I was in the Aberdyfi Village Stores a couple of days ago and asked if there was such a thing as a local newspaper. I came away with the Cambrian News (www.cambrian-news.co.uk) for the Meirionnydd district, which is absolutely bursting with information about Meirionnydd (or Merioneth in English).
Meirionnydd is the southernmost part of Gwynedd and used to be a separate cantref, lying between the River Dyfi to the south and the River Mawddach in the north. In 1889 it was officially renamed Merionethshire and in 1284 assimilated the cantrefs Penllyn and Ardudwy to its north. In 1974 it was amalgamated with Caernarfon and Angelsey to become Gwynedd. However, Meirionnydd is still considered to be an entity in its own right, and this is the area served by Meirionnydd version of Cambrian News, although the newspaper has issues for other districts as well, taking in much of Gwynedd and Ceredigion.
The Cambrian News itself has both heritage and pedigree, celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2010. It first appeared in October 1860, at that stage just a four-page supplement in The Oswestry Advertiser, and was called The Merioneth Herald. It developed into a newspaper in its own right, still in Oswestry, and in 1864 became The Merionethshire Standard and Mid-Wales Herald. It was only in 1864, that the name Cambrian entered the name, when it became the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard. At times it also included The Welsh Farmers’ Gazette.
In 1873 it was put under the management and editorship of a John Gibson (1941-1915), and was moved to Aberystwyth as The Cambrian News. Gibson was clearly a force to be reckoned with. He was the son of a Lanaster hatter who, according to John Gibson’s obituary in the Western Mail (19th July 1915) made the first silk hat in Lancaster. Gibson started out as an errand boy in the newspaper trade and went to the Oswestry Advertiser first as a printer and then as a journalist. In 1879 Gibson published Agriculture in Wales. His obituary in the Western Mail says that “his outspoken and negative criticism occasioned great commotion in town and district and gave rise to considerable opposition.” In 1880 his outspoken remarks resulted in a number of libel actions against the newspaper, and rather than apologize he resigned. However, in the same year a consortium of Gibson’s friends and supporters formed a consortium to purchase the newspaper, and reappointed him. He eventually became the newspaper’s proprietor. He had strong views on political and social issues, which permeated the newspaper. In a column in the newspaper on the 26th October 1885 he stated that women were “either slaves or are legally, socially and politically non-existent,” and followed this up in 1891 with a book entitled The Emancipation of Women, a treatise that came down very strongly in support of women’s suffrage. An article on Wales Online describes how in the first decade of the 20th Century he was strongly opposed to the establishment of the newly proposed Welsh National Agricultural Society and its Royal Welsh Show, arguing vociferously that it would lead to the demise of the North Cardiganshire show and other similarly long-established events.The Welsh National Library’s Dictionary of Welsh Biography says that under Gibson’s supervision, “and through his vigorous personality and fearless independent views on local and national affairs, the Cambrian News became one of the most influential weekly newspapers in Wales.”
A measure of its success under Gibson is provided by a piece in the Cambrian Times of 11th July 1874, where a column describes how the Cambrian News and Aberystwyth Times had steadily increased over the previous few years throughout the district. In 1873 there were 1590 more advertisements placed than in 1872 and in 1874 there were 1721 more than in 1873. This is explained in the column by the standards to which the newspaper was held by its editor: “The Cambrian News is characterized by the independent tone of its articles and the fearless spirit in which public affairs of local and general interest are criticized. It is full of impartial reports, local sketches, nearly two columns of markets and general intelligence etc, and the proprietors do not spare expense in making it a good family, commercial and general newspaper.” Advertisements were more expensive than other local newspapers, and this was discussed in the July 23rd 1909 issue of the Cambrian News and Welsh Farmers’ Gazette on page 3: “We are frequently told that charges for advertisements in this paper are higher than those made by other local papers. This is true. We publish two editions every week in order to give al the news of the district, and our price for advertisements is high in order to keep space for news. If reckoned by so much per thousand copies sold, advertisements should be included in the ‘Cambrian News’ will be found to be worth all that is paid for them.”
The tone of the Cambrian News under John Gibson was, to say the least, forthright. On December 30th 1881 in the Almanac for the Year 1882, just beneath the newspaper’s header, the following statement was printed: “The Cambrian News aims at being all that a pure, honest and upright family newspaper should be. Impure advertisements and reports are rigorously excluded. The reports are impartial, the criticism is just and the politics Liberal.” It goes on to say that it gives “special attention” to agricultural subjects and that as well as a wide regional circulation it had agents in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. By 1909 two editions were going out per week.
John Gibson was knighted in the same year in which he died, becoming Sir John Gibson, not a bad achievement for the son of a Lancaster hatter. He died on Saturday 17th July, aged 74. In his will be specified that his funeral his funeral “should be of the simplest form and no mourning worn at it or afterwards” (Cambrian News, 20th November 1915, page 6). He was buried in Llangarwen churchyard.
Today the weekly Cambrian News is owned by Tindle Newspapers Ltd. It is full of local stories and has an active letters page. It is a great way to find out about local government issues, problems with services and transport, innovations made by local businesses, upcoming and previous events and the outcomes of recent sports fixtures. I had no idea, for example, that there are plans afoot to put a new bridge over the River Dyfi, that there is a Merioneth County Show (very sorry to have missed that), that there is a shortage of both firefighters and train drivers in the area, that there is a move to set up a Dyf Valley palliative care service, or that Tywyn has a netball team. I also enjoyed the piece about the life of Marguerite Jervis who lived intermittently at The Lodge of Plas Pentedal near Aberdovey. The newsaper is very people-focused, with a strong emphasis on human interest stories. Its website says that Cambrian News is the biggest-selling weekly newspaper in Wales with six editions that cover Aberystwyth, south Ceredigion, Cardigan & Newcastle Emlyn, Montgomeryshire, Meirionnydd and Arfon/Dwyfor, spanning five Welsh counties. Cambrian News was voted Welsh Weekly Newspaper of the Year for 2015 and has been awarded the title of BT Welsh Weekly Newspaper of the Year twice. The price has just risen from 80p to £1.00. Worth every penny.