Episode 113: The Gentleman’s Magazine

Today, we are going to explore a captivating corner of London’s rich literary past: ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’. Launched in 1731, this periodical not only revolutionised the way news was disseminated, but it also had a huge impact on the shape of journalism and the publishing industry. Its pages were filled with a dazzling array of content, from political debates and poetry to obituaries and weather reports, reflecting the intellectual currents of 18th-century London and beyond.

And who better to guide us through this journey than our special guest for today, Dr Gillian Williamson? A leading historian and author of the seminal work ‘British Masculinity in the Gentleman’s Magazine’, Dr Williamson will help us unravel the influence and significance of this unique publication.

So, make yourself comfortable and let’s travel back to a time when coffee houses were the internet of the day, and ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’ was the thread connecting people, politics, and popular culture. From its inception to its evolution, let’s delve into how this periodical has shaped London’s literary landscape and its enduring legacy.

Welcome to the London History Podcast. Let’s begin…

Recommended Reading:

British Masculinity in the Gentleman’s Magazine, Dr Gillian Williamson

Lodgers, Landlords, and Landladies in Georgian London, Dr Gillian Williamson


Your host: Hazel Baker

Hazel is an active Londoner, a keen theatre-goer and qualified CIGA London tour guide. 

She has won awards for tour guiding and is proud to be involved with some great organisations. She is a freeman of the Worshipful Company of Marketors and am an honorary member of The Leaders Council.

She has been an expert guest on Channel 5’s Walking Wartime Britain(Episode 3) and Yesterday Channel’s The Architecture the Railways Built (Series 3, Episode 7). Het Rampjaar 1672Afl. 2: Vijand Engeland and Arte.fr Invitation au Voyage, À Chelsea, une femme qui trompe énormément. New programmes for 2023: Secrets of the London Underground and BBC Songs of Praise: St George’s Day Special. Radio includes Bill Elms on Radio London and Jumoke Fashola on BBC Radio London.


Today’s Guest: Dr Gillian Williamson

I am an independent scholar. I received my PhD from Birkbeck, University of London in 2014 My thesis, which was published in 2016, was on the leading 18th-century monthly magazine, The Gentleman’s Magazine, and the way it articulated new ideas about masculinity and gentlemanliness. Since then I have been working on lodging as a socially and culturally important way of life in 18th-century towns and cities.

I published Lodgers, Landlords, and Landladies in Georgian London in the summer of 2021 and British Masculinity in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 2016.


113. The Gentleman’s Magazine Transcript

[00:00:00] Hazel Baker: Welcome, dear listeners, to another fascinating episode of the London History Podcast, where we delve into the vibrant and diverse past of this great city. I am your host Hazel Baker, a qualified London tour guide and founder of London Guided walks.co. Uk. Whether you’re a born and bred Londoner or a curious listener, join us on a journey through time as we explore the city together.

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And if you enjoy the show, please leave us a review and rating to help spread the word to other history lovers.

Dr. Gillian williamson, thank you so much for joining us. Your Georgia Landlords and ladies was. Such a success. So many comments on it that I had to get you back when I knew you had written about the Gentleman’s magazine. So it might be worth getting to know for our listeners anyway looking at understanding your yourself and your expertise, and also the relationship with the Gentleman’s magazine.

[00:01:49] Dr Gillian Williamson: I came to the Gentles magazine as a researcher because I chose it as the subject for a PhD as a mature student. And the reason I chose it was because I’d been conscious that when I’d be doing other research local history or my MA research, I’d always turned for the 18th century. I think there’s the gentleman’s magazine that will have something about.

Whatever might have a death notice of somebody might, it probably will tell you what the weather was on a particular month in the 18th century. So it was always there in the background and I thought, nobody had particularly ever stood back and thought, why is it there? Why are there so many copies?

Why does it have all this information? What was it for? And what did the readers make of it? So that’s really what I wanted to do when I started researching the magazine in itself. Was, think about why this was such an important publication in the 18th century, why it lasted so long, from 1731 to 1907, which is an extraordinarily long life for a, this sort of publication.

Most of them to fizzled out. When the founder, editor, owner kicks bucket, the magazine would eventually fold in very short order, but this lived through several sort of lives of editors and so on. And I thought that was an important thing to think about. 

[00:03:06] Hazel Baker: Gives us a different view, doesn’t it? Yes.

Cause it’s not just from one person then. 

[00:03:10] Dr Gillian Williamson: No, it’s different people and it’s over the long term. So you can see how it might slightly change but also stay the same. And you can see it absorbing new influences and ideas over that long term. So it gives you an idea of the two things historians like to talk about.

Is there change or is there continuity? And it’s a long enough run of a magazine that you can look at both those things. Yeah, 

[00:03:34] Hazel Baker: I think it’d be a good question to ask in terms of for the audience and also the audience of the Gentleman’s magazine is what is or was a gentleman back then compared to our gentlemanly notions today.

[00:03:49] Dr Gillian Williamson: I think the idea of what a gentleman one was changing and that’s something that the founder of the magazine was effectively capitalizing on. So a gentleman had traditionally been somebody of lineage of birth would inherited, that’s the rank in society. You would have been somebody who didn’t have to go out to work and anything grubby for a living, but to primarily drew.

Income, family income from an estate from a farmed estate, which you were probably tenant out. So it was somebody with a degree of leisure. You might have to place, you had a lot of sons, you might have to place one or two in a more gentlemanly profession like a barrister or perhaps a clergy and a senior clergyman.

