Was there an earlier Wolverton Express?

Some time back I wrote a piece about local newspapers and placed the first date of publication of the Wolverton Express in January 1901. The post is here.

However, I have discovered something today which may cause me to revise that view. The Oxfordshire Telegraph of 7 September 1887 features a brief column under the heading “The Wolverton Express.” Under that heading is written:

For Wolverton and District news, see the “Wolverton Express,” on sale every Wednesday, price 1 penny, at Tilley’s Newspaper office, Station Road, Wolverton.

Further research revels similar entries in earlier years in the 1880s and, as far back as 1862, the Oxfordshire Telegraph was promoting itself as the Oxfordshire, Brackley and Winslow Telegraph, Wolverton Express, Stony Stratford and Newport Pagnell Advertiser.

The Oxfordshire Telegraph was a Bicester publication and in those relatively early days of local newspaper publishing probably wanted to cast its net as widely as possible. By 1880 it was known as the Oxfordhisre, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire Telegraph, Winslow Advertiser, Wolverton Express and Buckingham Liberal. The Wolverton Express part of the paper was usually a column.

The name Wolverton Express therefore pre-dates the independent newspaper by about 45 years.

Tilley’s Newspaper office on Station Road should probably be read as Stratford Road, and indeed appears as such in the trade directories of the period – Robert Tilley, Newsvendor. It is possible that he had one of the lock-up shops next to the Royal Engineer and that his business was taken over by Cornelius Muscutt, later known as Muscutt and Tompkins.

Local Newspapers

Printing started like in England as a highly regulated industry. The printing press was invented in Germany in the 15th century but it was not until 1476 that the government permitted printing in this country. Thereafter, fearful of seditious books and pamphlets, successive governments placed printing under very tight control. Even paper making was restricted, so that the skill was lost in England and it needed a man like Henri Portal, a Huguenot refugee from France to establish paper making in this country. His first mill in Hampshire expanded to become the huge De La Rue paper and printing industry, which is now famous for making bank notes.

So it was unsurprising when newspapers began to be printed in the 18th century that the first thought of government was to tax them. They imposed a stamp duty of 7d on every newspaper sold. Newspapers became a luxury item. After some lobbying the stamp duty was reduced to 4d in 1815 but it was still too high. More people were becoming literate in the 19th century but for most a newspaper was unaffordable. Some relief came in 1836 when a new act reduced the stamp duty to 1d. The newspaper industry was about to take off.

This was the signal to many entrepreneurs to acquire a printing press and satisfy people’s hunger for news and information. This occurred too at the same time that railways were developing and it was possible for London newspapers to be distributed across the nation. The Sunday Dispatch was at least one of the newspapers that was devoured by readers in Wolverton’s Reading Room. I have seen a letter written by George Weight, the first vicar of St George’s, complaining that men were wasting their time reading “that vile newspaper, the Dispatch.”

The real trigger for the development of local newspapers cam in 1855, when the 1d tax was completely abolished. Newspapers could now be printed and sold at a reasonable price. Sales grew exponentially.

The first local man to take advantage of this was Alfred Walford of Stony Stratford, who started The Cottage Advertiser in 1857. He was a printer and stationer at 73 High Street. It was later known as Stony Stratford and Wolverton Station Advertiser. The name subsequently changed to the  North Bucks Advertiser in 1868, and so it continued. In 1902 or thereabouts, George Eadley acquired the business and the North Bucks Advertiser continued until 1909, when it closed. I do not know if it was acquired by another newspaper.

Also quick to take advantage of the new tax free regime for newspapers was Henry Croydon, who had a similar printing and stationery business in Newport Pagnell, and he started a weekly newspaper known as Croydon’s Weekly Standard. The first issue came out in 1859. After Croydon died in 1887 the business was acquired by James Line and the newspaper was re-named as the Bucks Standard. In 1967 it changed its name to the Bucks Standard and Milton Keynes Observer. In 1975 it was absorbed, like so many North Bucks papers into a larger Milton kKeynes entity.

The Wolverton Express was a latecomer. It published the first of its weekly newspapers in 1901. Curiously (because nothing is known of these newspapers) it claimed to incorporate the Stantonbury Herald, the Stony Stratford Standard, the Bletchley Journal and the Towcester Times. In 1903, the Name was changed to the Wolverton Express and Bucks Weekly News, which title it held until 1951. Then it was simply the Wolverton Express until it became the Milton Keynes Express in 1967.

It was based at 103, Church street, although the paper was never printed there. It appears to have been the brainchild of Albert Edward Jones. He was born in Winchester in 1870 to a career army officer who came to Wolverton in 1890 as a Sergeant Instructor, presumably to drill the local militia. The family took up residence at Radcliffe Street. Albert Edward Jones, the eldest son,  went into the works as a coach painter but by 1901 he was living on Church Street with his family and is listed as a “Bookseller and Shopkeeper”. The Trade Directory of 1903 describes him as “manager Wolverton Express; newsagent & stationer and agent for the Aylesbury Brewery Company.” In 1907 he was described as “proprietor” of the Wolverton Express. On this basis it might be reasonable to assume that Jones originated the whole thing.

