The Gazette may be celebrating 100 years since women won the right to vote, but it would not be here today if wasn’t for a woman years ahead of her time.
The North Devon Gazette began life in Bideford as The Devon and East Cornwall Gazette and Commercial Advertiser in January 1856, started by 26-year-old bookseller Thomas Honey.
But his editorship was short-lived, as Thomas died in November that year, leaving his wife Eliza with a five-month-old baby and the decision as to whether the Gazette would close or be sold.
Bideford historian Peter Christie has done extensive research on the Gazette’s beginnings, which he wrote about in his 2015 book Secret Bideford.
Peter said: “Eliza was made of stern stuff and amazingly decided to carry on the young publication – a decision she announced in the edition that appeared on December 16.
“A week later the Gazette carried a small advertisement: ‘Wanted, a respectable FEMALE SERVANT, one who can undertake the charge of a Baby – Apply at the Office of this Paper. A Wesleyan preferred.’
“Clearly Eliza was a Methodist who had decided that her late husband’s newspaper should come before her child.
“Knowing how fiercely patriarchal Victorian society was, we can only marvel at Eliza’s courage at becoming the only female newspaper editor in nineteenth century England of whom I am aware.”
Under Eliza’s leadership, the Gazette, based in Grenville Street, went from strength-to-strength and she also found time to carry on the bookselling side of the business.
During this time she regularly used the paper to advertise on her own behalf.
In 1862 she tried to the newspaper office in Grenville Street, and also during the same year advertised for a ‘strong active man’ to work for her two-to-three hours a week.
“Taken in conjunction with her attempted property sale, [this] suggests Eliza might have been finding the strain of producing a weekly newspaper becoming too much,” wrote Peter.
“She seems to have carried on, however, though a court case from May 1867 shows her in a less than sympathetic light.
“Her apprentice Abraham Kingdon took her to court alleging ‘he had not been taught the arts of printing and bookbinding according to the terms of his indenture.’
“A legal wrangle saw the case being adjourned for 2 weeks but it never came to be heard – probably Eliza settled with her aggrieved employee out of court.”
Eliza retired in September 1875, after 19 years at the helm, and handed the business over to her relative William Honey.
She died in September 25, 1913, aged 82, with her modest death notice in the paper naming her as ‘one of the early proprietors of the “Bideford Gazette”.’