The Remarkable Mr. Hooker

Bill Curtis

On December 29 1961 the Chronicle and Courier newspaper devoted a whole page spread to the Hooker Printing business, as recorded here:

Family business handed down – sons took over from father

Handed from father to son since 1857, the business of Hooker Brothers Ltd at High Street, Westerham has provided a valuable service to the local community for more than 100 years.

Hookers are printers. Their premises actually ‘contains’ the Westerham office of the ‘Sevenoaks Chronicle,’ and their shop, beside the Drill Hall, deals mainly with stationary, while the rest of the building is packed with machinery and the requisites of the trade.

The original business was started by Charles Hooker, who commenced a stationary business in part of what is now known as the Manor House, only a few yards up the High Street towards Market Square.

Charles Hooker was a man of many parts who had several irons in the fire. One of these was an active interest in the building business, and it was this that led him, with direct labour, to build the shop on the corner of Stratton Terrace. At first he only dabbled in printing, with a small platen press operated in one of the back rooms of the stationary shop, but bit by bit, this small beginning was implemented by a fount of type here, or an extra bit of machinery there, until Westerham had a printing works which could handle its every need…
But with an entrepreneurial spirit which gripped many men of ambition at the time, Charles Hooker diversified in his business. He was by this point the most prolific printer and stationary supplier in the town, but also worked as a picture framer and bookbinder.
Not only was he now owner of the ‘Herald Steam Printing Works,’ he was also the local Agent for the ‘Accidental Insurance Company'...
... and a retail agent for ‘Patent Stitchwell’ lock-stitch Sewing Machines! He also advertised, arranged and managed concerts and entertainments which were held in the adjacent Town Hall.

Eventually his sons Charles William and Alfred joined the firm and following his death on May 15 1900, they continued the main business, but wisely shed many of the diversities offered by their father. The brothers did, however, continue with the ‘Westerham Herald’, the broadsheet of local news which their father had published every month since June 1882, proclaiming proudly “It circulates largely amongst the Aristocracy, Trade Agriculturists &c., which makes it a most valuable Advertising Medium”.
 When local printer Charles Hooker produced the first edition of the town’s newspaper on Thursday June 1 1882, his only previous publication, ‘Hookers Almanack’ was in its eighteenth year and local news had appeared within it as an annual ‘epitome of events’. This was nothing more than a record of births, deaths and marriages, accidents, fires and social occasions, but clearly Charles had spotted an opportunity to broaden the news of the district, to sell more advertising space and add to the firm’s commercial turnover. Produced monthly in the early years, price one penny, following a front page of local advertising, this first edition bore a justification for the launch... "TO OUR READERS - In introducing the first number of the WESTERHAM HERALD to the public we are led to expect one or two enquiries. National newspapers give us a broad perspective of daily news and County Papers supply every particular interesting to locals, but to us it seems that something else is necessary for our neighbourhood; something that shall deal with what is transpiring in our midst and for this reason the public are asked to render their assistance to this new venture in journalism. It will endeavour to supply interesting information respecting everything that relates to public matters, and in politics we shall endeavour to maintain an independent position. Westerham is most pleasantly situated in the Holmesdale valley, within 21 miles from London, now made accessible by Railway communication on the South Eastern Line. Visitors will find the ride most agreeable and will discover our neighbourhood is thoroughly enjoyable and worthy of repeated visits. In its vicinity there are many lovely walks, drives, and some of the most extensive views in the County. There are many places of interest within easy distances, a description of which we propose commencing in our next issue. We have every reason to believe that our Town will rapidly improve, and trust the WESTERHAM HERALD will soon become its worthy representative, and continue in various ways to the advancement and welfare of its readers and promoters …" Initially of a similar size to today’s tabloid publications, the layout was a front sheet of advertising for local businesses, followed by a page of local news, a page for clubs and societies, including Cricket Matches (Westerham’s oldest sporting activity). The centre-spread was devoted to news from outlying villages and towns such as Aperfield (now absorbed into the urban sprawl that is Biggin Hill), Brasted, Crockham, Limpsfield, Riverhead, Edenbridge, Oxted and Sevenoaks. A serialised work of fiction was delivered as a chapter per issue and the final sheet contained a detailed regular advertisement for William Fox, Family and Dispensing Chemist in Market Place; and the monthly timetable for trains between Charing Cross and Tunbridge Junction, including the newly-opened branch line to Westerham.

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