But it was fundamentally somebody who was born into that rank. And probably stayed in that rank and it was quite difficult to move into it. And with the, in the 18th century, the exciting thing is that beginning of a change to what we would think of as a more modern society, where those lines, demarcation lies between different social classes, begin to break down enough that people can move up in the world, relatively straightforward and probably in one or two generations.

So a gentleman becomes something that you can. Work towards becoming so you are not excluded because of say your background in a humble background in trade or whatever, or by having to earn your living. And then these people gradually reshape and say, actually, to be a gentleman is to be someone who behaves in a gentlemanly way who behaves, who is hardworking, sober, and sensible.

Sort of the foundation, if you like, of. This new British society, which is much more commercial and is beginning to develop an overseas empire changing completely from being based on land and farming, towards being based on trade. And I think The Gentleman’s magazine also captures this change very well and was aimed substantially at these.

So new gentlemen, I call them these new gentlemen who are making their own way in the world, establishing themselves and saying, I, I’m important. I may be a grocer from Hull, I am a gentleman because I have made a good living. I’ve worked hard, I’ve behaved well in my. Community and I’ve, I’m respectable and therefore I am a gentleman.

So that’s what he was doing. So ultimately, if you could say confidently, I’m a gentleman you were a gentleman. If no one challenged it and having rose of the bound copies of the Gentleman’s magazine or bookcase, it’s saying to Lord, it says, gentleman’s magazine and guilt lettering. I own it.

I own gentleman in us. So I think that’s what it was doing in society. Because even when 

[00:06:19] Hazel Baker: you are reading certain contemporary literature, say for All, say Lizzie Bennett for example. Yes. In Pride and Prejudice, and she says, I am a, he’s a gentleman. I’m a gentleman’s daughter. Yes. And she goes back who are your family?

Who are they?

[00:06:31] Dr Gillian Williamson: They’re all from trades. You are nothing. And that’s interesting cause actually Jane Austen probably did read the Gentleman’s magazine. Her father, a sort of middling class, professional VI and school teacher. Very typical sort of reader. It was probably in the household and in North an Abbey, the names of the, a lot of the characters appeared to be taken from obituaries in a particular run of the Gentleman’s magazine at about the time that she was draft known to be drafting that I didn’t know that.

So that’s, I, that’s quite an, interesting little factor, but maybe she got it from somewhere else, but I think it is, was probably something that was available to her to pick up and read in the household. Oh, fantastic. So 

[00:07:13] Hazel Baker: For listeners who might not know it might be worth you please giving a brief overview of the Gentleman’s magazine of what it was, what it contained and who it was written for, and the benefits for them ho owning it.

[00:07:27] Dr Gillian Williamson: It was founded, the first number came out in January, 1731, and it came out monthly until 1907. And what it aimed to be, what the founder Edward Cave, who was a printer by trade, so he wasn’t an a writer or a man of letters. He had printing presses in St. John’s g clock. And he’d already was publishing various things.

And obviously the more stuff, once you’ve invested in the capital of printing press, The more you get them busy and push it through, the more profitable it is and the more worthwhile that capital investment is. So I think that was one of the reasons he started this, was to keep his press busy. But another reason was because he saw a gap in the market.

He was a middling sort man himself. He came from a trading background in the Midlands. He’d had rather a varied career till he set up upon printing. So he had a lot of experience. Of middling sort life and what that was like, that people were very busy, they didn’t have a lot of time, and he said, I’m founding this magazine because it will save people a lot of time.

There’s so much stuff you’ve got to read these days, newspapers and journals, and. Tracks and this and that to be on top of all the information you need to be successful in this new world. What I’m going to do is bring it out monthly, be a sort of summary of it all so you don’t have to buy all these other things.

You just buy this once a month and you’ll see all the news, tick bits, politics, whatever that you need to know. So it’s a bit like the idea of the Reader’s Digest, if you like, and it summarizes for people in one simple place. So for six months you got 48 pages, which had a front half, which was articles lifted from elsewhere.

So literally a Reader’s digest and a back half with things like news and tables of currencies, whether ships that had come in, factual information. And personal now was births, marriages, and deaths. We would call them. So it was all, you go to this one place and buy, and it was a huge success from the start.

So he was clearly right about that. It was the first print run sold out, had to be reprinted and really to soar from that point. So he had recognized something, I think in Georgian society from his own personal experience. And 

[00:09:35] Hazel Baker: you said it costs six months. So in terms of, or relative terms of cost, if you had to buy all those different magazines Yes.

And then buying the six months for the Gentleman’s magazine, was it saving them money and also the time for having to read them all or. 

[00:09:50] Dr Gillian Williamson: Yeah, a newspaper might cost a penny or so, so depending on how many you read, it was, it wasn’t let’s be honest, it wasn’t cheap. But six months, cuz we are looking at, set a cure it or a fairly modest tradesman might turn 50 pounds a year.

Say, so he looks in that context a hundred pounds a year be quite comfortably off if you were a middling sword. So it’s not cheat sheet cuz you’re spending six months a month. And then if you’re going to keep it, you spend another six months for which you get like a front piece and index and then you can go to a book binder or rip off the paper covers and put them in a nice binding for you.

You can keep it as a sort of, almost like a. Directory or encyclopedia. So it’s not cheap within the context of those sort of income levels I was mentioning. But on the other hand, it is prestigious cuz you’re called a gentleman. You know you are acquiring that by acquiring the magazine and it is only buying one.

