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Somerset & Dorset
Family History Society

Robert Goadby – founder of the ‘Western Flying Post’

When Patricia Goadby and her brother Michael arrived at the SDFHS Family History Centre one day to enquire about their illustrious ancestor, Robert Goadby, the founder of the Western Flying Post (now better known as the Western Gazette) we were about to shut up shop. However, the timing turned out to be advantageous as we were able to get together with our fellow volunteers in Sherborne Museum, to do some background research, before inviting Patricia and Michael back to hear about what we had been able to discover between us.

Robert Goadby, printer, publisher and bookseller, was born in 1721 and died 57 years later in 1778. In 1740 he established a book selling business in Bath but by 1744 he had moved to Yeovil where he published, on 30 July of that year, the first issue of a provincial newspaper known as the Western Flying Post or Yeovil Mercury. This newspaper was in competition with the Sherborne Mercury which had already been in production for ten years. After the founder of the Sherborne Mercury died, Robert Goadby purchased the newspaper and combined the two papers publishing the first edition of the Western Flying Post; or Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury on 30 January 1749. At this time he left Yeovil and set up the printing house at his home, Bute House in Long Street, Sherborne. Over the door would appear the legend: 

‘The Sherborne Printing House. The Liberty of the Press and the People Fall Together May Heaven Long Avert It’.


Bute House in Long St, Sherborne

Contributing greatly to the success of the newspaper was the position of Sherborne on the post roads from London to the West Country, and from Bristol and Bath to Weymouth, together with the distribution network that was set up enabling a regular readership to extend from Dorset through Devon and Somerset to Cornwall, Bristol and London. George Tatham was able to tell Patricia and Michael more about the distribution and the advertising that the paper relied upon, when they made their return visit to our Family History Centre. 

Robert Goadby opened up a lending library in Cheap Street, Sherborne, with 1,900 volumes. He was also involved with book printing and his major production was the Illustration of the Holy Scriptures, in three large volumes. It was two volumes, dated 1754 and held by Sherborne Museum, that John Peters showed to Patricia and Michael. John explained that the old books had fallen into some disrepair and he undertook the task of carefully removing the accumulated dust and gently straightening some of the folded corners of the pages. Almost all of the 95 copperplate engravings had become detached and were randomly distributed throughout the volumes. The engravings did not have page numbers and it was only after many hours of diligent research that John was able to return the illustrations to their rightful positions.


John Peters completes six-months’ work.

examining-bibleGeorge explained that it would not have been possible, under copyright laws, to reproduce a straight copy of the bible unless there were additions made to it. This is how Robert Goadby came to write his own ‘notes and explanations’ for each verse which he placed in following brackets. This must have been an immensely taxing and time-consuming piece of work and as John picked a verse at random and read it out, together with the explanation that followed, we were all rather stunned into silence by the enormity of this undertaking.


Patricia and Michael were interested in visiting the site of their ancestor’s grave and it is to be found near Old St Cuthbert’s Chancel in Oborne. Robert had a great love of botany and nature and it was said in his obituary that he walked everyday from his home in Long Street to the place he was to be buried and back again before breakfast.

old-st-cuthberts-chancelWe do not know the route that he would have taken but had there been a pathway or track along the Oborne road and present A30, in his day, then this would have been a return trip of about 2.3 miles. He left an endowment for a sermon to be given on the first Sunday in May each year on ‘the Wisdom and Goodness of God in Creation’. It is not hard to imagine the wonderful sights and sounds he would have experienced on these walks which most likely contributed greatly to his knowledge and love of the natural world. When he died he was buried in the unconsecrated ground next to the Chancel and a pine tree was planted on his grave which was replaced later by an elm tree. Sadly in 1969 the tree was clumsily removed as it suffered from Dutch elm disease and the grave, headstone and surrounding railings were completely destroyed.

At some point an oak has been planted and under this recent arrival is a pile of stones which is all that is left of the famous man’s gravesite. 


You can read more about the history of the Western Gazette on Bob Osborn’s The A-Z of Yeovil’s History. 


The plaque at 23 Princes Street, Yeovil. By kind permission of Bob Osborn

18 October 2016

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