It was founded in 1858 by the splendidly-named Peter Stewart Macliver, a Scottish businessman, and Tyneside journalist Walter Reid. In 1932 it absorbed the Bristol Times & Mirror and became The Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror.
(The Bristol Times & Mirror was itself the result of the amalgamation of two much older newspapers: The Bristol Mirror, dating back before 1805 as Bonner and Middleton’s Bristol Journal; and The Bristol Times, which was established in 1839 as The Bristol Times and Bath Advocate and which absorbed Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal (a title going back to the mid-18th century) in 1853.)
It was taken over in 1959 by Bristol United Press, who also own and publish the Bristol Evening Post, and was renamed the Western Daily Press and Times & Mirror the following year. It reverted to its original title in 1974.
In 1999 Bristol United Press was taken over by Northcliffe Media, which at the time was the regional newspaper wing of the Daily Mail & General Trust group; Northcliffe was spun off in November 2012 to form the new Local World media group, along with Iliffe News & Media. Formally the newspaper’s now published by Bristol News & Media.
Politically, it’s conservative, although it avoided taking sides on foxhunting, an issue on which its readership was likely to be divided.
It’s suffered in recent years from declining circulation – a particular problem given its disproportionately large distribution area, much of which is relatively poorly served with road and rail. Perhaps as a result, its geographical reach has diminished sharply in the last few years; until the late 2000s its distribution area stretched as far to the south-west as Penzance and as far to the north-east as Tewkesbury, and even into South Wales!
In 2005 cuts in staff led to some of its journalists to auction themselves on eBay as a tongue-in-cheek protest. The NUJ has claimed that the cuts were driven by unrealistic shareholder expectations rather than genuine financial hardship.
As recently as 2007 there were five editions:
- Severnside (for Gloucestershire and southern Worcestershire)
- Late City (for the city of Bristol)
However, cost-cutting amalgamations meant that by 2009 there were only two editions left (Somerset & Bristol and Wiltshire). It was sub-edited from Plymouth from April 2010 onwards; and in May 2010 it was announced that there would be only one edition in future.
In 2013 it regained its own website, having lost it in 2011 when its westpress.co.uk URL was redirected to Northcliffe’s thisissomerset.co.uk portal website. However, it now has a new web address.