Ben Lowry: A belated happy 284th birthday to ourselves at the News Letter — the world’s oldest English language daily newspaper!

A footnote on early Belfast News Letters, to which I refer above.

By Ben Lowry
Saturday, 2nd October 2021, 1:37 pm
Updated Monday, 4th October 2021, 8:11 am
The oldest surviving edition of the oldest English language daily paper in the world, a Belfast News Letter from October 1738. The paper was founded on September 6 1737 (September 17 in the modern calendar) but the first 13 months of editions are lost. The October 1738 copy is the oldest surviving. A March 1738 is wrongly thought to be older but March in the Julian calendar was at the end of the year, so the March 1738 paper is in fact equivalent to March 1739
The oldest surviving edition of the oldest English language daily paper in the world, a Belfast News Letter from October 1738. The paper was founded on September 6 1737 (September 17 in the modern calendar) but the first 13 months of editions are lost. The October 1738 copy is the oldest surviving. A March 1738 is wrongly thought to be older but March in the Julian calendar was at the end of the year, so the March 1738 paper is in fact equivalent to March 1739

We missed our recent 284th birthday.

Or, more accurately, I missed it! Because I was the person who should have remembered, having serialising the earliest surviving editions.

During that series, I concluded that the (missing) first edition of this, the world’s oldest English language daily newspaper, had been printed on September 6 1737, and not September 1, according to legend.

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September 6 in the then Julian calendar is equivalent to September 17 in the modern Gregorian calendar we use today (see link below on last year’s story about the anniversary).

Date conversions get complicated, because there is an 11 day lag between then and now, but only a 10 day lag between 1690 and 2021, thus the Battle of the Boyne, fought on July 1 that year, is July 11 in our modern date (despite being commemorated on the 12th).

Confusion on the calendars helps explain why in 1838 News Letter itself got the date of the centenary of the earliest surviving 1738 edition wrong (due to an even more complicated aspect of the calendar change so that a March 1738 edition of the paper is actually wrongly thought to be our oldest surviving copy when in fact it is an October 1738 one).

The calendar was changed in 1752, so barely anyone alive in 1838 remembered the old system, in which March was actually at the end of the year.

That is my excuse for missing our latest anniversary ...

Ben Lowry (@Benlowry2) is News Letter acting editor

Other articles by Ben Lowry below, and beneath that information on how to subscribe to the News Letter:

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