Express bids farewell to Bull Street

Bull Street '“ the historic home of the Burnley Express for more than a century '“ has witnessed the final edition produced within its wise old walls.

Saturday, 20th August 2016, 10:00 am
The Burnley Express, Bull Street, celebrates the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953

The town’s newspaper gave birth to a new era this week when its editorial staff packed up their pads and moved two miles up the road to Business First at Lowerhouse, leaving behind decades of memories and countless column inches of copy.

In its final years the home of all the editorial staff from East Lancashire Newspapers, Bull Street was the hub from where the latest events in Burnley and beyond were first put to paper.

The grand old building, built near the site of a farm and later the Bull Hotel, has seen huge changes in the newspaper industry over the decades, not least when the printing presses stopped turning in the 1970s.

An early Burnley Express delivery vehicle

Situated at the bottom of Manchester Road, the home of the Burnley Express was ideally located for hungry newshounds, just a short walk to the town’s courts, and an even shorter journey to the town’s watering holes for those of a thirsty disposition.

Not many readers will be aware the building also played host to some fiercely contested pool tournaments among reporters.

In between trips out and pool matches, the shrill ringing of typewriters would echo from the smoke-filled, sometimes expletive-laden newsroom of reporters.

Journalists and editors, technology and styles, would come and go, but Bull Street was a constant. It is a story which is as layered as any that have graced the pages of the Express, in its various guises throughout its long history.

An early Burnley Express delivery vehicle

The Burnley Express began life in 1877, at that time occupying a building next to the Bull Hotel, built in 1819 by entrepreneur the Rev. John Hargreaves as the area’s premier coaching inn.

The world was a very different place in 1877 – Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India, Benjamin Disraeli was Prime Minister, and Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake debuted. Liberal Peter Rylands had been Burnley’s MP since 1876 when he had won a parliamentary by-election.

Just 12 years later, notorious Whitechapel serial killer Jack the Ripper would be making headlines that would not be out of place in today’s red-top tabloids. Readers today will be holding the Express in tabloid size, but this was not always the case. The Tuesday edition was broadsheet until the early 1990s and the Friday Express until the early noughties.

The many years of broadsheets originally consisted of only a handful of pages produced by the Express – albeit pages packed with stories far and wide.

And wide they were. The Express, like most local papers of the time, carried not only regional and national news, but also correspondence from abroad.

In our current dizzying world of the internet and 24 hour news, it is hard to imagine the local paper as the first port of call for all that was happening in the world. Indeed, the many conflicts in which the British Empire was involved at the time, including Afghanistan and the Boer War, featured soldiers from Burnley, a town which has proved a rich recruiting ground for Britain’s armed forces over the years.

It was not just the Express that provided news to late Victorian Burnley folk. Indeed, the town had its very own “Little Fleet Street” with the Burnley News, Lancashire Daily Post and Preston Guardian, based in St James’s Row, just around the corner from the Express in Bull Street.

Indeed, publications of various political persuasions, flourished in Burnley during this period – the Cottager’s journal being the trailblazer, starting life in Liverpool House in 1842. This was followed by the Burnley Bee, produced from a St James’s Street printer’s shop in 1846.

However, the Bee was little more than a pamphlet, and six years later the Burnley Advertiser made its first appearance – distributing free copies to 2,000 households across Burnley. The short-lived Burnley Mercury was another, but the Burnley Free Press, soon after renamed the Gazette, became a fixture from 1863 occupying offices in Hargreaves Street, Bridge Street and St James’s Row. But it was the Express that would come to dominate them all and establish itself as the town’s foremost newspaper, particularly from 1933 when it amalgamated with the Burnley News. Fast forward to 2016 and Bull Street is contemplating a new future.

Whatever it becomes, let’s hope the building’s resident ghost “Old Ned” approves.