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Outspoken Editor James Bartlett


Blandford Express was the town’s newspaper between 1859 and 1894. Appearing every Saturday, its four pages cost just one penny. Owner and editor was the controversial and combative James Bartlett. Known as ‘Printer’s Corner’, his offices could be found at the junction of White Cliff Mill Street and Salisbury Street. So strident was his support of the Conservative political cause that he received physical threats. In June 1885, fishmonger George Vince was charged before Blandford Magistrates with threatening the newspaper editor. The fishmonger was found guilty and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. George's son, also called George, was later to be the first person known to lose his life in Antarctica.

Also that year, and according to a Durweston resident, Bartlett engaged in a vitriolic campaign against North Dorset Liberal MP, Edwin Portman. He claimed that Portman had become bankrupt to avoid paying his debts. He had also seduced the daughter of the Governor of Gibraltar and had been cast away on a remote island because of his bad behaviour aboard ship. The Durweston resident suggested that Bartlett was unable to substantiate these claims.

Then, Bartlett upset a Spetisbury publican by describing his hostelry, the Drax Arms as a ‘den’. Publican Edwin Melmoth responded angrily in a letter published in another newspaper. He protested that he kept respectable company and he refused to admit into his public house 'rogues and villains, those who forged doctors’ notes and others who stole potatoes!’

In June 1887, Bartlett was himself in court after he had suggested that schoolmistress Elizabeth Cumming had damaged her school house property after leaving to take up a fresh teaching post in London. Bartlett lost the case and had to pay forty pounds in damages together with costs – a not insignificant sum at the time. The competing Blandford Weekly News, which supported the Liberal political cause, relished reporting the case in some detail.

He then upset a Winterborne Stickland family for the reporting of the death of a young boy.  An entrepreneur by nature, Bartlett was a tea trader and also sold at Printer’s Corner sacramental wine and Beckett’s Syrup of Orange & Quinine. He published Bartlett’s own Annual Almanac. His front page was full of advertisements for items such as Holloway’s Ointment, a professed cure for many ailments, Borwick’s Baking Powder for puddings and pies, and Peruvian bird dropping fertiliser.

James Henry Bartlett had been baptised in Durweston in March 1828 and was the eldest son of agricultural worker Henry Bartlett and his wife Jane. After working on a farm, he moved to Blandford and married Rebecca Cook who came from Bryanston. He was an active churchman and Sunday school supporter and despite his importance in the town he was perhaps too divisive a character to ever become the Mayor of Blandford. However, his son Tom Bartlett did become town crier and bill poster for which he was paid an annual salary of one pound and one shilling £1.05).

(Illustration: Printer's Corner, Blandford & The Blandford Express Masthead)


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