THE East London and West Essex series of Guardian newspapers has just celebrated its 136th birthday. Reporter DANIEL BINNS looks back at its humble origins.

“We come to you with no battle cry, being bound to no class” declared the first edition of the Walthamstow and Leyton Guardian in 1876, as it promised an unwavering independence.

The newspaper cost half a penny and was just four pages long – most of which were taken up with adverts for items including “pure” butter, hi-tech sewing machines and a local dentist whose services were for those “who have any care for the natural appearance of their face”.

It was a booming time for local newspapers. Between 1870 and 1900 no fewer than 11 were launched in Walthamstow alone.

The Guardian was the pet project of three local businessmen – Robert Willis, Walter Booth and Samuel Herbert, who was its first editor.

Published from offices in Orford Road, it soon was able to buy out struggling rival The Walthamstow Chronicle after just six months.

A little way up the road in Essex, just a few years later in 1885, the origins of the Epping Forest Guardian were also being born by the inexhaustible news obsessive Alfred Davis.

He singled-handedly produced his own eight-page Epping Monthly Record, which became so successful he was able to buy out rivals The Epping Gazette and the Loughton and Ongar Record.

Mr Davis was the group's only reporter, editor, printer, advertising manager and salesman, and he would walk down Epping High Street every week collecting the ad money to pay his bills.

The news of the day included the usual mix of crime and politics, but one dominating story was the Epping Forest Act of 1878, which granted the land for public use indefinitely, and Queen Victoria's visit in 1882 to mark the occasion.

As its geographical reach grew, in 1935 the Walthamstow Guardian opened new headquarters in Forest Road.

It then led to the “marriage” of the Guardian and the Epping Gazette series in 1942, followed by a further merger with the Independent group in 1972.

In 1978 the Guardian-Gazette series moved to a new HQ in Forest Road, with regional offices across Essex, followed by a later move to Highams Park.

But as changing reading habits and competition from the internet grew, the series began downsizing, merging titles to form the Waltham Forest and Epping Forest Guardians in 2008 and moving to its regional office in Epping a year later.

While much has changed, with focus shifting greatly to the internet, the tradition of an “unwavering independence” remains.

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