Emerton’s, home of the Wolverton express.

Around 1910 he took on a young reporter Alfred Emerton, who had grown up on Ledsam street. Emerton volunteered to serve in the 1914-18 war in 1915 and it seems that his shorthand and typing skills were immediately seized upon and he was appointed to staff headquarters in Egypt. He rose to the rank of Sergeant and was gazetted by General Allenby in 1918 for “distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty.”

After the war he returned to the Wolverton Express and when Albert Jones retired in 1930 was able to take over the business. The shop became known as “Emerton’s” – a name it carries to this day.

He retired from the business in 1950 and Bert Foxford, who had been brought up by the Emertons, took over as editor. Another key member of the business at this time was Len Allen (always known as “Joey”) who was chief reporter and advertising manger. Later his brother Frank Allen joined the business.

The first 60 years of the 20th century were all prime years for the Wolverton Express. Almost everyone in the district had the paper delivered very Friday and it acquired the nickname, for reasons that are probably unknown, “The Buster.”

We can look back now upon an era of almost 100 years where small, locally owned and operated newspapers served their districts. There’re still local newspapers but they are usually part of a newspaper publishing group and depend on a larger market area.

Newsagents

Newsagents were familiar enough in the 20th century, but when did they start up and who was the first in Wolverton?

It may not be easy to answer that a question. Certainly newspapers were available from Wolverton’s beginnings. London newspapers were only a few hours away by train.

There were newspapers at the Reading Room in the 1840s. I saw a letter written by the vicar, George Weight, complaining that men were reading “that vile newspaper” the Sunday Dispatch. Presumably someone took on the responsibility for the sale and distribution of newspapers in Wolverton and Stony Stratford.

The best guess is that newspaper sales and distribution in Wolverton was a sideline or part time business. Possibly an existing business or individual took on the role but no one in the Trade Directories specifies themselves as such until Harry Cornelius Muscutt styles himself as a Newsagent in 1899. Muscutt was a boot and shoe maker who had a lock up shop just beside the Royal Engineer – Number 2. He was from a family of shoe makers from Long Buckby. He came to Wolverton at about the age of 20 and lodged in Young Street. After he married he lived in Aylesbury Street and may have had his business premises in Church Street. The boot and shoe business was changing in the last part of the 19th century. Cheaper ready made shoes from Northampton factories had been putting shoemakers out of business for some years and gradually the shoemaker was becoming a shoe repairer.

It is probable that he was already acting as a newsagent in the 1890s but, as the decade wore on and at the end of the century that the newsagent business became big enough to become the main enterprise. New, popular newspapers were being established in this period. The Daily Mail was founded in 1896 and was joined by the Daily Express in 1900 and the Daily Mirror in 1903. The Bucks Standard, or Croydon’s Weekly Standard as it was originally known, was produced in Newport Pagnell in 1859 and was joined by the Wolverton Express in 1900. The appetite for news was growing and with a high level of literacy in Wolverton demand must have been high.

So Harry Muscutt probably found himself in the right place at the right time. His shop, just opposite the main works gates, was ideally located for the workers to pick up their daily reading material. I can recall from the 1950s the number of early morning bodies milling around the Stratford Road and spilling into the shop for a newspaper and packet of Woodbines. Muscutt and Tompkins, as it then was, required a staff of five to handle the rush.

Harry Muscutt and his wife had two daughters. One of them, Ida, married Bill Tompkins from New Bradwell. The other, Florence, married a Clarke from Castlethorpe. He was a seed merchant and when the newsagent business moved to Number 5, the seed merchant established themselves at Number 2.

Muscutt and Tompkins newspaper shop in the 1960s.

Bill Tompkins joined the business and added his name to the sign above the shop. It expanded and developed. At one time they had a tobacconist’s shop at Number 3, the newsagents at Number 5 and a stationery shop in part of Number 9 – Number 9a. In addition they established a printing shop at the back of Number 3. The equipment has since been donated to the Milton Keynes Museum.

Former M & T presses in the MK Museum

Bill Tompkins and his wife did not have any children and in the 1920s they brought in a young relative from Long Buckby, Reg Tomalin, to participate in the business. When Bill Tompkins retired Reg Tomalin took over the management of what was by that time a varied and extensive family business. Ralph Tompkins, Bill’s younger brother, joined the business in the 1930s and managed the newspaper shop.

The shop at 9a, to the right of this picture, was Muscutt and Tompkins Stationery shop.

