Trust volunteers care for 300 years of print history

Stamford Mercury Archive Trust secretary Sarah Critchard, founding secretary John Smith and volunteers Fran Heeley, Chris Stanier and Maureen Sibborn. Photo: MSMP-20-03-15-am004 EMN-150323-112955001
Stamford Mercury Archive Trust secretary Sarah Critchard, founding secretary John Smith and volunteers Fran Heeley, Chris Stanier and Maureen Sibborn. Photo: MSMP-20-03-15-am004 EMN-150323-112955001

Stepping into the room that houses the archive of the Stamford Mercury is a chilling experience - literally, thanks to the air conditioning designed to protect newspapers up to 300 years old.

The room underneath the modern-day offices of the paper itself is equipped with state-of-the-art storage facilities to preserve the old papers for future generations. It provides ample space for the Stamford Mercury Archive Trust volunteers to pore over the articles and discover more about the way the paper reported news through the centuries.

Ten years ago things were very different. Papers were stored in a small room and stacked in a way that did not protect their crumbling pages. East Midlands Newspapers, which owns the Mercury, gave control of the archive to the trust, which was set up to curate the collection. The trust was then able to apply for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant for conservation and long-term management.

After a wait of almost four months the trust’s bid was successful in March 2005. It received £305,000, which was spent on moveable metal shelves and inert boxes to preserve the papers as much as possible. Every copy has also been transferred to microfilm to reduce the need for handling. A similar record can also be found at the British Library.

Founder secretary John Smith was instrumental in the bid for Lottery funding, alongside the Mercury’s editor at the time, Tor Clark. John has now handed over to Sarah Critchard, but still retains a keen interest in the archive and can often be found in the room in Cherryholt Road, Stamford, looking back through old editions.

“The success of the project owes itself to a large number of people and the huge amount of help that has been received from our volunteers, who basically run the institution,” said John.

“The archive is of massive national importance and is a part of our cultural heritage. It’s a heavy responsibility for the trust to care for and look after these precious assets for future generations.”

The archive houses a complete run of the Mercury from 1786, is largely complete from 1765 and is almost complete for a number of years following the first edition in 1712. Copies have turned up in King’s Lynn, Oxford, and even Harvard in the US. The archive has been kept in a number of different locations, moving from High Street to Ironmonger Street, Broad Street, Sheepmarket and finally to Cherryholt Road.

The paper has changed significantly in that time, both in size and style. It originally covered national and international news before taking a more local approach, focusing first on the East Midlands, then to the current patch of Stamford, Rutland, Bourne and the Deepings. Articles on the French Revolution, American independence and the Battle of Waterloo are among many of historical significance that can be found on Mercury pages. Mixed among them are reflections of the news of the day, including wife selling and showground tiger attacks, and cultural landmarks such as Helpston poet John Clare’s early work.

Those wishing to look through the old stories on the microfilm scanner can book an appointment with the trust.

John, who received a British Empire Medal for his work with the trust in 2012, believes the Mercury archive is in good hands with his successor Sarah and her team of volunteers.

“The publishers looked after this paper for approaching 300 years,” said John. “The trust has been looking after it for the last 10 years with the help of professional experts.

“We hope this will continue into the future. We rely on the expertise of the trustees and the incredible voluntary work that our team give each week for the continuing care of the archive.”

To contact the Stamford Mercury Archive Trust, e-mail enquiries@smarchive.org.uk.