The News Letter was born on September 1, 1737, when a bookseller named Francis Joy collected a single sheet of paper from a flat-bed printing press and admired his handiwork. He could hardly have imagined that his newspaper, the first in Ulster, would still be publishing 260 years on. Now hailed as Britain's oldest daily newspaper, the News Letter has shared over a quarter of a millennium's history with its readership.
Francis Joy had the field to himself when he first launched the News Letter in 1737. But Joy's monopoly was to be challenged within four years and the competetion which developed towards the end of the 18th century almost brought the demise of Ulster's first newspaper. The News Letter survived because the Northern Star suffered from the United Irishmen's transformation from a radical movement into a revolutionary conspiracy.
The News Letter has been an onlooker, recorder and commentator on a world that has evolved from absolute monarchies to revolutions of independence, radical changes in political ideologies and the eventual forming of many democracies.
Such events include the American, French and Russian revolutions, the creation and dissolution of the British Empire and, in this century, the World Wars.
Other newspapers may boast of their involvement and coverage of the past 26 years in this Province but the News Letter can proudly claim that its contribution meets that tenfold.
When the paper first appeared on the streets of Belfast 260 years ago, the town was little more than a cluster of houses edging a river, as John Hewitt describes it: ''That river-straddling hill-rimmed town'' and few people seemed to have heard of it. We've seen many changes in the town which became a city and Belfast has been a cradle and a grave for many of its trades, industries and, of course, its citizens. Thus it was ''the newspaper that became an essential part of life''.
Apart from covering the serious political changes that affected this Province over the past 260 years, the News Letter has survived and prospered through unending social and economic changes.
The aspirations, tastes and conditions of different eras are to a large extent readily evident in costume. …