April 21, 1916

Earlier in the spring the proprietor of the Ashbourne Telegraph had warned readers of the impending shortage of newsprint – the paper on which the Telegraph was printed.

This week in 1916 the pagination dropped from its customary eight pages to six, although other factors were said to have influenced the decision.

A notice on page two announced: “Owing to this being a ‘short’ week [due to the Easter weekend] we are unable to issue more than 6 pages. While we shall make every endeavor to maintain the ‘Telegraph’ as long as we can in its original form, the shortage of paper and labour may compel us occasionally to have to resort to six pages.”

In the 21st century we take digital photography for granted, but in 1916 producing images in print was a long and complex process. As the publisher’s statement explained, the pictures of soldiers included in the regular ‘scrapbook’ column on Page 3 required specialist processing: “We regret that the blocks of the soldiers were not delivered from the engravers in time for this issue.”

Curiously, perhaps by oversight, the font page continued to proudly announce: “Eight pages – one penny”.

There is other evidence, elsewhere, of the problems caused by the Easter holiday and a depleted workforce. Page four is dominated by national news and one sensational story, about a recluse who had died and was partly eaten by her dogs as she lay undiscovered in her home, a tragic tale which was repeated on page six.

The incident in Southgate, Hertfordshire, or Winchmore Hill, London, depending on which page you read, concerned 55-year-old widow Eliza Ridge who was said to have been ‘eccentric and a recluse’ and who had no acquaintances and seldom left her house. She was fond of animals and kept three large dogs.

The paper repeated the ‘thrilling narrative’ of a police sergeant who went to the house:

“On peering through the kitchen window he saw the corpse lying across a chair and three very ferocious dogs snarling at her side.”

A second officer was called and all three dogs were shot dead.

“The body of the deceased was partly dressed and had evidently been devoured by the dogs owing to there being no food in the house.”

Other sensational stories included that of a preacher-turned-fraudster.

“Griffiths Llewellyn Jones, a married man and well known lay preacher was charged at Bath Quarter Sessions with defrauding five women with whom he was engaged to be married. “The money he got from the women”, it was stated, “was used for household expenses and not riotous living.”

He was sentenced to 15 months’ hard labour for his ‘frightful hypocrisy’.

There was remarkable tale too of a corporal in the Northumberland Fusiliers who had a miraculous escape. “When occupying a communications trench a shrapnel bullet pierced his arm, passed through his chest and lung and lodged in the muscles of his heart, where X-rays located it firmly embedded.”

The unnamed soldier had been invalided home and was said to be in hospital in Leeds due to have an operation to remove the bullet. The paper reported: “To all outward appearance he is in the best of health.”

It would appear there was a shortage of local material, for page 5 was dominated by the full script of the Headmaster of Ashbourne Grammar School’s Prize Day speech.

There was an ‘angle’ for the story – the prizes which should have been distributed at Christmas had been delayed by an outbreak of measles. The headmaster, WJ Butcher, who was retiring after 22 years due to ill health, it was reported. He had seen pupil numbers rise from 16 to 113 and a new school built in Green Lane. He had also overseen the admission of girls to the formerly boys-only establishment.

Percy, the youngest son of Mr J Dakin of Newhaven House, was granted a three-month exemption from military service by Ashbourne rural Military Tribunal. The 18-year-old was temporarily spared being called up because of his work on the 320 acre family farm, which had 40 dairy cows and 125 sheep. His brothers aged 20 and 26, however were granted absolute exemptions.

The Telegraph’s Lest We Forget roll of honour this week listed 35 names of Ashbourne district men killed in action and a further four men who had been killed in training.

There was no indication what prompted a single paragraph at the foot of page 6, with no headline, or indication whose view it was, but the sentiment was clear: “Whilst a number of tradesmen have been fined in various places for showing more or less light from their shop door and windows, big motor-cars, showing powerful headlights run about wherever their owner’s fancy takes them.”

  • My fellow researcher and De Montfort University colleague John Dilley is conducting a similar real-time project with the Market Harborough Advertiser. Check out his Newspapers and the Great Warblog
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