Item Ram and perhaps lots, and you course you didn’t have to buy it. You could read it for free in various locations. So if you went to an inn or a coffee house, this was the sort of thing that the owners would have available for customers to read, to encourage them to linger a little and spend a bit more money.


[00:11:02] Hazel Baker: And where did he sell them? Was it by subscription or in bookshops? How did you get the magazine out?

[00:11:07] Dr Gillian Williamson: It was in bookshops. So it was sent through bookshops. He didn’t unfortunately for the historian, there’s not a list of subscribers which would be lovely cuz then you would know. But there were thousands and thousands of people who bought it every month.

And when I say thousands of people bought it every month, it could be up to 10,000 people a month. Which may not sound a lot, you should bear in mind that even a popular novel would probably have a print run of about thousands. Which is not very many. And so this is selling thousands month after month, so throughout the os a lot and a lot of people, Read each copy so you know it’s reach, it’s got a really big reach.

It was the top seller, basically. It wrote from, very quickly, from being a new publication to being the best selling Georgian periodical, right until the end of the century when its position began to waiver a little bit. So he sold it through bookshops. So they were sent out on the mail route and he had worked in the post office.

So he knew all about this. It was sent out to some bookshops and general stores. Throughout the country including Scotland, Northern Ireland, quite far from places. So it was very easily available, more or less, wherever you were. It was shipped out to the the colonists, to the Americas, to the induce.

Wow. But sadly, for me, there was no subscription list. I can see who some of these readers were because they sent in correspondence and they might sign it, or at least they might say, give themselves some sort of nickname, pseudonym, like a country cure it or that described themselves or said where they were from.

But that sadly is about one of the only ways we can tell who actually read it. 

[00:12:39] Hazel Baker: Interesting. Yeah. So six Pence for investing in the future of yourself and your family. Yes. Yes. Good investment, especially if you’re going to them spend the same amount again, binding it and putting it on your shelf for future reference.

And we, we do appreciate good stats when going back and going, oh, how much did that sell for X, Y, and Z to this shipping? I think that is, Really useful information, didn’t have Google back then, so if you had that information at your fingertips. 

[00:13:05] Dr Gillian Williamson: Yes. And so it was indexed Yes. Quite well by 18th century standards.

Yeah. And then he also, he had produced in printed indexes for like more extensive background. So periodically through the Georgian period, up to about 1820, there were published indexers made for the whole thing. By professional indexer. So it was relatively easy to use. Yeah. In its collected form.

[00:13:27] Hazel Baker: Yeah. No. Great. And then, being a success from episode one, but understanding, as you said, the mailing systems using reputable bookshops, things that are already working in successful yes, that would’ve helped as well, rather than starting 

[00:13:41] Dr Gillian Williamson: from scratch.

 Yes, it slotted in quite nicely to an existing framework of places you might visit or shop.

[00:13:50] Hazel Baker: And how did the Gentleman’s magazine influence or shape the course of journalism and periodical literature then? Did they do anything particularly groundbreaking or did they think do things 

[00:13:59] Dr Gillian Williamson: better in a certain way? One of the first things it did, it was, gave us in English, the word magazine, meaning a me cellini periodical.

It’s never been used in that sense before, and now we just use it all the time. So that word had only meant a physical magazine, has meant a physical store place, perhaps for arms or a warehouse of a merchant would be a magazine, but not a printed. Periodical. So it gave us that term for this sort of ma journalism that encompasses all sorts of items within its covers.

It framed, I think it framed some things that became very regular features, likes of birth, marriages and deaths, and. It also gave for the first time a very big opportunity for its readers also to be published, authors, to be writers. And that I think is another thing that sets it apart and helps the rise of these sort of ambitious middling sort people.

Whereas most of it originally was excerpts from things that already existed, just shamelessly lifted poetry articles from other magazines and books. Within about 10 years. So by the 1740s, most of the magazine is being written by its readers, which is fabulous. You haven’t gotta have so much paid staff.

You haven’t gotta be paying salaries to people. People are just sending in letters puzzles, poems. And begging to be published. So it also gave these people an opportunity to become men and women of letters and to have a little attempt to insert themselves into the magazine or name in print. So I think that was one of the key things.

It gave the sort reader’s contribution. 

[00:15:37] Hazel Baker: And we say this even now with blogs and the user generated content. Yes. It’s so valuable. Yes. And here they’re doing it in Georgian Center Society. E. Exactly the 

[00:15:46] Dr Gillian Williamson: same. Yes. And of course, it gives people a sense of ownership of the magazine.

It’s their magazine. It’s not just something. Published far away, which I eventually get hold of in Ture or Newcastle or whatever, but it could be something that’s mine, it’s ours. And it because you can see your name in print or your friends. It’s something that binds people together. And I feel as well, one of the things it did rather like the social media world et on it, was it enabled people through that, through these contributions to have much more awareness.

That there were other people similar to them elsewhere in the country, even if they would never meet. So it was like a virtual club or society. So help people become more aware that being this sort of middling sort person was, there were thousands of people like you, but when the magazine came out at the end of the month, we’re also receiving the magazine, reading it.

Were interested in the same things. So I think it both gave opportunities to the middle class, but it also helped. Give them beginnings, give ’em a sense of close consciousness. They don’t want to push it too far. Sense of self, that they were part of a group thing. I love that idea. 

[00:16:55] Hazel Baker: And now you did say men and women of letters.

[00:16:58] Dr Gillian Williamson: I did, yes. I don’t like to leave women out ever from the historical thing. It’s called the Gentleman’s magazine. So it implies it’s for men. And, but it was certainly read by women and women corresponded to it. It was built as a family product in advertising and. We also know from letters or sent into it or from things people wrote in their St.

