Whitehaven News Centenary Book

P H A S E   II.
1878 - 1918

ROBERT FOSTER,   Proprietor and Editor.

ROBERT FOSTER was the first-born of a family of four sons and two daughters. He came to Whitehaven from York to take charge of THE CUMBERLAND PACQUET, a Conservative newspaper, upon the retirement of Robert Gibson, its editor. To his memory Robert Gibson's sister built the existing church of St. Nicholas', Whitehaven. She was a spinster and defrayed the whole cost of that splendid structure.

Robert Foster later transferred his work to The Whitehaven News and worked with William Alsop. When he gave up the proprietorship, Robert Foster, as has been shown, took over the destinies of the paper as sole proprietor and for three years he was entirely responsible for it in that capacity.

On December 9th, 1881, The Whitehaven News was registered as a private limited company under the Companies Act. The first directors were Mr. William McGowan, Mr. William Burnyeat, Mr. R. Jefferson, and Mr. Robert Foster.

Mr. Burnyeat, Millgrove, Moresby, was the company's first chairman. Robert Foster was duly appointed editor. Politically this company was Liberal throughout, and, consequently, the Directors got along well together. Thus The Whitehaven News became a Liberal newspaper, to which political faith it has adhered ever since.

The Conservatives in those days found themselves without a newspaper to represent them, consequently there followed a number of years of lively newspaper competition which brought William Alsop back to Whitehaven. The Conservatives backed him to run an entirely new political venture. THE WHITEHAVEN FREE PRESS AND FARMERS' CHRONICLE. That soon failed, only to give way to another Conservative effort called THE CUMBERLAND POST, which was produced on the site where the Whitehaven General Post Office now stands. 'The Post' lasted a few years, cost a lot of money, and ultimately faded out. Meanwhile The Cumberland Pacquet was satisfying itself with nominal publication and selling a few copies each week to keep the title alive.

This method continued for a while, until the Conservatives, still without the essential means of political propaganda, formed a new company and took over The Cumberland Pacquet. Mr. W. S. Harper, who had been with The Whitehaven News, was made editor, and was given a staff of reporters and a manager.

Under varying degrees of difficulty THE PACQUET continued publishing for many years without assailing the growing strength of The Whitehaven News, and it was not until March 25th, 1915, that it gave up the ghost.

Meanwhile Robert Foster continued to apply himself as editor, part proprietor, and manager to improving and consolidating the position of The Whitehaven News.

He was a quiet and reserved man, yet an able editor, who took a keen interest in his work, particularly the literary side of it; that, and perhaps agriculture, were the two subjects which engrossed him. He inherited a taste for agriculture from his family connections in Yorkshire, and for many years he was a familiar figure-on all the show fields of Cumberland and Lancashire. He consequently did much to broaden the outlook of the paper and, throughout the countryside, the foundations he so well and truly laid carried The Whitehaven News into the farms and hamlets over a wide and scattered area of Cumberland, Westmorland, and North Lancashire. Robert Foster was a Churchman. He had a leaning towards political independence and, as a journalist, he was always an Asquithian Liberal, faithful to the Party. In the year 1881 an unsuccessful effort was made to purchase premises in Lowther Street, Whitehaven. In June, 1882, negotiations were opened for the purchase of THE WHITEHAVEN FREE PRESS, then owned by The Whitehaven Newspaper and Printing Co. Ltd., but it was not until July 39th, 1883, that they were successfully carried through.

On April 8th, 1882, it is interesting to learn that Messrs. R. F. Miller and Co., chartered accountants, of Ramsden Square, Barrow-in-Furness, were duly appointed auditors to the Whitehaven News, Ltd. In this capacity they have an unbroken record to the present day. Seventy years of professional service must be a record of which they and the present proprietors of The Whitehaven News can be justly proud.

On September 4th, 1882, a branch office was opened at Workington - No. 53, Pow Street - and THE WORKINGTON NEWS, a new venture, was started. This was followed, on August 22nd, 1885, by the opening of another branch office at Maryport and the first publication of THE MARYPORT NEWS. October 29th in the same year saw the first issue of THE CUMBERLAND EVENING NEWS.

