Jackson’s Oxford Journal was a weekly newspaper founded in 1753 by William Jackson, which continued in one form or another until after the First World War. For the first fifty-five years of its existence Jackson’s Oxford Journal was the only local newspaper serving Oxford and surrounding areas and hence Adderbury.
Jackson came to Oxford as a young man of 28 in the 1740s after completing his apprenticeship as a printer in London. In 1747 he had made a start by launching a paper called The Oxford Flying Weekly Journal and Cirencester Gazette, but despite having a very experienced partner and despite some attractive inducements to potential readers, the venture only lasted two years before folding. The truth was that at that time there had to be a very good reason for consumers to buy a new-fangled thing like a local newspaper, especially when government stamp duty, taxes on paper and advertising meant that the cost was not inconsiderable.
Four years later, in 1753, Jackson saw a new opportunity in the gathering preparations for a parliamentary election in 1754, and on 29th September 1753 he published the first edition of Jackson’s Oxford Journal, bearing this masthead.
The Oxfordshire election of 1754 was the most important in the eighteenth century – it also attracted lots of other superlatives: the most notorious, the most violent, the most literary, the most expensive. It gave people a chance to judge just where the country stood – on the government of the day, and on the relatively new Hanoverian monarchy. Such chances came about rarely; at that time politicians preferred not to have elections at all – they were hugely expensive and the outcomes were always doubtful. Much better to arrange things among themselves. It was the Duke of Marlborough who tore up the usual rules, because he wanted the constituency in which he lived to reflect his own beliefs and to supply him with members of parliament that he could deploy at will. This could only be achieved by getting rid of the two sitting members.
As far as Jackson was concerned:
“[He] could not have ventured at a more auspicious time. This altogether extraordinary election, in a constituency centred about a famous University City, provided him with the three indispensables: sensational ‘copy’; a public avid for news, and, more especially, for scandal; and a large corps of educated literary volunteers, who were competent and eager to supply both gratis.” ( R.J.Robson, 1949: The Oxfordshire Election of 1754, OUP, p.29)
This is what Jackson said in his first edition about his plans for the paper as a whole:
“This paper will be more complete than any that has hitherto
appeared in this Part of the Kingdom. For besides the Articles of News, foreign
and domestic, in which we shall endeavour to surpass every other Paper, our
situation will enable us to oblige our Readers with a particular Account of
every Transaction relating to the present Opposition in Oxfordshire”
Saturday 5th May 1753
It’s said that people who found newspapers always have two aims in mind: to influence events and to make money. In the course of the 1754 election, Jackson put his newspaper at the heart of current events in Oxford. This was something that he continued to do throughout his reign as proprietor, setting his journal apart from many others at the time who survived on national stories, often plagiarised from London newspapers.
With his Journal established as a result of the 1754 election, Jackson now had to make money out of the venture – something which he managed to do with great success over the next forty years or so. Cover price was one element: his virtual monopoly gave him some flexibility here, and he encouraged people to take out subscriptions rather than pay separately for each copy. He also seems to have solved the problem of distribution, important particularly for the rural hinterland. The third element was advertising, with the whole of the front page often devoted to advertisements. One sort of advert was particularly attractive to him – ones for patent medicines. The manufacturer could be charged for the insertion (although there is virtually no cost involved) and be charged again when the product was sold on his behalf – either at the Journal’s central office, or anywhere it is delivered.
Jackson also managed very successfully to make his various enterprises over the years seem a natural part of Oxford life. Jackson’s the printers was the place you went to have things printed or bound. Jacksons Journal was where you went to find out about Oxford events or to publicise news of your personal successes. If you were going out of Oxford, you needed to have copies of the Journal kept by for your return in case you’d missed something. Jackson also consolidated his position as a printer. The University at the time had two privileges. One was the exclusive right to print almanacs. Their own printing enterprise, however, had “fallen into torpor”, as one account put it, despite the fact that it had moved into magnificent new buildings. Jackson took over the printing of these almanacs in 1768 and continued for another 20 years. The University had an altogether more significant privilege in the right to print bibles, but again here they were in trouble because of the incompetence of their own printers. In 1780, an alternative was found. It was agreed to admit master printers into partnership who could take upon themselves ‘the care and trouble of managing the trade for our mutual advantage’. It was to be in the form of a joint-stock company, with 48 shares of which the University as ‘owner partner’ held half. Expenses were to be shared equally with the partners and profits equally divided. Who better to take on the Oxford end of this than the successful businessman, William Jackson, especially as this entitled him to call himself ‘Printer to the University’, never bad for trade? This system was so successful that it was recommended as a model to Cambridge University by their Commissioners in 1852: ‘We are satisfied that no Syndicate, however active and well chosen, can replace the intelligent and vigilant superintendence of those whose fortune in life is dependent upon its success.’ Finally, in 1782 Jackson took over the Wolvercote Paper Mill, thus securing supplies for his businesses and towards the end of the eighteenth century he joined with others in the establishment of a bank.
By the 1770s Jackson had his printing business in the High Street, next to the Covered Market. In 1771 he became a leading member of the Paving Commission for the city and in 1786 he received an honorary bailiff’s place and the freedom of the city, although he played no part in council affairs. As soon as the turnpike road to Buckingham and London through the fields of Headington was started in 1775, Jackson bought land beside it and built a country mansion, Headington House, which was finished by 1883. To go with it, he purchased the lordship of the manor. With all this we can truly say that he had arrived.
Jackson’s Oxford Journal and Adderbury
Given that for a large part of its life Jackson’s Oxford Journal was the only local paper serving Adderbury, there are two questions we can reasonably ask:
- What picture of Adderbury emerges from the coverage of the village provided by the Journal?
- What picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the Journal emerges from what we know independently about the concerns of Adderbury at this time?
