Your Western Gazette is on the move

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By Yeovil People | Thursday, November 04, 2010, 11:00

THE Western Gazette is to say a fond farewell to its landmark newspaper offices on Sherborne Road in Yeovil as it relocates to hi-tech new premises in the town.

After 104 years, newspaper operations at the historic building will cease as 56 newspaper staff relocate to Yeovil Innovation Centre at Barracks Road.

Managing director, Sarah Irvine, said: “The Western Gazette company is the fabric of the community and to ensure that we shape the business for the future we are delighted to be moving into our new premises.

“This new and exciting move will enable us to invest in state-of-the-art technology and allow the staff within the company to continue to produce fantastic newspapers and brilliant websites.

“Although our location will change what will never waver is our focus, which remains as strong as ever.

“We will continue to be at the heart of all things local and to champion the spirit of our community.”

Editor Lynne Fernquest, said: “This move, although tinged with a little sadness, also marks the start of a very exciting new chapter in the life of Western Gazette Media.”

“The beautiful building in Sherborne Road served us extremely well for so many years, but as a streamlined, multi-media organisation we feel it is time for the team to be in surroundings that complement the industry we are so firmly a part of.”

The Western Gazette will be the largest of the 18 businesses located at the innovation centre, taking up 4,500sq feet of office space.

The move will be a significant boost to the centre, which is operated by South Somerset District Council.

It was converted from the former Bonsoir shirt factory in 2008. A £5 million project saw the building reinvented as a hotbed for hi-tech businesses.

It includes a series of smaller units with business support facilities designed to help enterprises expand and is already home to technical, consultancy, training, business support and media companies.

Councillor Jo Roundell Greene, district council portfolio holder for economic and organisational development said: “South Somerset District Council is delighted to welcome the Western Gazette to the Yeovil Innovation Centre.

“Such a locally-famous and focused company is the perfect tenant to help drive the centre forward.

“The Western Gazette’s new offices have the latest multi-media communications systems which set new standards for hi-tech business in the South West.”

It will be the fifth home for the Western Gazette, which was first published in 1863, although the paper can trace its history back to the Sherborne Mercury which was founded in 1737.

An entrepreneurial Victorian journalist from Bridport, Charles Clinker, chose to set up a new paper in Yeovil in the 1860s because of its recently completed rail links, radiating across the region.

The Western Gazette was initially based on Sherborne Road, then called London Road, on the opposite side of the road to the current 1906 offices.

It grew rapidly, moving to Brunswick Street in 1865, and by 1867 Mr Clinker bought out the Yeovil-based rival paper – the century-old Western Flying Post.

In 1870, the paper moved to purpose-built offices on the corner of Newton Road and Lower Middle Street, in a building now converted to flats.

The paper’s growth continued and the need for improved printing presses meant within 30 years it needed to move again – into the purpose-built headquarters the Western Gazette has used since 1906.

Built of 600,000 bricks and honey-coloured Bath stone, its facade stretches 141 feet along Sherborne Road and Newton Road and was awarded a blue plaque by Yeovil Town Council in 2000.

The Renaissance-style frontage is 45ft high and the decoration above its recessed doorway remains a landmark in the town.

Carved by Gilbert Seale of London it depicts the messenger god mercury, as well as the newspaper’s masthead. Above is a clock erected by Yeovil jeweller E M Seddon. At the time it was described as an “ornament and an honour to Yeovil.”

The building was originally lit by gas lights and heated by a steam powered system installed by Petters of Yeovil and London.

The building was originally a combination of factory and offices. A 500-ton concrete base and steel frame was designed to resist the massive weight and movement of printing presses. Its original triple deck printing equipment could produce 24,000 newspapers an hour.

It was one of the first buildings in the area to have a steel girder framework, and was robust enough to take even heavier machinery installed in later years.

What is currently the newsroom was once an 80-foot long printing room, while the current advertising office was a composing room, housing complicated ‘hot metal’ linotype and monotype setting machines.

At the time of its opening the building housed around 120 employees. In 1925 a new four deck press was ordered, allowing 36,000 copies of the 16-page paper to be printed per hour.

The three deck press was retained to print three other newspapers then owned by the company. At the outbreak of Second World War in 1939, a third printing press was installed in an extension to the building on Newton Road, doubling the print capacity.

Ironically, the new press was not put through its paces for several years as printing was restricted during the war.

Up until the 1970s the printing process was complex and labour intensive, but since the 1980s the production process has been gradually computerised. Following the takeover of the Western Gazette by Bristol United Press in 1965, printing presses were first relocated to a businesses park in Yeovil.

With many of the printing and production staff no longer working in Yeovil, the building has been used purely as offices, with heavy machinery of the past replaced by computers.

The newspaper is now owned by national media group Northcliffe Regional Newspapers.

Former Western Gazette editor Don Mildenhall said it was the grand Western Gazette offices on Sherborne Road that sparked his interest in journalism and led to a relationship with the building spanning 51 years. He first walked though the door as an advertising junior in the 1940s and retired as editor in 1991.

Mr Mildenhall said: “I knew what I wanted to do for a career at the age of nine. I was delighted to see in Yeovil what I considered to be one of the best buildings in the town.”

He started in advertising but as reporters were called up for the war, Mr Mildenhall moved into journalism.

He said: “When I first worked in the building it was busier than I expected. There was a thriving advertising department on the ground floor, and I was thrilled. There were 60 printers in the building, it was literally a hive of industry.

“The most frightening time came in 1940 when, as we sheltered, we heard the sound of a series of explosions. We thought Yeovil had copped it. Instead we emerged to find Yeovil was safe but 300 bombs had dropped on Sherborne.”

Mr Mildenhall followed colleagues called up for National Service in 1944 and returned to the Western Gazette to become a district reporter in 1951. He spent nearly 30 years reporting from Sherborne before returning to the Yeovil head office as deputy editor, then editor.

He said: “One of my greatest pleasures was when the Western Gazette celebrated its 250th anniversary in 1987 and we received a greeting from the Queen.”

Mr Mildenhall also recalled facing a picket line outside the office which included his own daughter carrying a placard saying, “Go home dad” on it. “I had no trouble crossing the picket line,” he said. “It was good natured and I remember we managed to get the paper out despite the strike, but with a reduced number of pages and fewer editions.”

The offices were also used as a location for filming during the 1980s, with scenes for at least two thrillers shot inside the building. A partition wall built specifically for one of the films remains in place today.

The move, due to take place later this month, means new phone numbers.

The main switchboard will become

As well as visiting Yeovil Innovation Centre, customers will continue to be able to drop off birth, marriage and death announcements advertisements and pay for home deliveries in the town centre at The Sweeterie and Crofton Stores in Middle Street and Mace on Princes Street.

      

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