Some of the writing I come across in my researches is quite outstanding. It is so different from the sort of writing you see today in newspapers. In the 19th century there was more a sense of narrative and this lay at the very heart of what they wrote.
When you read something like this in the South Wales Post under the headline The Drowned Aeronaut you forget very quickly that it is a newspaper report.
It comes from 1896 and is about a young girl called Mary Waggett…
…living in Wind Bow Cottage in the neighbourhood of the Powder Houses overlooking the Usk waters, (who) was rambling along the Severn sea embankment in the direction of the new Nash Lighthouse, when on coming to the second bay-like indentation east of the mouth of the Usk, her youthful vision descried a human body, floating in the fast-receding waves. A hasty glance to make sure of the fact and the affrighted Mary ran back home as fast as her sturdy young limbs could carry her. She had left the house of her parents with meandering footsteps, wandering in and out with the twists and turns of the sea-robbed embankment; she returned straight across the sedgy moor, jumping waterless rillets and startling thirsty cattle; and, frightened and excited the panting girl reported to her mother what she had seen. It was a sailor, she declared, doubtless misled by the nautical attire of the unfortunate parachutist.
And of course all this took place“within sound of the harsh death-song of the clanging bell-buoy.”
Look at the length of the sentences. They certainly treated their readers with respect. They expected not only that they would want to read something like this, but also that they would be able to read it.
Of course journalists even then were not adverse to a little subterfuge to get some attention. The sub-heading to the piece is Swansea Girl’s Sad End.
Well she never was from Swansea and the journalist knew that too. It was known that she was from Bristol. In fact, her origins don’t feature anywhere at all in the article. Just a little to trick to attract a Swansea audience I imagine. Why let the facts get in the way of a good story? It is still something that rarely troubles a sub-editor.
This, by the way, is a very good story and it is due to appear in Welsh Country Magazine in July I think. So you will have to wait until then to learn the rest of this sad little tale.