Diaries that children and quite young people sometimes read it and were readers from, there were people who read it from the age of some nine or 10 and sort grew up with it. So it’s, it was very much read in the household and women did correspond with it. Some of them fairly well known. Women, some of them a bit less well known outside academic 18th century studies circles, and probably, we can’t say how many, but I, a list of one of the editors published a list of, the leading correspondence and about a quarter of them were women.

Wow. So we shouldn’t, I think, see it as for men as a sort of men only sort of thing. It certainly had no salacious content and it was very decent and respectable, and it certainly was both read by and contributed to by women. Wow. 

[00:18:12] Hazel Baker: Hadn’t really thought of it, but I think it’s that it’s getting, creating a name for a magazine that’s got the hook, isn’t it?

Yes, it has got that aspirational aspects, yes. That you hint up earlier. 

[00:18:23] Dr Gillian Williamson: Yes. I think some gentlemen, Lee gentlemen, some land gentlemen did read it, but I don’t think that they were the key market and obviously there aren’t very many of them, so you’ve never been such a success. If you’re only selling it to sort of Baronets and Earls, it would never have had the market that it had.

No, and you can see it in stately homes. If people who like listening to this podcast might mean I do this all the time now, cuz it, it’s a sort of geeky thing. But if I haven’t been visiting a stately home or someone like the Brighton Pavilion, so John Stone’s house, although he is I’ll be middling sort it’s usually there on the shelves in the library.

You know it so people like that did read it and collect it, have it displayed and all nicely bound. But I don’t think they were the core market for it. No. No. Now you’ve 

[00:19:10] Hazel Baker: mentioned his name, Edward Cave. Yes. The founder of the Gentleman’s magazine. Now why or why was he a pivotal figure in the history of the Gentleman’s magazine?

What was it that made it an ultimate success with this huge numbers that 

[00:19:25] Dr Gillian Williamson: we’re talking? I just as I’d mentioned earlier, I think it’s his own pers his own personal background. His, he’d been, he’d worked for he was from Northamptonshire and he went to rugby school, which was not a ground institution at the time.

It was not. It was not prestigious in the way we might think of it now. And he, in fact, left early under something of a cloud. His father was a shoemaker and he quite likes that sort of He quite liked that sort of fairly humble background. He liked to call himself Ned Cave, the cobbler’s son.

That’s almost a talk himself down little bit in order to show how great your rise is. So he had lots and lots of different careers. He’d be, he’d worked for timber merch and he’d done this and that. Not really settled down after leaving school, but he did eventually become apprentice to a printer. So it was in the printing trades that he got to know really well and he’d set up as a printer.

Before the Gentleman’s magazine and he had printed things, which actually did have a largely, there were things aimed at like translations of French things, which you would advertise as aimed at people who, you might not know French, but you can have little access to this elevated language by buying my English translation for a busy person who’s not had so much education. So I think he’d seen a lot, quite a lot of life he’d lived. Not just in London where he’d ended up, but he had lived in Norwich and he lived in near rugby and I think he understood the sort of people he moved with and saw a gap in the market. I really think it was true entrepreneurialism to think up this very different sort of product.

And also to style it cleverly, both with the Title Gentleman’s and Magazine. He created an editorial persona. With a pseudonym rather than caught himself as the editor or just being the editor. He called himself Sylvanus Urban, and I think that was, it’s a little bit pompous, but it captured what he’s trying to do in that sylvanus.

Imagine that you might read it in the countryside. I think Sylvan Urban, obviously is urban, so that’s capturing two aspects of Britain at the time, and it also meant. That it wasn’t the periodical. He absolutely adored the Gentleman’s magazine. He was very proud of it. It wasn’t too closely linked with him.

And I think that’s one of the things the Silviana Urban persona allowed it to pass through different hands over those nearly 200 years without it having, that was the element of continuity. If you like this sort of this editor and people, that’s how people address the magazine. If you sent a letter, you would say, dear Mr.

Urban. And send it. Not dear register or dear sir. So that also created the sense that it was a familial project. Something that was your mate, really. 

[00:22:07] Hazel Baker: And what made him come to London? Do 

[00:22:08] Dr Gillian Williamson: we know? I, it was the printing trade opportunities and he’d also worked on bankside for a timber merchant.

So it, as part of that general of moving around and also moving to London for work, which a lot of teenagers did at the time. But one of his successors, a man called David Henry, who became editor, had come to London Age 14, all the way from Scotland by himself to be the printer’s apprentice, and had ended up marrying into the cave family and then taking over the editorship.

People did, people came to London a lot for work, both men and women. It was quite a normal life cycle thing. Some people passed through and went back home and some stayed as he did. So I thought that, one in five or so of the population of Britain had visited or lived in London at some time.

So it was a big pull. It was way the biggest city. So London was, say, by the end of the century, about a million people. The next biggest place was under a hundred thousand, roughly. So it’s hugely bigger than anywhere else in the country. Yeah, I’m the nearest big place, biggest place off. That’s probably Dublin.

So you 

[00:23:14] Hazel Baker: mentioned about him having the printing press and it makes sense to keep the press pressing. Yes. In order to get more out. And you also mentioned about the user generated content of people writing in, but 

[00:23:26] Dr Gillian Williamson: for the first few additions, how, 

[00:23:30] Hazel Baker: how did he create that desire to be involved?

