Congratulations to St Bride’s Guildsman, former Churchwarden, and former Times journalist Christopher McKane on the publication of his first book “The Thunderer: The Life and Times of John Walter II.”
John Walter was a Master Printer and controlled The Times for over forty years in the early 19th century, a period of immense social upheaval. He also pioneered technolocigal change, introducing steam driven printing presses overnight in a Murdoch-like move to outfox the unions.
St Bride’s has a long-standing connection with the printing industry since Wynkyn de Worde set up the first commercial printing press in England in the churchyard in 1501.
The book was launched at an evening event in the magnificent Stationers’ Hall. St Bride’s has a long and highly-valued connection with the Worshipful Company of Stationers. Many of our Guildsmen are members of the Company, indeed, Christopher is a past-Master.
Foreword to the book by John Witherow, Editor, The Times
JOHN WALTER II (1776-1847) was controller of The Times newspaper for 44 years. As a qualified Master Printer he introduced the world’s first steam presses, an overnight strategy that outflanked his mutinous printers – just as, 172 years later in 1986, Rupert Murdoch would make a lightning strike against his rebel trade unionists by moving The Times‘s production to Wapping. Walter broke the Government’s grip on news management and ended a culture of corruption and kickbacks to editors.
As an MP he was passionate about electoral reform and citizens’ rights, throwing the whole weight of the country’s most influential newspaper behind the 1832 Reform Bill and legislation to help poor people. He appointed and unhesitatingly backed two of the greatest editors of The Times and British journalism has known – Thomas Barnes and John Delane. His family mattered just as much to him and his eldest son, also John, built on the esteem and commercial success of the paper.
Walter led The Times through a colourful age of unprecedented social change, with wars in Europe and America, and domestic upheavals such as Peterloo, the persecution of the Tolpuddle martyrs and the Industrial Revolution. And yet he was often happiest away from Printing House Square, gardening at his country estate in Berkshire and adding to his outstanding art collection. He can rightly be called one of the most remarkable men of the 19th century and this book frames him in the context of a remarkable period in British history.
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