The coverage of Adderbury life in Jackson’s Oxford Journal was fairly detailed. The British Library’s holdings of the Journal have been digitised and we can ask, for example, how many mentions of Adderbury there are in the nineteenth century? This is the answer, using the British Library’s own categories:
Arts & Sports 92
This works out at about one and a half mentions every fortnight through the century. The interesting categories are Advertising and News.
We expect there to be advertisements in Jackson’s Oxford Journal – in some editions the whole of the front page might be made up of them. But to find so many advertisements associated with the name of Adderbury is at first surprising; the village was not a large centre of trade, after all. Part of the explanation lies in the British Library’s classifications: they treat as advertisements, for example, all announcements about creditors and debtors. And into the same category go announcements about the meetings and various dealings of Turnpike Committees – and since Adderbury was on the route of three turnpikes it’s not surprising that the village is mentioned a lot. However, there were Adderbury concerns that wanted to advertise goods and services in Oxford and Oxfordshire. The most numerous of these seem to have been private schools, particularly boarding schools, followed by Adderbury’s pubs – and in particular the Red Lion. It makes sense that pubs would seek to advertise beyond the village, since pubs played key roles in the nineteenth century property market, whether as locations where interested parties could get details of properties for sale, or as locations where auctions would take place.
It’s in the News section that Jackson’s Oxford Journal comes closest to characterising Adderbury. The Journal knew that, outside of Oxford and the small number of towns in its area, it would be addressing itself to largely agricultural communities, and, within those communities, to farmers and landowners. In its centenary edition in 1853, it boasted that “The Oxford Journal has for very many years made a special feature of agriculture. Almost every Landowner and Farmer in the County is a Subscriber. [It has] … great popularity among the agricultural and trading classes.” This audience would want to know about the detail of sales at agricultural shows both locally, regionally and nationally and would be interested in the weather, the state of the market generally, and in particular the cost of foodstuffs, and the prices obtained for stock and agricultural products. And the numerous farming stories would be linked with the name of Adderbury because of the success of Adderbury’s farmers. – largely, but not exclusively, successive generations of Stilgoes at Adderbury Grounds Farm.
In addition to this, it’s clear that the Journal kept itself well informed of developments that could affect country estates. As early as 1859, for example, it reported:
“The prospects of this County developing its mineral resources is apparently becoming clearer. A shaft is being sunk on land belonging to His Grace the Duke of Marlborough in the parish of Northleigh; mining operations are commenced on the estate of Mr Chamberlin at Adderbury; measurements and levels have been taken by skilful engineers for a tramway intended to convey iron ore from Dr. Wilson’s estate at Over Worton to the Somerton station of the Great Western Railway; while miners … are at the present time procuring, from a depth of thirty-five yards below the surface, a quantity of ‘green stone ore’ at Steeple Aston.”
Beyond farming, the two major types of news that were of interest to the nineteenth-century newspaper reader were death and crime, and Jackson’s Oxford Journal assiduously followed the reports of the various courts and the activities of the coroners at the time. The picture of Adderbury that emerges is pretty mundane, though. There are deaths in the village, of course, but the ones that become newsworthy for the Journal are mostly the result of accidents at work, particularly those resulting from the use of machinery. And the crimes reported are mostly to do with petty theft, particularly the theft of foodstuffs from farms or public houses or animals from public pounds.
The other question, about what conclusions we can reach concerning Jackson’s Oxford Journal from its coverage of Adderbury, is more complex. We have other newspapers to provide a comparison, the Banbury Guardian from 1838 and the Banbury Advertiser from 1855, as well as knowledge about village affairs derived from other sources such as the Parish (later Deanery) Magazine. And on this basis it’s possible to suggest that the coverage provided by Jackson’s Oxford Journal needs to be supplemented if we’re to gain a complete picture of Adderbury, because it seems that the Journal’s coverage is limited by the interests of its “natural” readership, by its own admission the landowning and professional classes; the coverage also reflects the reports it received and hence the news it could print, as well as the social and political outlook of the Journal itself. We have to assume, for example, that the opening of the Banbury and Cheltenham Through Railway in 1887, a fairly significant event for the village, was not reported in the Journal because it had little significance for its agricultural readership. We can also notice that when the Journal did include local news, it was likely to take an unusual approach to it: it did occasionally, for example, report on an Adderbury Club Day. But it spent virtually no time on the entertainments and parades. Instead it reported on the accounts of the various friendly societies, something that would be of greater interest to its readership who might be involved with the administration of such societies in their locality. Similarly, many articles printed by the Journal were submitted by local Church of England clergymen, as the most literate inhabitants locally and it may be this that accounts for the fact that the Journal did not report on the grand opening, involving more than 500 people, of the Methodist Church in Adderbury in May 1893. Finally, we can notice that the Journal has a preference for accounts of village life that emphasize common purpose and harmony. It was certainly the case that the Journal did not report on the “bitter contention” between villagers and landowners over allotments in Adderbury that was covered in the Banbury Guardian in May 1893.
Returning finally to William Jackson himself, he died in 1795. Throughout his life he had taken good care to ensure that his private life remained private, and his obituary in his own journal was amazingly brief and generalised.
“Died on Wednesday Morning last, aged upwards of Seventy, William Jackson, Esq. Proprietor & Publisher of this Journal ever since its first Establishment. In his publick Characterisation his Loss will be long felt. In private Life he was warm in his Attachments, and sincere in his Friendships.”
Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 25th April 1795
There is only one mystery and that is his will. He left £10,000 to his sister, a widow in Leeds, but virtually everything else (house, business and property) to a certain Mary Jones, who had effectively run the business for many years. We will never know whether Jackson simply made a logical choice – Mary knew more about the business than anyone else, so should inherit – or whether there was more to it.