Whitehaven News Centenary Book

P H A S E   I.      1852 - 1878

THE WHITEHAVEN NEWS was founded in July, 1852, one hundred years ago, by William Alsop, bookseller, stationer, and printer. His shop was at 26, King Street, Whitehaven, the premises now occupied by the Whitehaven Divisional Conservative Association. He had a small printing plant in Chapel Street, easy of access from the rear of the premises.

William Alsop, the elder, was a Quaker. His two sons, William, the elder, born 1829, and Michael, born 1833, were educated at the Quaker School, Wigton, Cumberland. There were at least three branches of the Alsop family, two in Whitehaven and one in Setmurthy, near Cockermouth. All were brought up in the Quaker faith and some married into Quaker families in the country.

William Alsop, the elder son, does not appear to be one of them. It was customary for the Quakers to disown those who married a non-Quaker. That is probably why no further record of him is to be found in those circles.

The records of theWhitehaven District Registrar go back no further than 1837. Even so, a search for the registration of his marriage was fruitless, so he must have married outside the district.

The consequences of his marriage were calamitous, for he had nine children, eight of whom died before the age of six years; the ninth, a son, reached the age of 24 and died in London. His brother, Michael, married twice. His first wife was Elizabeth Miers. She died on May 3rd, 1866, at the age of 31. His second wife died on October 30th, 1900. No other details about her are readily available. Both wives died at Liverpool, where Michael Alsop worked and resided after severing his connection with Whitehaven. The entry in the marriage register of Michael's first marriage describes him as son of William Alsop, printer.

That, briefly, is the domestic background of the Alsop brothers. In the Directories of later years William is described as a journalist. It is with him we are mainly concerned, for he was later to apply himself with vigour, courage, and great foresight to the the development of The Whitehaven News in its early years.

Upon leaving school, at the age of 14, both sons entered the family business. When the newspaper venture was launched William would be twenty-three and Michael nineteen years of age. For a few years their father remained at the helm and then retired, leaving the business to his sons jointly, who entered into a deed of partnership.

At first The Whitehaven News was published at irregular intervals as the Alsops felt disposed. None of the issues for the years 1852 to 1857 inclusive can be found. Even in the year 1859 copies for these years were not easy to obtain, for, in the issue dated March 31st, the printers were advertising for them and offering a reward for their recovery. Whatever the result of these efforts, none of these issues can be found to-day.

Light is,however, shed upon the frequency of publication in an issue, No. 52, a single copy of which is recorded under the date of May 28th, 1857. The full title of the paper was then


and it was issued monthly.

On October 14th, 1858, the title was changed to


The paper retained its then existing format of four pages of six columns, the size of the page being 21 inches by 17 inches. The adoption of the all-embracing title just mentioned could have no other indication but that of more changes to come. The following year, on June 16th, 1859, a further announcement was made - that, from the following week, June 23rd the paper would be enlarged to 28 columns, which would be longer than those previously published, the effect being to increase the overall size of the paper by one page. This would mean an all-round increase in composing room facilities and probably a larger printing machine with consequent increase in staff.

From small beginnings the paper was thus making steady progress under the guidance and vigorous handling of William Alsop. Less than two years later, in March, 1861, a further announcement was made that the paper was to be again enlarged to 48 columns, on eight pages, and, simultaneously, the circulation figures were boldly announced, showing that 3,700 copies were sold each week. In those days eight pages of six columns would all be set, letter by letter, by hand. The news service to fill it would be widespread and very painstaking. The reporters would have to travel far and wide on foot to gather it in, and bigger machinery would be necessary to produce a paper of that size. A circulation of 3,700 copies per week in those days was excellent and, from its growth, William Alsop would derive inspiration and faith in its future.

Most, if not all, of the profits he derived from the undertaking must have been ploughed back into his expanding business. That this policy was correct is indicated by a further announcement that, in June, 1861, the circulation had again increased to 4,000 copies per week. So far, so good, but William Alsop was a restless man. He never allowed the grass to grow under his feet, and there must have been a great danger that he would over-reach his capacity, both physical and financial. It was then that the following important announcement was made:

"Removal of the NEWS Office: On Thursday next, June 13th, 1861, the NEWS Office will be removed to No. 43, Roper Street, the premises adjoining the Theatre"

These premises, greatly altered and enlarged, have been the home of THE WHITEHAVEN NEWS ever since. William Alsop thus took the first step in trying to separate the newspaper from the bookselling and stationery business managed by his brother, Michael. Only the office of the paper was moved to Roper Street, where William Alsop took up residence, the paper continued to be printed in Chapel Street for many years.

In the Chapel Street works a press with greater capacity was installed, which was driven by a steam engine made at Lowca, near Whitehaven, by Fletcher Jennings and Company, the then famous engineers noted for their building of railway locomotives. Production was then speeded up to meet the growing demand for the paper and, from this time onward, all parcels were sent away by the first trains on Thursday mornings.

During the year 1862 another bold experiment was tried by publishing The Whitehaven News twice a week. First on Mondays - later changed to Tuesdays - and, of course, on Thursdays. This would mean a further considerable expansion in

the news gathering services and in setting capacity. Both editions carried the latest national and foreign news, Parliamentary reports, market information and sporting intelligence supplied by The Electric and International Telegraph Company, a forerunner of The Exchange Telegraph Company Limited. By this time the circulation had reached no fewer than 6,000 copies a week. The Tuesday edition, however, could never had paid its way, but it was well tried before it was finally dropped in October, 1865. When this happened the Thursday edition was again enlarged to 56 columns.

