History of the Weston Mercury office building in Weston-super-Mare

Weston Mercury staff members leaving the Weston Mercury building for the last time.

The last Weston Mercury editorial staff members. (L-R) trainee reporter Charlie Williams, sports editor Josh Thomas, chief reporter Henry Woodsford, editorial assistant Lisa Crichton and editor Paul Jones. - Credit: Mark Atherton Photography

The Weston Mercury left its Waterloo Street office in the town centre last month.

The listed building was designed by Han Price and has been the office of the Mercury since it opened in 1885. 

The front of the building is grade II-listed and features a bell tower.

An extension was added to the rear, with rooms set across four floors. 

We have trawled through the archives to reflect on the history of the building and how it will be used in the future. 

The Weston Mecury building won first prize in the towns 1897 Jubilee illuminations.

The Weston Mecury building won first prize in the towns 1897 Jubilee illuminations. - Credit: Archant

First edition 

When people picked up the first copy in 1843, for 2d, it was called The Westonian, and promised to be a monthly arrival list and directory for the town.

Most Read

It was owned and printed by James Dare, at the town’s first printing press in Victoria Street, which was later renamed Richmond Street. He alone was the editor, reporter, type-setter, proof-reader, advertising manager, and general manager. 

In the weeks leading up to The Westonian’s publication, people were afraid their dirty laundry was about to be aired in the town’s new pamphlet.

Mr Dare wrote: “An idea has somehow arisen this publication was to be conducted after the manner of a certain scandalous and disgraceful pamphlet which appeared some time back in Bath and Bristol with the name of which we will not pollute columns. Now we do most solemnly deny such intention – the sanctity of domestic privacy will never be invaded by us.”  

The reporters desk with a young Richard Wyatt (centre).

The reporters desk with a young Richard Wyatt (centre). - Credit: Archant

With those sentiments out of the way, he added: “The Westonian is before the public in April and on its merits, not our promises, it must stand or fall.” The content of the paper was, unsurprisingly, very different to the Mercury of today. From the very first advert, enquiring for ‘bushels of choice England apples’ to the fact there was actually very little news in it, The Westonian set out its stall by praising the town Weston had become.  

The Goss Web-offset press at work.

The Goss Web-offset press at work. - Credit: Archant

In its second year of publication, The Westonian was the first local paper to use an illustration when Mr Dare commissioned a drawing of a murderer which had turned into a woodcut.  

The paper prospered and within nine months, its format was changed to a large sheet of four pages.

In April 1845 the title changed to The Westonian and Somerset Mercury. It became The Westonian and Central Somersetshire Mercury a few years later, and became a weekly publication. 

Its first reporter, William Bryant Frampton, joined the Mercury in 1868, and was its editor during some of the most important years.

When he died in his 90th year in 1932, he had been the Mercury’s senior proprietor for nearly half a century and was associated with the paper for well over 60 years. 

The Goss Web-offset press at work.

The Goss Web-offset press at work. - Credit: Archant

The building’s history 

Newspapers often enjoyed grand town centre premises - buildings had to be large enough to house printing presses, store paper, employ a myriad of journalists and type setters, and be physically and psychologically at the heart of things. 

The Mercury commissioned Weston’s premier architect - Hans Fowler Price - to design a suitable office in Waterloo Street and provide an upgrade to the printing press in Victoria Street.  

Cossar flat bed press printing the Weston Mercury.

Cossar flat bed press printing the Weston Mercury. - Credit: Archant

Local historian John Crockford-Hawley said: “More than any other individual, Price was responsible for creating the Weston style of architecture. With almost 900 projects to his credit, he always used the combination of local grey carboniferous limestone, imported creamy Oolitic Bathstone and timber sash windows. 

“His style was solid but never stodgy and, though of a Low Church tea-total persuasion, his pen produced some wonderful touches of exotic exuberant embellishments, none more so than in the School of Science and Art, Walliscote School and the Mercury Office, conveniently located almost next door to his own business premises at 28 Waterloo Street.  

“The word ‘iconic’ is over-used but perhaps could be rightly applied to the Mercury building.

"Price designed the entire street, from Gerard Road to the Royal Hotel, as our version of Baron Haussmann’s wide tree-lined Parisian boulevard, with the strategically placed Mercury office at the point where the road narrows.” 

View of the Mecury building.

View of the Mecury building. - Credit: Archant

The building was completed in July 1885 in a style that’s difficult to pinpoint. Some claim Price’s inspiration for the tower came from Spain’s Saragossa Cathedral. The building won first prize in the town's 1897 Jubilee illuminations. 

The structure sits comfortably within the Great Weston Conservation Area and since 1979 has been a grade-II listed building. It cannot be demolished and frontage alterations would need to be handled with great care. 

Old front office interiors

Old front office interiors - Credit: Archant

The building has not changed much from the outside since it was opened in July 1885. But inside, it has seen a huge number of changes with computers which took three people to carry, to huge printing presses. 

A Cossar flat bed press was used in the 1960s to print the paper in house. In the 1970s and 80s, it was replaced with Goss Web-offset press. Copy was inputted to the photosetting system, which replaced the linotype machines. 

