First with the news

IN AUGUST it will be 150 years since the very first Dewsbury Reporter was printed, and, believe it or not, I too am celebrating an important anniversary this year, my 50th year with the paper.

I remember vividly when I arrived here and found the staff busily preparing for the paper's centenary, and one of my first jobs was to go into the cellar to look through old Reporter files.

How could I have possibly known on that day that I would still be here 50 years later, still looking through the old files, and still finding them as fascinating?

My interest in local history almost certainly started on that very day and how proud I am to still be the self-appointed custodian of these precious newspaper files.

And how proud I am to have lived in a town which has had the good fortune to have its own local newspaper right here on its doorstep for 150 years.

The Dewsbury Reporter was born in the August of 1858 and its first home was in a small office in Daisy Hill where Ward's Furnishing used to be.

It was owned by the Huddersfield Examiner, printed in Huddersfield, and brought to Dewsbury by horse and cart late on Friday night.

It started life as a four-page broadsheet which cost three halfpence (quite a lot in those days), but there was no news on the front page, only advertisements.

Still, there was plenty of news in it, both national and local, all the local court cases, applications for pub licenses, but no photographs.

Its editor was a most remarkable man, Mr William W Yates, who, before entering journalism had been a commercial traveller, living in Leicester.

He was self-trained, as most journalists were in those days, but rose to become one of the most respected men in the town.

He held an honoured place in the ranks of journalism, and with his pen, wielded great influence in the town, and earned a reputation for campaigning against abuse and injustice.

He held a number of high positions in the community, including being a member of the board of Dewsbury District Infirmary, as well as becoming a member of the town council.

He lived in Vulcan Road on The Flatts, within walking distance of his office, and was a great promoter of education for the masses, and a great supporter of Dewsbury Technical School. He was also a founder member of the Bronte Society, and wrote a book about the father of the Brontes, Patrick Bronte.

THE Reporter changed beyond all recognition in the 1890s when a group of local businessmen approached the paper with the intention of buying it.

They wanted a local paper which was printed in the town, not in Huddersfield, and they also wanted to change it radically.

The men concerned were all wealthy and all members of the Liberal Party and God-fearing men who were prominent members of various chapels in the town.

But the paper's owner, Mr Joseph Woodhead, was at first reluctant to sell, and it was only when they threatened to start up a new paper in competition, that he eventually relented.

In March 1897, he announced in the Reporter in just one single paragraph that he had sold the newspaper – but not to whom.

The following week, he announced to readers that unfortunately the paper's editor, Mr W W Yates, who had worked for the paper for 36 years, was not to be retained by the new owners.

Apart from dispensing with the services of Mr Yates, the first thing the new owners did was to form themselves into a limited company under the title of The Reporter Ltd, a title which remains to this day.

They also retained the names and mastheads of the paper's three sister papers, the Batley Reporter, Heckmondwike Reporter and Mirfield and Ravensthorpe Reporter.

The new shareholders of the Reporter Ltd had to sign a declaration stating they supported Liberal principles, and t he new company moved from their offices in Daisy Hill into the present building in Wellington Road, formerly a rag warehouse.

Modern linotype machines, the best in the business, were bought and the new-styled Reporter was soon on the streets.

The new management kept its promise to uphold the cause of Liberalism – a promise it kept long after most local papers surrendered their allegiance to political parties.

But, despite being the premier local paper in the Heavy Woollen District, the new company found it an uphill struggle for a number of years before becoming self-supporting.

The paper, however, was never afraid to take risks and was one of the first weekly papers in the country to put news on its front page instead of adverts, a bold move in those days.

THE Reporter was not the first paper in Dewsbury – that honour went to the Dewsbury and Batley Herald which had started four years earlier in 1854.

It published a monthly periodical, which consisted mainly of advertising, and cost one penny a month or ten pence for a yearly subscription.

In 1858, however, when the Reporter came into being, the Herald's owner, Mr T M Brooke, fearing the strong competition of the new paper, quickly turned his into a weekly.

But it didn't last long, and within a short time he was selling it to the Wakefield Express, which quickly tired of it and sold it on to another aspiring newspaper owner.

The Herald continued to change hands at regular periods before eventually closing, which left the Reporter – then owned by the Huddersfield Examiner, to stand virtually unchallenged.

The Dewsbury Reporter and its sister papers, continued to support Liberal principles and to expose abuses and injustice.

It supported the Temperance Movement and Nonconformity and always championed what it deemed to be the better cause.

When it was taken over in 1897 to become the Reporter Ltd, all these principles were upheld zealously by the new owners, who also took the decision to reduce the price of the paper from three halfpence to one penny.

Slowly but surely the circulation increased from just 1,500 to over 10,000, making it the biggest selling weekly in the Heavy Woollen District.