Because even did he 

[00:23:34] Dr Gillian Williamson: have people writing in already? Had he done it? Not really. No. I suppose he, no not particularly. He so he was taking articles that all been printed in other things, which was quite a standard sort of practice at the time. There wasn’t much concept of that, that was some sort of theft of intellectual property.

I think it was that he could, made it interesting enough that people began to answer back to the articles actually so people began to reply to the articles or say I know this one, add a little bit more to it. And that built up ahead of steam and it then built up ahead of steam, particularly with death notices.

People started sending in notices of people they knew who had died, which sat alongside ones he was pinching from elsewhere. So you see over those four to five years a shift from the death’s notice as being. Gentleman of the old school, people with birth and estates and so on, and becoming, spreading out to being more geographically broadly based, and also to full range of some middling sort occupations.

Being commemorated in the desk. So I think this gradually drew people in until he was able to shift over more entirely to that. And what about 

[00:24:49] Hazel Baker: the language used in these in the gentleman’s magazine compared to the other periodicals? Was it more accessible or is, you don’t want too something to be too pompous to turn off 

[00:25:00] Dr Gillian Williamson: an audience?

No, I think to us it would look a little bit pompous because the style of English is different. And because. The editor as a ring master, this sort of thing, he’s obviously choosing which content to put in. So there’s still an editorial selection, but there was definitely a shift towards making sure the content was respectable, not crude or rude or rambunctious, which it was a little bit at first when people’s, they would start literally, people would sometimes write him with a slightly rude enigma.

To be sold, but that, that didn’t last very long until it became this sort of sober and rather respectable publication. So the editor is choreographing that. But with this proviso that if people didn’t from letters that survive to cave that survive and are in the British library, People are very insistent if they don’t see what the letter they’ve sent in print.

So feel no shame in saying, I sent you a letter. It’s obviously got lost somewhere, but here’s a copy of it. I like, expect to see it in the next issue. So people became quite demanding of seeing their stuff in print. Yeah, so I think it was a gradual drawing in process until that became the main thing and excerpt from other things had more or less disappeared.

But on the, he carried on. Presenting the magazine and this is the same with the other in pretty much the same. It looked quite the same from the outside. So though the content had become more reader led, the look of the magazine stayed remarkably similar over the time. So I think that’s the great.

Thing. If you’re going to be a successful institution, you have to change without seeming to change. Most of you still recognizable, so it still has the image of St. John’s gate on the front. Even when the printing press has long moved elsewhere, it still is arranged that front half, back half, just the front half is reader’s letters, not things from other periodicals.

And the back half is more reader led, but so it still has that same shape and look and it had very much the same look. In terms of the typeface, and that’s another interesting thing about it. It was quite, it’s quite ugly if you pick it up and look at it. It’s not nicely produced. It’s quite cheap looking, and it will have range of different typefaces.

Sometimes it’s laid across the whole page, sometimes it’s in columns. It and it’s quite cramped, has quite tight margins and it’s all bunched together. So it’s not a pretty looking thing. It’s not prestigious in that way. It’s main rival. The London magazine, which was started a year later to try and pinch some of the market from him basically, and didn’t last as long it had collapsed by the 1770s, was a much more nice looking product.

It had a bigger margin, it was better laid out, but he didn’t last as long. And I think that scrappy, slightly scrappy look of it. What’s also part of it’s success. It’s saying it’s not about what you look like, it’s about what’s inside. It’s content over form. And also do, by bunching the type face up like this having a really small font, you’ve got so much more value for money for this expert.

Yeah. We’ve packed an awful lot in to this Yeah. These 48 pages. And I think that the thing that. The current periodical that I think is similar to it but completely different in genre is private eye. If you look at private eye, it looks a bit like something that sixth form in a boy’s school have run off on a photocopier with lots of different types of layout and it looks a bit amateur.

And I think Ken Cave wasn’t an amateur, but he it by making it look like that, it looked more like something that belonged to you and was good value and was important for what was in it, not for its surface appearance. Yeah. And that 

[00:28:41] Hazel Baker: would resonate with his target 

[00:28:43] Dr Gillian Williamson: audience? Absolutely, yes. He did originally have a version as a version, a posh version for rich people, which cost a bit more, which is on bigger paper and so on, rather better paper.

But that didn’t seem to last very long. There was some in the. Library of George ii, which is now I think at the British Museum. And I did get in touch with them and asked about this, said, could you have a look at them and see what you think about the size? And they are this sort of more swanky version that you could have initially, but eventually it was just one product, one product for everybody.

Okay. And Samuel 

[00:29:16] Hazel Baker: Johnson is a name that is connected with the Gentleman’s magazine. And of course he was a well known figure in literature, and his father was a bookseller in Litchfield. How did he become associated with the Gentleman’s magazine? 

[00:29:30] Dr Gillian Williamson: I think he’s from a background, he’s a classic gentleman’s magazine reader, family, actually, with a bookseller father quite well established in the provinces, but not.

Obviously gentlemanly in the old fashioned sense. So he was already a reader before he moved to London, which doesn’t, wouldn’t surprise I think anyone at all that he should be that sort of reader. So he knew the magazine he had. So one of the first things he did on moving to London to try to make his fortune in that well known story where he walks to London with David Garrick he.

One of the first things he did was write to Cave and say, if you are looking for someone to write bits and Bobs of the Gentleman’s magazine, I’d be happy to do that. So he approached them as one of the things he was doing in order to try and establish himself as a literary figure in London.

