March 11, 1702 — The UK’s first daily newspaper hit the streets on this day. Called The Daily Courant, it owed its appearance to the fact that control of the Press by the Government had been abandoned some five years earlier. The Courant also owed its existence to a remarkable and determined woman – Elizabeth Mallet, the newspaper’s first proprietor and editor.
Virtually nothing is known about Mrs Mallet, other than that she was the widow of a printer. But she must have been a determined and intelligent person. Knowing that publication by a woman would not only raise eyebrows but probably cause a significant boycott of the paper, she named the publisher simply as “E. Mallet”, leaving readers to assume that "E" was male.
There has been conjecture over the years that “E. Mallet” was in fact a man – Edward – but the broad consensus is that Elizabeth was the person behind the enterprise.
The Daily Courant consisted of a single page divided into two columns with advertisements on the back and a focus almost exclusively on foreign news. The name came from the phrase ‘au courant,’ meaning to be up to-date and well informed.
In sharp contrast to today’s media, it pledged to “give news daily and impartially” and allow readers to make up their own opinions. “Nor will [the Editor] take it upon himself to give any Comments or Conjectures of his own, but will relate only Matter of Fact; supposing other People to have Sense enough to make Reflections for themselves.”
Satisfyingly, the paper was published from premises on Fleet Street. This famous London thoroughfare had been the printing industry’s centre since William Caxton’s contemporary Wynkyn de Worde set up business there in 1500.
The Courant’s offices stood beside the Kings Arms public house on Fleet Bridge, and were described as being located “against the Ditch at Fleet Bridge.” The Times was to be published from a nearby spot some two centuries later.
The Daily Courant could not have appeared much earlier than it did because of Government controls on the Press.
The Licensing of the Press Act – more fully described as “the Act for Preventing the frequent Abuses in Printing Seditious, Treasonable and Unlicensed Books and Pamphlets; and for the Regulating of Printing and Printing Presses” – was introduced in 1662. It was brought in as a temporary measure ahead of a stronger Act for controlling the Press. It was renewed in 1663 and again in 1665.
In 1693 the Act was still in force but the House of Lords agreed to the House of Commons abolishing it if new legislation was introduced. However, the new Bill failed to get through the Commons in 1697 and after that tight controls on the Press were abandoned.
Remarkably, and for reasons unknown, Mallet decided after just forty days to sell the paper. So in 1703 The Daily Courant became the property of printer and bookseller Samuel Buckley. And it was under his stewardship that the paper first ran into trouble.
In 1712 it published an account of House of Commons business – an act strictly against the law. Parliament did not give journalists the right to publish details of its proceedings until 1771. Buckley had to pay a heavy fine for his transgression.
The Daily Courant continued to be printed until 1735 when Buckley merged it with his other newspaper, the Daily Gazetteer. The Courant’s name then disappeared, never to be seen again.
Published: February 12, 2020