Newspapers and Early Printing in Blackburn

Newspapers and Early Printing in Blackburn: 
 Transcribed from an article by the late J. Stanley Miller,
former Community History Librarian, Blackburn Central Library.

At the end of the 18th Century the cotton trade had begun its expansion, and with its rise, there grew a new wealthy class of merchants and cotton men in Blackburn, who were anxious to live in a style becoming their position and influence.  They began to build mansions on the edge of Blackburn, at Witton, Woodfold, and Feniscowles.

These were then furnished with libraries, with pictures and with sculpture.  Thus, we find from the 1780s, Blackburn merchants, calico manufacturers, and resident members of the professions – The Church and the law – subscribing to topographical works on their locality, and general historical books on England.

The success of these prompted some local printers to venture into the publishing field. Their staple so far had been notices regarding public meetings in the town, theatre playbills, and small pamphlets, often the texts of sermons.  One of the new publications was a "History of England", published in 1799, printed in Blackburn by Hemingway and Nuttall, which was no less than fifteen and a half inches tall.  The second was a scholarly work on the "History of Whalley"​ by T. D. Whitaker, issued in two parts in 1800 and 1801 by the same publisher.  This work has been ever since a model for local historians.  With over 470 pages, these books put Blackburn on the map as a publishing centre.  With their third work, a folio Bible, Hemingway and Nuttall envisaged a nationwide market, with employed riders travelling all over the country, collecting orders and delivering the books.

However, events were moving in a direction which reduced the importance of local publishing, and the improvement in communications meant that books and magazines could be quickly brought from London. The first sign of the improvement locally was the routing of the mail coach through Blackburn in May, 1809.  Now local book-sellers could advertise the latest London publications, and obtain them in a few days.

The war with France brought hardship to the working class, especially the handloom weavers.  At the same time, the spread of new ideas was discouraged out of fear of republicanism.

A new development at the end of the French War was the growth of periodicals and reviews, which were published at monthly intervals, and brought to Blackburn by mail coach.  The popularity of the London and Edinburgh reviews led to similar publications being printed in Blackburn.  They contained topical articles, poetry, letters, and puzzles.  The importance of the textile industry locally was also reflected in their contents, with articles on the dyeing of cotton.  In addition, there was a strong religious section, which included comparative studies of the style of oratory and sermon delivery of local ministers.  However, the magazines usually collapsed for lack of support after a few issues, unlike national reviews, which grew in popularity.

So by the end of the third decade of the 19th Century, Blackburn printing was confined to jobbing and pamphlets, the publishing ventures all having withered.

The growth of political consciousness with the creation of the two Member Blackburn Parliamentary Constituency gave printers a new outlet in the form of election posters and broadsheets, where the promises and claims of one candidate were promptly rebutted by his opponents.

In the 1830s, the members of the Free Churches in Blackburn were becoming increasingly resentful of the fact that they were obliged to pay money towards the expenses of the Church of England. A rate had been levied towards the cost of the new Parish Church in the early 1820s, more money being required in 1827 towards the cost of heating and lighting the building.  The 1827 levy had been strongly opposed by the Free Churches, but a poll which lasted five days in September gave a majority favour of the rate.  On January 6th, 1831 the roof of the new church was destroyed by fire.  It seemed that once more a rate would have to be enforced.  The agitation was accompanied by a series of posters and placards.  The movement was supported and organised by some of the leading cotton manufacturers, who were Dissenters as well as large rate payers, and reached a climax in 1834.  The whole episode kept the presses of Blackburn fully occupied.

The radical movements of the 1830s and 1840s also brought out a crop of broadsides, notably the Free Trade and Anti-Corn Law movements; while the various Parliamentary Elections had their exhortations to the voters.

Newspapers began in Blackburn on Wednesday May 29, 1793 with the Blackburn Mail published by J. Waterworth at an office near Salford Bridge, now covered with the new Market (1960s).  This was a four page paper, with local news restricted to a small area on page three, much of the front cover devoted to advertisements, and much national news, full Parliamentary reports, with detailed accounts of the markets in farm produce, leather, meal and cotton.

