This is a monthly look at the local newspaper articles appearing in the Coalville Times a century ago, which contain people, places and incidents relevant to Whitwick. These articles show the kind of reports that were being printed, from serious incidents in court proceedings, to local sporting activities and general news items that relate specifically to Whitwick and its inhabitants. The information will hopefully provide an insight into the language of the people and the press in making and reporting the news in the early years of the 20th century, and will also give those looking for their ancestors the added bonus of small snippets of local goings on, more so than mere names on a census can provide, and place them in the context of the time, in both the backdrop of local politics and national events. The information provided is with the kind permission of the Coalville Times, who continue to publish a weekly newspaper since its introduction on 29th September 1893.

It was published from offices in High Street, and printed off machinery put up in a shed behind the premises. Staffing was not large, so for the first few years half the newspaper was printed in London and sent to Coalville by train. The eight pages were printed on two sides of a large sheet. One side, news and a serial story, were printed in London; Coalville printed the other four pages of local news and advertisements.

The Coalville Times was the brainchild of Andrew Wilkins, who part-owned the Nuneaton Observer. He saw the potential for developing business in Coalville and when the Nuneaton partnership was dissolved, Mr Wilkins came to Coalville bringing with him the Nuneaton Observer’s foreman printer, Charles Marston.

Producing a newspaper in late 19th and early 20th centuries was a much more laborious process than it is today. There were no computers, electronics or telephones. The newspaper type had to set up by hand from cases of letters, varying in size, the largest being for the most used letters. Printing was done on an old machine, powered by an even older gas engine.

The final page of each issue contained the words:

“Printed and Published by Andrew Wilkins and Son, at their Gas Power Printing Works, “Times” Office, High Street, Coalville in the County of Leicester.”

Right from the start the Coalville Times was well received, although circulation was only a few hundred a week. Its aims were “To produce a respectable weekly journal of news, stories and general literature and, as far as possible, to make it beneficial to the people of the district.”

Production moved from the rear of the High Street publishing premises to new printing works in Margaret Street. These were housed in a single room, previously a Mission Hall. Half the paper was still being printed in London, and the old hand setting machine was still used.

This caused a problem one week when the formes (type-set ready for printing) were made up and on the machine. The old gas engine gave up the ghost and it looked as if the paper would have to do the unthinkable and miss a week. Local ironmongers, Coleman and Son, offered an oil engine, the changeover was made and the paper came out as usual.

Coalville engineering company, Whootton Bros, rescued the issue several times when machinery broke, sending over expert fitters at a moment’s notice. Eventually, the whole of the paper was printed in Coalville, and a new building doubled the Margaret Street work space. Major change was the introduction of the linotype – a machine which almost created revolution in the printing industry.

It was calculated that a good operative on the machine’s typewriter keyboard could equal the work of eight compositors setting type by hand. As it happened, fears proved groundless as workmen were absorbed into the industry in other ways.

The articles appeared in regular sections throughout the Coalville Times each week. There was a section on court proceedings that had been held in the Coalville, Ashby-de-la-Zouch and Market Bosworth courts and give the names of those on the bench at that sitting. There was a section called ‘Do you know’ with short snippets of information as well as the sports columns for football, cricket and other activities such as miniature rifle shooting and skittles. The Coalville District Council monthly report covered many aspects including Housing, Sanitation, Water, Health and Education. Information on religious activities of the various faiths were also regularly reported as well as the Births, Marriages and Deaths of the local inhabitants. As the Great War began, articles and information of locals away at the front as well as the wider, national picture were reported. Local activities in relation to the war showed the communities and people collecting for the troops, hospitals, distress funds and the meetings that were held to get men to ‘join the colours’.

Some words and phrases used commonly in the 1900s have either disappeared or dropped out of use in the language of today. Where possible, notes have been added to support the text.

