By the start of 1984, the Ponteland Observer was circulating in Ponteland, Darras Hall, Belsay, Stamfordham, Matfen, Heddon, Whalton, Prestwick, Dinnington, Kingston Park, Woolsington and Kenton Bank Foot. Its masthead strapline had changed to reflect this fact: no longer was it only 'Ponteland's own independent newspaper', but 'Castle Ward's independent newspaper'. This might seem an odd decision. Castle Ward Rural District, based on Ponteland, had been broken up in 1974, with most of the area remaining in Northumberland within the new Castle Morpeth Borough district, but the most populous areas (other than Ponteland and Heddon) joining the enlarged City of Newcastle upon Tyne within the new metropolitan county of Tyne and Wear. Nevertheless, for many years Castle Ward still existed on the ground, with notices of by-laws and other regulations issued by Castle Ward slow to disappear if they were not superseded, and most obviously the sports centre in Ponteland, which hosted many of the activities covered by the Observer, still carried the name 'Castle Ward Sports Centre'.
Most importantly, the Castle Ward identity pointed towards where Michael Sharman planned to take the business. The circulation and advertising base needed expansion, and a sister title in Gosforth was intended. Gosforth, a distinct community immediately north of Newcastle until its incorporation in the city in 1974, was larger than Ponteland, with many more businesses, but a comparably wealthy demographic. Launch of the Gosforth Observer was scheduled for May; local gossip suggested that it would be a freesheet rather than a paid-for title, but this was never set down in a printed source. In order to devote himself to the Observer, Sharman resigned from the Hexham Courant.
The main story announced the sale of the title, offices and publishing of the Ponteland Observer to the Tweeddale Press Group of Berwick-upon-Tweed. The new proprietor was Colonel J.I.M. Smail, the seventh generation of his family to own newspapers since the establishment of the Berwick Advertiser in 1808. Much of the story was taken up by a potted history which introduced Ponteland Observer readers to the new sister titles, the largest of which was the Southern Reporter in Selkirk, Galashiels, Hawick, Jedburgh and Kelso, followed by the Berwickshire and Berwick Advertiser in Berwick, Duns and Dunbar, the Alnwick Advertiser in Alnwick and (reflecting Colonel Smail's own background) New Zealand News UK. Most important for the future development of the Observer, though, was the Morpeth Herald, founded in 1854 but acquired by the Tweeddale Press Group from J. and J.S. Mackay of Morpeth in 1983. As Colonel Smail explained, the Herald and the Observer were to be closely linked, sharing advertising and together with the Berwick and Alnwick papers giving 'advertisers by far the biggest coverage available in any weekly newspaper in Northumberland.' Michael Sharman's widow Christina was reported as endorsing the new plan for the paper. The most obvious change would be that the Observer would be broadsheet, but readers were promised it would have the same masthead.
Colonel Smail described the Observer as 'this well produced, independent community paper' and hoped 'we can prove that we warrant the support and encouragement of the people of Ponteland and Darras Hall for this, their own newspaper.' The exploration of the prosperous north-west Tyneside liminal was forgotten and evidently not part of the Tweeddale Press Group's strategy. For the moment, though, this was all; though it was noticeable that the section headings on the tops of pages had all been redesigned, with the rounded lozenges and Souvenir text being replaced with squared corners and the less dignified Cooper Black Condensed.
Other news was reported, of course. The Department of the Environment was accused of not following its own regulations in preparing Belsay Hall for opening to the public. Ponteland Local History Society were planning the first of their series of books about Ponteland history. The women's page included a promotion for Ponteland wool and thread shop Cast-On. Darras Hall Estate Committee were campaigning against Castle Morpeth's decision to name the new retirement homes 'Darras Mews' rather than the estate committee's 'Haigh Court'. Two horses and riders from the Ponteland Equestrian Society's one-day event and the winning football team from Dobson's sweet factory were pictured on the sport page. Returning to the front page, the coroner returned a verdict of suicide in Michael Sharman's death. A few weeks later the paper reported the winding up of Ponteland Observer Ltd, and noted the Tweeddale Press Group had bought the newspaper only rather than the company itself.
The interim period for the Ponteland Observer begun with the 18 May edition ended with that dated Friday 29 June. Tucked away on the front page, between stories on the participation of Ponteland WRVS in rescue activities following the derailment of an Aberdeen-London train at Morpeth, plans to merge Runnymede and Greenlea first schools in Darras Hall, the impending opening of the Pele Rest Home in Ponteland village, and a car theft, was the promise of a 'BIGGER PAPER NEXT WEEK!' as the move to a 24-page broadsheet format in line with the Morpeth Herald was confirmed.
The editorial on page six acted as an epilogue to the Ponteland Observer's existence in its compact form over the previous 21 months. It promised that 'the format of the paper changes - but that is all. It will remain your newspaper, with the present level if not increased news coverage. There will be an added bonus of district and county based news and features on certain pages due to the link up with our sister paper, "The Morpeth Herald."' However, other features such as the leisure and women's pages would remain.
Complaints by readers were anticipated and met with the paragraph 'But at least Ponteland still has its own paper. For it must be said that while the independently owned "Ponteland Observer" launched by the late Mr. Michael Sharman in October 1982 to provide a community with its own newspaper, succeeded editorially, it was sadly not financially viable and did not attract sufficient advertising revenue.' The editorial ended by urging more reader participation - 'events for our diary, ideas for features... items involving your family, weddings, or the activities of organisations with which you are connected.... A village correspondent? Please call in and see us.'
The Tides of Time 37, November 2013
1 month ago