The stamp duty on newspapers kept the price of the Mail prohibitively high.  This duty was only partially intended to raise revenue, the main object being to keep newspapers out of the hands of men who might want to write articles not to the Government's liking, and away from those who might be influenced by reading them.  The result was that the paper cost around 7d. (3p) and that it nearly came to grief.  The price of the paper was one cause, but another was difficulty in finding a reliable man to deliver the “Mail" to other towns.  The paper was eventually delivered in a mail bag.

After several changes of proprietor, the “Mail" ceased publication in August 1829.  At this time, there was an outcry against stamp duty, several unstamped “pirate" papers being started in London.  The national leader was William Cobbett.

On August 29, 1829, the Blackburn Gazette was started by Thomas Rogerson, representing the radical interest in debates which were going on in the country, and were to lead to the passing of the First Reform Act in 1832.  This was in contrast with the “Mail" which had not been overtly political.

The Tory viewpoint was found in the “Blackburn Alfred" founded by Roger Wood in August, 1832.  There was in existence a London paper, the “Alfred" and provincial journals with the same word in their title reprinted items from the London “Alfred" along with their local news.  The “Blackburn Alfred" ceased publication in January 1835 on the death of Mr Wood, a new Tory paper the “Blackburn Standard" being established later the same month by James Walkden, who been apprentice to Mr Wood.

By 1835, the stamp duty had been reduced, and in 1836 was further cut to 1d. (1/2p) per sheet.  In spite of the reduction in price of the newspapers, the town could not support two papers in the depressed conditions of the early 1840s and the “Gazette" ceased publication in April 1843, following a winter when soup kitchens had been opened to feed the distressed cotton workers.

At times, the “Standard" too seemed in danger. Its circulation dropped to 250, but aided by a further reduction in stamp duty in 1853 and its abolition in 1855, the paper survived.  The name of the paper became the “Blackburn Patriot and Standard" in 1860.  The “Patriot" was published separately from 1870 to 1873, when the title and the paper were both dropped.

In the meantime, the abolition of the stamp duty had made the financial success of a Liberal newspaper more certain, and Frederic Joseph Nichols began to publish the “Blackburn Weekly Times" on June 2nd, 1855, a four page paper with five columns to a page.  According to the editorial, “The want of an organ by the Liberal Party has long been felt…..the present – the advent of a reform in stamp regulations – will prove a most auspicious opportunity for commencing operations.  The Blackburn Weekly Times will be essentially Liberal in its politics.  The circulation was around 3,000 initially, but gradually increased, making the paper a very popular advertising medium. 

In the 1850s there was a marked increase in civic pride among Blackburn citizens.  The town became a borough in 1851, the Public Library Acts were adopted in 1853, Corporation Park opened in 1857, and the Infirmary a year later.  The working hours had been reduced, and libraries, reading rooms and Athenaeums opened for the working class, while there were Mechanics Institutes at Blackburn and Livesey.  All these movements were reflected in the local press, while educational institutions helped to increase sales, as did the Subscription Newsroom in the Town Hall.

The title of the Liberal newspaper was changed to the Blackburn Times in 1861; the size of both papers was increased during the next decade and the Times installed new printing machinery operated by steam in order to meet the demand for extra copies.  The Cotton Famine during the American Civil War led to a shortage of rags for making paper, alternative sources of raw material being found in esparto grass and wood pulp.

The two papers continued their co-existence into the 1870s.  The Times continued to increase in circulation, and installed a new printing press in 1875, introducing a longer page at the same time.  The Standard changed its publication day to Saturday, so that it was on the streets at the same time as its rival, and increased in size to eight pages.  This gave space for extended coverage of such matters as Mayoral Balls, or topics currently being discussed in the town, while a literary page was a regular feature.  By subscribing to Reuter's and other news agencies, they were also able to report promptly on foreign news stories.  The advertising of national remedies, nerve tonics and eye drops was also stepped up.  In the late 1870s an experiment was tried of distributing portraits of local celebrities with the Standard, on good quality paper suitable for framing, a biographical sketch being printed in the text of the paper.

