Charles Prestwich Scott

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Charles Prestwich Scott (October 26, 1846 – January 1, 1932) was a British journalist, publisher, and politician. He was the editor of the Manchester Guardian newspaper for 57 years; the longest editorship of a national newspaper anywhere in the world. He was also its owner from 1907 until his death. His lifetime of service established the Manchester Guardian as a preeminent paper, acknowledged not only as a significant national paper in Britain but also recognized around the world.

Scott was an advocate of universal suffrage as shown through the support he gave by way of his newspaper. He was also a Liberal Member of Parliament and pursued a progressive liberal agenda in the pages of the newspaper. Scott had clear opinions on the role of the newspaper and the standards to which journalism should obtain. He argued that accurate news reporting is the cornerstone, in his famous words, "comment is free, but facts are sacred." His legacy lives on in his standards for newspapers as well as the newspaper itself, now renamed The Guardian to reflect its prominence as a national paper.


Charles Prestwich Scott was born on October 26, 1846 in the city of Bath, in North East Somerset, England in October, 1846, the eighth of nine children. His father was Russell Scott, a successful businessman who owned the Manchester Guardian newspaper at the time of Charles' birth. His grandfather, also called Russell Scott, was responsible for the establishment of the Unitarian movement in Britain.

Charles was educated at Hove House, a Unitarian school in Brighton, and then at Clapham Grammar School. Beginning in October 1865, he attended Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He took a first in Greats in the autumn of 1869, and shortly thereafter embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe. In 1870, Charles went to Edinburgh for a six-month apprenticeship at The Scotsman. It was at this time that his uncle John Edward Taylor (who founded the Manchester Guardian in 1821, and who ran the London office) decided that he needed an editor for the Guardian based in Manchester. Charles joined the Guardian staff in February, 1871, and was formally appointed its editor on January 1, 1872 at the age of 25.

In 1874, Scott married Rachel Cook, the youngest daughter of John Cook (a professor of History at St. Andrews University). Rachel had been one of the first undergraduates of the College for Women, Hitchin (later Girton College Cambridge). Together, they had four children: Madeline (1876-1958); Lawrence Prestwich (1877-1908); John Russell (1879-1949); and Edward Taylor (1883-1932).

Scott remained editor of the Manchester Guardian until July 1, 1929, at which time he was 83-years-old and had been editor for exactly 57-and-a-half years. His successor as editor was his youngest son, Edward Taylor, though C. P., as Scott was called, remained as governing director of the company and was at the Guardian offices most evenings. He died in the small hours of New Year's Day, 1932.

Scott's sons, John and Edward Taylor, jointly inherited the ownership of the Manchester Guardian and Evening News Ltd. Less than three years in the post, Edward Taylor drowned in a sailing accident, and the decision was made by John to pass the paper on to the Scott Trust. Scott's wife, Rachel, died in 1905 in the midst of the dispute over John Edward Taylor's will. Madeline married long-time Guardian contributor C. E. Montague. Lawrence died in 1908 at the age of 31, after contracting tuberculosis during charity work in the Ancoats slums. John became the Guardian's manager and founder of the Scott Trust.


As editor of The Guardian, C. P. Scott initially maintained the well-established moderate Liberal line, "to the right of the party, to the right, indeed, of much of its own special reporting" (Ayerst, 1971). However, in 1886 when the whigs led by Lord Hartington and a few radicals led by Joseph Chamberlain split the party to form the Liberal Unionist Party, and in turn gave their backing to the Conservatives, Scott's Guardian swung to the left and helped Gladstone lead the party towards support for Irish Home Rule and ultimately the "new liberalism."

In 1886, Scott fought his first general election as a Liberal candidate, an unsuccessful attempt in the Manchester North East constituency. He stood again for the same seat in 1891 and 1892. He was elected at the 1895 election as MP for Leigh. Thereafter, he spent long periods away in London during the parliamentary session, in which he was an advocate for issues such as women's suffrage and for reform of the House of Lords. His combined position as a Liberal backbencher, the editor of an important Liberal newspaper, and the president of the Manchester Liberal Federation made him an influential figure in Liberal circles, albeit in the middle of a long period of opposition.

In 1899, Scott strongly opposed the Boer War through use of the Guardian. This public display created a great deal of hostility, and sales of the newspaper dropped. Despite his unpopular stand against the war, he was re-elected at the 1900 election. He retired from Parliament at the time of the Liberal landslide victory in 1906, at which time he was occupied with the difficult process of becoming owner of the newspaper he edited.

In 1905, the Guardian's owner, John Edward Taylor the 2nd, died. His will provided that the trustees of his estate should give Scott first refusal on the copyright of the Guardian at £10,000. His will also recommended that the trustees should offer Scott the offices and printing works of the paper on "moderate and reasonable terms." However, they were not required to sell it at all, and could continue to run the paper themselves "on the same lines and in the same spirit as heretofore." Furthermore, one of the trustees was a nephew of Taylor and would financially benefit from forcing up the price at which Scott could buy the paper. Another trustee was the Guardian's manager who faced losing his job if Scott took control. Scott was therefore forced to dig deep to buy the paper: he paid a total of £240,000, taking large loans from his sisters and from Taylor's widow (who had been his chief supporter among the trustees) to do so. Taylor's other paper, the Manchester Evening News, was inherited by his nephews in the Allen family. Scott made an agreement to buy the MEN in 1922 and gained full control of it in 1929.

As editor of the paper, Scott brought outstanding writers to contribute. Among these are included John Maynard Keynes, John Masefield, and Arnold Toynbee.

In a famous 1921 essay marking the Manchester Guardian's centenary (at which time he had served nearly fifty years as editor), Scott put down his opinions on the role of the newspaper. He argued that the "primary office" of a newspaper is accurate news reporting: in his now-clichéd words, "comment is free, but facts are sacred." Even editorial comment has its responsibilities: "It is well to be frank; it is even better to be fair." A newspaper should have a "soul of its own," with staff motivated by a "common ideal": although the business side of a newspaper must be competent, if it becomes dominant the paper will face "distressing consequences."


C.P. Scott was editor of the Manchester Guardian from 1872 to 1929, the longest editorship of a national newspaper anywhere in the world. During his time as editor, he felt strongly about issues such as universal suffrage, women's suffrage, and the reform of the House of Lords, using his role in the newspaper to promote these views. He was considered an influential figure in Liberal circles.

Major Works


[1872] 1929. Scott, Charles Prestwich. Editor. The Manchester Guardian.

[1911] 1928. Scott, Charles Prestwich. The political diaries of C.P. Scott. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0002111462

1974. Scott, Charles Prestwich. C.P. Scott, 1846-1932: The Making of the Manchester Guardian. Greenwood Press Reprint. ISBN 0837173124


  • "[A newspaper's] primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted."
  • "Eagles come in all shapes and sizes, but you will recognize them chiefly by their attitudes."
  • "Television? The word is half Latin and half Greek. No good can come of it."
  • "The function of a good newspaper, and therefore of a good journalist, is to see life steady and see it whole."

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External links

All links retrieved December 4, 2023.


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