The Craven Herald is coming to the end of its 160th anniversary year – but it was not the first newspaper to be published in the district. Here we look back on the Herald’s history

The Craven Herald was the brainchild of John Tasker, who must have been mortified when, in December 1852, John Garnett, a printer and bookseller at 33 High Street, produced Craven’s first newspaper.

The Skipton Advertiser and Monthly Recorder arrived on the streets in December 1852 – less than a month before Tasker’s Craven Herald and Monthly Advertiser.

The Recorder declared that its object was “to advocate the principles of morality, social science, commerce and agriculture and to promote the best interests of the town and the district”.

At first an editorial committee controlled the content of this periodical but as this disintegrated, Garnett ill-advisedly started a matrimonial column setting forth the qualifications – mental and otherwise – of eligible young ladies in the town. Worse, he added their initials so there could be little doubt of their identity.

Enraged spinsters and indignant mothers raised a storm of protest in which the Advertiser floundered. Garnett sold up his business and left the town in January 1856.

The first edition of the Craven Herald appeared on January 1, 1853, was priced at one penny, was slightly bigger than A4 and had news on the front - in fact that was the only news in the edition.

Its whole tone and content was far removed from what a modern reader would expect from as newspaper. In fact, Mr Tasker did not even claim that his new publication would be a conveyor of news. It was, he declared, “a journal of literature and science”.

In humble, beseeching language, Mr Tasker set forth his hopes for the future: “We shall endeavour to render our periodical as extensively interesting and useful as we are capable. We guarantee diligence and earnestness in our efforts to amuse and instruct; of our ability and success therein, our readers will be the judge.”

The Advertiser and Herald were soon joined in the fray by the Home Visitor, which made its first appearance in August 1854. It was the work of the Skipton Temperance Society.

Mainly an advertising sheet, it was run by John Dawson, a young man with an interest in moral and religious movements and it was this paper which was to develop to become the Craven Pioneer, whose title is today still incorporated in our masthead.

In 1858, the paper adopted the unwieldy title of the Craven Pioneer and Craven Chronicle and Advertiser and, in 1865, control passed from the Temperance Society to Edmondson and Co, a printing business, with the editor, John Dawson, as a sleeping partner.

By this time the Herald had suspended publication leaving the Pioneer as the only paper in the town. James Tasker had become the postmaster.

John Procter Brown, another printer, tried to start his own paper, the Skipton Reporter, a fortnightly, but it lasted only from February 1858 to September 1860, when it was sold to JC Cragg, a Keighley printer who tried unsuccessfully to run it from outside the town.

In 1874 the staunchly Liberal and Nonconformist Pioneer had a new rival, one which this time was to last and eventually succeed it.

A meeting of prominent Conservatives met in the town and decided to start up their own title – the Craven Herald was reborn.

The Conservatives sought to raise £2,000 in capital and issued a prospectus. It stated “a well-conducted paper of sufficient size to comprise all the news of the week” was a necessity. It would supply the fullest and most accurate reports of all local matters, including the proceedings of the Local Board of Health, the Board of Guardians, the Highway Board, the Petty Sessions, and other Law Courts, together with all the general news of the district. A digest of the national and foreign news of the week was also considered essential.

The Craven Conservative Newspaper Company Limited was formed, but it soon changed its name to the Skipton Stationery Company and purchased, from the very James Tasker who had suspended the Craven Herald to become postmaster, the house and business at 38 High Street.

On July 18, 1874, the company appointed Edward Oates, an Otley man, as the editor-manager and he purchased from David Payne, also from Otley, a Wharfedale printing machine.

The new publication quickly found favour. The only report of a political flavour in that first edition of its second age was, ironically, a report of a Liberal rally at Clitheroe at which the speakers were Lord Frederick Cavendish and Sir Mathew Wilson.

The rivalry between the Herald and the West Riding Pioneer remained strong and when, in the 1930s, rumours that the Pioneer was to invest in a new press again appeared, the Herald directors realised that their old press would put them at a serious disadvantage in regard to quality. So they opened discussions with the Yorkshire Post, who were selling their old press.

In 1934 the directors agreed to buy the Post’s printing press at a cost of £1,500. A small amount of land was purchased from Frank Laycock to extend the premises at the rear of the building to house the larger press.

However, it was becoming clear that the population was not large enough to sustain two weekly newspapers.

A special meeting of the directors on February 17, 1937, discussed a merger between the town’s two papers. The approach had come from Westminster Press, owners of the West Riding Pioneer.

The Herald board dismissed out of hand the prospect of selling their paper but agreed to ask what price would be required for the Pioneer. Its initial offer of £750 for the title and goodwill of the rival paper was rejected but a second offer at a price “not exceeding £1,000” was accepted.

Ironically Westminster Press, seller of the Pioneer, was to buy the Herald (and with it of course the Pioneer title) 50 years later for a sum of more than £2 million.

In 1939 the country was at war again. For the Herald this meant rationing, reduced income, and a censor. But its fortunes were on the rise again by 1948 when the company bought at auction six cottages, two workshops and a garage in Hardcastle’s Yard, Skipton for £2,000. This is the land now occupied by Bay Horse Court.

From the 1950s on the Herald settled into a period of stability and in 1958 the company pulled down its property in Hardcastle’s Yard, off the High Street, to build new works for the whole printing process.

In 1974 the paper celebrated 100 years since it was refounded and the BBC2 series Man Alive arrived to film a documentary on the production of a small provincial paper.

By the 1980s, new technology was revolutionising the printing world and the Victorian press, acquired second hand in the 1930s was well past its sell by date.

In 1986 the board investigated a switch from a “hot metal” process (involving compositors setting the words written by reporters on to metal type) to using computers. The switch was deemed essential and there was no shortage of offers of finding a press which would print the paper.

From here things moved very quickly as the directors, it seemed, had abandoned all hope of printing the Craven Herald in Skipton. Talks were held with three groups interested in buying the company – the Halifax Courier, the Westminster Press group which owned the Telegraph and Argus in Bradford and Tom Clarke’s Silentnight group.

In October 1987 a board meeting unanimously resolved to accept Westminster Press’s offer of £12.50 per share, equating to £2,250,000, for the paper.

In 1996, Westminster Press itself was sold to Newsquest, which, in turn, was acquired by American-based Gannett in 1999. Ten years later, the Craven Herald changed from broadsheet to its current compact format.