The first edition of the Sheffield Register was published in Sheffield by Joseph Gales on 9th June 1787. Gales pioneered the idea of a newspaper which gave extensive coverage to local issues while reporting on major national stories. Unlike most provincial newspapers, the Sheffield Register did not rely on copying articles that had first appeared in London journals.
Joseph Gales attempted to educate his readers. He published extracts from the work of radical reformers such as Tom Paine, William Godwin, Joseph Priestley, Richard Price and John Horne Tooke in the newspaper. In 1792 Gales began producing the fortnightly, Sheffield Patriot, a journal that attempted to deal with political issues in more depth than the Sheffield Register.
The newspapers published by Gales both educated and reflected the views of the artisans and small manufacturers in the area. In 1791 the newspaper gave support to those people who opposed the enclosure of 6,000 acres of land in Sheffield without compensation to holders of common rights.
At the end of 1791 Gales helped form the Sheffield Constitutional Society. This was the very first artisan political society. Speeches made at public meetings held by the organisation was published in great detail in the Sheffield Register.
By May 1794 the Sheffield Register was selling over 2,000 copies a week. Such a large circulation was extremely unusual for a provincial newspaper in the 18th century. Sheffield was now seen as the most radical town in Britain.
Joseph Gales wrote articles in the Sheffield Register attacking the arrest of reformers such as Thomas Muir, Thomas Fyshe Palmer, William Skirving, Joseph Gerrald and Maurice Margarot had been found guilty of sedition and had been sentenced to between seven and fourteen years transportation. He also mounted a campaign against the suspension of habeas corpus. Gales was now considered a dangerous man and was charged with conspiracy. Aware that he would not receive a fair trial, Gales decided to flee the country. After publishing the last edition of the Sheffield Register on 27th June, 1794, Gales escaped to Germany.
(1) (1) Joseph Gales, the Sheffield Register (20th June, 1794)
Reader, if thou art a husband or a father, a wife or a mother, look at thy own fire-side - look at thy own ties of affection at home, then ask thy heart if it beats in unison to the glory of war, and if the money so thrown away might not be better applied.
(2) Joseph Gales, the Sheffield Register (27th June, 1794)
I have committed no crime but in these persecuting days, it is a sufficient crime to have printed a newspaper which has boldly dared to doubt the infallibility of ministers, and to investigate the justice and policy of their measures.