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Introduction

 

In the middle years of the 19th century one man had a dream. God appeared to Thomas Philpott, a Surbiton printer, and told him to found a newspaper to serve the community.

A man of deep religious conviction and strong social commitment, Mr Philpott threw himself into the task.

Almost single handed, he founded the Surrey Comet, a venture that he pursued with such dedication that in a few years it cost him both his health and wealth and helped drive him into an early grave.

But 150 years later - in 2004 - that dream lives on.

Over that time the cart horse gave way to the juggernaut, the quill to the keyboard, word of mouth to the worldwide web.

And Mr Philpott’s little newspaper, for which he wrote all the articles, sold the advertisements and which he cranked out himself on a iron-framed hand press blossomed into one of the biggest firms in Kingston, employing more than 300 staff.

And in recent years it has expanded to become a series across south west London, incorporating the Wandsworth Borough News and the Wimbledon News.

It is hard to overestimate the impact it has had on Kingston and surrounding areas.

Back in 1854, Mr Philpott wanted his paper to “expose the bad and promote the good” – guiding principles which have been passed down from generation to generation.

Back copies of the paper are full of articles about crime and punishment, mismanagement and skulduggery.

The paper has always tried to use its influence as a force for good, encouraging progress and chastising those who have stood in its way.

In the 1850s, the paper fought for better conditions for the poor in Kingston.

In the first years of the 21st century, the paper has successfully campaigned to get minicab drivers licensed, helped save the town’s magistrates court, and is demanding the truth about the death of a local soldier in Iraq.

At the same time, it has fiercely guarded its political independence and maintained high standards of accuracy and balance.

It has provided a vital voice piece for the “little man” as well as being a vigilant watchdog on those in power.

For generations the Surrey Comet has been the paper of record, the paper people have trusted to tell them the truth about what is going on here.

In its ever more yellowing pages are to be found the history of this area from the time of the Crimean War to the second Gulf War.

Week by week the paper has chronicled the minutiae of local life, from babies to buildings, flower shows to funerals.

But a newspaper is about more than the stories it prints. It is about the people who work there – thousands of them over the years.

From advertising reps to compositors and cub reporters, the annals of the Surrey Comet are full of larger-than-life characters – a number of whom you will meet on the following pages.

Some went on to find fame and fortune on the nationals. Others became writers, playwrights, photographers, press officers, drunkards and businessmen.

While a small but priceless band, including the current features editor June Sampson, dedicated their lives to serving this paper and this community.

It is all of these people who have given the Surrey Comet its heart and soul.

It is their energy, talent and enthusiasm which have turned our founder’s high principles into a living reality.

If he were alive today, I am sure he would be quietly proud of what his dream has achieved.

As the current editor I am certainly very proud to follow in his footsteps.

This souvenir edition is dedicated to Thomas Philpott and to all those who have worked on this great local paper over the past 150 years.

Sean Duggan
Editor

 

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Remembered: Editor Sean Duggan lays flowers on Thomas Philpott’s grave. Deadlinepix CG2400-D

 

 

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