological tables (no way to forecast weather but for some reason they were obsessed with what the weather had been); and reports on scientific advancements. Magazines intended for the ladies included fashion, needlework patterns, very descriptive illustrations, body and skin care tips, interior design, gossip, and biographies of famous people along with the standard newsy items. One thing they NEVER included was anything of a domestic nature because a lady had servants for that kind of work.
Now a little bit about the top sellers during the Regency, bearing in mind that there were dozens of others.
Gentleman’s Magazine – Founded in 1731 it was the first to use the French term “magazine” for a periodical and the first inclusive publication of this type. It was targeted at men in the upper class (although women did read it) and survived until 1914. Reported Parliament debates and decisions, political news, and similar weighty reports and essays.
La Belle Assembleé, or Bell’s Court & Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies – The name says it all! Established in 1806 this was THE must-have magazine. It was elegantly designed, intellectually written, larger than any other magazine, very expensive, included both English and French fashion, and was highly influential. Its supreme status lasted until 1837 when publication ceased.
Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashion and Politics – Founded by Rudolph Ackermann we immediately associate this magazine with fashion plates. Indeed this was a prime focus and by far contained the greatest collection of fashion plates from 1809-1829 when it was published. However, as the full title indicates, Ackermann’s Repository was much more than only fashion. Originally aimed at men more so than women, and dedicated to the Prince of Wales, this serious monthly magazine ran a close third in popularity and importance.
Lady’s Monthly Museum – Published from 1798-1830. Focused on the “British Fair”, using the term for the virtuous, elegant, beautiful woman who every lady strived to be. Fashion was a part but the main emphasis was on improving the mind through art, literature, poetry, and essays on moral living.
The Sporting Magazine – Entirely for men, this 1792-1870 publication was the first devoted exclusively to every kind of sport engaged in by the country gentleman. Shooting, fox hunting, horses and racing, sporting event news, and exquisite illustrations of animals set this magazine apart from all the rest.
The Edinburgh Review, and its competitor The Quarterly Review, were the big political magazines of the era.
The Botanical Magazine – An illustrated publication began in 1787 as a gardening and scientific botanical journal by William Curtis, an apothecary and botanist at Kew Gardens in London. This historic magazine was hugely popular during the Regency and still is today, it the longest running botanical magazine in the world. The collection of high quality illustrations are the greatest every produced.
These are only a few of the magazines available for the fashionable, and others in England to enjoy.