Cossar flat bed press printing the Weston Mercury.

Cossar flat bed press printing the Weston Mercury. - Credit: Archant

In the compositors room, staff would make the type into pages ready for press. Former staff members would recall how the whole building would shake as the printing press churned into life. The studio and page making department would design the paper’s pages by hand. 

Local newspapers are no longer print on-site, with the weekly editions of the Mercury and North Somerset Times printed at Archant’s head office base in Norwich. Papers are digital in production, employ fewer staff and consequently require smaller premises. It was inevitable that the Mercury would one day downsize.  

Studio and page making department.

Studio and page making department. - Credit: Archant

The building’s future 

The town centre hub went up for sale in May 2020 as the paper's company Archant is relocating. Weston Town Council announced in November 2021 it had bought the building for its headquarters, community use and an information centre for both visitors and residents. 

Town clerk Malcolm Nicholson said: "We were sorry to hear that it was being vacated, risking it lying empty and deteriorating and it’s great that a deal has been done which will mean that it will be saved and reopened to the public for town council and community use." 

The Visitor Information Centre at the Tropicana building is not going to be available in 2022 so it will be relocated at the Mercury building to provide information to people, while having a satellite visitor information centre at the Water Park on the seafront, as well as mobile information centres from the two Tuk Tuks. 

The Mercury building allows the town council to have room for all of its staff to be housed together, the information centre at the front and community meeting space all in the same building. 

In coming years improvements will be made to its environmental performance, accessibility and the historic front façade cleaned. 

Weston Mercury staff members leaving the Weston Mercury building for the last time.

The last Weston Mercury editorial staff members. (L-R) trainee reporter Charlie Williams, sports editor Josh Thomas, chief reporter Henry Woodsford, editorial assistant Lisa Crichton and editor Paul Jones. - Credit: Mark Atherton Photography

The reporters desk with a young Richard Wyatt (centre).

The reporters desk with a young Richard Wyatt (centre). - Credit: Archant

Cossar flat bed press printing the Weston Mercury.

Cossar flat bed press printing the Weston Mercury. - Credit: Archant

Newsprint paper delivery.

Newsprint paper delivery. - Credit: Archant

Cossar flat bed press printing the Weston Mercury.

Cossar flat bed press printing the Weston Mercury. - Credit: Archant

Making up the type into pages in the compositors room.

Making up the type into pages in the compositors room. - Credit: Archant

Preparing the Cossar flat bed press.

Preparing the Cossar flat bed press. - Credit: Archant

Preparing the Cossar flat bed press.

Preparing the Cossar flat bed press. - Credit: Archant

Preparing the Cossar flat bed press.

Preparing the Cossar flat bed press. - Credit: Archant

Making up the type into pages in the compositors room.

Making up the type into pages in the compositors room. - Credit: Archant

Making up the type into pages in the compositors room.

Making up the type into pages in the compositors room. - Credit: Archant

The Goss Web-offset press at work.

The Goss Web-offset press at work. - Credit: Archant

The Goss Web-offset press at work.

The Goss Web-offset press at work. - Credit: Archant

View of the Weston Mercury building from the Boulevard.

View of the Weston Mercury building from the Boulevard. - Credit: Archant

Jill Dando mercury reporter.
Picture: WESTON MERCURY

Jill Dando mercury reporter. Picture: WESTON MERCURY - Credit: Archant

The editorial department with Jill Dando (third from left).

The editorial department with Jill Dando (third from left). - Credit: Archant

Inputting copy to the photosetting system which replace the linotype machines.

Inputting copy to the photosetting system which replace the linotype machines. - Credit: Archant

Linotype machines at work.

Linotype machines at work. - Credit: Archant

The Goss Web-offset press at work.

The Goss Web-offset press at work. - Credit: Archant

Paste up page making studio.

Paste up page making studio. - Credit: Archant

Making up the type into pages in the compositors room.

Making up the type into pages in the compositors room. - Credit: Archant

The editorial department with Jill Dando (second from left).

The editorial department with Jill Dando (second from left). - Credit: Archant

Front Office.

Front Office. - Credit: Archant

Removal of the linotype machines.

Removal of the linotype machines. - Credit: Archant

Removal of the linotype machines.

Removal of the linotype machines. - Credit: Archant

View of the Mecury building.

View of the Mecury building. - Credit: Archant

Studio and page making department.

Studio and page making department. - Credit: Archant

Studio and page making department.

Studio and page making department. - Credit: Archant

Front Office.

Front Office. - Credit: Archant

The editorial department.

The editorial department. - Credit: Archant

Newsprint paper delivery.

Newsprint paper delivery. - Credit: Archant

Sub editors at work.

Sub editors at work. - Credit: Archant

The Goss Web-offset press at work.

The Goss Web-offset press at work. - Credit: Archant

View of the Mecury building.

View of the Mecury building. - Credit: Archant

The Goss Web-offset press at work.

The Goss Web-offset press at work. - Credit: Archant

Weston Mercury building.
5-11-03 DigitalCamera

Weston Mercury building. 5-11-03 DigitalCamera - Credit: Archant