The most significant development in the world of Blackburn journalism during the 1880s was the establishment of a local daily paper.  At the start of the decade, the Blackburn Times had increased its page width to 7 columns in order to accommodate the increasing amount of advertising matter, but the style and layout continued unaltered.  The success of the Blackburn Olympic teams in the Football Association Cup in 1883, and of Rovers in the next few years increased local interest in football and sporting matters.  For important matches played at some distance from the town, throngs of people waited outside the offices of the Blackburn Times in Corporation Street waiting for the half-time result to be posted on the windows.  Victorious teams were met at the Station and taken on a triumphant tour by wagonette, accompanied by the local brass band.  The local matches were all reported in the press.

The arrival of The Northern Daly Telegraph on October 26, 1886 was prompted by a rail journey made earlier in the year by journalist T.P. Ritzema.  Unable to purchase an evening paper at any station in East Lancashire, he saw that there was an opening for such a venture, and the logical place to establish the paper would be Blackburn.

The success of the Telegraph meant that national news stores had been covered by the time that the weeklies were printed, so there was no need of them in the columns of the Times and Standard except as a summary of events.  The weekly papers thus became more local in coverage and reflective in tone.
The popularity of the Telegraph combined with a feeling of dissatisfaction among local Conservatives at the way the Standard was reporting their affairs – it was run by a Preston firm, with no local representation – prompted local Conservatives to start a daily and weekly paper which would reflect their views, and be more under direct control.  So August 29, 1887 the first issue of the Blackburn Evening Express appeared, of four pages with the usual front cover of adverts.

Mr George Whiteley was especially pleased, as he had been subsidising the Standard to the extent of £300 a year, and was still dissatisfied with its performance.  The first issue of the sister weekly paper, The Blackburn Weekly Express, appeared on Saturday 3 September, 1887, Mr W. A. Abram moving from the Times to edit the new paper.  The Jubilee of the accession of Queen Victoria, celebrated in 1897, was a time to cover the remarkable story of the growth of Blackburn over fifty years.  Other retrospective features covered shorter periods, such as a review of the previous summer's cricket in the autumn.  These developments were pioneered in Blackburn by the Weekly Express, which also introduced a historical column – a particular historical topic relating to the Blackburn area would be covered by the editor, sometimes extending over several weeks.  In addition, readers sent in their own material, which was then printed in the column.

The other papers could not hope to match Mr Abram, with his unrivalled local historical knowledge, but the Standard started a topographical series of the Ribble Valley by its editor, W. H. Burnett, and also serialised a novel of factory life, by J. Monk Foster.  These had proved to be very popular feature since the mid 1880s, around which date a children's page was also started.  The Blackburn Times serialised “Bits of Old Blackburn" with illustrations by Charles Haworth, and text by J. G. Shaw and William Hulme.  They also had a very strong team of Lancashire dialect writers, “Jack o' Ann's", “Tom o'Dick o'Bob's", “Aker Whitt" and others.  Its historical writing could not equal in depth the Blackburn Weekly Express.

Blackburn now had two daily and three weekly papers, which was too much for all but the most avid of to digest.  The first casualty was the Standard, which was bought out by the management of the Express in 1888, the combined Blackburn Standard and Weekly Express appearing on October 6th.  The title of the daily paper changed to Lancashire Evening Express at the same period.

The Blackburn Standard and Express announced in December 1880 that it would shortly be bringing out a larger edition, with eight columns to a page.  The first issue with wider pages came out on January 24, 1891.  Advertisements now occupied three full pages – the products had a more familiar look, with Horlicks, Malted Milk, Mazawattee tea, and Sunlight soap.  The editor assured his readers that the old features would be retained, and that the historian of Blackburn would “as usual contribute those historical papers for which he is so well known."  Fashion, literature, art, drama and music, as well as sporting and religious affairs would all be covered.

The Times responded to this by increasing the length of the page to 25 inches, following this up with a new rotary press in December 1892 which could print 16,000 copies in time for distribution on Saturday morning.

