The Bury Free Press was one of the pioneering papers that blossomed after newspaper tax ended
The Bury Free Press is 160 years old this year, having hit the streets soon after the abolition of a tax on newspapers.
Until that year, newspaper duty made them too expensive for many people, but with the tax gone, the paper was one of many ‘free presses’ launched.
It’s origins go back to 1782 when Peter Gedge founded the Conservative Bury and Norwich Post. But in 1855, Liberal printer Thomas Lucia, who had worked for the Post, launched the Bury Free Press, claiming it would bring together all classes by spreading knowledge.
Its front page opening address said: “The Bury Free Press will be open to communications from all parties. We invite assistance and suggestions from every class. We shall not affordf space to gratify personal resentment or disappointed spleen.”
It was printed in a small building in a garden in Butter Market and cost one-and-a-half old pennies, which was the equivalent of about £1.45 today – 35p more than the current price.
It contained commentaries from Parliament plus columns of ‘accidents and offences’ alongside births,deaths, marriages and sport. Adverts were gathered on one page.
Lucia ran the paper for 30 years, with a growing circulation. When he died in 1886, it was bought by Henry Bankes Ashton, who ran it from his Abbeygate Street office.
However, the paper was printed in King’s Road, where its offices still stand.
In 1903, Richard Winfrey took control of the paper with Ipswich MP Felix Cobbold. Bankes Ashton and Bury grocer Thomas Ridley were co-directors. In 1931 it merged with the better-selling the Bury and Norwich Post.
In April 1980, a fire – one of a series of arsons – destroyed much of the Bury Free Press’ offices on a Wednesday evening. But a temporary office was set up in hours and staff re-wrote as many stories and adverts as they could so the paper came out as normal on the Friday, having been printed in King’s Lynn.
Staff moved into the current building in 1981.
The Bury Free Press today belongs to the nationwide Johnston Press Group and has a strong web presence in addition to the printed paper.