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The teenagers using My Space are bypassing parental or social authority in the same way as the women who used personal ads in the 1820s – but self-revelation is now encouraged.

In telling the stories of those who use them, Cocks shows how personal columns were not only a vital way of making friends and meeting lovers but also of forging a community when homosexuality was still illegal, when being single past the age of 21 was seen as embarrassingly shameful and when the difficulty of divorce could make marriage seem an intolerable burden.

Link may have been the first magazine for lonely hearts but Cocks shows that advertising for a wife or husband has been going on for centuries.

One was from an “intensely musical” 24-year-old man looking for a “tall, manly Hercules”.

Barrett was charged with conspiring to enable the commission of unnatural acts and with corrupting public morals by introducing men to women for fornication.

He was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison.

But when a driver called Pennery, of the Field Artillery, got three sacks of post, one with 3,000 letters, it was too much and they worried about clogging up the post.

They worried too that enemy agents would encourage soldiers to give away military secrets and the government banned advertising that invited officers or men to communicate with strangers.

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