There were thus four weekly newspapers, namely
THE WHITEHAVEN NEWS................................Thursday
THE WHITEHAVEN FREE PRESS.......................Saturday
THE WORKINGTON NEWS...............................Saturday
THE MARYPORT NEWS....................................Saturday
  being published from the head office, as well as the evening paper.

The activity must have been feverish, to say the least of it, in those days. It was too much, however, and the evening paper was discontinued on December 24th in the same year. Of the others, there is a different story. They lasted well and have stayed the course. The steeply rising costs at the end of the first World War, 1914-18, were responsible for the amalgamation under the comprehensive title of THE WEST CUMBERLAND NEWS, which to-day carries their names in the heading as sub-titles.

In those days Robert Foster had surrounded himself with a team of men who were making a great contribution to the steady development of The Whitehaven News and whose names are bound up in the paper's history; all of them were destined to serve it long and faithfully for over half a century.

  They were:

  George Stalker, leader writer;
  John Jenkinson, reader;
  Sam Shepherd, foreman;
  James Dawson Smith, compositor, later foreman;
  Joseph Wear and
  Joseph Armstrong, compositors.

They were men who saw the paper through all conditions, sometimes of great complexity, while, on the Board of Directors, William McGowan, father of the present chairman of the Board of Directors, was a tower of strength. His public activities were amazing. Forty years a Magistrate, 40 years a County Councillor, 49 years a member of the Board of Guardians, 62 years a trustee of the Savings Bank, 50 years a voluntary organist, 49 years a Director of The Whitehaven News Ltd., and, in 1886, he succeeded his brother John, as superintendent of the Congregational Sunday School.

**The following biographical sketch, written at the time of his death on June 8th, 1931, is worth recording**


On the night of Monday, June 8, 1931, the death occurred at his residence "Sorbie," Whitehaven, of Mr. William McGowan. Thus, at the venerable age of 89, passed one of the most outstanding personalities Cumberland has produced. Industrialist, public man, philanthropist, musician, politician; all these he was and something more, an out and out democrat. There were no class barriers where Mr. McGowan was concerned; he had friends in high places and friends in low places, and kept them all.

In his later years he was given the title, a title charged with reverence and respect, of Whitehaven's Grand Old Man.

The McGowan link with Whitehaven was first forged by two brothers, James and Andrew, who, when quite young, crossed to Whitehaven early in the 19th century from their birthplace, Garlieston, Wigtownshire, Scotland. James, who was born in 1798, was destined to become the founder of the Whitehaven family. His indentures as a cooper were signed on February 15, 1814, and later he and his brother established a timber and cooper's business in Whitehaven.

On July 25th, 1829, Mr. James McGowan married a daughter of Mr. John Stephenson, of Hawick, who was born in 1765, and subsequently migrated to Whitehaven. Mr. William McGowan, the youngest son of this marriage, was born on November 18th, 1841, and in course of time he and his brother, John Stephenson McGowan, succeeded to the timber business, which by dint of

considerable business ability had been built into a flourishing concern. Under Mr. William McGowan and his brother the firm continued to expand, another branch was opened at Maryport, and ultimately it had world-wide ramifications.


The first premises were in Scotch Street, on the site of the present Congregational Church, and they also had a timber yard at the top of Lowther Street. In 1872, when the Congregationalists were anxious to secure a site for their new church, Messrs, McGowan generously disposed of their timber yard at a price much below its actual value and removed to Coach Road, to the yard now occupied by Messrs. J. and W. Jackson, timber importers.

As the importation of timber and ships were so vitally interlinked, it was natural that Mr. McGowan should own and be financially interested in a number of the beautiful "wooden walls of old England" built by the then famous Whitehaven ship building yards. These brought timber to Whitehaven from America and other countries, and in these Mr. McGowan also made a number of adventurous voyages, his first being made at the age of 18. Had he not been destined for commerce, Mr. McGowan would have made an admirable sea captain. Possessed of magnificent physique, a nerve of iron, a cool, calculating brain, capable of making quick decisions, he loved the sea, and in later years could recount his experiences in racy, interesting vein.


