Rare edition of Western Morning News is a journey into history
Sarah Pitt takes a look at an 1895 edition of the Western Morning News, discovered during a house clearance in Limerick, Ireland.
The pages are fragile and yellowing, but the type is as clear as the day it was printed. And the age-scuffed copy of the Western Morning News, dated from July 23, 1895, gives a fascinating snapshot of that far-off day towards the end of Queen Victoria's reign.
The paper was sent to the Western Morning News offices in Plymouth by Maeve Kerley, from Limerick in County Clare on the west coast of Ireland, who rescued the paper while helping a friend clear out her late mother's house.
"There were eight of us, and they were throwing all this good stuff in the skip," she says. "I saw the paper and said 'stop! You can't throw that away, it is like throwing away a history book'. I then climbed back into the skip and got it out."
NEW IN : for those cold winter nights highland check dog and cat beds in stock, fleecy and washable ideal for those nights snuggling by the fire...... available in 3 colourways
Contact: 01271 440626
Valid until: Saturday, January 25 2014
She says she put the paper away for a while, but then got curious. "I decided I was going to find out where the paper was from, although I thought it was probably long gone. Then I Googled it – and said 'gosh, it is still alive! So I decided I had to get in touch with you."
Maeve has no idea why her friend's mother kept this particularly copy of the Western Morning News. "She was one for cutting things out of newspapers," she says. "There were mounds of paper cuttings, and they threw all those away.
"The newspaper is something else, it is so big. Can you imagine trying to read that on a bus!?"
She's right, the paper is massive, much bigger than the tabloid format of today. In many other ways, too, it looks quite different. There are no photographs or strident headlines, the stories are contained rigidly within eight columns, and every single letter and punctuation mark painstakingly laid out by hand.
And adverts make up the entire front page, giving a fascinating flavour of life in the region at the time. No news appears until page three.
Then, as now, advertisers were not slow to spot a commercial opportunity linked to the events of the day. Gentlemen's outfitter Joseph May Grose mentions the Wesleyan Methodist Conference being held that week in Plymouth, as he advertises clerical shirts and collars in his George Street shop.
Among the births, deaths and marriages on the classifieds on the front of the paper is a poignant entry, as Frederick and Elizabeth Adams of Union Street in Plymouth record the death of their daughter, 19-year-old Blanche Elizabeth Adams, "the light of our home".
This column also records the death, at the grand old age of 85, of William Graham, "one of the first keepers of the Plymouth Breakwater lighthouse", who died at the home of his son, also a lighthouse keeper, at Hartland Point in North Devon.
Cheek by jowl with the great happenings in human lives, is the stuff of everyday life. Ward and Chowen, an auctioneer still in business today in the county, is advertising a sale at Patchill Farm, near Lewdown of, among other things, 30 Devon bullocks, and nine cart horses. They are also serving up lunch to those coming along to the auction, at a cost of one shilling, refundable against any purchase.
For followers of fashion, the adverts for clothes make intriguing reading. A department store called Spooner and Co. was clearly the place to buy a new outfit in Plymouth in 1895. Its advert on the front page offers "ladies' knitted golf jumpers" as the latest thing, along with "tweed costumes" and "walking shoes". And Spooners were on the telephone – would-be customers are invited to dial Plymouth 104.
Another advert offers readers the chance to emigrate to California, where there are "exceptional opportunities to settlers for fruit and general farming".
Anyone interested is invited to write to a P. West at Elmsleigh near Par in Cornwall.
Ministers of religion, it seems, were as fond as anyone else of a holiday in the Westcountry. One London cleric advertises to carry out a "Sunday duty" in Plymouth or Cornwall in August, presumably in return for accommodation somewhere near a beach.
The other fascinating inclusion are the lonely hearts columns, listed under the rather more direct heading of "matrimony". The first reads "spinster, bright, cheerful, domesticated, with £500 a year and £3,000 at bankers, desires marriage". And what woman could resist "bachelor, tall, handsome, healthy, good social position, possessing several gold mines and £3,500 per annum, thoroughly genuine"?
I got so caught up reading the adverts, that it was some time before I got into reading the news pages, which start on page three. Again, in a departure from the way things are today, local news is jumbled up with national and world news.
Readers learn about a Parisian actress called Laborie who shot a man in a Bordeaux street, then turned the gun on herself in a failed suicide attempt. Further down the same column, they are told about a doctor called Reece being fatally struck by lightning in the Brecon Beacons in South Wales on his way to a house call. And, at Windsor Castle, Queen Victoria rather bizarrely receives some of her Indian subjects, by waving at them from her window – they are in Britain for the India exhibition at Earls Court, and have taken the trip from London to present her with gifts. The predominant news in the paper, though, is the general election of 1895, being fought between two loose coalitions of Radicals and Unionists over the political hot potato of the day, whether there should be Home Rule for Ireland.
In those days, elections were not held on a single day but were, instead, held over a week with different constituencies returning a result on consecutive days – and this edition of the Western Morning News has come out in the middle of that week.
The paper carries a report of the victory of Liberal Unionist (affiliated to the Tories) Sir Cameron Gull at Barnstaple, who snatched it back from the Liberals (which was then the dominant Radical party – the Labour party was not yet in existence).
The results of the final seven western constituencies, meanwhile, have yet to be decided. They include the constituency of Mid Devon which was being defended by the Liberal candidate Charles Seale-Hayne of Newton Abbot, who was to go on to found the agricultural college in the town in 1903.
His opponent is Liberal Unionist Mr Nix, who the paper is enthusiastically backing in its Leader column.
Among all the political news are adverts decorated with the motif of a steamship under full sale, advertising opportunities to emigrate. On offer are passages to Australia, South Africa, New Zealand,Tasmania and Chile, presumably taken up by many "Cousin Jacks" looking for a better life.
Western Morning News news editor Scott Harrison is so taken with the find that he plans to frame it on his sitting room wall.
" I have got a place behind the settee earmarked for it to go," he says. "It is a fascinating addition to my collection of newspapers in the loft – I'm a bit of a geek when it comes to old newspapers. I'm just grateful for the lady in Ireland for taking the time to e-mail us and share this bit of history."