Up to now the pace set by William Alsop had been fast indeed. There had been no slackening. For over seven years the relentless energy put into the paper had produced the most remarkable results. Very costly, no doubt, but inspiring. Meanwhile, Michael, his brother, it must be remembered, was a full partner in the joint undertaking, and it is safe to assume that the development of the newspaper had taken place at the expense of the bookselling and stationery business, which was Michael's concern. A break was bound to come, and, in this instance, it involved Michael. Immediately prior to the increase to 56 columns just mentioned the partnership was dissolved by mutual consent on July 9, 1864. From that date William Alsop carried on alone.

Michael severed his connection with Whitehaven and went to Liverpool, where he represented for many years, a firm famous for the manufacture of printing inks. He died there on November 29th,1902, at the age of 69.

In the year 1864, and for some five years afterwards, William Alsop lived on the premises at 43, Roper Street, Whitehaven. Three of his children died there: Mary Burgess, July 16th, 1867, aged 5 months; William, August 12th, 1867, aged 1 year and 7 months, and Laura Constance, aged 5 years and 2 months.

The overwhelming tragedy must have borne very heavily upon so restless a spirit as William Alsop and his enduring wife. It is certain that the associations of 43, Roper Street were then intolerable, so they removed their residence (1873-74) to No. 14, Howgill Street, Whitehaven. At their new home two more children were born and they, too, died. They were Elizabeth Mattinson, October 14th, 1873, aged 7 months, and Florence Emeline, aged 2 years and 2 months. The domestic situation by this time must have become desperate so the luckless pair again moved toMillgrove, Moresby, where they lived for approximately two years, 1875-77. In 1878 they were back at No. 4, Cross Street, Whitehaven, the house in which William Alsop was born. There they remained for a while, by this time shattered by the recurrent griefs of a luckless marriage.

After the break-up of the partnership the imprint on the newspaper shows William Alsop, at his different addreses, as sole proprietor of the paper. In 1876-77, it is recorded, during his period of residence at Millgrove, Moresby, that his coach and pair could be seen outside the premises waiting far into the night on Wednesdays until William Alsop had seen the paper "put to bed". Then, with his mind at rest, he would go home. In this period - 1876 -- William Alsop was elected Worshipful Master of Sun, Square, and Compasses Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of England, No. 119, of Whitehaven. the banquet upon his installation was a lavish affair, long remembered by those who were present.

The year 1878 was a fateful one - the year he returned to the house in which he was born. On October 31st the paper carried this imprint:

"Sole Proprietor William Alsop, residing at 4, Cross Street, Whitehaven"

For a few weeks longer a modified imprint appeared. On November 21st, 1878, his advertisement as bookseller and stationer, which always had its place in the paper, was withdrawn. That issue was also the last time William Alsop's name appeared on the imprint. It can be well imagined that the stresses and strains of newspaper life, particularly those connected with the depression following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, were too much for him when super-imposed on his domestic tragedies.

The following week, November 28th, 1878, the name of Robert Foster appeared on the imprint as proprietor for the first time. No comment on this important change appeared in the news columns. The matter could not, of course, be left there, but it was not until four weeks later that a leading article was published (December 26th, 1878) of which the following is an extract:

"THE WHITEHAVEN NEWS will, in future, be conducted and published by Robert Foster at the office of the paper, 26, King Street... Every effort will be made to retain for the NEWS the position it has so long occupied as the leading newspaper in West Cumberland."

What brought about this drastic change? William Alsop was not down and out, for almost immediately we find him bringing out THE CUMBERLAND WEEKLY NEWS AND FARMER'S CHRONICLE, which was subsequently sold, and later, THE WHITEHAVEN GUARDIAN and THE WHITEHAVEN HERALD. All these ventures had a short life. He then became manager and editor of a publication called THE WEST CUMBERLAND POST and, for a while, he served THE CUMBERLAND PACQUET. Finally he gave up newspapers and went to York, where he was traveller for the great printing

firm of Waterlow and Sons, Ltd., who now print the 'Radio Times'. In this capacity he frequently returned to Whitehaven and is described as sociable, ardent, cheery, kindly, and openhanded.

Another of his chiuldren died while he was at York, Catherine Amelia, November 3rd, 1881, aged 3 years and 2 months. Two more children died young, where it is not known, for no address was published in the obituary notices. They were Charles Henry, April 2nd, 1884, aged 1 year, and, on August 18, 1884, an "Infant Daughter". William Alsop returned again to Whitehaven and lived for a while at No. 8, Scotch Street, where he is described as a journalist, probably doing free-lance work. It is not known how many years he remained there.

In the early nineties he went to Uxbridge, London, to reside with the one surviving member of his family of nine children. He was Walter Reginald Worsley Alsop.

Fate pursued William Alsop to the end, for, while he was staying there, Walter died on June 4, 1895, at the age of 24.

William Alsop survived him for a further 10 years and continued to live at Uxbridge. On February 23rd, 1905, the great William himself laid down his working tools, and, after a short illness, died at the age of 76.

Thus ends the first phase in a century of newspaper history in outline.

Prologue <<    >> Interlude

© Barb Baker