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  • "Periodicals of an objectionable character":Peers and Periodicals at Croydon Friends' School, 1826–1875
  • Catherine Sloan (bio)

Scholarly research has long recognized the juvenile reader as a key moral and ideological construct during the Victorian age.1 Children's books and periodicals, as well as prescriptive literature on the juvenile reader, have been analysed as important textual spaces where the beliefs, lifestyle, and cultural practices of an emerging middle class were negotiated.2 In recent years, this research has shifted to investigating actual juvenile readers, as in Matthew Grenby's vivid recreation of the child reader through a material analysis of inscriptions, marginalia, personal accounts, and images.3 Moreover, a burgeoning historiography of the participatory format has recast the juvenile reader as an active participant in periodical culture. Through essay prizes, competitions, and contributors' columns, young readers entered the debate surrounding their reading practices. While some did seek to accommodate editorial agendas, others challenged, renegotiated, and even transcended editorial assumptions about their readers.4 Other recent studies have drawn attention to juvenile readers as a community, the clubs and societies associated with many periodicals that emphasized collective over individual identity.5 Collective juvenile participation in print periodicals nurtured lively children's cultures, as the young used periodicals not only to reshape adult agendas but to pursue their own objectives.6

Attention to this interplay of prescription, participation, and peer group membership has created a more nuanced picture of the juvenile reader. However, there has been little scholarly work on an important genre of juvenile periodical literature: the manuscript school magazine. This article provides a case study of one collection of manuscript magazines, the rich archive of the Croydon Friends' School, today known as Saffron Walden School in Essex. The pupil-created periodicals in this remarkable collection demonstrate how enthusiastically schools participated in periodical [End Page 769] culture. In 1851, the editors of the School-Boy's Magazine at the Croydon school noted that there was a "rage for editorial occupation."7 Their pupil-edited manuscript magazine "was quickly followed by a whole host of papers, viz, the New Shoot of the Gooseberry Bush, the Mulberry Tree, the Literary Reporter, the Rain-bow, the Grapevine, & rather later on, the Phoenix and the Free Gazette."8 In total, they counted seventeen different magazines, all produced at one small Quaker school of about one hundred pupils. Most were manuscript publications, with a single handwritten copy of each issue passing from hand to hand, usually at a penny or halfpenny a read. Given how enthusiastically schoolchildren participated in periodical culture, it is surprising that their manuscript magazines have been overlooked in histories of children's periodicals.

The first section of this essay will examine the role the Croydon Friends' School played in recruiting readers for a rapidly expanding periodical press. I will then examine how school magazines made pupils key agents in shaping their peers' interactions with periodical literature. The final section will demonstrate how peer groups generated enthusiasm for a rapidly expanding and diversifying marketplace, particularly children's print periodicals and fairy tales, which were forbidden at the school. A detailed examination of the Croydon archive thus demonstrates how the dynamic interchange between institutions, communities, families, readers, and peer groups shaped young people's interactions with periodical culture.

While the historiography of nineteenth-century periodicals remains predominantly focused on print, the archive of Croydon Friends' School foregrounds the ongoing dynamic between print and manuscript publications in nineteenth-century periodical culture.9 Since the 1990s, studies of early modern publications have contested the assumption that print superseded manuscript.10 Even in the nineteenth century, printed books and periodicals were preceded by manuscript contributions, drafts, and communications via letter, with participatory periodicals relying on an additional flood of essays, letters, and competition entries. Moreover, print was surrounded by a variety of manuscript magazines, spin-offs, and round robins. Some critics have seen the production of manuscript periodicals as a limitation on juvenile contributors' agency since children depended on adult editors to convert their contributions into print. Others, such as Christine Alexander, have noted the empowering aspects of manuscript writing for children. By creating handwritten periodicals, the Brontë children were "exercising vicariously the power of the...


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