Your Falkirk Herald ... made in 1845

THE FALKIRK HERALD and the Johnston family have been synonymous for decades – but few people realise they were not the original printers of Scotland's biggest selling weekly newspaper.

When the first-ever edition of the Herald hit the streets on Saturday, August 14, 1845, it was published by Glasgow lawyer Alexander Hedderwick. It wasn't until one year later that the company which now owns the popular broadsheet took over the reins.

That company can trace its roots in the printing trade back more than 240 years. In 1763, Patrick Mair set up a printing firm in Glasgow where he specialised in printing religious titles, many of which have become collectors' items.

Four years later he left the city and headed for Falkirk where the company we now know as Johnston Press was established.

He continued in the printing trade for another 30 years and, on his retiral in 1797, control of the firm passed to his son-in-law, Thomas Johnston. Although he came from a Linlithgowshire farming family and not bred to be a printer, Thomas expanded the work started by his father-in-law to include historical accounts, travel literature and ballads.

When Thomas died in 1831, he was succeeded by his youngest son, 21-year-old Archibald. In 1846, it was Archibald who acquired the one-year-old Falkirk Herald from its founder Alexander Hedderwick.

One of Archibald's first tasks was to bring production from the city to Falkirk. The first 'homegrown' edition of The Falkirk Herald was printed in the town on August 13, 1846.

The newspaper flourished under his leadership, mainly thanks to his ensuing interest in his home town. Although he took no part in Town Council or Stentmasters affairs, his views on these organisations and the subjects they discussed made riveting reading.

In 1851, five years after buying the paper, Archibald changed it from a monthly title to a weekly. Six years later, it became bi-weekly when sales rocketed.

Archibald Johnston died at his Falkirk home, 'Woodville', in 1877. Control passed to his fourth son James, then to Frederick, Archibald's youngest son in 1882.

Frederick was at the helm of the family firm for 53 years. Under his leadership, circulation of the Herald leapt from 7000 to 15,000 copies. In 1891, he founded The Linlithgow Gazette to serve Falkirk's neighbouring town.

The growth of the Johnston newspaper empire had begun.

Frederick was famous for his appeals – he launched a fundraising drive for Belgian refugees during the First World War which amassed 3000 and earned a thank you from the King of Belgium. Following the Redding pit disaster in 1923, Frederick called on The Falkirk Herald's readers to give generously. The appeal raised a staggering 63,000 – equivalent to several million pounds today.

With no children, his nephew, Frederick Mair Johnston, took over the family business, becoming managing director in 1936.

Frederick was no stranger to newspapers as, prior to joining the firm, he had been editor of the Evesham Journal.

Under his leadership, the family firm of F. Johnston & Company grew from publishing two newspapers to a massive newspaper group which, at the time of his death in 1973, consisted of 24 weekly titles.

His son, Frederick Patrick Mair Johnston, took over the chairman's role, remaining at the helm until his retiral in 2001. However, he continues to be a non-executive director.

Under his charge, the company made its first foray south of the border to buy the Derbyshire Times, the second-largest selling weekly newspaper in England. Further acquisitions followed in Yorkshire, Sussex and the Midlands.

To avoid confusion, the original part of the company became Johnston (Falkirk) Ltd in 1983 and continues to publish a range of newspapers across central Scotland.

In 1988, the parent firm F. Johnston & Co. Ltd became Johnston Press plc and was floated on the Stock Exchange.

It continued to make acquisitions north and south of the border – and more recently in Ireland – and is now the fourth largest publisher of local and regional newspapers in the UK and can also boast well over 100 Internet sites.

The current chief executive is Tim Bowdler and although the company has grown spectacularly in the last 160 years, it still adopts the philosophy of delivering local news to the communities it serves.