Times change but the Courier is still here keeping you up to date

newsroom memories: Reporting and editorial staff pictured during the 1980s
newsroom memories: Reporting and editorial staff pictured during the 1980s

Virginia Mason, former Courier writer’s personal look back at our history

“He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.”

courier buildings: Our offices in King Cross Street, where we are to this day

courier buildings: Our offices in King Cross Street, where we are to this day

So said former Prime Minister Harold Wilson in a speech delivered to the 
Consultive Assembly of the 
Council of Europe, in 
Strasbourg, France, in January 1967.

In its history, the Courier has certainly endured its fair share of changes and perhaps the latest will be viewed by many as the greatest.

Today as the newspaper moves from daily to weekly print status, another milestone is reached - just one of many that its journalists have witnessed down the decades, myself included.

When I started out as a young reporter there were no such things as computers in the newsroom.

Instead we all bashed out our stories on sit-up-and-beg typewriters using copy paper and carbonated ink paper in between the sheets.

The completed leaves were then folded and dropped into a basket on newsdesk before being passed to the subs’ table (where you prayed they didn’t find any inaccuracies or typos or else you’d be in for a very public dressing down.)

I remember the excitement of several milestones - the introduction of colour being one.

Suddenly, the humble black and white images were superseded by glorious Technicolor.

I can also recall the days when the Courier was printed on the premises here in King Cross Street - well round the back of the building actually in Regent Street in a new extension.

Every morning the building would gently hum into life and the rumble of the press could be felt reverberating up in newsroom, where we were all busily at work on stories and features for the next edition.

If it suddenly fell silent, we knew there had been a break in the giant reel of newsprint but usually it was quickly fixed.

Watching the papers coming off the press, smelling that intoxicating mix of paper and ink (and getting the ink on your hands or on a clean, white shirt) was all part of the magic.

And then it was out onto the streets with the latest news for our readers.

The Courier and its early rival newspaper, the Guardian have been bringing news to the people of Halifax and district for 180 years - and that is one thing that is NOT going to change.

When we first hit the streets, it was a very different world. King William IV was on the throne, the industrial revolution was at its height with the Great Reform Act becoming law, the first railways were being laid and photography was in its infancy.

Although there had been newspapers in Halifax as early as 1759, the town’s first long-running newspaper was the Halifax Guardian, founded by local Conservatives in 1832.

The first edition - a broadsheet - appeared on December 1 and its editor was George Hogarth, whose daughter Catherine, married Charles Dickens.

It was not until 1853 that local liberals launched the weekly Halifax Courier funded by major local figures including Thomas Wainhouse, John and Frank Crossley and Edward Akroyd.

The new broadsheet cost four and a half pence (2p in today’s money.)

But as the population of Halifax grew, it was decided that there was room for a daily newspaper in the town and the Courier was first to respond, launching the Halifax Evening Courier on June 28, 1892. The broadsheet, was published five days a week in two editions - the second edition was known as the “rose edition” because it was printed on rose-tinted paper.

There were still no pictures and for the first two years all the type had to be set by hand until two Linotype machines were introduced.

The founding editor of the new paper was Alfred Ramsden an alderman and mayor of Halifax, who began a dynasty of Ramsden family editors which lasted, with just one break, until 1971.

As for the Guardian, it didn’t produce a daily edition until January 1906, nearly 14 years later.

Meanwhile, the daily Courier began to produce a Saturday edition - in fact it produced two.

The first appeared in May 1897 and by September of that year, a second came on the scene. The second became the Football Courier with more sports news than general news. By 1920 this special edition was printed on pink paper and so referred to as the Pink Final.

So, in the early years of the 20th century, Halifax had its two evening papers and its two weeklies - with intense rivalry as you can imagine.

But In 1921, post First World War conditions dictated that the two newspapers combine to strengthen their resources and on May 2, the Halifax Daily Courier & Guardian was born.

In 1970, the name changed to the Evening Courier.

Seven years later the centuries-old hot-metal method of printing using cast metal type was replaced by computerised typesetting and web-offset printing and the new press (in Regent Street) was installed.

It was a revolution in printing, producing a clarity of type and pictures never seen before.

In June 1994 the Courier was bought by Johnston Press, owner of a group of Scottish weeklies - the Evening Courier was its first daily and the flagship of the fleet!

A major milestone was reached in 2007 when the Courier - until then Britain’s last remaining broadsheet evening newspaper - changed to a new tabloid (or compact) format.

All of which goes to show that just as the news itself changes, so do the very newspapers that convey it.