A SIMPLE spring clean has yielded a flood of memories for one elderly News Letter reader and his son.
While tidying a spare room, Ray Forbes uncovered a 200th anniversary edition of the News Letter in his 90-year-old father William’s Glengormley home.
The old but well-preserved copy of the paper dates back to September 1, 1937.
The find comes just ahead of the News Letter’s own 275th anniversary this September.
The News Letter was first published on September 13, 1737 (under what was then the Julian Calendar). Of all the English-speaking daily papers in circulation today, it is believed to be the oldest continuously-published one.
Ray, 55, said they had made the discovery while trying to tidy some space in his father’s house.
As they went through the household bric-a-brac, some of which had lain undisturbed for years, inside a drawer they found a plastic bag full of paperwork.
Within it was a dry, yellowing, but perfectly readable bicentennial supplement, running to a whopping 66 pages.
“We realised it was probably William’s father who’d had it,” said Ray.
“I couldn’t believe it. It was in mint condition. It’s how big it is, and how readable it is.
“It’s like a history book.”
Particularly interesting to them were some of the articles looking back on the signing of the Ulster Covenant and a huge unionist gathering in Craigavon during the campaign opposing Home Rule.
William, who lived in Glengormley since 1962 before moving to Whiteabbey Care Home on the Doagh Road this year, said: “I know it all.”
Though the find is delicate (and Ray came close to ripping a page in half just by turning it over), the newsprint was clearly legible.
A far cry from today’s colourful, picture-packed newspapers, the supplement contained large, often unbroken, slabs of text.
But there were also some flourishes of colour, such as a cover illustration of Belfast in 1737 compared to 1937.
Depicting how the rise of the shipyards had changed the Lagan area from a collection of dormant hamlets to a busy centre of industry in the centuries since the News Letter first published, the red rooftops of factories and houses still stood out brightly from the fading page.
Many of the first few pages were taken up with full-page advertisements for everything from Harland & Wolff and the Port of Belfast, to Ormo bread and Bushmills Whiskey.
There was also an ad for the Belfast Banking Company, boasting of its £2.5m in “authorised and subscribed capital” – hardly a vast sum by today’s banking standards.
The first page of news, page nine, carried in its centre a special royal pronouncement.
It said: “The King has heard with much interest that the ‘Belfast News-Letter’ is celebrating its bicentenary on September 1.
“His majesty sends his hearty congratulations on this landmark in the newspaper’s history, together with the assurance of his best wishes for the continued prosperity of the Belfast News-Letter and its readers.”
Ray said: “If it was going to be worth a lot of money, I would have sold it. But if it’s going to be £50, I might hold onto it.
“If there’s some organisation that could make good use of it for history purposes, maybe I’d give it to them.
“It’s just an interesting find. It’s a good historic read.”
Alongside the old News Letter, they found a receipt from William’s wedding in 1949, recording how two limousines hired for a day had cost just £4 and 10 shillings.
Clearly, the Province has changed quite dramatically. But William, who worked as a farmer and groundskeeper most of his life and celebrated his 63rd wedding anniversary this year, continues to subscribe to the paper, which he has been getting delivered for more than 25 years.
“It’s a decent paper, the News Letter,” said William. “It tells the whole thing.”
In a few weeks, the News Letter will produce a supplement to mark the 275th anniversary in September.