The Southampton and Isle of Wight Mercury - sometimes abbreviated to Southampton Mercury - ran for thirty six issues between 27 March and 27 November 1830. The proprietors, printers and publishers were Thomas Baker the elder and Thomas Baker the younger, trading as Baker and Son, of Butcher Row. It was the swansong of a firm of printers and booksellers dating back to the Thomas Baker (father and grandfather of the Mercury proprietors) who printed a pioneer Southampton Guide in 1774 and who was to become one of the forcing personalities of Southampton as a spa.

He was a proprietor of the Hampshire Chronicle in 1778. His son was admitted a partner in the printing and bookselling business in 1802, and carried on the firm after his father quit the business in 1805, first in partnership with Isaac Fletcher, then on his own account (trading both in Southampton and London) and finally in partnership with his own son. Thomas Baker II was printer and publisher of the Southampton County Chronicle, published between 1822 and 1824. The father and son partnership - as booksellers, stationers and printers - was dissolved on 13 May 1831. The printing office and wholesale stationery works in Butcher Row were bought by Isaac Fletcher and run, under the name Fletcher and Sons, in conjunction with his own long-established bookselling and stationery business in the High Street.

Baker and Son were effectively publishers to those attracted by the growing economy of Southampton in the early nineteenth century. They catered for an almost insatiable demand amongst the new elite for local topographical works. Their publication list in 1825 included, in addition to the latest edition of the Southampton Guide, three works by John Bullar (A historical and picturesque guide to the Isle of Wight, Historical particulars relating to Southampton and Tour round Southampton), Sir H C Englefield's Walks through Southampton, Picture of the Isle of Wight by W Cooke, Account of the Island of Jersey by W Plees and A companion in a visit to Netley Abbey.

Their venture into the uncertain newspaper business fits into this tradition. The Mercury was aimed at an educated, genteel, sophisticated and politically reformist audience. An editorial in the first issue promised "to exhibit the rare exemplification of liberality without liberalism [and] to promote every thing which is rational, practicable, and legitimate in the scheme of radical reform without radicalism". The excesses of party political newspapers - such as the Hampshire Advertiser in Southampton - were to be avoided. "It is not necessary that there should be any thing transcendentally striking or energetic in a paper which is read week after week". Extensive coverage was given to the Southampton Regatta (the Mercury was a corporate subscriber), Southampton Races, exhibitions in the Hants Picture Gallery, theatre reviews and the Royal Society of Southampton Archers: all aimed at a self-consciously fashionable market. Literary puzzles were printed in French, a language so general amongst the readership that translation was thought unnecessary. The eschewal of party politics, of not being indebted to an exclusive Junta, was slightly disingenuous. In the general election of 1830 the paper came out strongly in support of the Whig barrister Charles Frederick Williams (known as "Minimus" Williams on account of his small stature), a barrister on the Western Circuit who stood for the independence of the borough and purity of elections. Williams withdrew after a canvass of only five days.

The Southampton Mercury, in common with the other Hampshire papers, was initially published on Saturday evening. Readers outside the immediate neighbourhood of Southampton therefore received their copy the following day. In an attempt to pre-empt their competitors, and to catch the crowds at Saturday markets, the Bakers in early July moved their publication time to 10 am, with an evening second edition promised if required. This smacks of commercial panic.

The paper was discontinued less than five months later, with unpaid stamp and advertisement duty forming a large part of the debts. The stock in trade was sold, without reserve and in small lots for a quick sale, at auction in July 1831. Two outstanding libel actions were settled in the same year: an action to recover damages for an anonymous libel published in an advertisement (Baker v Baker and Others, settled at the Court of Common Pleas in May 1831) and libels against the managing committees of both the Southampton Dispensary and the County Female Penitentiary in Southampton, settled in August 1831. The Bakers had by then probably left Southampton.


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