But very much. Before he was a name. He was doing these bits and pieces and one of his first published pieces was in the Gentleman’s magazine, the poem about London. And he’d also actually, before he moved to London, it one of the few adv adverts within the magazine was a little notice for a school Johnson had set up.

In Staffordshire in, I dunno if I’ve pronounced that correctly. He set up a school which was actually staggeringly unsuccessful. I think the Garrick’s were about the only pupils, and he did actually have a little thing placed in the gentleman’s magazine advertising this school, advertising for pupils, basically.

So it’s something that was already within his sort of horizons that teacher knew about, and which he therefore was an obvious thing to approach. When he moved to London and he subsequently took over writing the parliamentary reports in the gentleman’s magazine and took them to a different sort of, Imaginative level describing.

You couldn’t report on Parliament at the time. You couldn’t go in, take notes, then print it up. This was against the law and cave had already got into trouble for that. But what Johnson did was he created this fictitious thing, debates in the Senate of Lily, put, Gulliver’s travels and gave every major figure in the House of Commons, or House of Lords, a kind of pseudonym.

And so he covered it like that. And it may be he never even actually went or even took notes in the house of Comby, just invented it from what he’d heard. So that became a very sort of key part of the magazine for a period before he left to pursue other projects. Notably obvious pursue the dictionary, but he was part, very much part of the a circle of people who moved in and outta the gentleman’s magazine doing bits and pieces of work.

Being friends with Cave, they had a small literary club that they’d meet in at in an in, so he’s part of a sort of social circle of people who remained part of some, many of whom remained part of Johnson’s life. John’s gate was also as well as a business place for producing printed works.

It was also a little bit of a social hub where people gathered and and met. Benjamin Franklin was somebody who went there on. While in London were he too, being a printer, and was part of that stuff. So Cool. 

[00:32:28] Hazel Baker: Yeah. It makes sense cuz both Johnson and Franklin both lived in Little Britain Yes.

For a little time. Yes. And that was known for its printing. Yes. Street. So yes. I suppose it all, it 

[00:32:38] Dr Gillian Williamson: all links together, doesn’t it? Yes. So usually, I think it helped Johnson move into sort of literary circles a bit and pick up. Bits of work pickup contacts, as well as being a place where he was whilst paid for some of the paid content in the magazine.

But it’s very much at the start of his career when he was really a nobody and pretty penniless actually. And how do you 

[00:32:57] Hazel Baker: think Johnson’s work in the magazine influence his later work specifically you mentioned about his famous 

[00:33:03] Dr Gillian Williamson: English dictionary? I think it probably mainly was things like the contact or the methodology of putting it together that he may have picked up from being in the gentleman’s magazine, assembling all the pieces of paper and getting them ready for, to.

To print up and go on the day that, cause that was obviously because it was a working print shop, that was something he would’ve seen when he was there. Very much st. John’s gate was at times chaotic as well. And it’d be interest to compare that to what it might have looked like in the attic of Goff Square, where Johnson was only really around the corner producing the dictionary with these bits of paper everywhere.

And then, That it was apparently on when it came close to publication day of the magazine, the place was in total uproar with stuff everywhere. I think it would also have talked to him, the need to be setting it up as you go along. Cause the Gentleman’s magazine comes out monthly, but some of it could be type, set and set up as you go along during the month.

You haven’t got to do the whole thing in sort of two days where there’s obviously a rush at the end to finalize it. So with the ditch, it strikes me, it’s also something you can be setting up. Before you’ve got the whole, it’s not like taking your whole finish novel to be printed up by a printer.

You’re doing it bit by bit. Yeah. In the same way the Gentleman’s Magazine, some pages would’ve been ready to go two weeks before publication day. Some like the death notice says you’ve got swap the last ones in at the end. Yeah. Which is why they’re in date order. Not an alphabetical order, because you get there coming in until the last minute.


[00:34:30] Hazel Baker: can you share any insights that you have with the working relationship between Edward Cave and Samuel Johnson? 

[00:34:36] Dr Gillian Williamson: They were in a literary club together. That’s obviously, they were friendly. Johnson wrote an obituary of Cave when Cave died. So I think he did feel closed in this. And the man who gave him his break, I don’t think Cave was always easy to work for.

Because it’s pressurized getting a major magazine out. And I think entrepreneurial people like that often create pressure on others around them. Cause there was a journeyman printer worked for him with whom Cave had a spectacular falling out. I don’t think it was always easy because this chaotic last-minute thing, but I don’t think Johnson was a super tidy person himself either.

Cause he was personally slovenly, well known. But I it does seem that they had a sort of close and affectionate relationship. Cave was slightly the older man, but not old enough to be entirely a father figure. But he was slightly older and say he’d given this young Turk. His early opportunities and when you read the Affectionate Victory, I think you can see that, the gratitude for that.

[00:35:33] Hazel Baker: Now we’ve mentioned St. John’s Gate a few times now. Yes. So it might be worth explaining the significance in the history of the 

[00:35:41] Dr Gillian Williamson: Gentleman’s magazine. So John’s Gate is an unusual survival in Clark and also fairly centrally in London of a late medieval gateway to a religious establishment, which in the Reformation was also closed down, but the gateway survived.

It’s still there now, and you can go and visit. It has a free museum which is currently owned, effectively owned by this John’s Ambulance. The body. So it’s mainly against Fabric. Does have a little Gentleman’s magazine display. So it’s basically a relic of Old London, which has had various kind of uses over time since the mid-16th century had been housed a printing press in the late 17th century.

