The Manchester Guardian was founded by John Edward Taylor in 1821, and was first published on 5 May of that year. The paper's intention was the promotion of the liberal interest in the aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre and the growing campaign to repeal the Corn Laws that flourished in Manchester during this period. The Guardian was published weekly until 1836 when it was published on Wednesday and Saturday becoming a daily in 1855, when the abolition of Stamp Duty on newspapers permitted a subsequent reduction in cover price (to 2d) allowed the paper to be published daily.
The Guardian achieved national and international recognition under the editorship of CP Scott, who held the post for 57 years from 1872. Scott bought the paper in 1907 following the death of Taylor's son, and pledged that the principles laid down in the founder's will would be upheld by retaining the independence of the newspaper. CP Scott outlined those principals in a much-quoted article written to celebrate the centenary of the paper: 'Comment is free, but facts are sacred... The voice of opponents no less than that of friends has a right to be heard.'
After retiring from an active role in managing and editing the paper, Scott passed control to his two sons, John Russell Scott as manager and Edward Taylor Scott as editor. Realising that the future independence of the paper would be jeopardised in the event of the death of one or the other, the two sons made an agreement that in the event of either's death, one would buy the other's share.
CP Scott died in 1932 and was followed only four months later by Edward, so sole ownership fell to JR Scott. Faced with the potential of crippling death duties and the predatory interest of competitors, Scott contemplated a radical move to ensure the future of both the Guardian and the highly profitable Manchester Evening News. He concluded that the only solution was to give away his inheritance, a far-reaching solution which provoked close advisor (and future Lord Chancellor) Gavin Simonds to conclude: 'you are trying to do something which is very repugnant to the law of England. You are trying to divest yourself of a property right'.
In June 1936, JR Scott formally passed ownership of the paper to the trustees of the Scott Trust. As well as pledging to ensure the radical editorial tradition of the paper (that the newspaper 'shall be conducted in the future on the same lines and in the same spirit as heretofore', in the words of the founder's legacy), the Scott Trust also has the duty to maintain a secure financial footing for the business: '...to devote the whole of the surplus profits of the Company which would otherwise have been available for dividends...towards building up the reserves of the Company and increasing the circulation of and expanding and improving the newspapers.' These principles remain the only instructions given to an incoming editor of the Guardian.
As the influence of the Manchester Guardian grew beyond its Northern hinterland, a new challenge faced the paper under the editorship of AP Wadsworth, who took over the post in 1944. The limited number of pages in the paper, poor quality of the printing and sometimes peculiar news agenda were once perceived as part of the regional charm of the paper. In comparison to the other papers on Fleet Street, however, the Guardian's eccentric virtues often seemed to be outweighed by its peculiar idiosyncrasies: the absence of horse racing, high-handed moral posturing and woolly leaders.
Alongside the Daily Telegraph and the Times, the Guardian lacked resources (despite costing 1d more a day), and an approach to commercial activity that could be charitably described as naive did not help matters. On the first day of the Chatterley trial, the Guardian carried a front page advertisement for the Telegraph 'the paper you can trust', which 'provides all you can want in a newspaper' - and at a cheaper cover price too.
The editor of the paper moved to London in 1964, committing the Guardian to an uncertain future in the national market, and shortly afterwards financial problems came to a head. The paper relied heavily on the Manchester Evening News for financial support, and in the mid-60s the threat to the paper's future grew severe enough for the chairman of the Scott Trust, Laurance Scott, to approach the Times to discuss the possibility of a merger. The Times was in a similarly perilous financial situation, and many were of the opinion that there was only room for one competitor to the Telegraph. Eventually the talks came to nothing, but not before a serious examination of the logistics involved had been considered on both sides. Alastair Hetherington, the editor at this time, remained a staunch advocate of the Guardian's independence, and the modern paper owes much to his leadership and vision during this period.
Investment in printing and the completion of a move to improved offices in Farringdon in London in 1976 helped consolidate the Guardian's position, aided by an expansion programme that included the revamping of the Guardian Weekly to include content from both the Washington Post and Le Monde. In the increasingly polarised political climate of the late 1970s and early 1980s the Guardian's position as the voice of the left was unchallenged. The opinion pages were the birthplace of the SDP, and the letters page was where the battle for the future direction of the Labour Party was played out, while the coverage of industrial disputes including the 1984-1985 Miners' Strike defined the paper's position.
The status quo among the quality press was irrevocably altered by the launch of the Independent in 1986. Capturing the centre ground between the Guardian on the left and the Times and Telegraph on the right, the Independent attracted big name writers and readers with a modern design and distribution network that made the most of the post-union market. Within a few years the circulation of the Independent rose to within touching distance of both the Times and the Guardian, and the previously stagnant market was provoked into a frenzy of defensive activity to retain readers.
In 1988 the Guardian made a bold and innovative attempt to reassert its position on Fleet Street, with a major redesign that began the modern period of success in the history of the paper.
In 1993 the intensely competitive broadsheet market was again thrown into confusion by the reduction of the cover price of the Times, firstly from 45p to 30p, then again in June 1994 from 30p to 20p. As the Times attracted readers, first the Daily Telegraph and then the Independent followed suit, running at substantial losses as they battled to survive. Throughout this period the Guardian remained at full price, investing resources in journalism and distancing itself from the price war through distinctive and innovative marketing, product development and consistently breaking big stories.
During these years the paper increased its circulation, remained commercially successful and achieved critical acclaim for both the quality of its journalism and the innovation, both consistently followed by its competitors.
The Guardian was at the forefront of the sleaze revelations that contributed to the downfall of the Conservative government in 1997, with a series of investigations into the affairs of Tory MPs, including Jonathan Aitken and Neil Hamilton. Begun under the editorship of Peter Preston and continued when Alan Rusbridger was appointed in 1995, the unmasking of the 'cash for questions' affair and corruption in parliament confirmed the paper's reputation for serious investigative reporting.
This reputation was cemented by the collapse of the libel case brought against the paper by former Minister Jonathan Aitken. Following his fateful declaration to fight the case armed with only "the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play", the Guardian uncovered crucial evidence that proved Aitken did not pay his own hotel bill at the Paris Ritz as he had claimed. Aitken was convicted of perjury and jailed in June 1999, and the investigations won the Guardian critical acclaim from all sides - including the prestigious Newspaper of the Year Award in both 1997 and 1998.
In 1997 the Guardian became the first national newspaper to appoint a readers' editor, producer of the daily Corrections and Clarifications column.
The Guardian Unlimited network of websites was launched in January 1999 and by March 2001 the site had over 2.4 million unique users, making it the most popular UK newspaper website. The website was renamed guardian.co.uk in 2008.
On September 12 2005 the new Berliner Guardian launched, with a ground-breaking design in a mid-size format. The Guardian became the UK's first full-colour national newspaper, and the first UK national newspaper ever to adopt this size. The new format paper won the best designed national newspaper in Europe at the European Newspaper Awards in 2005 and the award for the world's best-designed newspaper from the Society of News Design in 2006.
At the end of 2008 the Guardian moved from Farringdon to a new building in King's Cross.