Delivering the News

A version of this article was published in Best of British Magazine in their Past Remembered section. A first for me, being paid for something written by myself.

 

I was about or just under thirteen years old when starting my first newspaper round in Huntingdon – a morning round, using a Pashley small front-wheel large-basket trades bike. A Sunday round was added next, in a different part of town. At that time there was competition for paper rounds, even waiting lists. My evening round was the most interesting. The morning and Sunday rounds I delivered for a newsagent but the evening round was my first taste of self-employment.

An older lad leaving school gave me the round. The papers were bought direct from a wholesaler and sold to the public. In 1964 the gross profit per paper was one penny – the old penny: large and 240 to the pound.

The wholesaler used an office at a garage and taxi company’s in Ferrar’s Road. It was situated in the back corner of a rectangular cobbled yard, the house at the front was the garage owners’. There were workshops down one side of the yard, a high wall along the opposite side. The back of the yard, away from the house, had more buildings and an arch with a driveway underneath leading to lock up single garages rented to the public.

The office contained a desk, a typewriter and chair, two largish tables, two more chairs, a telephone, tea-making facilities, also a large machine for printing Stop Press onto the papers. The evening papers sold by my wholesaler were London papers – The Evening News and The Standard. He was also the local wholesaler for a few magazines, one of which was Private Eye, a good read even then.

After finishing school, dropping my things at home, and collecting the trades bike, it was off to the wholesalers. There I collected about a dozen papers before cycling to the railway station. In the station I sold papers to waiting passengers – at first on the platform nearest the ticket office then, crossing the footbridge to the northbound platform, to commuters waiting there. When the express train from London arrived – I can’t remember whether, at that point, they were still steam or early diesels – the papers were collected from the guard’s carriage. The two bundles were carried back over the bridge – Evening News on my right shoulder, Evening Standards in my left hand – heaved into the basket of my bike, and I would be off.

There was a steepish hill out of the station to George Street but after that it was downhill leaving George Street, to use a short cut down cobbled Royal Oak Passage to the High Street. The passage had a central gutter then with an iron drain about halfway along. One day the bike’s front wheel caught in the drain, catapulting me over the handlebars. The bike stood on its end, the heavy papers pinning the basket to the ground.

Royal Oak Passage Huntingdon

Royal Oak Passage as it is now the central gutter and drain have both gone

Once through the passageway, my journey would continue up the High Street to the wholesaler’s delivering the papers to the office.

Premises in Ferrars Road Huntingdon.

P Cumberland DN The wholesalers were in the far right-hand corner of the outbuildings painted white. The house at the front belonged to the owner of the garage.

The Stop Press news would be received by telephone and transcribed in shorthand by the wholesaler’s secretary, the garage owner’s wife. The news was typed up onto a Roneo stencil, a narrow strip that looked like carbon paper perforated at one end. The stencil was loaded onto a drum at one end of the Stop Press machine, the papers placed onto a shelf at the other end then fed onto a conveyer by hand. The conveyer  passed papers under the rotating drum, which printed the news updates onto each paper in turn.

As soon as a dozen papers were printed. I would take them to a nearby factory – The Silent Channel – this company made rubber mouldings and also the guide channels for vehicle windows, cycling around the factory to sell as many as papers as possible before returning to the wholesalers to collect the rest of my papers. The other distributor at the wholesalers had driven off by then in his Austin A30, delivering papers to local newsagents.

Pashley trades bike

Pashley Trade’s Bike

The basket would be reloaded then I would head for the home of my assistant Stephen. His was the original round acquired from my predecessor. When he had his papers it was off again, next stop French’s offices and hostel. French’s were building London overspill estates, enlarging Huntingdon. After selling papers around their premises I delivered my own round, looking out for new prospective customers at the same time. A small John Bull printing set enabled me to produce advertising cards for evening paper delivery services, posted through the letter boxes of new arrivals, followed up with a call, which often gained new customers. The business was given to Stephen when I left school aged fifteen keeping a Sunday round on for a few years afterwards. I have a Sunday paper round now, have had for fifteen years or so, but in a different town. I am probably now the oldest paper boy in the Fens

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Here’s hoping it’s the first of many

    Reply

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