Categories
People

William Leng: the newspaper editor who carried a gun

Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive

In 1894, The Sketch magazine said that when the romance of journalism was written a very large chapter would have to be devoted to Sir William Christopher Leng, editor and proprietor of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph. “Although there are probably thousands who have never heard his name.”

William Leng was born in Hull in 1825 and started out as a wholesale chemist. He contributed anonymously to local newspapers in Hull – overloading on steamers, the growth of ultramodernism among British Catholics, and parodies in prose and verse on leading writers of the day. He also wrote for the Hull Free Press, featuring sketches of local celebrities, portraying their virtues, foibles, failings, and distinguishing features.

His brother, John (later Sir John Leng, proprietor of the Dundee Advertiser) entered journalism and persuaded William to join his newspaper as leader writer and reviewer.

In 1864, aged 39, William entered partnership with Frederick Clifford and purchased the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, the first provincial daily newspaper, becoming its editor and changing its fortunes.

“He brought with him to Sheffield all the Imperialistic traditions of his father, all the anti-slavery feeling inherited from his mother, all his own independence of thought, all his old determinations to make his writings reflect his own beliefs, all that manly courage which led him to defy consequences if only he were faithful to the truth as it seemed to him.”

Photograph by Vanity Fair

During his time as editor, he waged war on radicalism, slum housing, American Confederate sympathisers, on the tyranny of trade unionism, and supported Turkey in their conflict with Russia. His association with Samuel Plimsoll was able to revolutionise safety for sailors and prevent overloading on ships.

When he came to Sheffield, Conservatism was at its lowest ebb, but by his writings, he managed to change working class views and by the end of his tenure they held four out of five seats on the council.

At the time, Sheffield was the centre of British trade union revolt, the stronghold of William Broadhead, secretary of the Sawgrinders’ Union, and instigator of murderous trade outrages which paralysed British commerce. If a manufacturer quarrelled with his workmen, Broadhead issued an instruction, and men went forth to destroy his machinery and burn down his factory.

William Leng took up against Broadhead, who sneered at him, having already killed one Sheffield newspaper and confident he could annihilate another. However, Broadhead was unprepared for the broadside that the Sheffield Telegraph hurled at him.

Every day William tossed his journalistic javelins into Broadhead’s camp, and every day was threatened for his boldness. He wrote his leaders with a pistol by his side and walked through the streets at night with his finger on the trigger of a revolver. For weeks he carried his life in his hands.

Wm Broadhead-Picture Sheffield

The ruthless arbiters of Labour had resolved to crush Broadhead, and when a Royal Commission was obtained William had to sit in open court between two policemen for fear that he should be assaulted.

The result of the Commission was a triumph for William, the manufacturers who had suffered at the hands of Broadhead subscribed 600 guineas and presented them to him, and a grateful Government rewarded him for his services by the honour of a knighthood, recommended by Lord Salisbury, in 1887.

William continued writing for the Telegraph until his death in 1902 and was buried at Ecclesall Church.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph eventually became the Morning Telegraph, surviving as the weekly Sheffield Telegraph, and established what we now know as the Sheffield Star.

Categories
Buildings Companies People

Sheffield Telegraph

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

In 1855, soon after the abolition of newspaper stamp duty, that had set newspaper prices at 5d to 7d, a dour down-at-heel Scotsman called Mr Benson turned up in Sheffield. After looking the town over, he called at the offices of Joseph Pearce Jnr, a printer and bookseller on High Street, and told him that he had people in London and Manchester who proposed starting a newspaper in Sheffield.

Joseph Pearce was convinced, and Benson recruited shop canvassers from street corners to obtain subscribers at 1s 6d for a month’s issues. The campaign netted a small fortune, and the next day Mr Benson arrived at the office wearing a brand new hat a new pair of wellingtons.

Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive

The first issue of the four-page Sheffield Daily Telegraph appeared on June 8, 1855, distributed by Benson’s messengers on the back of a wheelbarrow.

Ten days later, Mr Benson, the comic-faced Scot disappeared and was never heard of again. His promised capital was so far behind him that it never caught up.

A man sent to London to telegraph back news milked from the national papers found himself out of pocket, and unable to ask for help, because Benson had failed to mention his colleague back in Sheffield. On his last night in London, the representative of the ‘country’s first great provincial daily’ had to split his journey home.

Joseph Pearce, left with the fallout, met his obligations to initial subscribers and decided to carry on. He arranged to take Reuter dispatches from the Crimean War, a story that was filling everybody’s minds, and sales started to grow.

