175 years of local news … and why is the Southport Visiter spelt like that?

Behind Local News
May 6 · 6 min read

The Southport Visiter has been reporting on life in the seaside town for 175 years. Editor Andrew Brown looks at what’s changed — and remarkably, what hasn’t…

The first edition of the Southport Visiter and General Advertiser, No 1 Vol 1, came hot off the presses on Saturday, May 4, 1844, price threepence.

Residents in the popular seaside resort were reading all the latest news 59 years before Wilbur and Orville Wright made their first powered aircraft flight in 1903; just three years after the man who founded Southport, William ‘Duke’ Sutton, died; and when Queen Victoria was just seven years into her reign.

A special souvenir edition of the Southport Visiter was published last Thursday (May 2), containing four inside pages celebrating its 175th anniversary.

The first edition of the title in 1844 contained pages of local news, opinion pieces and records of which visitors were staying in the resort, and in which hotels and guest houses.

Back then ‘visiter’ was an accepted spelling, and due to the title’s long and proud history, the now old-fashioned spelling is on its masthead to this day.

The first edition was originally intended as a souvenir publication and had a circulation of 400, which took six hours to print. This 12in by 7in tabloid was created on one of the two hand-powered Columbian presses, inked with large hand-rollers; the employees took turns in ‘pulling’ the paper from the press.

The Visiter was founded by Robert Johnson, who was born in York in 1807, but came to Southport in 1837, the first year of the Victorian era, to benefit from the seaside resort’s invigorating sea air.

His first printing premises were at a small disused slaughter-house at 115 Lord Street, where the Vincent Hotel (formerly the Canon Cinema) now stands.

The Visiter’s home some 50 years ago in Tulketh Street

The early papers (which cost 3d) consisted of eight uncut pages of three columns, and the number of employees was less than a dozen (in 1894 it was about 100).

The Southport Visiter has maintained a full service of news ever since 1844, even during events such as the General Strike of 1926 and the Second World War, although the editions were much reduced during those troubled times.

Its sister title, the free Midweek Visiter, which is published every Tuesday, was launched in 1981.

Visiter reporters in 1894

Southport Baths were urging people to become subscribers at £1 per annum when the first edition of The Southport Visiter and General Advertiser was published on Saturday, May 4, 1844.

But they warned that ‘no person with an offensive ailment will be allowed to bathe’.

Some of those articles and adverts in our title’s first-ever publication show an intriguing glimpse into what life was like back then.

The Scarisbrick Arms and Commercial Hotel was recommending journeys to and from the hotel using patent-safety omnibus, to meet the packet-boat to and from Manchester daily.

Commercial House in Southport was offering customers Best XX Dublin Porter and Pale India Burton Ale.

Mrs and Miss Shufflebotham were offering ‘an entire new selection of fashionable millinery, bonnets, caps, collars, ribbons, children’s dresses, coats, blouses and other fancy goods.

Thomas Staley, a dispensing chemist and dealer in teas and coffee, had returned from the Potteries with ‘a choice selection of superb ornaments, suitable for the drawing-room toilette’.

The early newspaper’s principal feature was intended to be a list of visitors, with an extensive record of people’s names, addresses, and which hotel or guest house they were staying in.

There were 24 advertisements and the first illustration used was of Claremont (now Byng House on the Promenade). From day one there has been a ‘Letters to the Editor’ column.

But the demand for local news grew, with inhabitants wishing to know what events had occurred.

There was an an interesting advice column: “No woman will be able to dispute… that marriage is her destiny,” reported an opinion piece .

It continued: A man may possibly fill up some sort of existence without loving; but a woman with nothing to love, cherish, care for, and minister to, is an anomaly in the universe — an existence without an object.

“It is as natural for a woman to have someone to cling on to for protection, someone to look up to for advice and assistance as to breathe. Without it no woman ever was or can be happy.”

The column also gave sage advice urging people not to ‘marry above their station: “Girls should know that men superior to themselves in education and position, do not always associate with them for any good:

“A little sound sense will enable any man to see that it is better to have a wife grateful for more than she expected, than grumbling at less”.

Another column titled ‘Advice To Young Ladies’ warned the women of the town: “Matrimony with women is the great business of life, whereas with men it is only an incident — an important one, to be sure, but one among many to which their attention is directed”.

The Southport Visiter recorded an extensive list of where people were from, and where they were staying. Mr & Mrs Lord & party, for example, were lodged at the Union Hotel, along with TH Wheetley, and family from Rotherham; Mr N Baker, from Manchester; and Mr Makin, of Bolton.

The Victoria Hotel gave residence to John Daniel Thornley Esq, and family, from Liverpool, among others, while the Bold Arms Hotel gave board to several groups of people, including Mrs Hustler and family, from Orrell Mount, near Wigan.

In the newspaper’s first-ever leader column, the editor wrote: “Our principal object in commencing the Southport Visiter is of a purely practical character. We shall seek to supply a correct list of visiters at all the hotels, boarding establishments and lodging houses — to give as much local and general information as our columns will permit — and to afford opportunities, through the medium of advertising, to persons engaged in business”.

The edition of May 4, 1844 was published the day after the Duke of Wellington’s 75th birthday, whom the newspaper said “dined in the evening at Manchester House, where a great banquet was given.”

It also recorded how, on April 21, Mrs Leigh, wife of Robert Leigh, of Preston, the claimant on the Leigh Peerage and estates, had given birth to “a fine boy — her 24th child.”

So much has changed over the past 175 years, but then so much has stayed exactly the same.

Just as in 1844, the Southport Visiter aims to bring our readers the very latest, and the very best, news, sport and advertising, brought to them by a team of dedicated Southport-based reporters and advertising executives.

Our staff are now more visible and accessible than ever before, since the advent of communications tools such as email, mobile phones, and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Listing the names and addresses of every one of Southport’s hotel guests is no longer something we do (can you imagine!) but bringing our readers the latest news about life in Southport — and playing a role in talking up our town — is something we do just as passionately today as we did in those pioneering first days in May, 1844.

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Behind Local News UK

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