Looking back on more than 150 years of the Wetherby News

The front of the Wetherby News shop and office on Crossley Street when it first opened in 1857.
The front of the Wetherby News shop and office on Crossley Street when it first opened in 1857.
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The Wetherby News was first published on Thursday, December 17, 1857. The founder of the newspaper was Henry Crossley.

Henry was the son of a hat and cap maker who lived in a house on Crossley Street. He had received little education and started work as an errand boy to Rev William Raby. Then for 11 years he was a postman walking the round of Kirk Deighton, Walshford and Hunsingore to Ribston Hall every day. During that period he earned 14 shillings per week and saved six shillings. Out of those savings he bought a stationers business in 1855. He was then 29 years old.

He founded the Wetherby Magazine within the year but it was not a success. Undaunted, he then founded the Wetherby News which was an immediate success and sold at 1d per copy; far less than most other newspapers and a price only made possible by the abolition of newspaper stamp duty of 4d in the previous year. Until then only people with a fairly high income could afford to buy newspapers. As the years rolled on other editions of the paper were published.

The offices and printing were originally at Bridge Foot with the stationer’s shop in the Market Place. The original printing press was a hand one made by John Miles and the engraving of the office as it was in 1857 clearly shows that one. It was only used for the first few issues and Henry Crossley then purchased a Caxton Printing Machine run by steam engine. By 1891 the steam press had been found to be too dangerous and had been abandoned in favour of a gas engine and a newer, larger and more up-to-date printing machine.

When the Angel Hotel and adjoining property were put up for sale, Henry Crossley purchased it for £1,750. The printing office was moved into the Angel Yard and he erected a shop where the old Court Room had stood. That shop was to remain the home of the Wetherby News for about a century and is now the Post Office.

All this information and the engravings are taken from the Jubilee Souvenir of the Wetherby News 1857 – 1907. This was a 28-page booklet of the life story of the Wetherby News and its proprietors presented to each child in the town. Included in it was a short sketch of the progress of the town during the same period as and a copy of the leader article of the first edition of the Wetherby News.

The leader article of January 7, 1916 announced more changes. The Northern Reporter was being discontinued and their circulation obtained. A Typograph had been installed at great expense and allowed many more columns of local news to be set. The increase in circulation had been such that the Wetherby News had been sold out in several weeks and copies had to be re-bought to satisfy customers. The publishing day had been changed from Thursday to Friday to allow full reports of markets up to the Thursday evening. The newspaper was going to employ two young ladies on the staff which had been largely male and they asked correspondents to let them have their copy no later than the Thursday morning. Finally in this wartime edition they wished readers a prosperous New Year and trusted that ere another year is reached, Peace may once more reign in the world.

On May 30, 1924 more changes were announced. A portion of the Angel Stables had been re-bought and made into a continuous office from High Street to the Cattle Market. It had been fitted with the latest machinery able to set six different sizes of type. This would save time in printing the newspaper and the jobbing printing which had still continued. It would save time in the constant journeys between the two offices – which had been one of the drawbacks of acquiring the Victoria Street office.

In its heyday the Wetherby News employed about 20 staff and the newspaper consisted of about eight or 12 pages with much of the front page consisting of local magistrates court proceedings, advertisements and market prices. There were no pictures and it was probably not until the 1930s that photographs began to be used,

It was around 1975 when printing ceased in Wetherby and was transferred to Montpellier Parade in Harrogate. The editor at the time was the late Ron Hardy and when Janet Watson first started working there as a receptionist in 1979, there were four reporters. The edited copy was collected by messenger. . After Ron Hardy retired as editor, Marie Fox took over as Chief Reporter until she retired about 15 years ago but she continued writing the Our Wetherby column until her death in 2009.

In 1982 the shop and offices were bought by Mel Jones with the Wetherby News continuing to have an office for reporters upstairs. Then in 2003 the Wetherby News office moved to its current location on Westgate. In recent years the newspaper group was taken over by Ackrill Press which was itself taken over by Johnston Publishing.

The internet now makes it easy for material to be moved around the country and the Wetherby News is now printed in Sheffield. There is a news editor in Wetherby who sets some of the pages by computer; other pages being set and sub-edited in Harrogate or Sheffield.

Inevitably people complain that only a small proportion of the news relates to Wetherby, but the number of pages with Wetherby content probably remains the same as it always did. It’s just that many other pages are also included to and these arguably give added value to the reader and keep the costs down by providing increased advertising revenue.

The new tabloid format and a new computer system will bring new changes and challenges and it will take a while to get used to them.