On 14th April 1888, The Athenaeum carried a letter from William Frederic Tillotson, the founder and proprietor of the Bolton Evening News and the Bolton Weekly Journal series, as well as of Tillotson’s Fiction Bureau. 

Responding to an article that had appeared on 24th March, in which the proprietor of the Leeds Evening Express had claimed that his newspaper had been the first evening paper in England, Tillotson rejected the claim and asserted priority for his own title. He believed that it was incontrovertible that

“the Bolton Evening News was the first halfpenny evening newspaper established in England and published daily…”. (‘The First Halfpenny English Evening Paper’, The Athenaeum, April 14th 1888, p.469)

Tillotson knew what he had achieved and was keen that it should be recognised. 

WF Tillotson; unknown photographer.

In the letter, Tillotson provides a number of details which throw light on the origins of his newspaper empire. Tillotson says that the idea for the Bolton Evening News came to him in 1865, following a visit to the offices of the Glasgow Citizen, which had started to publish a halfpenny afternoon newspaper. He planned to start publishing his own evening newspaper in Bolton before the end of 1865, but the twenty-one-year-old entrepreneur was stymied by “parental conscientious opposition”. William Tillotson’s father, John, believed that Bolton was too near to Manchester to support a daily paper. His scepticism was understandable. There had been many newspapers and periodicals that had come and gone in the town. The Bolton Herald (c. 1803), the Bolton Reflector (1823-1827), and the Bolton Free Press (1835-1847) had all folded. William Tillotson’s grandfather, Robert Holden, had published the Bolton Literary Journal and Weekly Miscellany from his Mealhouse Lane premises, but it only ran from October 1830 to April 1831. Although John Tillotson only became Holden’s apprentice in 1834, he was no doubt aware of Holden’s previous failure to get his newspaper established. Even what we might call the “wackier” periodicals had made little headway. Alongside the Bolton Temperance Messenger, which was produced for the local members of the “Young Men’s Temperance Society” (c.1848), we might include the Bowtun Luminary, Tumfowt Telegraph, un Lankishire Lookin-Glass. First published in 1852 and written entirely in Lancashire dialect, its sketches and stories ran to fourteen volumes before it too expired. 

Having no doubt worked on his father a little more, William Tillotson finally secured his father’s approval in the new year of 1867. John Tillotson decided that the first issue would appear on 19th March that year, as it would be William’s twenty-third birthday and an auspicious day to start the new enterprise. 

On the 28th April 1888, another letter from Tillotson appeared in the Athenaeum. He again rejects the claims advanced by the Leeds Evening Express, which he describes as “inaccurate and misleading” (p.535). However, he admitted that he had recently been made aware of another newspaper which was said to have been the first evening daily, the North and South Shields Gazette and Evening Telegraph, first published in 1864. As a man of honour, Tillotson’s second letter conceded that “had I known of its existence, I should not have claimed […] that priority for the Bolton Evening News which has given rise to this correspondence” (‘The Halfpenny English Evening Newspaper’, April 28th 1888, p. 535)


Anon. (2021) Newspapers in Bolton in the 19th Century. Halliwell Local History Society website [Online] Available at <https://halliwell-lhs.co.uk/articles/newspapers-in-bolton-in-the-19th-century/> [Accessed 02/05/2021] 

Tillotson, W. F. (1888) “The First Halfpenny English Evening Newspaper”. The Athenaeum; London. April 14th (3155), p 469. [Online] Available at <https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.bolton.ac.uk/docview/9113516/A69BB58D5D874742PQ/1?accountid=9653>  [Accessed 02/05/2021]  

Tillotson, W. F. (1888) “The First Halfpenny English Evening Newspaper”. The Athenaeum; London. April 28th (3157), p.535. [Online] Available at <https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.bolton.ac.uk/docview/9143433/473EA7C0F75F47D9PQ/1?accountid=9653


Colby, Robert A. (1985) “Tale Bearing in the 1890s: The Author and Fiction Syndication”. Victorian Periodicals Review. Vol.18, No.1, pp. 2-16.

Hilliard, Christopher (2009) “The Provincial Press and the Imperial Traffic in Fiction, 1870s-1930s”. Journal of British Studies. Vol.48, No.3, pp. 653-673.

Johanningsmeier, Charles (1995) “Newspaper Syndicates of the Late Nineteenth Century: Overlooked Forces in the American Literary Marketplace”. Publishing History. Vol. 37, No.1, pp. 61-82.

Jones, Aled (1984) “Tillotson’s Fiction Bureau: The Manchester Manuscripts”. Victorian Periodicals Review. Vol.17, No.1, pp. 43-49.

Singleton, Frank (1950) Tillotson’s 1850-1950: Centenary of a Family Business. Bolton: Tillotson & Son Ltd.