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
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.
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.
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.''
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.