A story which always amused his friends and which Mr. McGowan often told himself concerned the end of a voyage to America and back. Having promised a friend a roll of genuine Virginia tobacco, he had just clambered on to the Whitehaven quay from a vessel when he stumbled and out of his pocket rolled the tobacco, right in front of the nose of an Excise officer. Protestations were useless; he was immediately taken before a Bench of hastily summoned Magistrates - the Court was then held in the present Town Hall - and charged with smuggling.

The Magistrates, all of whom were personal friends of Mr. McGowan, greatly enjoyed the joke and imposed a fine of 5. Amid renewed laughter "the desperate smuggler" announced that he could not pay the fine until he had been home, whereupon a Magistrate handed over the money, and according to the time-honoured phrase then in vogue in the newspapers, "the proceedings then terminated." Mr. McGowan rose to become chairman of the Magistrates and sometimes humorously remarked that he had a soft spot for smugglers.

Mr. McGowan's retirement from the timber trade saw him pursue with characteristic vigour, foresight, and courage industrial activities he had previously taken up on the East Coast. There, he and several colleagues were pioneers in the establishment of the Carlton Iron Company and the Seaton Carew Iron Company. Mr. McGowan was also a director and chairman for some years of the Wyndham Mining Company, and the St. Helens Colliery Company, while he was financially interested in the old Maryport and Carlisle Railway. One of the oldest members of the Whitehaven Building Society, he served as arbitrator for a long period, and was also a director of the Whitehaven Gas company from 1907 to 1916.


As already inferred, the McGowan family have always been great upholders of the Congregational faith, and with the Whitehaven Church Mr. McGowan had a notable record of service, including membership extending over 71 years. His passing has reduced the few surviving Church members who, in 1874, celebrated the opening of the new church, in which the late Mr. Robert Burlington was the first to be married, and of which Ald. J. G. Oldfield was then an official. In March, 1876, Mr. W. Wilson, a founder of the Sunday School and its superintendent for 45 years, died, and was succeeded by Mr. John McGowan.

Ten years later Mr. John McGowan, who had also accepted the office of church secretary, also passed, and Mr. William McGowan, then the organist and choirmaster and a Sunday School teacher, was elected to the vacancy. Under his supervision the Sunday School made amazing progress; scholars attended from other churches, and industrial exhibitions held by them in 1880 and 1887 were great successes.


The electric lighting of the church was carried out at Mr. McGowan's expense in 1898, at the end of which year he completed 40 years as voluntary organist and choirmaster. To mark the occasion he was presented by the congregation with a silver tray and coffee service, matching and completing a tea service given on the occasion of his marriage. The office of organist and choirmaster Mr. McGowan resigned in 1902, but he still continued to play whenever his services were wanted until 1909, when a brass plate was attached to the organ commemorating the organist who had been its master for 50 years. He was also a deacon for a great number of years. December, 1914, the end of 28 years' service in that post, saw Mr. McGowan resign the Sunday School superintendency, to be

succeeded by Ald. J. G. OLDFIELD. Previous to this, Mr. MCGOWAN had taken a great interest in the establishment, by the Congregational Church, of the Bethel Mission, and he laid the foundation stone of that building, on July 26th, 1907. In 1919 he also presented to the church the present manse, No. 2, Corkickle.


All his life Mr. MCGOWAN was a lover of vocal and instru- mental music. A fine tenor, he sang on many platforms throughout Cumberland and he was widely recognised as a skillful organist. He was one of the promoters of the extremely popular "penny concerts" held in the Market Hall, Whitehaven, on Saturday nights. In those days there were few amusements apart from the public-houses, and these Saturday night concerts, given by local amateurs, at which the price of admission was a penny, aroused great enthusiasm.

