This week I tell the story of a man who rose from relatively humble origins to become one of the BFP’s longest serving and most respected Editors, who was also a pillar of the community of High Wycombe. That man was Arthur Church.

Early Life

Arthur Harry Church was born on September 28, 1911, the son of Henry and Phoebe.

Henry Church and Phoebe Wakefield, both aged 22, had married in Wycombe in 1909, Arthur was their only child. Henry worked as a bricklayer for the well-known, then Marlow-based, building company Y J Lovell, and Phoebe worked in Wycombe’s furniture industry as a chair caner. The couple lived at No.49 Richardson St, to the west of the town centre, the middle part of which including No. 49 no longer exists, the houses having been demolished.

In 1934 Arthur married Miriam (Meg) Page, the couple then taking up residence at No.194 Desborough Ave. In the spring of 1936 their only son Arthur Kenneth Church was born, not surprisingly he was always known as Ken.

Career at the BFP

Arthur began his association with the BFP in his childhood, when he became a delivery boy whilst still at school. He joined the newspaper, whose offices were then in the High St, as a cub reporter in 1928. At that time there were only two editorial staff, the Editor W H Whittles and one reporter. Since 1919 the business had been a private company, the Bucks Free Press Ltd.

Arthur then had a short spell as a cub reporter at the Leicester Evening Mercury Group, before he returned to the BFP as a reporter in 1933. A new Editor had just been appointed John T Baldwin, who was to remain in that post until 1956. Investment in new printing processes was driving the company forward. In 1924, a rotary printing press had been installed, which speeded up the printing process considerably. Then in 1938 came the installation of a much larger and faster printer, which allowed 32-page issues to be produced.

The number of editorial staff was increasing greatly, but then in 1939 war broke out, leading to paper rationing. This meant a big reduction in the number of pages to 8 and a gradual loss of employees as young men were called up to fight. When completing the National Register in 1939 Arthur proudly proclaimed himself as ‘Journalist and Sub-editor’. Promotions to Senior Reporter and then Chief Reporter followed.

After the war It was not until the 1950s that the number of pages in the BFP recovered to their pre-war level, when the amount of advertising revenue was increasing dramatically.

In 1956 Arthur Church was appointed as editor of the newspaper and for the next 20 years steered it through what must have been exciting but challenging times. His appointment coincided with probably the most significant development in the history of the BFP since the move from Church Sq to the High St.

In 1954 the ownership of the newspaper by the proprietors of the Bucks Free Press Ltd had ended when it was bought by Merritt & Hatcher, a company formed even earlier than the BFP, in 1850. They wanted to extend their publication and printing activities. A purpose-built office and printing works was constructed at Gomm Road, in Wycombe Marsh.

The editorial and advertising staff vacated the High Street premises and moved to the recently built Free Press House in Castle Street, still in the centre of the town. However, within a few years most of the staff relocated again, to Gomm Road.

Under Arthur Church’s leadership the BFP was now enjoying a boom period, the weekly circulation was some 33,000 copies. These were exciting times, with the Midweek Free Press being launched in 1968. In 1972 the Bucks Free Press titles were acquired by the Westminster Press.

Arthur Church retired on reaching the age of 65 in 1976, having worked for the BFP for over 40 years. However this did not end in 1976. Arthur continued to contribute to the paper for another 24 years until the millennium year of 2000.

In retirement, he returned to work for the newspaper as a sub-editor, assembling the copy for individual editorial pages. Also, free from the work involved and constraints of editorship, he produced what was possibly some of his most creative work. His weekly column ‘Church View’ was extremely popular. Here are two examples:

When a ban on fox hunting was being debated - ‘Some years ago when the BFP office was in Castle Street, I walked into the front office and spotted a young man cuddling what I thought to be a little puppy. To my surprise, when I moved closer to give it a pet, I found it to be a charming fox cub. Thinking back to that little fellow I saw in the office, I know now how I would vote. Emotion you see!’

About traditions in the House of Commons - “I see that the traditional use of a top hat to attract the attention of the Speaker is being booted out of the Commons, Too comical say the critics. But watching as I do the TV slot on the PM’s question time, I generally feel it is more comedy than drama anyway’.

Public Service

Arthur was a lifelong supporter of Wycombe Wanderers and also very much involved in the British Legion. He joined High Wycombe Rotary Club in 1957 and remained a member for many years, being its President in 1972/73.

For his public service, it is his work in support of the annual Wycombe Show for which he will be best remembered. Arthur can claim to be the founder of the Show. Just after the war the BFP had a reporter at the AGM of the parish council when one of the committee members made a casual suggestion, which was to have a Wycombe Show. The reporter then included this in his report of the meeting. The sub-editor compiling the copy was Arthur Church and he made that the headline for the story. This created a great deal of interest which culminated with the first Wycombe Show in 1947.

The Show was traditionally held on the first Saturday in September. For many years they were a great success, regularly drawing in excess of 20,000 through the gate, and attracting some of the country’s top horsemen to Wycombe to compete. But in the mid-to-late 1970s the attendances dwindled alarmingly, with the result that there was no show in 1979.

Who should then step in, none other than Arthur Church. He was made Chairman of the organising committee, attracted some new blood, and put the show back on the road in 1980. Arthur remained Chairman for many years, completely revitalising interest in the Wycombe Show.

Tributes to Arthur

The great esteem in which Arthur was held in the town can be seen by the tributes which poured into the BFP offices when he died at the age of 89 on February 3, 2000.

Bill Tilley, who was editor of the BFP after Arthur retired and returned to work as a sub-editor, remembered that: “He was one of the old school, a very dedicated journalist and a great believer in High Wycombe. He helped in any way he could to further community interest in the town.”

Tim Blott, another former editor, said “He was an authoritative and challenging columnist, and a warm-hearted and generous person. The paper and the community have lost an invaluable servant.”

Best-selling author Terry Pratchett, who having left school in 1965 took up an apprenticeship with the BFP under Arthur, and prepared the Children’s Corner column in the paper, wrote this tribute in his own unique style “I remember finding out that the moon shines on High Wycombe. I’m one of the privileged few who witnessed this discovery one Thursday as we put the paper to bed at Gomm Road.

One of the early Apollo missions brought back those first amazing pictures of the moon, taken from orbit right above it. Possibly the people high up drew straws to see who would ring Arthur to tell him that he’d have to clear most of his front page. We watched as he took the call. His expression grew thunderous. After the call he was silent for a while as he tried to come to terms with this. Then he brightened up and announced: ‘Well, the moon ‘does’ shine on High Wycombe, after all.’

Then we re-jigged the paper and sold a lot of extra copies next day. The words were remembered by all present.

Arthur cared about the area, with a quiet passion. He was the editor of the big solid local paper, after all, which mattered to the community. Lots of people were being paid to care about the prospect of men going to the moon, but Arthur saw it as his job to remember that people already lived in Downley. He was a good journalist, and that’s pretty high praise.”