The weeks leading up to the declaration of war on August 4, 1914 was a period of tension across Europe, but it appears that in rural Derbyshire life was little affected by events in Austria-Hungary and the Balkan state of Servia.
With a month and a day before the declaration of what was to become known as The Great War, readers of the Ashbourne Telegraph “West Derbyshire and North Staffordshire’s Newspaper” would have had little inkling of the tragedy about to unfold.
The paper published on Friday, July 3, carried no mention of the fateful assassination of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo six days earlier.
It was not because content of the Ashbourne Telegraph was solely local in nature, indeed its columns included items from across the UK and indeed the world. This edition carried a lengthy report of the Trooping of the Colour in Horseguards Parade, witnessed by Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and his wife. “The King,” it was stated, “received a tremendous reception as he rode onto the parade ground.”
Elsewhere there is a report that South African farmers were turning to production of alpacas due to a collapse in the price of ostrich feathers.
The front page of the paper, as was customary was filled with advertisements for fruit, timber building materials, millinery and Osborne’s Tonic Blood Purifier which claimed to cure: “Scurvy, pimples, boils, abscesses, carbuncles, eczema, erysipelas, eruptions of the skin, sores, glandular swellings, piles, bad legs and all diseases of the blood and skin”. At 1/1½d (about 6p) a bottle it sounds a bargain.
Chemist James Osborne also wrote a weekly column entitled Our Local Wild Flowers. This week he examined Common Enchanter’s Nightshade.
So while readers of the Ashbourne Telegraph’s national namesake, the Daily Telegraph, were informed of more revelations of the assassination plot, details of Austro-Serb tension in Sarajevo during July, details of the coffins’ journey back to Austria and news that an attack of lumbago would prevent Kaiser Wilhelm II’s attendance at the archduke’s funeral, Derbyshire folk had a more parochial diet.
A man was sentenced to nine months’ hard labour for stealing a horse, and the report of a storm which had followed a period of intensely hot weather. The winds, accompanied by thunder and lightning, stripped branches and leaves from the trees. The paper’s correspondent reported a “perfect deluge of rain” for two hours. The tea tent at Ashbourne Grammar School’s sports day was blown down “causing considerable damage to crockery”. The next day saw a further storm, this time with hailstones “the size of marbles”.
Then, as now football appeared to take precedence over more important world issues: Derby County’s annual meeting reported financial results said to be not as bad as first appeared. The club’s £2,043 loss over the season had been more than recouped by the sale of players. But, said the chairman: “From a playing point of view the season has been nothing less than disastrous.”