By the mid-century Muscutt and Tompkins was far and away the largest newsagents in the town and incorporated the subsidiary businesses mentioned above, but the time was ripe in the early 1900s for similar businesses to join Muscutt, and cater to Wolverton’s expanding population.

In 1900 the Wolverton Express published the first of its weekly newspapers. It was based at 103, Church street, although the paper was never printed there. It appears to have been the brainchild of Albert Edward Jones. He was born in Winchester in 1870 to a career army officer who came to Wolverton in 1890 as a Sergeant Instructor, presumably to drill the local militia. The family took up residence at Radcliffe Street. Albert Edward Jones, the eldest son,  went into the works as a coach painter but by 1901 he was living on Church Street with his family and is listed as a “Bookseller and Shopkeeper”. The Trade Directory of 1903 describes him as “manager Wolverton Express; newsagent & stationer and agent for the Aylesbury Brewery Company.” In 1907 he is described as “proprietor” of the Wolverton Express. On this basis it might be reasonable to assume that Jones originated the whole thing.

Emerton’s, home of the Wolverton express.

Around 1910 he took on a young reporter Alfred Emerton, who had grown up on Ledsam street. Emerton volunteered to serve in the 1914-18 war in 1915 and it seems that his shorthand and typing skills were immediately seized upon and he was appointed to staff headquarters in Egypt. He rose to the rank of Sergeant and was gazetted by General Allenby in 1918 for “distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty.”

After the war he returned to the Wolverton Express and when Albert Jones retired in 1930 was able to take over the business. The shop became known as “Emerton’s” – a name it carries to this day.

He retired from the business in 1950 and Bert Foxford, who had been brought up by the Emertons, took over as editor. Another key member of the business at this time was Len Allen (always known as “Joey”) who was chief reporter and advertising manger. Later his brother Frank Allen joined the business.

The first 60 years of the 20th century were all prime years for the Wolverton Express. Almost everyone in the district had the paper delivered very Friday and it acquired the nickname, for reasons that are probably unknown, “The Buster.” The paper did not survive the succession of mergers and acquisitions from the 1980s onwards.

I have the impression that the shop on Church Street, although selling newspapers, magazines, comic and books, relied on stationery goods for its main retail trade. It appeared to me, at any rate, to have the best range of notepaper, pens and so on.

These two newsagents were joined by a third in about 1910. Walter Lawson, who had been associated with the boot and shoe industry in Kettering, decided to move his family to Wolverton and establish a news agency, which he did at 19 Church Street, in a shop which is now demolished.

Shortly after he moved to 50 Church Street, now occupied by St Andrews Bookshop, and around 1920 to 58 Church Street.

58 Church St., the former business of Lawson and Son

At this address it became known as Lawson and Son. Walter Lawson and his wife had four sons. The eldest, Horace, lost his life in battle in 1915. Two other brothers, Herbert and Cyril, seem to have gone off and done something else, and the youngest, Stuart, born in 1905, joined his father in the business and succeeded him until his own retirement around 1970. Stuart developed the business as a toy shop, which continuing to sell newspapers and magazine. Every Friday he would take toys down to the Friday Market to sell them from a regular stall.

The newspaper business may have been the smaller part of the operation at this time.

Stuart Lawson was a keen photographer and could often be seen walking around the area with a folding camera hanging from a strap around his neck. He was also a pipe smoker, and for some reason most likely unconnected, had an enlarged thumb, which was used to tamp down the tobacco.

To this list I should probably add the sub post office at the corner of Anson Road and Aylesbury Street. They sold some newspapers but I don’t think they had a delivery service.

The Sunday papers, probably for reasons connected with Sunday trading laws, were always sold separately from the main newsagents. This was a part-time, private activity. Yu could only have them delivered to your door, as far as I know, unless it was possible to go to the house of the distributor and buy a copy. At one time the distributor used the shed at the back of King’s the bakers to organise the rounds.

Printers

McCorquodales were the big industrial printers in Wolverton, and their story is described here, but there was a demand for printing on a smaller scale and the district has a history of such printing, beginning in the 19th century.

Stony Stratford’s earliest printer of record was William Nixon, who had a press on the High Street, set up in the 1840s. He was also a stationer and bookseller and in 1857 he retired and sold the business to Alfred Walford. Newspaper publishing had been inhibited for many years by a government stamp duty. In 1815 the government imposed a 4d tax on every newspaper sold, which made them unaffordable for most. In 1836 the tax was lowered to 1d, and in 1855 was dropped altogether. “The penny dropped!” you could say.

The time was right for Alfred Walford in 1857, who established a weekly newspaper called the Cottage Newspaper. It was later known as the Stony Stratford and Wolverton Station Advertiser. In 1868 it was became the North Bucks Advertiser. It may have been here that the young Oliver Ratcliff, who grew up in Stony Stratford, learned his trade, because he later set up his own press in Olney, The Cowper Press.

