Skip to main content


periodicals, popularly known as magazines, is the branch of the press industry which publishes on a regular, or periodic, basis, usually every week or month. In terms of numbers, the trade or technical press dominates Britain's periodical publishing, but in terms of mass readership, it is the consumer magazine which is of most interest.

Even more than newspapers, periodicals are aimed at a very specific market, gathering together articles of interest to a particular gender, age, class, region, or special interest group. Where a more general periodical has been a success, it has often been due to the novel and authoritative slant it has put on current affairs to supplement newspaper coverage, such as the Illustrated London News or Punch in the 19th cent., or Picture Post in the 20th cent.

The most prominent specialist groups served by periodicals in British history have been adherents of various political positions; the ‘cultured’ social classes; women; and children. The longest tradition has been political commentary, with the growth of ‘courants’, ‘diurnalls’, and ‘mercuries’ in the early 17th cent. conveying the latest news and comment. After being suppressed at the Restoration, they flourished in the early 18th cent. with writers like Defoe (Review), Steele and Addison (Tatler and Spectator), and Swift (Examiner). The 18th-cent. ‘taxes on knowledge’, which attempted to restrict the press, helped create a literature of dissent, which particularly flourished in the early 19th-cent. radical press (Poor Man's Guardian, Political Register, Black Dwarf, Northern Star, and Reynold's News). While most political comment became confined to the daily and Sunday press in the 19th and 20th cents., the occasional political magazine has flourished, such as the Spectator (1828), The Economist (1843), and the New Statesman (1913), or satirical scandal sheets such as John Bull and Private Eye.

General cultural periodicals, appealing to the top ranks of society, first appeared in the late 17th cent. in titles such as the Gentleman's Journal and the Athenian Gazette, continuing in the 18th cent. with the Gentleman's Magazine, the Scots Magazine, and in the 19th cent. with the Edinburgh Review, the Quarterly Review, and Blackwood's. Lower middle-class equivalents appeared with the printing revolution of the 19th cent., such as Tit Bits, the Strand Magazine, and Pearson's Weekly.

Magazines for women have appeared in unbroken tradition from the late 17th cent., with the Ladies' Mercury (1693). Titles of the 18th and 19th cents. such as the Ladies' Magazine, the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, and the Lady appealed to the leisured classes, and constructed the identity of domesticity that has come to be associated with women's magazines. Only the rare periodical, such as The Female Friend (1846), raised any issues of women's rights, a task similarly undertaken in the 1970s by the feminist Spare Rib challenge to the dominance of Woman, Woman's Own, and Woman's Realm with their domestic ideology.

Magazines for children—with an ideology of improvement, as opposed to comic amusement—have a tradition stretching from the late 18th-cent. Juvenile Magazine (1788) to the classic Victorian Boy's Own Paper (1879) and Girl's Own Paper (1880). Unlike women's magazines, this market tended to decline in the 20th cent., with comics becoming the dominant periodical fare of children. See also comics; newspapers.

Douglas J. Allen

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"periodicals." The Oxford Companion to British History. . 18 Aug. 2018 <>.

"periodicals." The Oxford Companion to British History. . (August 18, 2018).

"periodicals." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved August 18, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.