Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce

Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce
Unveiling the plaque to James Viscount Bryce at 13 Chichester Street, Belfast on Friday 10 May 2013

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Founder of the oldest continuously published regional newspaper

30 October 2012 (A Blue plaque is unveiled)

A mizzley day greeted the guests as they gathered at Joy's Entry in Belfast to remember and commemorate Francis Joy, who had founded the Belfast News Letter 275 years ago.

Francis Joy (1737-1790)
Francis Joy was born on 3 August 1697, probably in Killead, Co Antrim. Family legend suggests he was descended from Captain Thomas Joy, a follower of Sir Arthur Chichester.

In 1737 Francis founded the Belfast News Letter after apparently receiving a printing press in lieu of a bad debt. Of all English language daily papers in publication today, the Belfast News Letter is thought to be the oldest continuously published title in the world. 2012 marks the 275th year of publication.

The earliest extant issue is No. 113 for 3 October 1738, printed by Joy "At the sign of the Peacock in Bridge Street". A copy of this early edition is in the Linen Hall Library in Belfast. Joy had moved to the Peacock premises in 1737 and remained there until 1746. Joy’s Entry is named after Francis Joy, and is the place where he had a warehouse, near to the site of the paper’s first publication.

Faced with a shortage of paper, Joy developed the family business to include papermaking, first in Ballymena and then in 1745 at Randalstown, where he installed a larger mill. He married Margaret, daughter of Robert Martin of Belfast, and had at least two sons: Henry Joy (1719/20-1789) and Robert Joy (1722-1785). Joy twice petitioned the Irish House of Commons for assistance in his paper making, eventually being granted £200, a considerable sum, in 1749. By now, however, his sons Henry and Robert were running the printing business, having taken charge of the Belfast News Letter in 1745.

Henry and Robert predeceased their father, with the Belfast News Letter being passed to Henry, Robert's son. On 15 May 1795 the paper was sold to a Scotsman named George Gordon.

Francis Joy died in Randalstown on 10 June 1790.

The Event

Grandfather and grandson
Among those who attended the event were former First Minister Lord Bannside and Baroness Paisley, South Belfast MP Alastair McDonnell and Geoff Rowlings, the son-in-law of the late Captain Bill Henderson, a former owner of the paper. Also among the guests were three former News Letter editors, Darwin Templeton, Austin Hunter and John Trew, as well as Chief Executive of Johnston Press Ireland Jean Long.

From left: Darwin Templeton; Austin Hunter;
Jean Long, Managing Director, Johnston Press;
John Trew; Rankin Armstrong
Welcoming the guests, Ulster History Circle Chairman, Chris Spurr, said that this was the latest of nearly 150 plaque unveilings over the past 30 years. There were several in this part of the city but none closer than that of Francis Joy's grandson, Henry Joy McCracken, unveiled over 20 years ago. Today we commemorated the founding father of the News Letter in its 275th anniversary year. He thanked the Belfast City Council for supporting the plaque, the First Trust Bank for allowing the plaque to be erected on its premises and the News Letter for providing the refreshments.

Alan Boyd chats with
Lord Banside and Baroness Paisley
Rankin Armstrong, Editor of the News Letter, said that he was delighted to be unveiling the blue plaque in memory of Francis Joy. He thanked the Ulster History Circle and the Belfast City Council for their efforts in ensuring that the legacy of Francis Joy is acknowledged and the Linen Hall Library for its long association with the paper. He also commended the work of Ben Lowry, Billy Kennedy and others for their work in keeping alive the history of the newspaper in this its 275th anniversary year. The paper Francis founded in 1737 is the oldest continuously published local newspaper in the UK, making an indelible imprint on our history. He then unveiled the plaque.

Afterwards, refreshments were provided in the News Letter Offices and Ben Lowry gave a short address on the life and times of Francis Joy and the survival of his paper. 

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