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EVER since the foundation of a free press was laid just over 300 years ago, there has been a Berrow's Worcester Journal - preceded for a short time by the Worcester Post-man, which begat the Journal. The Journal's history mirrors the history of Great Britain - the early years gave predominance to national and international news. With the advent of radio and television the Journal gradually switched to providing local news and commentary.

A PLACE IN HISTORY

Worcester News: Static HTML image

To Worcester belongs the distinction of being served by the oldest surviving newspaper in the World. BERROW'S WORCESTER JOURNAL has appeared each week with unfailing regularity for more than 270 years. It was published irregularly from 1690 until 1709, the period following the deposing of James II which had seen the beginning of a free press in this country. Before that time all printing had been rigorously controlled and newspapers suppressed except for those publishing official government announcements. Newspapers could tell the people what was going on, and for those in authority, whether the Stuart monarchs or Oliver Cromwell's dictatorship, this might be awkward. So such a channel of information was blocked.

When finally the fight for the freedom of the Press had been won, newspapers sprung up rapidly in London and the provinces, the Worcester Journal among them. The first printing press was established in Worcester as early as 1548, about 100 years after Johann Gutenberg's invention of movable type, and several books were printed on it between 1548 and 1553. The establishment of 1690 as the date of the first publication of the news-sheet which was to become Berrow's Worcester Journal is referred to by Valentine Green, the 18th century historian of Worcester, who records that a newspaper was established in the city in that year when William and Mary, newly on the throne, needed support in Worcester which had always been notably Stuart in its sympathies.

There are no existing copies of this news-sheet and the history of the paper does not become clear until 1709 when Stephen Bryan became the first proprietor, printer and editor of the Worcester paper. Bryan served his apprenticeship in London and took up his freedom in 1706. During the three years that elapsed before he took over the Worcester paper he was probably working as a journey-man. One difficulty Stephen Bryan had was that he could not set up business within the limits of Worcester without becoming a freeman at a cost of £20. He therefore took a house on the south side of the Cross Keys, Sidbury in St Michael's Parish, a part of the city then having ecclesiastical exemptions.

For a time at least he must have been his own editor, compositor, printer and publisher. One of his successors said: ''If we may judge him by his paper, he was a modest, quiet fellow, honest, outspoken and plain of speech and yet carrying an unconscious assumption of knowledge in his manner.'' He gave the paper the title of the Worcester Post-man. It carried on one side of its title an engraving of Queen Anne, plump but dignified, seated on her throne, and on the other side was the city coat of arms. In the issue following the Queen's death, a wood block of the now familiar galloping postman, blowing his horn to proclaim his approach, was used. (This incidentally, was not an original idea, being lifted from a paper called The Postman published in London). The paper was sold over a wide area in the Midlands from Gloucester and Tewkesbury to Bridgnorth, Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Warwick.

From the outset Bryan gave no local news at all. Worcester people wanted news of the world outside the city, of war, politics and Parliament. A transmitter of these depatches was the renowned writer of newsletters, Dyer. The paper cost 2d at first but in 1712 a stamp duty was imposed on newspapers - a halfpenny on a small sheet and a penny on a larger one. This stopped many papers altogether, but Bryan increased the size of his paper to five pages, a half-sheet being added, printed in pica, a slightly small type than in the other four pages, and increased the cost to 2 1/2d. There was generally only two advertisements but within six years, these had increased to an average of eight for which half-a-crown was charged. The imprint of one of these early papers runs as follows: ''Printed and sold by S Bryan, next the Cross Keys in Sidbury, and also by a woman, every Saturday from 10 in the morning till 4 in the afternoon near St Martin's Church in the Corn Market where all country people may be furnished.''

Bryan also sold patent medicines, a side line associated with many of the early provincial newspapers. His goods included an elixir for the dropsy, powder for gout, Hypo drops, Royal Chemical wash ball and Dr Egton's Balsamick.


Full Chapter List
Chapter 1: A Place in History
Chapter 2: Enter Mr Berrow
Chapter 3: Fatalities in the City
Chapter 4: First Woman Editor
Chapter 5: Mayoral Conflict
Chapter 6: To The Present Day
Chapter 7: Newspaper History

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