Press Release: What the Dickens is in the attic?

2 January 2014

A forage in the loft usually yields Christmas decorations so Aidan Bell couldn’t believe his eyes when he found a first edition of a newspaper edited by Charles Dickens dating back to 1846.

The Daily News was lying on its own amongst the dusty boxes and had been there for up to half a century. “It was a jaw-dropping moment,” recalls Mr Bell, who had decided to have a tidy up and see what was in the loft.

“When I saw the date I was amazed. I immediately realized it was something special,” he added.

Mr Bell, of Hatfield, Herts, contacted the University of Buckingham as English Professor John Drew led a project to publish online the complete edition of Dickens’s weekly magazines Household Words and All the Year Round, which were first produced in the 1850s and 1860s.

Professor Drew was delighted to hear of the find. He said: “Having spent a year or so studying grainy files of this paper on microfilm at the British Library, I was tremendously excited to think I might actually get to see an original copy. I was far from disappointed: crumbling, browned, stained by thumbprints and coffee, this old paper reeked of a hundred and sixty years of British political history, all kicked off in fine style by Charles Dickens’s opening editorial.”

Mr Bell, 49, an actor who has actually appeared in one of Charles Dickens’ plays, the stage adaptation Scrooge, wanted Dickens experts to look at the newspaper. He said: “We haven’t decided what to do with it yet.”

The Bells may see if the newspaper could be made available to an institution so that it can be looked at by members of the public but, in its current state, the paper isn’t in good enough condition to open out and read. The alternative would be to auction it off.

Mr Bell’s mother Hazel, 77, who lives with Aidan, added: “I have been an editor of some trade publications so it is of interest to me as well.”

The paper is most likely to have belonged to either Henry Bell or his father Thomas Bell – Aidan’s great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather. As newspapers cost the equivalent of £4 in those days it tended to be mainly businessmen or manufacturers who bought them. It is not known what Henry and Thomas Bell did for a living.

The paper has “172 The Grove” written on it suggesting the purchaser’s address – probably written on by the newsagent – but not stating which town. It is not known where either Henry or Thomas Bell lived.

The newspaper is in such delicate condition that it cannot be opened at present. The first edition contains a leader by Charles Dickens. It says: “The principles advocated by The Daily News will be principles of progress and improvement; of education, civil and religious liberty and equal legislation; principles, such as its conductors believe, the advancing spirit of the time requires; the condition of the country demands: and justice, reason and experience legitimately sanction.”

“We seek to elevate the character of the Public Press in England. We believe it would attain a much higher position, and that those who wield its powers would be infinitely more respected as a class,and an important one, if it were purged of a disposition to sordid attacks upon itself, which only prevails in England and America.”

Dickens was a hugely competitive journalist. In the 1830s he was beaten by The Times with a story and never forgot it. He talked about the drivers of the horses and carts being neck and neck as journalists raced to get the story first.