When did news of Waterloo reach the whole of England?
July 31, 2013 4:06 PM   Subscribe

When did the news of the victory at Waterloo reach parts of England beyond London? I'm looking for a better understanding of the timeframe or pointers to an available diary.

I know the basic facts about how the victory at Waterloo was made known in London, but not how they fit together exactly for beyond London. I know that Major Percy landed in Broadstairs at 3pm on 21 June; that he arrived at the Palace/Downing Street "late in the evening" of the same day; and that the London Gazette Extraordinary bore the news on 22 June. However, I don't know which day the mail coaches would have taken the news up to the rest of England.

Was it usual for the London Gazette to be printed the evening beforehand and so arrive by mail coach on the date of its imprint, or for it to be taken up by mail coach to arrive the day after its date of imprint? Was this followed for the extraordinary issue or was the situation different? Did the mail coaches on that day not carry the Gazette but still passed on knowledge of the victory otherhow, such as with laurels?

If you have specific information about how the news of Waterloo was spread day by day that would be great, but a diary would be superb. For the purposes of "England beyond London", the distances of Bristol or Nottingham would be about right: too far for personal communication faster than the next mail coach.

(My apologies if this question is a little obscure.)
posted by Thing to Society & Culture (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Was it usual for the London Gazette to be printed the evening beforehand and so arrive by mail coach on the date of its imprint, or for it to be taken up by mail coach to arrive the day after its date of imprint? Was this followed for the extraordinary issue or was the situation different? Did the mail coaches on that day not carry the Gazette but still passed on knowledge of the victory otherhow, such as with laurels?

I can't tell you specifics of that particular newspaper, but one of the reasons newspapers always tried to scoop each other was so they could get the presses running as soon as possible. There are (perhaps apocryphal?) stories of reporters dictating their stories directly to the typesetter. They probably put the paper together as soon as they got the news, and distributed the paper in sort of concentric circles as it came off the presses: the nearest routes got the first copies, and they just filled up the delivery wagons as they got the papers. Since the news would be "in the wild" in London first, the paper would want to distribute there first. The news wouldn't get to more outlying areas very quickly, so they could afford to be a little later in delivering up there.

And there probably was a network of reporters (or couriers or whatever they would be called at the time) that would gather the news and then jump on a horse and head out to more outlying areas to get their local paper written and printed.
posted by gjc at 4:35 PM on July 31, 2013

Rothchild's private spies knew before anyone.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:10 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

You may want to have a dig through the archives at the British Newspaper Archive. You have to pay to see the full articles, but looking at the previews on the search results it looks like The Morning Post (London) had the text of the dispatch on June 22nd. The Cambridge Chronicle and Journal had it on the 23rd. The Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh) on Saturday the 24th. The Caledonian Mercury published Thursday and Saturday, so the news may well have arrived in Edinburgh on the Friday.

On the 3rd July, 1815 the Caledonian Mercury published a letter written in Antwerp on 24th June, so even regular news/mail moved pretty fast.
posted by IanMorr at 11:13 AM on August 1, 2013

That is a very helpful answer. I had not thought that I might use such an archive without a subscription, but the search information is maybe enough for my purposes.
posted by Thing at 1:34 PM on August 2, 2013

The news reached London on the evening of Wednesday 21 June, but didn't become widely known until the Thursday morning. Joseph Farington recorded it in his diary on 22 June:
Smirke called while I was at breakfast to speak of the glorious victory obtained by the Duke of Wellington over Buonaparte on Sunday last, the 18th inst. He had been to the Park, and found the people everywhere rejoicing at the intelligence recd. The Tower and Park guns were fired at 10 o'clock, but I did not hear them and knew not of the victory till Smirke arrived.
For the departure times of the mail coaches from London, see the 1815 editions of Cary's New Itinerary and Crosby's Complete Pocket Gazetteer (both digitised on archive.org). Most of the mail coaches left London in the early evening, as Thomas De Quincey describes in his essay The English Mail Coach:
From eight p.m. to fifteen or twenty minutes later, imagine the mails assembled on parade in Lombard Street; where, at that time, and not in St. Martin's-le-Grand, was seated the General Post-Office. [..] On any night the spectacle was beautiful. But the night before us is a night of victory; and, behold! to the ordinary display what a heart-shaking addition!—horses, men, carriages, all are dressed in laurels and flowers, oak-leaves and ribbons. [..] What stir!—what sea-like ferment!—what a thundering of wheels!—what a trampling of hoofs!—what a sounding of trumpets!—what farewell cheers—what redoubling peals of brotherly congratulation, connecting the name of the particular mail—"Liverpool for ever!"—with the name of the particular victory—"Badajoz for ever!" or "Salamanca for ever!"
The mail to Nottingham (no 190 in Cary's list) left the Bull and Mouth Inn at 7.15 pm, and according to Crosby (p. 368) it arrived around 3 pm. The mail to Bristol (no. 452 in Cary's list) left the Swan with Two Necks at 7.30 pm and arrived in Bristol at 11 am (Crosby says 'about noon'). So the news would have been widely known outside London by the afternoon of Friday 23 June, if not before.

De Quincey's essay imagines the news travelling across England 'like fire racing along a train of gunpowder', and describes how the coachman would toss a copy of the gazette into other carriages as he passed them on the road, 'so folded that the huge capitals expressing some such legend as GLORIOUS VICTORY might catch the eye at once'. Adam Sedgwick was on the spot when the news arrived in Sedbergh, in Cumbria, and describes how he rode home to Dent to bring the news to his neighbours:
At that time we had a post three days a week, and each of those days, to the great comfort of the aged postman, I rode over to Sedbergh to bring back the newspapers and the letters to my countrymen. Gloomy reports had reached us of a battle and a retreat; but another and greater battle was at hand; and on one of my anxious journeys, just as I passed over the Riggs, I heard the sound of the Sedbergh bells. Could it be, I said, the news of a victory? No! it was a full hour before the time of the postman's arrival. A minute afterwards I saw a countryman returning hastily from Sedbergh. "Pray what means that ringing?" I said. "News, Sir, sich as niver was heard before: I kna lile about it; but the Kendal postman has just come an hour before his time. He was all covered with ribbons, and his horse was all covered with froth." Hearing this, I spurred my horse to the Kendal postman's speed; and it was my joyful fortune to reach Sedbergh not many minutes after the arrival of the Gazette Extraordinary which told us of the great victory of Waterloo.

After joining in the cheers and congratulations of my friends at Sedbergh, I returned to Dent with what speed I could; and such was the anxiety of the day that many scores of my brother Dalesmen met me on the way, and no time was lost in our return to the market-place of Dent. They ran by my side as I urged on my horse; and then, mounting on the great blocks of black marble, from the top of which my countrymen have so often heard the voice of the auctioneer and the town-crier, I read, at the highest pitch of my voice, the news from the Gazette Extraordinary to the anxious crowd which pressed round me.
posted by verstegan at 9:35 AM on August 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Thank you verstegen, your answer is exactly what I was looking for. I did reread Quincey to get an overall feel for how the news must have travelled, but your information is a great help in getting the exact day and broad time of day.
posted by Thing at 4:08 PM on August 6, 2013

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