The Alfred was a political newspaper established by John Bowen, primarily as a vehicle for his anti-reform Bill efforts. Even for his own day, Bowen was an old-fashioned Tory, opposed to electoral reform: Philip J. Squibbs describes him of ‘truculent disposition’. However, while distrusting what he saw as mob rule, he could be fiercely critical of authority, especially in regard to the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. Despite the surly disposition that comes across in his writing, he was very highly respected in Bridgwater and even after a mob attached him in 1832, he held a peace summit afterwards. Isabella Metford later recalled: “I believe it was after this election in 1832, a hotly contested one, that John Bowen invited the most respected leaders of both sides (many of them previously old friends of different opinion) to a summer evening gathering at his house for the purpose of re-forming ties somewhat loosened by the recent conflict. My uncle Thomas Clark (a great friend of John Bowen’s) said that ‘Bowen’s the only man in Bridgwater who could have done it’ and that it was a complete success.”
In Bowen’s own words:
In the progress of that change in the pursuits of the people which is called the March of Intellect, our little town like most others had a local Newspaper, a low, radical affair generally unprincipled in its tone and matter as such working considerable mischief among its ill informed readers. Believing that a local periodical may be made an instrument of good instead of evil, I aided in purchasing this nuisance and re-establishing the Bridgewater Herald on other principals which may be referred to in the Prospectus attached. I did not become its actual Editor but I contributed in the form of Editorial leaders and otherwise the various Articles to which you will find my signature.
The defeat of the Wellington administration, the death of George the fourth and the revolution in France all served to unsettle public opinion and it became but too evident that a new order of things was approaching. From that time my humble efforts were employed in my own confined sphere in advocating such principles, and forwarding such interests as I honestly believed to be conducive to the public Welfare…
The Bridgwater Herald being too exclusively confined to local Politics an arrangement was made with the Proprietors of the London Alfred a new Conservative Journal just started and conducted with consummate ability for a portion of their impressions with the advertisement part of their pages left blank to be filled up at Bridgwater with local matter. Thus the “Bridgwater Alfred” was started with the advantage of being a full London Weekly Newspaper, in addition to local intelligence and original Articles…..
As indicated by Bowen above, the Alfred is national, even international, in its outlook, and does not deal much with local matters. In terms of local history, the most useful material will come in the form of shipping news, court results and the private advertisements, especially for property. It was essentially a product of Conservative HQ, written and edited there, and sent out as stereotype plates, which had holes left in which the local printer might add his bit. In other words there are probably virtually identical papers out there at that date but with different titles.
The Bridgwater Heritage Group have digitised a microfilm of the paper covering the period 1831 to December 1832. The paper ran for another year to December 1833. We hope to publish at least one issue each week, so check back regularly.