I took a trip back in time a couple of days back, and found myself a “real” newsagent, with a commitment to printed news media.
At Fitch’s in Sheerness High Street – in the southern English town which used, and perhaps still does, make the North-East look well off – I spoke to Jasmine Brown, granddaughter of the founder, and of course, bought a copy of the local Times-Guardian.
Her mother and uncle run the business, bright and open, and good to see – with newspapers and magazines given prominence.
And yes, the Times-Guardian itself, to which I gave (at least) two decades of my life as editor and publisher, was looking healthier than I’ve seen it for a while. Now part of Edward Iliffe’s Iliffe Media – which bought the Kent Messenger Group, to which we sold it in the late 1980s – it’s still clearly part of life for residents of the island in the mouth of the river Thames.
The edition I bought for GBP£1.30 (A$2.41) was a 56-page tabloid, a mix of local and series content, and included a page of “memories” still put together by Bel Austin, an 86-year-old great-grandmother whose career with the paper, off and on, goes back even further than my own.
On display with it, and triggering memories from a bygone age were the Faversham News – which my mother and I acquired from the Hornsey Journal group, which had owned the Times-Guardian until my parents bought it – and the Sittingbourne News which we launched against the local opposition.
I was reading through personal letters this week which relate the challenges my father faced when he arrived in Sheerness as manager, but clearly ready to get stuck in to bolster editorial coverage when it was needed. Almost at once there was a special edition to report the local election, requiring nursing copies from the elderly L&M Centurette letterpress machine.
With help from a trusted staff, he installed a letterpress rotary – relocated from the Bristol Evening Post – which my mother and I were to replace with seven units of Goss Community after his death.
The papers are now part of a stable which includes Iliffe’s own Cambridge Independent, 13 papers it bought from Johnston Press in 2016, and (through a partnership) the Newbury Weekly News, as well as the nine paid-for and four free newspapers of the Kent Messenger group it bought the following year. Iliffe now prints the titles in Cambridge.
Even without the distinctive town clock – which is away for refurbishment – Sheerness and the Isle of Sheppey retain a unique community character, and it’s good to see the “local rag” still part of that.
Pictured (top): Fitch’s in Sheerness High Street;
The current Times-Guardian office (above) – unmanned when I visited – is just up the street from the imposing shop and flat to which my parents first came, bringing my sister and I in 1952