In 1897 Mr. MCGOWAN was appointed the first local representative of the Associated Board of the Royal Academy and Royal College of Music, an office he held for 16 years, when he was succeeded by his son, Mr. James MCGOWAN. Politically, Mr. MCGOWAN was a life-long Liberal. He was one of the original members of the National Liberal Club in London, was president of the Whitehaven Liberal Associa- tion and the Hensingham Liberal Association for a very long period, and also filled that position in the old West Cumber- land Liberal Association for some time. He took part in many stirring political campaigns, and in 1900 rather than see the Tory candidate, the late Sir Augustus HELDER, allowed a "walk over", he came forward at the last minute as the Liberal nominee. Then the South African War was raging, Liberals were unpopular, and Mr. MCGOWAN was beaten, but his valuable work bore fruit in the 1906 election.


Mr. McGowan was a foundation member of the Cumberland County Council. He succeeded Sir Augustus Helder as an alderman in May, 1906, an office he continued to hold with conspicuous ability until his retirement in March, 1928. At Carlisle his contributions to the debates were always accorded good hearings, and frequently were the turning point in reaching a satisfactory decision. He was especially interested in the boys of the Cockermouth Industrical School, and frequently proferred sound advice and financial help at critical periods in their lives. Peculiarly enough, Mr.McGowan was never a member of the Whitehaven Town Council, but served for three years on the old Trustee Board, being elected by a then record majority, and also served as a member of theWhitehaven Harbour Board from 1900 to 1914, presiding over its deliberations from 1903.


Along with Mr. Robert Jefferson, who later became chairman of the Whitehaven Justices, Mr. McGowan was appointed a Magistrate in April, 1891, and was appointed chairman following the death of Mr. J. Gibson Dees in 1911, a position he filled until his resignation in 1930. A colleague then wrote the following appreciation:

"To those who attended the Whitehaven Police Court, the resignation of the Chairman of the Justices marked the end of an epoch. The scene in the retiring room was charged with emotion. For 40 long years William McGowan has been a Justice of the Peace, and for 19 years has presided over the Bench. I well remember the stir when he was appointed. The Bench was then the close preserve of the County Magnates and the advent of a Puritan Radical was an innova- tion.

He has still retained his Puritan outlook, and if his Radical views have mellowed and ripened with experience and age, yet he has always been a striking personality. His extensive local knowledge of men and his happy knack of remember- ing their Christian names has led to many an amusing episode, especially in the old days when Monday was occupied in dealing with the 'drunks.' In trying husband and wife cases how often by a few well directed remarks he has shamed the man into making a fresh start in life ! He was feared by publicans, but, after a stern hearing, he dealt out justice tempered with mercy. An over-zealous constable with a poor case got short shrift, as also did a garrulous advocate. After all, the law administered by Magistrates allows the defendant the benefit of the doubt. Children and weak women could always rely upon his tenderness of heart; but, to the habitual offender, he was caustic and ruthless. Taken all round we shall hardly see his like again. He leaves the Bench with the goodwill and affection of all his brother Magistrates, the solicitors, the police, and the public generally. In his own last words, 'What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.' He him- self did no less. After such a life nobly lived, we shall hold him ever in affection and esteem. He has been a really fine figure of a Whitehaven man in the forefront of our local affairs for two generations. That he may have a happy even- tide, like the glorious setting of the sun over the Solway which he loved, is the wish of all of us."

On the formation of the Cumberland Magistrates' Advis- ory Committee in 1910, he was appointed a member, and continued to serve until 1929, when he retired. From March, 1912, until his death, Mr. McGowan served as an Income Tax Commissioner, while he was appointed a member of the

Old Age Pensions Committee on its formation in 1908, and was elected chairman in September, 1911. After his retirement from the County Council he was co-opted a member of this committee in recognition of his long service and he still retained this office at the time of his death. Along with Mr. W. M. Watson, of Braystones, Mr. McGowan was the oldest member of the now defunct Whitehaven Board of Guardians, having first been appointed in 1887 and continuing to act until that authority gave place to the Public Assistance Committee in 1930 under the new Local Government Act. During his membership of the Board he was chairman of the Whitehaven Union Assessment Committee for a number of years, and also served on the Finance, House and other Committees.


Mr. McGowan was justifiably proud of the fact that he was the oldest Savings Bank Trustee in the North of England. He was appointed a manager of theWhitehaven Savings Bank on July 13th, 1869; was made a trustee on January 10th, 1899, and was elected president on May 23rd, 1917, an office which he still held at the time of his death.

