Southport Visiter celebrates 180th birthday

One of the UK’s oldest and most cherished local newspaper titles, the Southport Visiter, is celebrating 180 years. Former Visiter journalist Andrew Brown reports

Southport Visiter
Original Southport Visiter offices back in the 1800s


It was Saturday, May 4,1844, when the Southport Visiter and General Advertiser first rolled off the presses and cost threepence per copy.

That first ever edition was originally intended as a souvenir publication and had a circulation of 400, which took six hours to print.

A 12in by 7in tabloid, it was created on one of the two hand-powered Columbian presses, inked with large hand-rollers; the employees took turns in ‘pulling’ the paper from the press.

The Visiter was founded by Robert Johnson, who was born in York in 1807, but came here in 1837, the first year of the Victorian era, to benefit from the seaside resort’s invigorating sea air.

His first printing premises were at a small disused slaughter-house at 115 Lord Street, where the Vincent Hotel (formerly the Canon Cinema) now stands.

In context – the Southport Visiter predates most newspapers across the country, including the Manchester Evening News which not founded until 1868, the Liverpool Echo in 1879, the Lancashire Evening Post in 1886, the Yorkshire Evening Post in 1890, the Daily Mail in 1896, and the Daily Mirror (Britain’s oldest surviving tabloid) in 1903.

It has been a firm family favourite in the homes of generations of Sandgrounders ever since. The origin of the name has long been a question asked, especially since the UK also has the Morecambe Visitor newspaper.

The Southport Visiter is older, founded at a time when ‘visiter’ was an accepted spelling.  The name of the paper says it all. It was a mix of advertising aimed at the ‘Inhabitants and Visiters of Southport’.

It included a long list of all the people staying in hotels and holiday accommodation – who wouldn’t want to spend threepence to see their name in print?

Young Master Robert Munn of Hilton House, Prestwich, who was staying at the Mansion House, was one of those happy to broadcast the fact he was in Southport. Think of it as the Victorian equivalent of posting your holiday selfies on Instagram!

Most of the visitors were from the Manchester, Bolton and Wigan areas, with a few from Liverpool, Ormskirk and West Yorkshire. But L Ward Esq. and TT Taylor Esq. had come all the way from Cheltenham and Glasgow respectively to enjoy Southport’s ‘tranquil and bracing shores’.

Having a regular newspaper in the town was something new and exciting in a seaside resort that was flourishing, as a place where people in the towns and cities inland came to escape the smoke and the fog and take in the healing benefits of the sands, the sights and the sea air.

Other major events in 1844 included the sending of the first electric telegram by Samuel F. B. Morse; the last pair of great auks died on the Icelandic island of Eldey; the first ever international cricket match took place; and Swedish chemistry professor Gustaf Erik Pasch invented the match.

People in our seaside resort were reading all the latest news 59 years before Wilbur and Orville Wright made their first powered aircraft flight in 1903; just three years after the man who founded Southport, William ‘Duke’ Sutton, died; when Queen Victoria (1837–1901), whose statue adorns Nevill Street, was just seven years into her reign; and just 29 years after Britain defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo (1815).


Southport Visiter
The Southport Visiter celebrates 180 years on May 4
Southport Visiter
The first edition of the Southport Visiter newspaper on May 4, 1844
Southport Visiter
The Southport Visiter front page on Friday, June 12, 1992
Southport Visiter
People in Southport celebrate VE Day on May 8, 1945, marked by the Southport Visiter 


Being able to read news in a newspaper was a novelty that wowed local residents and visitors alike.  The first run quickly sold out, so they had to start another print run.

The early papers (which cost 3d) consisted of eight uncut pages of three columns, and the number of employees was less than a dozen (in 1894 it was about 100).

The title subsequently moved to bigger premises on Tulketh Street, a huge building that it inhabited for over 100 years until its sudden closure in 2016.

This site used to house a massive printing press on the ground floor with scores of members of staff working on the first floor too in departments including editorial, advertising, newspaper sales, production, telesales, reception, IT and more.

Anf the front windows on Tulketh Street were always a popular draw, as all the photographs from each window were pinned up in the windows for passers-by to admire.

I was fortunate to work there for many years, from 2001 until 2019, as assistant editor, deputy editor then group editor, as we produced other Sefton and West Lancashire newspapers and websites.

They included the Crosby Herald, and Bootle Times, the Formby Times, the Ormskirk Advertiser, the Skelmersdale Advertiser, the Tourist Visiter, many one-off publications, and the Southport Visiter website.  It was an amazing, vibrant, happy place to work.

For three and a half years, we all moved upstairs to work on the first floor as the ground floor accommodated the temporary Southport Library, while work on the new ‘The Atkinson’ building took place.

It was thanks to a campaign to keep a library open that was led by much-loved local actress Jean Alexander, who played Hilda Ogden in Coronation Street.

It often didn’t feel like ‘working’, spending time alongside some very talented, enthusiastic and driven editorial and advertising teams.


Southport Visiter
Members of The Southport Visiter team. Picture by Stuart Isenberg
Southport Visiter
Southport Visiter staff celebrate the launch of the new free newspaper called Grapevine,  later renamed the Midweek Visiter
Southport Visiter
Southport Visiter staff in the 1990s
Southport Visiter
Southport Visiter staff celebrate the newspaper’s 174th birthday in 2018


It was a campaigning title, which led a drive to save Southport Pier a quarter of a century ago when it faced demolition; saved local schools from closure; led a campaign to save children’s A&E at Southport Hospital that drew support from 26,000 local residents; supported lots of fundraising and other campaigns.

The Southport Visiter newspaper office closed suddenly in 2016, 100 years of history over.  Thankfully the Southport Visiter newspaper continues to be published every Thursday under a great team led by Editor Mike Green.

After several years sitting empty, it was good to see recently that the old Visiter office has had planning permission granted to turn the upper floors into apartments with three new commercial units due to be created on the ground floor. A new chapter awaits.

READ MORE: Sefton still £10m short on Southport Pier project

READ MORE: Palios talking to ‘big names’ over new Tranmere Rovers stadium

The Southport Visiter is still published today, every Thursday, with subscriptions available.

Early editions, including from 1844, can be read on microfilm at the Local History Unit in Crosby Library.

Many of the titles that we used to produce have now gone, but it is fantastic to see the Southport Visiter, one of the UK’s oldest newspapers, reaching a respectable 180th birthday.

Many happy returns.

This article first appeared in Stand Up For Southport

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