For example, money was given in pounds (£), shillings (s) and pence (d) such as £3 10s 6d or a shortened version £3/10/6. The monetary system was:

  • Twelve pennies equalled one shilling
  • Twenty shillings equalled one pound
  • Two hundred and forty pennies equalled one pound
  • A ‘guinea’ was one pound and one shilling (twenty-one shillings)
  • A ‘half crown’ was two shillings and sixpence (an eighth of a pound)
  • A farthing was a quarter of a penny
  • Decimalisation came in on 15th February 1971. The farthing had already been taken out of circulation on 1st January 1961 and on 31st August 1971 the old penny and threepenny bit left circulation.

Coins in use would have been:

  • Farthing 1/4d
  • Halfpenny 1/2d
  • Penny 1d
  • Threepence 3d
  • Sixpence 6d
  • Shilling 1s
  • Florin 2s
  • Half Crown 2s 6d
  • Crown 5s
  • Pound £1
  • Guinea 21s

Due to the change to decimalisation and inflation, a newspaper account, such as fines due to court proceedings, mean little today so the current conversion is that for every old penny (1d) in today’s money that would be the equivalent of 41p, and a pound is now worth £88.86 today.

As an example: Defendant was fined 2s (£8.89) with 10s 6d costs (£46.65).
If someone left £10 in their will, the equivalent today would be £888.60.

The Coalville Times today costs 60p and in 1913 it cost 1 penny (40p).

Coalville Times At War

War between Britain and Germany was declared on August 4th, 1914 and the Coalville Times printed its edition on Friday, the 7th August. Here is recorded both the local and national information regarding the build up and initial clashes in that first week of the war.

From Friday 14th August, only the ‘local’ news is recorded, unless there is a national event that links to the local scene or to make sense or better explain local happenings.

As the Great War began, articles and information of local people away at the front as well as the wider, national picture were reported. Local activities in relation to the war showed the communities and people coming together to raise money for the troops, hospitals, distress funds as well as the meetings that were held to get men to ‘join the colours’.

From the early stages of the war, refugees from Belgium, displaced as the German army advanced, found themselves in the local area. Meetings were held to identify suitable accommodation and the need for money to pay for their upkeep produced committees and weekly house-to-house collections. Broom Leys became one such property and housed around 80 refugees, men, women and children.

As the fighting intensified, captured German officers were housed locally at Donington Hall, guarded by local troops; their apparent ‘luxury’ conditions being questioned in Parliament! Towns and cities formed ‘Citizen Corps’ for training and to protect important installations such as the railways and reservoirs as well as the local populace in case of invasion.

Soldiers wrote from their training barracks and the front line to friends and family back home, and these were printed, mainly on the back page of the paper. Troops were sent packages of food, cigarettes and tobacco, and clothes, especially socks, arranged by local groups. The soldiers’ grateful thanks being reported in their notes home. Post from England to France took less than a week and many received regular copies of the “Coalville Times”. Inevitably, casualties among the local men who had gone to the front also began to appear in newspaper reports, along with their photographs.

At the start of the war the British army had a small force in comparison with its German enemy. Lord Kitchener requested more volunteers to join up and by January 1915 over a million extra men had enlisted. However, by the middle of 1915 volunteer numbers drastically reduced and the National Registration Act was created. This was a list of all men who were eligible to be called up to the forces and in March 1916 the Military Service Act was passed, originally for single men aged 18 to 41, but in May 1916, this was extended to include married men.

Those who were called up could appeal to a local Tribunal and these were held weekly in Coalville, and locally took place in Market Bosworth and Ashby-de-la-Zouch. The Tribunal would decide cases who were appealing to be exempted on the grounds of being in an industry that was essential to the nation, medically unfit and those with moral or religious reasons (Conscientious Objectors). Appeals could be refused or given a period of time to sort out their affairs before having to go, generally around one to three months.

The effects of war also affected the “Coalville Times” and the Government in early 1916 placed restrictions on the use of paper and supply was reduced to two-thirds. Therefore, from March 1916, the “Coalville Times” was reduced from eight to six pages. The reduction in space saw some slight changes to the paper. Previously, each issue contained the local bus and railway timetables, but this was reduced to being published on the first Friday of every month. Also, the paper produced an ever growing list of the local casualties headed ‘Roll of Honour’ each week and this would now appear once each month.