Mr. McGowan was also a director and chairman of the old Bank of Whitehaven, and after the amalgamation with the District Bank, he continued to serve as a director until his retirement in 1930. Always keenly interested in education, Mr. McGowan was chairman of the Board of Governors of the Whitehaven County Grammar School for a number of years and regularly visited the school. About ten years ago he founded the McGowan scholarship, which has enabled promising students to proceed to the Universities. Few are aware of the vast amount of unseen work he performed in encouraging students and assisting them in their scholastic careers and in obtaining suitable employment.


Although never officially connected with the White- haven Hospital, it had in Mr. McGowan one of its most generous benefactors. In addition to other substantial donations, he first endowed a bed in the old building, and bore the whole expense of equip- ping the electrical department, then one of the most modern in the North, after the transference to the Castle premises. Until quite recently, he unfailingly visited the hospital every Sunday morning, and many patients will have recollections of kindly talks with the veteran public man.

During the last Royal visit in 1927, Mr. McGowan was presented to the Prince of Wales (now the Duke of Windsor) at the hospital, thus claiming a distinction of having been presented to three heirs to the British Crown - he was presented to the late King Edward when Prince of Wales, and to King George V before he succeeded to the throne, the ceremony on each occasion taking place at Marlborough House. As a boy of nine, Mr. McGowan, when visiting London, also saw the late Queen Victoria driving with the Prince Consort and their children.

Notwithstanding his manifold activities, Mr.McGowan did not wholly neglect sport. Shortly before his death he resigned the presidency of the Whitehaven Play- ground after a very long association; he took a keen interest in the welfare of the Whitehaven Cricket Club and was a familiar figure at the home matches, while he joined the Seascale Golf Club soon after it was founded.

Lastly, there was his connection with "THE WHITEHAVEN NEWS". For nearly 50 years, in fair weather and in foul - the foul was more prevalent than the fair - he stood by 'The News' and lived to see the day when his faith, pertinacity, and vision were rewarded by recon- structed and re-equipped premises and the paper recognised throughout newspaperdom as a good example of a county weekly.


After his Nonconformity came Liberalism, the love of liberty and the passion of revolt. I remember all the struggles since Mr. Gully first contested the Whitehaven Borough in 1880, and through them all the powerful figure of William McGowan, with his long, tawny beard and his flashing eye, his hands nervously gripping his watch chain or stroking his beard, ever in the thick of the fight.

How bitter the old fights were ! Whitehaven Toryism was vested interest pure and simple, and he who fought it had to stand his corner. Those gallant few who dared, earned the respect ultimately of all, and the love of the downtrodden.

Either William McGowan or Sir Wilfrid Lawson was the originator of the phrase, "Veni, Vici, Vici Little" when the long domination of Conservatism was broken.


Anyone who remembers the 1900 fight, when, unable to secure a candidate, he entered the lists himself rather than see a walk over, must recall the giant figure facing the abuse of a war-fevered mob calm and unruffled and satisfied that, for him, this was the path of duty. That contest laid the foundations for the great Liberal victory in 1906.

His political heroes were Gladstone and Campbell-Bannerman, and in the end he stood by Asquith. His scorn and bitterness of public utterance he kept for Chamberlain, who he never forgave for "ratting."


is Not A Time of Life -- it is a State of Mind

It is not a matter of ripe cheeks, red lips, and supple knees;; it is a temper of the will . . . . . a quality of the imagination . . . . . a vigor of emotions. Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years -- people grow old only by deserting their ideals. Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.

Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair -- these are the long, long years that bow the heart and turn the greening spirit back to dust. Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being's heart the lure of wonder, the undaunted challenge of events, the unfailing childlike appetite for what next, and the joy of the game of living. We are as young as our faith, as old as our hope; as young as our self-confidence, as old as our fear; as young as our hope, as old as our despair.

The above lines are lifted from an old
copy of "The Inland Printer" where it
is stated that the author of them is un-
known. Whoever he was, he had the
right ideas and it seems fitting to re-
produce them here.
Phase I <<    >> Phase II Continued

© Barb Baker