On 5 May 1850 the first issue of Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper appeared for sale. This new newspaper, which sold for a penny and contained a mixture of essays on radical politics combined with somewhat sensationalised news of current event events, replaced the earlier and somewhat heavy Reynolds’s Political Instructor (1849–50).
Both papers were founded by George W.M. Reynolds but the second, Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper, quickly became the most prominent voice for radical politics in the mid-to-late Victorian era—a fact recognised (somewhat grudgingly) by Karl Marx.
Under Reynolds’s editorship, and afterwards his brother Edward’s, the paper waged several campaigns for social justice which included the exposing abuses by officers against the army’s rank-and-file; supporting the Second Representation of the People Act (1867); Irish independence; and many others alluded to in the paper’s final issue below.
After Edward’s death, the editorship was taken up by the Co-operative Society’s William M. Thompson—author of several left-leaning books—under a new proprietor affiliated with the Liberal Party named Henry Dalziel.
Under Dalziel the paper was retitled to Reynolds’s Illustrated News and lost its radical streak. This was recovered somewhat in the 1940s with a change of ownership and editorship, and the paper was retitled to Reynolds’s News and Sunday Citizen, before becoming, in its final years, Sunday Citizen.
YOUR FAREWELL VOICE IN THE SUNDAY CITIZEN!
When the Sunday Citizen began publication as Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper on 5 May 1850, Britain was a land full of good will to all men but evil performance towards most men.
Victorian sentimentalists wept over Oliver Twist in Fagin’s den. And then went to their factories to fight in the name of the iron law of wages against any concession that would add sixpence to the income of an underfed family. Or they petitioned their MPs against legislation that would soften the savagery of industries in which steam power devoured human life as surely as it increased the output of goods.
George William MacArthur Reynolds was one of the great number of men and women of his day who rebelled against a system that multiplied wealth but destroyed people. He founded his newspaper to support the People’s Charter, which included the demand for manhood suffrage, secret ballot, and payment for MPs—rights so elementary that we take them for granted nowadays.
THE FIRST ISSUE
But all the powers of the State, Parliament, Church, Throne, and Law, Army and Navy, middle class special constables, spies and agents-provocateur, the gallows and transportation, were mobilised to savage the Chartists who read the first issue of this newspaper.
The long and mainly unsuccessful—at the time—struggle of the Chartists was not a fight for more pay, shorter hours, longer holidays (no working man could then imagine a holiday except unemployment!) safety legislation, trade union rights.
More than anyone now living in Britain, the Chartists had every reason to fight for reforms in working conditions and wage rates that were foul beyond anything we know today. But those were not their primary objectives.
THEY FOUGHT FOR ACCESS TO POLITICAL POWER.
It was a fight that could have taken for its slogan the words of an even earlier advocate for the common people: Colonel Rainborough, one of the captains of the Commonwealth Army that routed Charles I.
When the leaders of the victorious army met at Putney to debate the future of England, he argued for manhood rather than property suffrage on the grounds that “The poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he.”
RAINBOROUGH KNEW WHAT HE WAS ABOUT.
[Richardson misspelt Rainsborough’s name–S.B.]
THE CHARTISTS KNEW WHAT THEY WERE ABOUT.
They knew that in the last resort political power is one source of power that dominates all others, the final power that must be won and held by those who want to introduce great changes and great reforms.
That was the philosophy George William MacArthur Reynolds stamped on this newspaper. For 117 years, under four proprietors and not many more editors, the Sunday Citizen has insisted that the goal for the people and their Movements must be political power.
UNIONS AND CO-OPS
TRADE UNIONS are bastions of the worker’s rights on the job. They are more essential than ever today, as industry and commerce become more complex, employers more powerful and remote.
CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETIES are the main safeguard of the consumer. So long as they exist, there is a check on monopoly and an alternative to private profit in the distribution of food, household and personal goods.
But it is political power that controls and conditions the effectiveness of these two Movements of the people. It is political power that all through history has been the key to reform—or to reaction when it falls into the wrong hands.
That is the last message we leave to the broad Labour Movement—to Socialists, Co-operators, Trade Unionists, to radicals, and to all who are instinctively on the Left but not connected to the established Movements of the Left.
Work to build up all sections of the Movement. But concentrate on winning and holding political power, and insist that when it is won it is used for Socialist, Co-operative, Trade Union objectives and policies.
Political power for reform and change in Britain today can only be expressed through the Labour Party. It is the one root in British life in the mid-twentieth century from which great changes and great reforms can grow.
Labour, for the foreseeable future, is the base on which Socialists, radicals, Co-operators, trade unionists should rally; the only base existing in the United Kingdom from which the political reformers can control the heights of political power.
That is not to say we ask any reader to give unquestioning support to the Labour Party or the present Labour government. The Sunday Citizen has steadily supported the government. It would have continued to do so had the paper continued to exist. But, unless there were marked changes in the next few months, support would increasingly have been balanced by criticism.
