In The Wake Of Post And Times (18 July 1975)
Fenny Stratford has been the birthplace of three newspapers, only one of which – your Gazette – survives. The histories of the first and third are fairly well known.
The first to appear was the Fenny Stratford Weekly Times. Its No 1 issue is dated August 21, 1879. Its title was changed to the North Bucks Times on October 2, 1886, and it last appeared in 1972.
The third was the Gazette, which first appeared in 1933. It was named the Bletchley District Gazette, but I credit it to Fenny Stratford simply because its birthplaces was actually in both the civil parish and the ecclesiastical parish of Fenny. It was re-titled the Milton Keynes Gazette only fairly recently.
But what of the second newspaper? It is extremely doubtful whether there is anybody still alive who remembers it at all, for it was first published on June 22, 1886, and ceased publication a mere seven years later with the issue of July 28, 1893.
It began life as the Liberal News. Shortly afterwards it was re-named the North Bucks Flying Post. In 1888 the North was dropped from the title, and in 1890 the Flying was also dropped, so that it became just the Bucks Post.
But despite the variations in title, it was always popularly known as the Flying Post, which, incidentally, was a title adopted by other new newspapers up and down the country last century and not peculiar to Fenny.
The founder and owner was Captain Hope Verney, RN (nephew of Florence Nightingale), who after a distinguished naval career, devoted himself to politics, specifically to the Liberal Party. The paper was essentially a political organ, but it did not neglect local news and gave particular attention to Fenny, Wolverton and Buckingham.
The offices and works were in High Street. All its types and machines were new. It was printed on good quality paper and had a fine appearance for a local newspaper of that era.
It was also well staffed. The editor was Gentry Bingham, MA, a member of the 80 Club, whose writing was of a high literary level – possibly too high for a smalltown newspaper. Combined sub-editor, chief reporter and proof reader was George Webb, also a man of marked ability. There were also a junior reporter at Fenny and a resident reporter at Wolverton.
A considerable circulation was built up, but not a considerable advertising revenue – possibly because it naturally failed to attract such support from the overwhelmingly conservative brewers and public house keepers. Not that North Bucks was overwhelmingly Conservative. Indeed, Captain Hope Verney himself was Liberal MP for North Bucks in 1885-86 and again in 1889-91, so perhaps the paper really did succeed in that sense.
However, Captain Verney succeeded his father as fourth baronet in 1894. He died in 1910 and was succeeded in turn by his son, Harry, who was Liberal MP for North Bucks from 1910 to 1918 and who died only last December, aged 93 – the last of the Asquith Administration to pass away.
And now for something entirely different.
It will be remembered that in a recent article I quoted from a letter written to the Gazette in 1949 by Mr E Troughton, of Weymouth, about his young days at Water Eaton in the 1870’s and 1880’s.
The letter mentioned a Mr “Raggy“ Betts, who took over a piece of land opposite the school. The land had been the site of two old cottages and was known to Mr Troughton as “Raggy” Betts’s Bit. Mr Betts himself lived in one of two other old cottages facing the site, which have since made way for a pair of modern houses, one of which is now occupied by Mr and Mrs Kent.
A few days after the article was published, 59-year-old Mr Jack Betts, of Water Eaton, told me that Mr “Raggy” Betts was his great-grandfather, though he had never heard him referred to by that nickname.
He also showed me a pre-1907 photograph of a group of people standing beside a wooden fence that enclosed the cottage-cum-village store kept by “Raggy’s” wife, and the adjoining cottage. One of the people is none other than “Raggy” himself, a stocky, sturdy-looking old man in cloth cap and other working clothes. Others are members of the Perry family, who lived next door.
The cottages are shown in the background. The shop cottage on the left has three windows let into the thatched roof; the other cottage has two.
Mr Betts tells me that “Raggy Betts’s Bit” was, in fact, the three-cornered piece of land opposite. I had taken this as having always been part of the village green, but he assures me that in his great-grandfather’s time it had a hedge around it.