However, the palm for printing speed went to the Northern Daily Telegraph.  Their first presses could produce 40,000 copies per hour, but when new offices were opened at the corner of High Street and Railway Road in 1895, the plant included 13 machines for type setting, and two Annand presses which turned out 80,000 copies every hour.  The weeklies by contrast only needed to operate at a printing speed of 10,000 copies an hour.

The speed with which the presses operated, and the large number of copies produced, which was a national phenomenon, as well as a local one, created a demand for paper suitable for newspapers.  Termed newsprint, this was manufactured by many of the local paper mills, including the Star and the Sun. In fact, it was said that the bulk of Britain's newsprint came from within a five mile radius of Blackburn.

The number of illustrations in the paper was increasing through the 1890s.  The Charles Haworth illustrations had been an outstanding success in the Times and were followed up with a series on “Picturesque Places around Blackburn".  Other items with pictures were biographies and features on rural life, but the fashion articles were not illustrated at first.

After the death of Mr Abram in May 1894, the fortunes of the Conservative papers declined.  By 1899, the proprietors found the competition from the Telegraph and a Preston daily, the Lancashire Daily Post, which was owned by the same company as the Times, and had opened an office in Blackburn, too strong, so the Evening Express ceased publication on March 3rd, a fact which was not commented on in the other journals, but which did not go unnoticed by their owners, for on October 7th, 1899, the Blackburn Weekly Telegraph was launched by Mr Ritzema.  The editor said that the spirit and policy of the Northern Daily Telegraph would be found in the weekly, adding “We have come to stay, and ask only to be judged by our work".  The paper was eight pages, eight columns to a page.  It included gossipy paragraphs and snippets of information under the names “Tatler" and “M.A.P.".  The influence of Alfred Harmsworth, whose Daily Mail was changing the nature of popular journalism, can be clearly detected here.  One of its best known contributors was Luke Walmsley, who wrote historical reminiscences under his own name, and also topical articles signed “Civicus".

The Northern Daily Telegraph printed several editions each day, altering the main story as news developed, for example during the course of wage negotiations in the cotton industry.  These editions were known as “First Pink", “Special Pink", etc., and were originally printed on pink-tinted paper.  An event of national importance, such as the relief of Mafeking on May 18, 1900 would see a special edition on sale.  The large amount of local advertisements often resulted in a 16 page paper, and although the Telegraph congratulated itself that “We have no poet's corner" still found room to serialise two novels.

The early 1900s marked the revival in Liberal fortunes in the country, with Liberal administration under Campbell-Bannerman, and later, H.H. Asquith.  The fortunes of the Conservative press in Blackburn sank, and the Blackburn Weekly Telegraph ceased publication on June 25, 1904.  The end came when Tom Weston, the Manager, was appointed to a similar post in India, on the “Pioneer".  Staying on a few weeks to wind up the company's affairs, he left behind a town with no conservative voice in the press, but a strong one on the Council, with 43 out of 55 seats.  The paper, like the old Standard of 1888 had got out step with Conservative opinion in the town.

A new attempt to start a Conservative paper was made in December, 1905, and publication of the Blackburn Gazette started on December 30.  Its advocacy of tariff reform, meetings and speeches being reported at length, was out of sympathy with the free-trade views of most manufacturers, as well as the bulk of operatives who were its potential market.  The quality of writing was inferior to its rivals, the only contributor of note being E.H. Page on musical topics.  The paper remained small, and seemed poor value in comparison with the Blackburn Times, which by the same date was twelve pages long, with total of ninety columns of news and features.

The Weekly Telegraph by this date also had its own loyal readership, who liked its more modern style and detailed coverage of events.  The gap between the demise of the Standard and Express and the birth of the new Gazette was another factor which told against the paper.  Many former Standard readers would have switched to another paper, and have no particular wish to change to one whose success could not be assured.  It was therefore no great surprise when the Blackburn Gazette foundered on October 7, 1911.

The main technical development in the early 20th Century was the introduction of half-tone blocks capable of reproducing a photograph in a newspaper, these were used sparingly at first, as an accompaniment to a specially important article but by 1910 there was a special page of photographs.  The placing of photographs now played an important part in the appearance of the newspaper.