It had briefly been the home of William Hogarth’s family when he was a boy. His father had taken a lease on it with this rather fabulous idea as he thought of opening a coffee house where people had to talk in Latin to each other. I think your listers will not be surprised to know this was not a huge success or particularly popular.

Richard Hogarth, the father, was a classicist and a schoolmaster, but obviously not everybody wants in their downtime having to do hitchhike hawk with their fellow coffee drinkers. So it had collapsed and he’d ended up in a debtor’s prison. So it had quite this colourful history and it be, I would imagine it was, although I’ve never seen f I’d imagine it wasn’t a particularly expensive place to rent when you are setting up on your own.

Cause it was quite an old building. I think it was advantageous because it was central. It was quite near the centre of the printing trade around St. Paul’s and Feet Street. And it was distinctive and it was used little woodcuts. Some of them changed ideas of the St. John’s Gates were always used on the title page of the Gentleman’s magazine.

And on the cover in which you bought it, when you bought it, it was in like a soft cover of blue paper and that had the woodcut on. So did the title page inside. So because it was a distinctive medieval building, it made us a really. Quite a strong branding image without putting off people who weren’t Londoners.

It’s not like putting St Paul’s on the cover or something that makes you conscious, you’re provincial. But it gave the magazine, again, this sort of personal quality And it became somewhere that people did sometimes go to in the 18th century visiting London. They would sometimes go and have a look at it cuz they’d seen it on their magazines over the, over the years and thought, oh, have a look at it. So that obviously drew in, probably drew in. People like Franklin. It drew in an American refugee who came here during the War of Independence because he was loyal to the British Crown. One of the first things he wrote in his diary. Was, I went to have a look at St.

John’s Gate where they produced the Gentleman’s magazine. So it, it was quite a focal point and it’s to remain the branding image even after the whole process had moved elsewhere in the latest century. The reason was, it was, by that point a dilapidated building wasn’t fit for purpose.

It was too difficult to work in and it was moved. So the printing was moved away to more modern buildings and eventually, the printing was moved over towards Westminster. Because the then editor and owner was also producing Hanard in the area where you could report on the planet. So it’s more convenient, but it always had retained that St.

John’s gate image. 

[00:39:00] Hazel Baker: Yeah. It’s interesting what you’re saying really, because when I was first introduced to the Gentleman’s magazine when I was studying and to be a Clerkenwell in Islington Guide it really perplexed me. Why St. John’s Gate? Yes. How so you think? 

[00:39:13] Hazel Baker: Because as you said, it’s not. You’re quite right.

It’s not London-centric in that gate. There are a number of large gates, medieval gates all over the country. That would’ve looked very similar. Yes. And also I think it’s bringing something of the old with you. Yes. As you’re journeying into 

[00:39:29] Dr Gillian Williamson: the new frontier. Yes. That’s an interesting thing that it’s bridging the old and the new.

I hadn’t thought That’s a very interesting thought. Yes. It was okay. He didn’t have children, so he didn’t have to fit into this. He lived in the gate. Yeah, but he didn’t have to fit in kids and so on. It was just him and his wife. Yeah. So it wasn’t, it wasn’t as though they had children running up and down the rickety stairs or not enough space.

Yeah, so I think it became, it was satisfactory during his time cuz he didn’t need so much personal room. Yeah, it is. It is quite 

[00:40:02] Hazel Baker: a small space when you start moving 

[00:40:03] Dr Gillian Williamson: around. Yes. So can imagine know paper letters, printing presses. I think it was not probably an easy place to be. 

[00:40:12] Hazel Baker: No, absolutely. But I think the light must have been really quite remarkable.

Yes. Especially on that bit. So you could get full sun from east to west. 

[00:40:19] Dr Gillian Williamson: Yes. In your 

[00:40:21] Hazel Baker: opinion what is the enduring legacy of the Gentleman’s magazine? What is it that really, other than the editor name, Mr. Urban, continuing through, what is it that people continue to purchase it throughout the generations?

[00:40:38] Dr Gillian Williamson: I think it’s partly a comforting habit and people would say when they wrote their letters, they would often say something about how they felt about the magazine when they were submitting something. People described it as a friend. It’s my old friend. I meet this old friend every month. So I think it was part of the routine of people’s cycle of their monthly, weekly, whatever life.

And to that extent, when I said, the similarities of the leaders digest, passing similarity with the look of Private Eye, and I’ve often been asked, what is it like in. Our society, what is I’ve thought about this long and hard and what I usually say at the moment, and maybe I’ll think of something else.

I think it’s a bit like the Today Program. A whole section of Society of British Middle-Class Society. Listen to the Today program pretty much daily. It’s a sort of habit while you have your breakfast. It’s a magazine format, with some lighter-hearted stuff people do email in. But it also keeps you up to date with the news.

And I think people feel a familiarity with that in the background. And that’s perhaps the most similar rapport between the audience and the product With the Gentleman’s magazine, I’m open to thinking about other ways it resembled things, but I think that’s the closest one I’ve come across.

So it’s became part of people’s just everyday life expectancy. It had, it was comforting. See what’s in it. Sometimes you end up with a little bit of correspondence going on through its pages between you and other people who you haven’t met. And someone got this about correspondence he’d had with somebody else.

He said, I’ve got to know him through the pages of your magazine, cuz they’d both been writing about a particular debate. I think it might have been Sunday School or something like that. Or Sunday school’s good. Because they’re keeping kids outta harm on Sunday and giving them a bit of education and some Christian teaching or they bad cuz you’re teaching the lower orders to read and then they’ll read anything.

