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Bringing you the news since 1887

THE Observer has been proudly serving the people of Accrington since it was founded in 1887 by the Toulmin family of Preston, owners of the Preston Guardian and Blackburn Times, who decided to extend their interests into the rapidly-expanding town.

THE changing face of the Observer
THE changing face of the Observer

THE Observer has been proudly serving the people of Accrington since it was founded in 1887 by the Toulmin family of Preston, owners of the Preston Guardian and Blackburn Times, who decided to extend their interests into the rapidly-expanding town.

For the first four years it struggled against competition from the Accrington Times and the Accrington Gazette, losing money despite a steady circulation of 4,000, and the Toulmins decided that enough was enough.

But they reckoned without the paper's manager and editor Richard Shaw Crossley who, at the age of only 33, bought the paper with £1,000 borrowed from a wealthy uncle. Four months later he bought out the rival Times, merging the two publications under the title of the Accrington Observer and Times.

The first office was in Peel Street but at the turn of the century the paper moved to the Edgar Street premises which were to be its home for over 90 years. In 1900 publication was extended with the introduction of Tuesday's Observer.

When Crossley died in 1931 he left a well-equipped and thriving business with six or seven Linotype machines, a new Rotary press and photographic coverage which had been extensively developed in the 1920s and 1930s.

Wartime difficulties of paper rationing and staff shortages were overcome and in 1952 the founder's sons, Richard and Robert Crossley, looked to the future by buying a brand-new Crabtree rotary press which turned out nearly 30,000 papers a week for the next 38 years. The brothers died within a few months of each other in 1959, handing over to their two sons, Eric and Harry.

In 1963 came the most dramatic change in the history of the paper when news replaced adverts on the front page. The Fifties and Sixties was the golden age of local newspapers for both circulation and advertising revenue and the next big change was not to come until 6 November 1973 when Tuesday's Observer switched to the new popular tabloid size, selling for just 2d.

By 1980 the decision had been taken to switch from hot metal to computerised photo-typesetting - perhaps the most difficult and significant change of all. In the late-1980s the weekend paper's publication date was switched from Saturday to Friday, sparking some complaints from people who said they enjoyed reading it in bed on Saturday morning.

By now Harry Crossley's son, Richard, the fourth generation of the family to run the paper, was at the helm. But by the end of the decade the Observer was one of the few family-owned newspapers left in the country and it was becoming increasingly difficult to compete against the large groups and the wave of free newspapers which had been launched in the Eighties. So the decision was taken to accept an offer from G and A N Scott, publishers of the Rochdale Observer groups of newspapers including the Rossendale Free Press, and itself a subsidiary of the giant Guardian and Manchester Evening News company.

The first paper of the Nineties saw Friday's edition also switch to tabloid format.

The decade saw a move to modern new offices in Blackburn Road, closer to the town centre than the old Edgar Street base, and further developments in technology which culminated in 1999 in a complete electronic system, producing full pages on screen. But throughout all the changes one thing has remained constant - our desire and our ability to provide the most comprehensive and up-to-date news coverage possible for our loyal army of readers who would never by without their 'Accy Ob'.

Editors in short supply

REMARKABLY, the Observer has had only five editors in its long history. Richard S Crossley combined the role with that of owner for 44 years until his death in 1931 when the chair was taken by Herbert Wildman, a notorious stickler for accuracy and good English.

He was succeeded in 1939 by Tom Watson, another meticulous wordsmith who greatly expanded the paper's news coverage over the next 25 years.

For its fourth editor the paper turned to Frank Kitchener, who had worked his way up from office boy through stints as proof reader's assistant, junior reporter, senior reporter and sports editor when he covered Accrington Stanley under the quaint pen-name of Jason.

His 15 years in the hot seat were characterised by informed and in-depth coverage of local government, greater importance placed on the front page as the showpiece of the paper and a forthright opinion column written under the title 'Observ(er)ations'

When he retired through ill-health in 1979 his place was taken by Mervyn Kay who, having steered the paper through greater changes than at any other time in its history, is still at the helm today.


Stuart Pike
Deputy editor specialising in politics
Alex Bell
Bethany English
District reporter
Beth Abbit
Court reporter
Jon Macpherson
Kate Watkins
Reporter specialising in communities
Garth Dawson
Photographer and columnist