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EDP: a trip down memory lane

Earlier this week, Archant Norfolk’s flagship title, the Eastern Daily Press, celebrated its 140th birthday. EDP arts correspondent, Ian Collins, takes a look back at its story.

By Ian Collins

On our big anniversary, the EDP remains England’s most popular regional morning newspaper. Today, as the world of information technology undergoes dramatic changes, our website has a global readership.

But, however and wherever we are read, we remain firmly grounded in our home area of Norfolk, North Suffolk and the Fens. A fixture, bar Sundays, since October 10 1870, the EDP is part of the fabric of local communities.

Here are some highlights of our story so far…

The Norwich Post, the country’s first provincial newspaper, launched in Redwell Street in 1701. That pioneering centre was our head office for a decade from 1959.

A fractious Georgian printing pack in the city was led by the Norwich Mercury, but a band of Nonconformists and Radicals found the old Whig paper too timid over prevailing ills. So, in 1844, these prosperous tradesmen and professionals set up “a weekly journal based upon civil, religious and commercial freedom.”

Miller Jeremiah Colman, wholesale grocer brothers John and Jonathan Copeman and retailer Thomas Jarrold provided the sober business backing for dashing front man Jacob Tillett. This 25-year-old solicitor led the Norfolk News calls for democracy, education and repeal of the restrictive Corn Laws.

Within months, John Copeman scooped the tragic story of Yarmouth’s suspension bridge collapse. A crowd watching a clown in a goose-drawn tub was pitched into the river - 79 drowned, most of them children.

Twice mayor of Norwich and an energetic city MP, Jacob Tillett saw his education dreams largely enacted in the year the EDP was born.

The Norfolk News printed on Friday – market day across much of East Anglia – to preserve religious observation on Sunday. While similarly keen to keep the Sabbath special, Jeremiah James Colman (great-nephew of our print pioneer) persuaded fellow proprietors that six-day publication was no less godly.

They took the plunge (and for years bore the financial losses) with the Eastern Counties Daily Press – one word would be dropped after six months. The working title had been Eastern Penny News – the Working Man’s Organ and Advocate.

Sandringham was converted for the Prince of Wales in 1870, and a year later the future Edward VII nearly died there from typhoid. For all its crowning glories, mid-Victorian England was filled with horrors.

As a smallpox outbreak killed 600 people in Norwich slums, the EDP exposed the “dirtiest, foulest and most ill-ventilated rooms we ever beheld”. The fight was taken up in parliament by Carrow industrialist and Liberal MP for Norwich: Jeremiah James Colman.

And in 1874 the EDP secured local loyalties, and won over all political opinions, with swift and expert reporting of the Thorpe rail tragedy, when 27 people were killed in two colliding trains. A year later the first branch office opened - in Cromer. A second, in Yarmouth, followed by 1880, when the paper was finally in profit and selling more than 3,000 daily copies.

A Lowestoft office opened in 1886, and our Norwich HQ moved in 1902 from Exchange Street to London Street, where we remained until 1959.

Under editor Archie Cozens-Hardy (1902-1937) the EDP weathered every crisis. During the General Strike of May 1926, the Press failed only once.

To see off Tory revivals, the EDP ran horse-racing results from 1902 – listing winners and losers only. Gambling was not to be encouraged.

The Edwardian era also brought a King’s Lynn office, cartoon and money features, and the onset of picture journalism via a photo-engraver and then a new-fangled camera costing almost £20. Frugal East Anglian eyebrows were raised by the £3,250 invested in a Foster printing press – first costly milestone on the road to a £23m 1995 print centre at Thorpe allowing colour on all pages.

At the helm during World War Two, when editions could be four thin, grey sheets, Tom Copeman took the momentous decision to run front page news from January 3 1940.

There were more pressing stories around than adverts and farm sale announcements. And so during the war, despite every hardship – with printing surviving April 1942 Baedecker raids - EDP circulation doubled.

Post-war rationing included newsprint and problems deepened in dire weather – the winter of 1947 being the coldest of the century and the 1953 East Coast floods an unrivalled catastrophe.

King George VI had died at Sandringham on February 6, 1952, and after the battering of the next winter everyone needed a party. The entire EDP front page of June 3 hailed “The Queen’s Wonderful Day” at her Coronation.

In 1954, linguist Stanley Bagshaw – aide to General Montgomery during World War Two – became EDP editor-in-chief. He welcomed Soviet leaders Bulganin and Kruschev to Norwich, on April 23 1956, with an editorial in Russian. Luckily he added a translation.

In 1957, the back page was finally claimed for general news and later for sports reports. In 1958 we bailed out Norwich City Football Club - sharing the glory a year later when the then third division club reached the FA Cup semi-finals, beating Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur in the process.

But from June 22 to August 5 the EDP was halted by a printing strike – first convulsion in an ongoing technological revolution – with news snippets issued on duplicated sheets. The issue of August 6 reported our HQ’s shift to Redwell Street.

Less than 12 years later, came a move to a landmark centre on Rouen Road – opened by Princess Alexandra on April 29, 1970, just before the EDP centenary. Timothy Colman (company chairman 1969-1996), great-great-grandson of our printing pioneer, led the welcome.

Works manager and future chief executive Geoffrey Copeman had overseen the site transfer within a single weekend. Our co-founder’s great-great nephew is also the father of current board member Simon Copeman.

The EDP ran a first front-page colour picture in 1972. Three years later it shed hot metal printing for the cleaner web offset process.

Amid massive technological changes, journalist and printers’ strikes in 1978 and 1980 were low ebbs. But in 1984 the EDP became England’s biggest selling regional morning paper.

Over 140 years the paper has championed fine writing with columnists such as Ted Ellis, Lilias Rider Haggard and Adrian Bell. Frederick Forsyth’s thrillers are researched with an “obsessive accuracy” he honed as an EDP cub reporter in Norwich and King’s Lynn from the late 1950s.

On October 3 1996, after intensive reader surveys, the EDP switched from broadsheet to tabloid. Our pages are now smaller than of old, but there are more of them and topics covered are far wider. Saturday’s paper in particular is crammed with features on an aspect of life unknown to most Victorians: leisure.

In 2002, our parent company, now with a newspaper and magazine fleet far beyond East Anglia, changed its name to Archant. The EDP remains the flagship.

Our 12th editor Peter Waters recently succeeded Peter Franzen, who received the OBE for services to journalism.

The Waters stewardship has started with the EDP being named Regional Newspaper of the Year. Our story continues.

An EDP140 exhibition is in Norwich Cathedral’s Hostry from Tuesday until October 29. Open Monday to Saturday 9.30am-4.30pm and Sunday noon-3pm. Admission free.