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Tel: 01256 337444
Fax: 01256 337425
E-mail: newsdesk@bas ingstokegazette.co.uk

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The Gazette is a part of Basingstoke's past, present and future - but its roots can be traced back to the West Country.

It was in Devon that co-founder John Bird trained as a printer and began to flourish as an astute businessman.

John's initial foray into the newspaper world came when he bought the Tiverton Gazette and decided to turn it into a more thriving business.

However, the son of a Somerset coalman wasn't content with staying put in Devon. He looked at a map and, even in those bygone days, saw the potential of Basingstoke. Strategically positioned in terms of communications to Reading, Southampton and London, Basingstoke was in a prime spot and John thought - quite rightly, it transpired - that it was an ideal place to set up a family business.

So it was that John and his brother Sidney bought an old stationer's shop in Church Street and opened their printing business.

This was the foundation stone on which to build a newspaper business and on January 5, 1878, the first edition of the Hants and Berks Gazette, as it was to be known for many years, rolled off the presses.

The first edition was a far cry from today's Thursday Gazette, which is regularly 128 pages.

Edition number one was an eight-page broadsheet priced at one penny and it was produced, as the columns proudly proclaimed, on the Birds' "modern steam printing press".

In his first editorial, John Bird wrote: "We vaunt nothing beyond the determination that no effort be spared to make the journal a first-class family newspaper."

John was determined that the paper should serve the local community - and that has remained a goal of The Gazette ever since.

Shortly after the inception of The Gazette, the Bird brothers acquired two other newspapers - the Middlesex and Surrey Advertisers - and their names were incorporated into the title.

John Bird died in 1905 at the age of 59 and the mantle of the business passed to his three sons.

William Bird took over as editor following his father's death and was always known affectionately as "Chief". He and his brothers all helped out with reporting and were so skilled at shorthand that each could read the other's verbatim notes.

John Bird's brother Sidney carried on as chief reporter. He was a highly-respected journalist and, on completing 60 years in the profession, was the subject of a civic presentation by the then mayor of Basingstoke.

A link with the founders was maintained at The Gazette until 1977 when Mr W J Bird - a grandson of the founder - retired as a director.

The Gazette moved to its present headquarters in Pelton Road, Houndmills, in 1975.

The company has been through various changes of ownership over recent times. Today, it is owned by Newsquest - the UK's second largest regional newspaper publisher, and itself part of the multi-media American-based giant Gannett.

Newsquest is a company with a strong track record of producing award-wining local newspapers which serve their communities, and today's Gazette is certainly true to that mould.

In the spirit of its founders, The Gazette very much continues to be a newspaper at the heart of the local community.


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