The Blackburn Times expanded to sixteen pages in 1913, with a total of 96 columns, but the expansion was short-lived, for there were restrictions on the amount of space and inferior paper to contend with during the years of the First World War from 1914 to 1918.

The end of the First World War was followed by a boom which lasted until 1920.  There was a sharp recession in 1921, with a coal strike, large numbers of unemployed, and wage reductions in most trades.  Early in 1922, the newspaper proprietors ……..which to reduce wages in the printing side of the industry.  Unable to reach agreement with the union, the dispute was referred to an industrial court, which recommended a reduction of three shillings (15p) from July, with further reductions spread over the next year to a total of 12s.6d. (62 1/2p) The members of the union rejected the proposal after a ballot, with the result that there was a strike from July 22nd, which lasted until August 17, when men returned to work at a lower wage.

The following year saw changes at the Northern Daily Mail which led to the discontinuation of the Weekly Telegraph.  In June 1923 new high speed presses were installed which could print 12 pages at a time.  At the same time, the number of columns was increased to seven, and the size of the newspaper varied from day to day according to the advertisements or news features in hand.  Many of the items from the last Weekly Telegraph of June 16, 1923 were transferred to the Northern Daily Telegraph of Saturday June 23, 1923, which became a “week-end" paper but still retained its old price of a penny.  These included the next instalment, Chapter 20 of the serialised novel.

The Blackburn Times widened the columns, so that there were six to a page, and the paper was increased to sixteen pages.  With a longer time in which to prepare half-tone blocks, the Times could give high quality illustrations, and also include more of them.  The paper also ran an important historical series on "The Church in Blackburnshire" by Rev. J.S.B. Wallis.

The Blackburn papers were halted in May 1926 by the General Strike which began at Midnight on Monday May 3rd, being called off on Wednesday May 12th.  No Blackburn Times was issued on May 8th, though arrangements were in hand for a reduced four page issue on the 15th when the news of the end of the strike came through.  The Telegraph issued a duplicated sheet during the emergency.

The Inveresk Paper Co., a large group with interests in pulp mills, printing and publishing, as well as controlling the largest group of paper mills in the country, took control of the Blackburn Times in July 1927, when they bought out Toulmin's, who owned the Blackburn Times, Preston Guardian, Lancashire Daily Post and Burnley News.  The newspaper side of the group's activities became Provincial Newspapers. Management of individual papers remained largely unchanged with George Toulmin and G.F, Toulmin as Managing Directors.  Tom Shaw still edited the Blackburn Times, which retained the old layout, with advertisements on the front page and headlines only about half an inch high, although somewhat bolder in typeface.

The Blackburn papers continued reporting and commenting on the news during the years of the depression and decline of the cotton industry, which was chronicled in the Times in a special series of articles.  The Telegraph was still publishing serial novels.  “Poison Unknown", a mystery story was running through the paper just before war was declared on September 3rd, 1939.

On September 7th there was a change in layout of the Telegraph, advertisements being removed from the front page and replaced by news.  This was the first major change in 53 years.  With the cinemas and places of entertainment closed down, the editors felt that most of the readers would be anxious to read the latest war developments – the Germans at the gates of Warsaw, Blackburn's first prosecutions for breaches of the blackout regulations, and speculation on how soon food rationing would start.

During 1940 the quantity of newsprint supplied to the papers was restricted, and the rationing grew tighter in 1941 which resulted in the Telegraph being published in a small format from April 1st, 1941 with columns 15 ½ inches long, and pages five columns wide.  The Blackburn Times kept the large size, but reduced the number of pages.  Publication date was changed to Friday, and the layout modernised with larger headlines. 

Scarcity of newsprint continued after the end of the war in 1945.  The Times reduced the column width, giving nine columns to a page.  With the ending of paper restrictions in 1953, the decision t was taken to modernise the layout of the Blackburn Times, and a new style of paper appeared on November 6th, 1953, enlarged to twelve pages, and for the first time, news on the front page.  The change of layout had been under consideration for some time, but “deferred until we could be sure that the newsprint position enabled us to give more pages."  At last it seemed that wartime rationing and peacetime shortages were finally behind us.  The Times was further modernised in 1957, with larger headlines in varying typefaces, including the use of sans serf.  The layout is essentially the same today, although the paper is printed in Preston.

