A Newspaper Steeped in History

William Charles Nation, with his son Charles Cecil, arrived in Shannon in 1893, having previously been the proprietors of the Wairarapa Standard in Greytown.

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They commenced publishing the Manawatu Farmer and Horowhenua County Chronicle, a newspaper of four print pages, of 28 columns.  After three years of tri-weekly publishing with slow progress, the name was changed to the Manawatu Weekly.

In Levin, Joseph Ives and former proprietors had been publishing the Levin and Manakau Express and Horowhenua County Advertiser since 1896.  As the Farmers’ circulation has extended to Levin, Nation was alarmed by the opposition, so he moved to Levin and sledded his building by bullock team overland. 

His newspaper reverted to the name The Manawatu Farmer and Horowhenua County Chronicle of the same format as first in Shannon, tri-weekly. 

Nation soon acquired the Express, incorporating it in the Farmer.   The building that was shifted from Shannon is the present central part of the ground floor of the front part of the building.  Thomas Brown was an assistant and often Editor.  Annie Ethel Nation, later Mrs Plimmer, was the typesetter.

The price of the Farmer was one penny (slightly over 1c).  Nation and Son printed the Foxton Telegraph and West Coast Advertiser for the proprietors in Foxton 1896-1900. 

Mr Bob Bradley, of Bradley Bros. Stables, related many years ago, that their 25 seater dray was the first to join up Shannon and Levin. 

The road to Shannon was not formed, only the stumps having been taken out, at the time. 

“The late Mr W.C. Nation came to me and asked if I could, or would, take a party of 25 carol singers to Shannon” related Bradley. 

“I told him I would give it a try.  We took axes, crowbars and five horses and we got there and back safely.  Shannon certainly got a surprise and would not believe we had made the trip until they came out and saw the dray and horses.”  The date of this is unknown, but it was probably between 1897 and 1900. 

The carol party was organised by the Farmer’s staff. 

Previous records state that John Robertson published the Levin Times in 1908 for a few issues, until in 1909 D.S. Papworth bought it, changing its publication from a weekly to a bi-weekly. In the same year, he acquired the Farmer for the Horowhenua Publishing Co. who published it as the Horowhenua Daily Chronicle of the same size and of four print pages. 

However, in 1907 the Levin Borough Council paid accounts to the Horowhenua Publishing Co. and had hitherto paid accounts to Nation and Son, so the date of 1909 is apparently wrong.  The cost of the daily newspaper was one penny an issue and five pence (5c) a week for six issues. 

The Chronicle stated in 1910 that the company was under new management.

Herbert J. Richards was elected managing director (probably D.S. Papworth has been so previously).  Other known directors were Thomas Bevan Jnr and Frederick Roe. 

The first editor has been J. Knight, being replaced by G.P. Brown in 1910.

The Shannon Advocate was published by the company for a short time in 1909. 

The Chronicle reverted to tri-weekly from January 2, 1917, publishing Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. 

The price was increased from April 1, 1917 to a penny half penny (1½c) an issue and four pence (4c) a week for three issues.  Quarterly, the cost was four shillings and sixpence (45c), paid in advance. The increase was blamed on the increase in cost of newsprint, owing to war conditions.  This was also the reason for the decrease in publishing, caused by the shortage of newsprint. 

On April 1, 1917, no issue was printed as one-third of the staff were in camp for the annual territorial military training. 

The Horowhenua Publishing Co. was bought by Herbert George Kerslake and Robert H. Billens, as announced in The Chronicle on September 11, 1917, still published as a tri-weekly, as the Levin Chronicle. 

Daily publishing was resumed in 1920.  In the same year, the publishing of the Shannon News commenced, as a bi-weekly or tri-weekly and becoming daily shortly before its demise in 1940.  Mr Kerslake Snr was editor, with Mr Billens being in the office, probably as manager, for a few years.   The firm bought an interest in a Palmerston North newspaper and he went to it as editor. 

The Chronicle announced it was delivering by motor bike in 1915. 

The second storey was added by 1910 and widening it to the south with a covered cartway for unloading.  This was altered to be part of the interior some time in the 1920s. 

This was the journalistic section for many years.  At some stage, probably before 1920, a lean-to shed had been built at the rear of the building for printing purposes. 

Then in 1924, a large new factory was built at the rear, extending down to near the back boundary and over the width of the front building. 

A high-pressure water Pelton wheel of 5hp with a three inch (75mm) water main connected to it, was installed.  On cost of other water Pelton wheels in Levin, it probably cost 10 pounds ($20) a year to run.  The motor was mounted high up in the south corner, with a pulley-mounted shaft connected, going the length of the building with belts leading down to the machines. A smaller Pelton wheel ran the linotype machine. 

A Pelton wheel needed only the water valve to be turned on and it was running.  Waste water was piped to the gutter in Oxford Street.  Water power was installed when only 10 months later, electricity would have been available.  Water power was very cheap and these Pelton wheels were used up until the middle 1930s. 

In 1933, owing to a wash-out at the intake in the Ohau river, the water pressure dropped from 80lb (35k) to 28lb (11k) to the square inch, at 3pm.  The printing machine only printed 100 Chronicles an hour, when it usually printed 1000 an hour. When water pressure was low, the Pelton wheel could be helped by two men turning a handle on the Hoe machine. 

The Masterton earthquake of force 9 occurred at 11pm on June 25, 1942. The Chronicle office suffered the worst damage in Levin.  Some of the brick walls at the rear of the original building fell, cutting the gas and electricity supplies completely. Other damage in Levin was mainly to chimneys and objects falling off shelves.  Issues of The Chronicle, were reduced. 

In 1944, Les Humphrey joined the firm as a partner with it becoming Kerslake, Billens and Humphrey (KBH). He had worked in the firm since the early 1920s.  Mr Kerslake’s sons, George and Thomas, worked in the firm all their working lives, becoming part owners. George became editor and Tom became manager. 

Kerslake and Billens bought the Otaki Mail in 1934, publishing it in Levin until it was absorbed into The Chronicle in 1946. 

About 1949 an extension of the factory was built on the south side at the rear of what is now the California Restaurant. 

About 1963 an extension of the front building and factory was built on the north side.  The extension on the frontage was used to expand the public office and display for a stationery business. 

Alec Fletcher and Roy Stewart had been running the Levin Printing Works since 1946, publishing the Weekly News since 1953.  This firm was bought by KBH in 1969, with Mr Fletcher joining as a partner and director and the Weekly News being published by KBH.  The building is now the Office Display, run by KBH. KBH joined a parent company with several other newspapers, including the Wanganui Chronicle and the Rotorua Post, known as United Printing and Publishing Company (UPP) in 1960. 

Wilson and Horton purchased all the shares of UPP in 1985. 

Job printing was almost certainly done from the earliest days, steadily increasing until now it is a very large part of the business.

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A Newspaper Steeped in History

Creator:Corrie Swanwick
Creation date:August 1990
Publisher:The Chronicle