Shields Gazette Centenary

Many thanks to Ken Blasbery for taking the trouble to copy and send in this book, which was published in 1949, celebrating the centenary of Britain’s oldest provincial evening newspaper.

As you would expect for this type of publication a lot of emphasis is placed on the journalistic side of things, with production matters tending to take second place.

The towns of North and South Shields, are situated on the banks of the River Tyne in the UK. Shipbuilding and seafaring were important local industries and feature strongly in the newspaper’s story.

Selected parts of the book appear here.

The book's front cover
The book’s front cover.

The book starts with the following story:

The other day we were told this story. A British Naval officer stepping ashore at a Chinese port several hundred miles up the Yangtze river walked into the British club there. Aimlessly he picked up a newspaper lying on a table. Then his eye caught the title and he turned the pages eagerly, scanning the sheets for news of home, thousands of miles away. He was a Shieldsman and the newspaper was The Shields Gazette, one of the five newspapers published by The Northern Press Ltd., South Shields.

We were proud and pleased to receive this story. Proud, because The Shields Gazette (which has a longer record of continuous publication than any other provincial evening newspaper) once more had proved to be the link with home for a voyaging seafarer far from his native place; a role the paper is filling to an even greater degree nowadays than ever before. We were pleased, because the tradition that where’er a British ship sails are to be found men of Shields and The Shields Gazette worthily had been upheld.

And when the windjammers left the shelter of South Shields harbour on a favourable wind for their destinations far away in the last days of February 1849 – one hundred years ago-tucked away somewhere aboard, no doubt, was a copy of The North and South Shields Gazette and Northumberland and Durham Advertiser (as The Shields Gazette was originally titled) for it was on the Saturday of February 24, 1849 that the first issue came off the press, printed laboriously by a method which had changed little since Caxton’s day, to announce modestly to a waiting town:

“Our politics are not those of Movement but of improvement – repudiating the spirit Of restlessness that advocates only Change, we shall throw our weight into the scale of Progress. … we are to aid all who shew a wise hearted desire to promote the welfare of Society, our Country and the World. … is not such an organ needed – to rally our long broken ranks. … to cheer on the public spirited and energetic men who are now in the field, battling for rights and immunities. … to gain for Shields the place to which she is entitled by her position, wealth and importance in the scale of British towns. …”

Daily Telegraphic Edition

ln those first days it was a weekly paper – hemmed in and cramped by the tax on advertising and the Stamp Duty on newspapers, in truth a tax on knowledge. But on Monday, July 2, 1855, two days after Mr. Gladstone repealed the Stamp Duty on Saturday, June 30, a Daily Telegraphic Edition was issued and delivered free every night to subscribers to the weekly edition, specialising then, as now, in shipping news, hence its eventual acquisition of the sub-title, The Shipping Telegraph. It was a courageous and ambitious undertaking making use of the new electric telegraph.

Shields Gazette office
How the Shields Gazette office in Barrington Street looked on the morning after the air raid on the night of September 30, 1941. Despite the extensive damage The Gazette, thanks to planned emergency arrangements, appeared as usual in the afternoon.

This brief resume would not be complete without reference to the engineering branch of The Northern Press, a section of the firm’s activities which ended some time ago.

Following the inventive genius of Mr. Robert Cumming Annand, managing- director of the newspaper for a period of many years at the beginning of the century and a brother of the editor of the same name, the manufacture of fast web printing machinery brought a new industry to South Shields.

From small beginnings in a corner of The Shields Gazette printing room where small repairs were carried out grew an extensive business which achieved a world-wide reputation and The Shields Gazette became the only newspaper manufacturing its own machinery.

To meet this new side of the company’s activities the name was changed in l889 to The Northern Press and Engineering Company Ltd. Eventually, in 1920, the two activities of the company were separated.

The Northern Press Engineering Company Ltd. was formed to carry on the manufacture of printing machinery and the parent company reverted to the title of The Northern Press Ltd.

Many of the engineering company’s presses are still in existence and giving good service.

Goss rotary press, c1949
Goss rotary press, c1949.

The Tyne had its prides then as it haas now, In 1849, was lost in the Arctic ice, the Lady Jane, last of the river’s whalers, and very popular, for each time she went to sea, schoolboys got a half-holiday to see her go out with garlands flying.

SS Britannia

Another was the iron steamship Britannia, which maintained a passenger service between Newcastle and Leith, and was evidently an important vessel as the first issue of the Shields Gazette advertised lithographic prints of the ship at four shillings plain, six shillings coloured – a lot of money in those days.

Pride of the River Tyne and for many years of the Atlantic, the famous liner RMS Mauretania leaves the Tyne for her first trials at sea on September 17, 1907
Pride of the River Tyne and for many years of the Atlantic, the famous liner RMS Mauretania leaves the Tyne for her first trials at sea on September 17, 1907.

The publication offers this brief description of the composing area:

From the Editorial Department the news copy passes to the Composing Room where it is set into type on Linotype machines.

The Linotype is a mechanical typesetter with a keyboard similar to that of a typewriter. The operator depresses the keys and brass matrices are released to form a line of column width.

Each line is automatically cast in metal (an alloy of lead, antimony and tin). For the larger headlines and type the brass letter matrices are set by hand and cast on a Ludlow machine.

When the lines of type have been set and assembled in proper sequence on long trays called “galleys” proofs are printed, or “pulled”, and sent to the readers who check the proof with the original copy for errors and deviation. The corrections are reset and checked again.

Next the type is placed in a metal frame called a “forme” and made into two pages of The Gazette. This is done by compositors who follow a plan supplied by the chief sub-editor. Blocks of pictures are now inserted in the page.

An early advertisement
An early advertisement.

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