The business was continued by Walford’s widow, Leah, and was taken over by George Eardley in 1902. Eardley also added a lending library to his range of services at 73 High Street.The newspaper closed down in 1909. It was most likely absorbed by another newspaper, but I am not sure which. It was not, at any rate, the Wolverton Express of the Buckingham Advertiser. The building was taken over by watts and beck who were bakers and confectioners. They also ran a temperance hotel for some years known as the Victoria Hotel. Hazeldine’s, the baker, operated here for many years in the mid 20th century.

Wolverton’s first small scale printer, as far as I can tell, was Frederick Clarke, who opened his business at 30 Stratford Road c. 1910. A few years later he moved his premises to 11 The Square, underneath what is now the Masonic Hall. Subsequently he moved to a three storey house at 51 Church Street. His son carried on the business but it did not continue into the third generation as newer technology was making life difficult for small printing businesses. The business closed in 1960 and all the machinery was sold for scrap. The house was demolished to accommodate the Agora in the late 1970s.

After WWII the newsagents, Muscutt & Tompkins, decided to expand into printing. They acquired premises at 9 stratford Road with a stationery shop in the front and printing presses in the back. The printing press operation was managed and run by Reg Tomalin.

After that business closed, almost all the printing equipment was donated to the MK Museum which is now on display. The exhibition provides a very good illustration of printing technology in the pre-digital age.

Printers now work with keyboards and computer monitors. Up to about 15 years ago machines like this were still in use. Printers would hand set their cast type into trays, lock them in place, ink the type with rollers and one-by-one print sheets of paper.

The machines on display at the MK Museum date in design from the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.

In the top picture you can see an Albion Press – a 19th century press which had an improved mechanism over earlier flat bed presses. A single lever action could bring the paper into contact with the inked plate.

The press in the second picture is a flat bed proofing press. It is a mid 20th century design. In this model the type can be laid on the flat bed and it can be inked and printed in a forward and backward pass. Printers often used this type of press for posters.
The so-called platen press was activated by a foot treadle and flywheel and has a complicated mechanism for  inserting the paper, inking the type, bring the paper on the platen into contact with the inked type, and removing the printed paper in a single cycle. By the mid 20th century these machines had become motorized, although theye were usually too expensive for the small jobbing printer.

In that era, small “jobbing” printing was divided between Clarke’s on Church Street, Muscutt and Tompkins and Line’s at Newport Pagnell.Ron Bissell set up a small business in New Bramwell in the 1950s, starting with a hand-operated Adana press.
Posters, particularly if colour was required, were often hand made in the 1950s. There was one chap I recall on Cambridge Street and another on Victoria Street providing this service.

Muscutt and Tompkins

This was a bustling business at Number 5 Stratford Road. Newspapers were still, even in the 50s and 60s, important organs of communication and there was always a huge sale of daily morning papers, daily evening papers and weekly papers. Men and women would flood in on their way to work and after work for an evening paper, and, of course, cigarettes.

It was the railways that made the growth of national newspapers possible. They were printed in Fleet Street at night, bundled to Euston in the early hours of the morning and loaded onto the slow train for delivery at each station. By 5:30 in the morning the papers, bundled with coarse string, were deposited outside Muscutt and Tompkins. A short time after this the unwrapping and sorting began. Newspapers were piled by title and then counted out for the paper rounds. Paper boys would arrive after 6, sort their papers and be off.
In the 1950s the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror were the biggest selling titles. The Daily Mail, Daily Herald, Daily Sketch, News Chronicle and Daily Telegraph were in the middle, and The Times and Manchester Guardian sold very few copies. In those days the Times still had classified advertisements on the front page, so you could not tell what stories might be inside. It was also printed on better quality white paper. The Daily Herald used blacker, more greasy ink, and handling it always left your hands dirty.
The News Chronicle disappeared in the mid-1950s, the Herald and Sketch later. The Manchester Guardian morphed into the Guardian and set up its printing and publishing in London.
The Evening papers from London, the Evening Standard and Evening News sold moderately, but the big seller was the Northampton Chronicle and Echo.
Muscutt and Tompkins had its foundations in the 19th century. Harry Cornelius Muscutt was a shoe maker turned news agent. He may have bought the business from a man called Robert Tilley who was operating there in 1883. Anyway, it was Muscutts by 1890.
Bill Tompkins, who was very much a figure in Wolverton when I was young, married Ida Muscutt, one of Harry Muscutt’s daughters and thus the business became Muscutt and Tompkins. It certainly grew as a family business during the 20th century, holding at least three shops on the Stratford Road – a tobacconists at number 3, the newsagents at Number 5 and at Number 9 a stationery shop and printing business. 
According to the Office of National Statistics the average expenditure on tobacco was 6.1% of household income. In 2007 that relative figure was 1%. Tobacco sales were good business.