The Watford Observer’s circulation made great strides during the Second World War despite the number of refugees settling in the area with little local connections, the departure of many wage earners to the frontline and the restrictions on newsprint.

One reason for this was that two editions were printed as there was demand for classified adverts. The publishers printed a second edition, identical in news content yet with entirely different advertising. Many people bought both editions and this created a demand for when the war ended and the Bushey, Rickmansworth, Watford and Hemel Hempstead editions were created in the post-war era. The Hemel Hempstead edition continued into the 1970s.

In 1957 Leslie Edgeley and his brother, Ronald bought out the Peacock family, retaining the CH Peacock name for the printing division, this heralded a break with tradition.

News was introduced to the front page for the first time in the paper’s history, previously it had been only advertising. This switch to the front page was effective as circulation began to increase and the newspaper became an attractive investment.

In 1961, the entire share capital was acquired by Merritt and Hatcher Ltd of London and High Wycombe. In the same year the former Saville’s perfume factory in Rickmansworth Road was acquired where the Watford Observer was to be based for almost 40 years. In 1962 the High Street premises were sold, and the editorial and advertising team moved to Loates Lane where they stayed until 1974.

Watford Observer:

The newspaper celebrated its centenary in 1963 having had just four editors in 100 years. While retaining the traditional hot-metal setting into the 1970s, the paper had switched to photo composition and web-offset printing in the mid-1960s.

In 1966 Watford Observer’s circulation was rising towards 46,000 and in 1967 the all-time highest circulation of 52,000 was achieved on the eve of the Hornets FA Cup tie with Liverpool.

Westminster Press, part of the giant Pearson Group, which owned the Financial Times, bought a controlling interest in 1968 and a year later became the sole owner.

In 1969 Max Kingston became managing director and former sports editor Ernie Foster became editor having been at the paper since the war. Watford Mid-Week Observer was first printed and given away free for the first time also in 1969.

The entire Watford Observer operation moved to Rickmansworth Road in 1974. Working practices in the newspaper industry had remained pretty much unchanged for decades, however in 1986 the first stages of computer technology was embraced by the newspaper with union co-operation, the first local newspaper in the country to do so. With these changes this meant the end of the print unions’ hold on the newspaper industry. There were a significant number of redundancies within the company, many of them skilled people who had worked for the company since leaving school.

Peter Wilson-Leary became the eighth editor in the newspaper’s history in 1987 and in 1995 full on-screen computer technology was adopted. Newsquest bought out Westminster Press in December 1996 from the Pearson Group to become the largest newspaper group in England and was floated on the stock exchange a year later.

The Watford Observer moved to the Watford Business Park in 2002 and seven years later joined the social media revolution, Twitter and launched the newspaper’s Facebook page.

Much has changed since the Watford Observer was launched 160 years ago, but it still remains at the forefront of local news and has a bright future as a printed newspaper and online.

  • This piece is adapted from an article Oliver Phillips wrote charting the newspaper's history for its 150th anniversary.