They might start reading Thomas Paine or something like that. 

Hazel Baker: Oh goodness. 

Dr Gillian Williamson: Turned upside down. So it’s not a debate that looks very important to us, but it was at the time. So people got to feel that they had friends through it. I 

[00:42:49] Hazel Baker: think it’s also worth considering that life not in a city would’ve been very slow.

[00:42:54] Dr Gillian Williamson: Oh, yes. 

[00:42:57] Hazel Baker: And you would not have seen very many people other on Sunday when you were trudging the church and sitting over several hours or on market day. But the periodical that gives you insight to a bigger world, feeling connected, but also gives you an opportunity then 

[00:43:10] Dr Gillian Williamson: to talk with others about it. Yes. I think particularly a little subset of readers who particularly.

I feel used in that way was Anglican vicars, some of whom are posted miles away from anywhere. It’s very lonely. They’re the only educated person in the parish, more or less. With very limited company. And it was quite popular within vicar circles. And there was one who lived down in the west country who said, It eventually gets here, during the month and, I always look forward to it.

So yes, it gave people a bit, some people like that, a bit of a connection with the world they’d partly been in when they’d been at one of the two universities, but now they were a bit cut off that kept them in the swing of things with people like themselves and people. I’m just amazed how far it did penetrate quite quickly.

In time terms from when it was printed. When it was out in places like Devon or Northern Ireland was quite extraordinary. And how did it pass from one editor to another? Usually it was somebody who’d, who was already within the circle who were producing the magazine. So after Cave died in the mid 1750s, it passed to his a nephew, David Henry, who was connected through marriage.

So they were already there working on it, and they took it over. John Nichols, who became the editor in about round about the 1770s, he bought a stake in it from one of the cave family. Was working on it. He was also a printer and was from Islington, as you probably know. And a printer of all sorts of other material.

But he then became the editor, but he was already an insider. Being involved in it. And then it passed in the 19th century when it was a less significant publication with a lot more competition. Effectively it passed through his son and grandson. And then it was bought out by various printing firms passed.

And then the publishing firms like Pickering and Chato opened at one point. But in the 18th century it was passed internally by some either sale to somebody who was already actively involved in producing the magazine and then remained in the hands of people who were primarily running a print shop.

They weren’t they, although they liked seeing themselves in print, they weren’t people who started off as literary figures. And I think that’s a change. The magazine marked as compared to some journals and periodicals in the late 17th and early 18th century. They were much more self-consciously literary and the baby, literary baby of the person producing it.

This was a very commercial proposition. Yeah. So 

[00:45:43] Hazel Baker: looking this Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Looking at with business eyes 

[00:45:47] Dr Gillian Williamson: rather than yes. Which seems a little bit, in terms of the financing of magazine, there are some surviving papers from the rival, the London magazine. You give some idea, what it costs per sheet of paper, and I’ve looked at that, but I, it wasn’t really the focus of what I was doing because of it, how much the six months they get.

No, it’s all intriguing, isn’t 

[00:46:10] Hazel Baker: it? And how do people get to, to know about the Gentleman’s magazine 

[00:46:14] Dr Gillian Williamson: a little bit more, Jillian? They can read my slightly heavyweight book on it. You can actually read them quite easily online if you put it into a search I, into Google Books. You can read they’ve been digitized.

You look at some there, you can it’s been digitized on Somes have collected. Databases. And I think one of the best ways is just to have a little play around and look at it or think of, you can put in a subject into Google Books, like some subject matter you think might come up in the 18th century and Gentleman’s magazine and you’ll probably get a hit and see the sort of thing that was in it.

So I say the best way is to try and find a copy probably digitally and have a little play around with it and see what it’s like. And I think particularly looking at the obituaries is great to fun. I know it sounds a bit morbid, but they become really fascinating by the 1770s when readers families are submitting obituaries, which become mini biographies of people who are not in the grand scheme of history, distinguished.

And therefore, quite interesting for family historians. I once met when I went to a talk at Samuel Johnson’s house in Gulf Square. I met someone who was a descendant of one of the obituaries actually. And who yes, he, his So great. Or uncle something had one of the obituaries that I use, I think because it puffs a rags to Rich’s story of someone who’s become very grand gen gentlemanly and a director of the East India company, but has started off as a sort of quite humble person from the north.

You had to come to London with two shillings in an apsac. So we were able to quote the O Victory to each other. Just really so it’s an interesting resource, I think for local and family history. And people might find it’s quite, if they have a particular village or parish they’re interested in, there might be, be an article and someone may have sent in a little illustration which has been printed.

So these are generally people 

[00:48:06] Hazel Baker: that don’t get to go in the history 

[00:48:08] Dr Gillian Williamson: books. No. That’s right. I think that’s one of the pleasures of it extended going in the history books to lots of people recorded for posterity in the gentleman’s magazine. But I’ll say one of the best ways to say is to look at it.

And perhaps gonna have, there’s a very small display in St. John’s gate. It’s a small display about the Gentleman’s magazine, and you can look out for it in you can buy it secondhand, you can buy it on eBay. And you can buy things that rather, sadly, the pictures have often been, Cut out and they’re being sold separately by dealer, so you could acquire, but they’ll usually say Gent Mag, somewhere on the bottom of the print so you can buy.

I bought a handling copy if I’m giving talks. I think it’s nice for people to see one. But you can buy copies reasonably cheaply or on eBay. So that’s another sort of Way of accessing it or thinking about it. So Gillian, thank you very much.



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