The Sunday Citizen’s voice will not be heard after today. So we give this message to Mr Wilson and his colleagues.
You compromise too much and it is hard to detect any distinctively socialist principles in many of your policies; even after making the most generous allowance for the compromises that life imposes on any government.
You seem so anxious to be so many things to so many men that you run the risk of earning the disinterest or contempt of all men—and, what is most serious, disillusioning your lifelong supporters.
You attempt a role on the world stage that cripples us economically but does not impress other countries that know the real limitations of our power.
SACRIFICE FOR THE CITY
You seem fascinated by a FINANCIAL rather than a PRODUCTION conception of Britain’s economic future; a City rather than a manufacturing conception. Few of your supporters believe that the City and the international status of the pound are worth what we are now sacrificing to maintain them.
You ask for sacrifices and they have been made because you are our Government and we will strain loyalty to the uttermost limit to help you. But we want to glimpse the New Jerusalem as well as contemplate the import-export figures.
We were impressed by Harold Wilson’s vision of a great, new, humane, efficient, self-confident, high technology society.
WHERE IS IT?
These are harsh criticisms, and they are intended to be. We elected this Government, not only to be better than the Tories—that is not difficult—but to be DIFFERENT; different in philosophy, attitude, and policy.
The difference shows but dimly. We make this other criticism. More could have been done by the Government to help the independent Press of Britain; not just the Sunday Citizen but others of the fast diminishing number of independent voices that speak out in print, whatever the point of view that they advocate.
We add this warning. Unless the Government does act, and act soon, the Press will become the monopoly of a few faceless men, men wielding great power without social responsibility. That will be a bad day for Britain. It will be a disastrous day for Labour, now almost voiceless in the historic and still most powerful opinion-forming medium in our democracy.
To readers we say: Never give up the Labour Party, it is the one great living force through which we can build the greater Britain. But speak out. Make it clear that it is your Party and Government, that without you it can neither exist nor claim to speak for the radical, revolutionary, reforming force that has never been absent from British life, whether expressed through the Peasants’ Revolt, the Levellers, the Chartists and, today, Socialism-Co-operation-Trade Unionism.
And so we come to the end of the road. In 117 years this newspaper has often been wrong but it has never been a traitor to the working class.
We repeat: to the working class.
Whatever candy-floss of status we wrap around ourselves it is as true today as it was when Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper first appeared that most of us live by selling our work power; we own little of the wealth of the nation.
This newspaper has played its part in a gigantic and often terrifying century and it has always been an outward-looking and internationally-minded paper.
Long before the Indian Mutiny erupted in blood and destruction Reynolds’s News was warning that disaster was inevitable if we continued to plunder India and treat native rights with contempt.
Reynolds News echoed the bitter cry of outcast London long before the social reformers discovered the cesspool of the East End. When hunger rioted in Trafalgar Square in 1886 it was the then editor of Reynolds News, W.M. Thompson, who was also a barrister, who defended the rioters in court.
Reynolds News supported the Irish Cause all through the long fight for freedom.
When Australian Dockers raised money to help the London Dock strikers of 1889 they cabled it to Reynolds News in the certain knowledge that it was on the side of the strikers.
Reynolds News, in our own days, was a relentless enemy of Fascism from the time it first raised its ugly head in Italy; an ally of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War; and the advocate for our own millions of unemployed, the Jarrow Marchers and the Means Test Rioters.
On the morning of Munich Reynolds News was the lone voice protesting that the sacrifice of Czechoslovakia had only made war more certain.
Reynolds News had fought for the Labour victories of 1945, 1950, 1964, and 1965. When the Cold War froze our hopes for a genuine peace Reynolds News refused to join in—and was attacked by some Labour leaders for arguing that neither peace nor security could be secured by Cold War tactics.
AND OUR THANKS!
Now it is a story that has been told. But liberty, democracy, equality, and social justice, the brotherhood of man, they are eternal ideals, and other newspapers will yet be born to speak out for them.
Labour and all that the Movement stands for will not permanently be driven out of the Press, still the greatest power to move the minds of men.
This is goodbye from the Sunday Citizen to a loyal body of readers and journalists, printers and a lay board of directors who have striven hard to keep the Sunday Citizen alive.
It is thanks to the thousands of readers who have sent their farewells to this final issue. Only a fraction of their letters could be published but every one has been read as the tribute of a friend. Double thanks to the many readers who worked voluntarily to help us build up the circulation of the paper. Success was not to be ours, but we did the best we could.
Something good in British democracy dies today. But the torch will be picked up again.The Editor.
 Bill Richardson, ‘Your Farewell Voice in the Sunday Citizen’, Sunday Citizen, 18 June 1967, pp. 1–2.