There were already several weekly newspapers in Sheffield, all of which ignored this ‘upstart’, but when Sheffield writers gathered around the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, it burst this bubble of complacency, and one of them, the Sheffield Independent, was forced to publish daily as well.

Despite the rising popularity of the paper, published at 8am every day, it was a financial struggle for Joseph Pearce, and after nine years he decided to make way for younger blood.

Photograph of Editor’s office by Picture Sheffield

In 1864, Frederick Clifford and William Christopher Leng arrived, the latter becoming editor, and relocating to Aldine Court, off High Street.

Under these two, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph aimed to popularise the Conservative Party cause amongst the working class, and Leng’s trenchancy and personal courage during the trade union outrages in the 1860s enhanced the newspaper’s prestige.

By 1898 it was selling 1.25 million copies a week, along with its sister publications, the Sheffield Weekly Telegraph, with articles and serialised fiction, and the Sheffield Evening Telegraph.

In 1900, Winston Churchill became South African war correspondent for the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, as well as the Morning Post, and the January issue carried his story in four columns of his capture by the Boers.

Photograph by Prime Location

Between 1913 and 1916, a new front to the extensive old buildings of the editorial and printing departments at Aldine Court, was built. Constructed in English Renaissance-style, it was designed by Edward Mitchel Gibbs, and still dominates High Street today. (It was eventually replaced with modern buildings on York Street).

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The Clifford-Leng ownership ended in 1925, bought by Allied Newspapers, controlled by William Ewart Berry, Gomer Berry and Sir Edward Mauger Iliffe, which had been systematically buying up provincial newspapers, though chairmanship was retained by Frederick Clifford’s son, Charles, who actively shared management of the paper until his death in 1936.

Sir Charles Clifford had arrived in 1878 and ten years later was instrumental in the purchase of the Sheffield Evening Telegraph’s rival, the Evening Star, a name familiar to us now as the Sheffield Star.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

In 1931, Allied Newspapers bought the rival Sheffield Independent, printing both separately, but both papers started losing ground to the national press and at one time the loss of both seemed possible.

The Allied Newspapers partnership was dissolved in 1937, each partner needing a raft of holdings to pass onto their heirs, with James Gomer Berry, 1st Viscount Kemsley, taking control of the Sheffield operation, briefly dropping the word ‘Daily’ from Sheffield Telegraph, and amalgamating it with the Sheffield Independent in 1938 to become the Sheffield Telegraph and Daily Independent, with a broader policy embracing the fundamental principles of both newspapers.

During the first years of World War Two, Kemsley Newspapers, as it had been renamed by Lord Kemsley, became the Telegraph and Independent, commanding world correspondents of Kemsley newspapers, and across the British Isles.

The newspaper eventually became the Sheffield Telegraph and Independent, subsequently the Sheffield Telegraph, and was bought by Roy Herbert Thompson, 1st Baron Thomson of Fleet, in 1959.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

In 1965, it was briefly renamed the Sheffield Morning Telegraph, then the Morning Telegraph, continuing a long tradition of producing excellent news correspondents .

Notable staff across its history have included Sir Harold Evans, who was later Public Relations Officer to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, and head of ITV News; author Peter Tinniswood; novelists John Harris and J.L. Hodson; cartoonists Ralph Whitworth and J. F. Horrabin; critics George Linstead and E. F. Watling; sports writers John Motson, the BBC football commentator, Lawrence Hunter, Peter Keeling, Peter Cooper, Frank Taylor (who later survived the Munich Air crash of 1958), and Keith Farnsworth.

Other editorial staff members have included Keith Graves, who was later with the BBC and Sky TV as a much-travelled reporter; Peter Harvey, a long-serving feature writer who was awarded the MBE in 2002; Geoffrey L. Baylis, who in later years was honoured for services to journalism in New Zealand; Barry Lloyd-Jones, Brian Stevenson and Clive Jones, who were news editors; Leslie F. Daniells and Frazer Wright were long serving industrial reporters; Alf Dow, a news editor who was later the company’s first training officer, and ended his career in public relations at Newton Chambers; Richard Gregory, who became a leading figure at Yorkshire Television and was later chairman of the Yorkshire Bank; George Hopkinson; Jean Rook, who was later a women’s writer with the Daily Express; and Will Wyatt.

Photograph by Hold the Front Page

The Morning Telegraph was sold (along with The Star) to United Newspapers in the 1970s, ceasing production in 1986.

The collapse of the newspaper was attributed to moves by estate agents to move advertising away from the highly-popular Saturday edition, and set up what turned out to be an unsuccessful rival property guide.

In 1989, the Sheffield Telegraph was relaunched as a weekly and continues to this day, although now under ownership of JPI Media, formerly the ill-fated Johnston Press.