The Telegraph was purchased by Lord Kemsley in 1945, and continued in tabloid size until Saturday, November 8, 1958, the name having been changed to Northern Evening Telegraph on October 15, 1956 and shortened to Evening Telegraph on December 12th of the same year.

The advantage of changing to a larger size was that there was no need to break off a story and resume it on another page.  There was ample room for all features of the old paper, and other ones could be added.  The Kemsley Group was taken over by Thomson Allied Newspapers in 1960. In 1963, the paper was renamed the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, being given a more modern look, with full coverage of local, national and international news.  For the first time, editorial matter was moved from the centre page, so that comment could be made alongside the report of a story.

Some Early Blackburn Printers

Hemingway & Nuttall, 1780s – 1799

As well as the usual sermons and pamphlets, they embarked upon an ambitious publishing programme of Bibles and local history.  Continued as Hemingway & Crook, 1800 – 1805.

A, Telfer, 1792 – 1810

His output included pamphlets and a short-lived journal, the New Blackburn Magazine of Knowledge & Pleasure in May, 1793.

J. Waterworth, 1793-1810
Founded the Blackburn Mail on May 29th, 1793 which was produced until his death in 1800 and continued by his widow, Elizabeth until 1805.

Joseph Hanby, 1793 – 1818

Took up publication of the Blackburn Mail in 1807 and continued this until his death, when he was succeeded by his Widow, Elizabeth until 1829.

R. Wood, 1819 – 1835

Printed pamphlets, and later published the Blackburn Alfred from 1832 – 1835,

J. Burrell, 1832-1835

Printed various sermons, and the Blackburn Gazette up to 1839.

J. Walkden, 1834 – 1864

Founded the Blackburn Standard, Conservative newspaper, in 1835, as well as printing the usual pamphlets.

W.H. Morrice, 1836 – 1842

His output was pamphlets and sermons.

W. & C. Tiplady, 1837 – 1841

Charles Tiplady, well-known diarist and radical politician, continued the business to the early 1870s

Edward Wharton, 1852 – 1866

Ran a printing business at the Stamp Office, Church Street.

Early Blackburn Magazines

New Blackburn Magazine of Knowledge & Pleasure.

Published for a short period in 1793, was pre-occupied with the French Revolution and naval matters.

The Student's Companion

Was published half-yearly by T. Rogerson from October 1822 to around 1823.  Contained numerous mathematical puzzles, a selection of original poetry, word games and charades.

The Blackburn Mirror

A fortnightly magazine which was started on July 31, 1830 by H. Hargreaves, Printer, Northgate.  Included theology, literature, science, and useful arts. 

The Student

This was an attempt to provide a literary and educational magazine to cover the interests of members of the “Mutual Improvement Societies" which were starting up in Blackburn. It was founded in February, 1858 by Frederic J. Nichols, proprietor of the Blackburn Weekly Times.

Blackburn Newspapers

Blackburn Mail: May 29, 1793 to August 12, 1829

Blackburn Gazette: August 22, 1829 to April 22, 1843

Blackburn Alfred: August 6, 1832 to January 7, 1835

Blackburn Standard: January 21, 1835 to June 25, 1904.  Merged with Blackburn Weekly Express the first combined paper October 6, 1888

Blackburn Mercury: June 17, 1843 to July 11, 1846

Blackburn Patriot: December 24, 1859 to March 29, 1873

Blackburn Times: June 2, 1855 to

Blackburn Weekly Express: September 3, 1887 to September 29, 1888.  The management bought out the Standard and combined the two.

Blackburn Weekly Telegraph: October 7, 1889 to June 16, 1923

Blackburn Evening Express: August 29, 1887 to March 30, 1899. Name changed to Lancashire Evening Express, 1890 and to Lancashire Daily Express and Standard, June 1895.

Northern Daily Telegraph: October 26, 1886 to date.  Name changed to Evening Telegraph in 1956 and to the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, September, 1963.​

​​back to top​​