People of Leeds #1: Sam, the Newsman

The first in an occasional series looking at forgotten contributors to the history of Leeds. This week, Librarian Antony Ramm tells the story of 19th-century newsagent Samuel Schofield, better known to contemporaries as ‘Sam, the Newsman’…

There was once a time – not so very long ago – when visitors to the centre of Leeds had as their soundtrack the familiar cry of “Post! Yorkshire Evening Post!“. The on-street newspaper seller is an urban phenomena that has now largely disappeared, but which in its day marked the last, lingering trace of a tradition stretching back to the latter half of the 1800s.

For that was when Samuel Schofield – ‘Sam, the Newsman’ – first “cried” the news, from his regular selling point on the east side of Briggate, the Bull and Mouth Inn, situated between Duncan Street and Kirkgate (roughly where House of Fraser is today).

c.1890 map of Leeds, showing the junction of Briggate and Duncan Street. The Bull and Mouth Inn – later the Grand Central Hotel and then the Victory Hotel – is indicated by the P.H. at the middle-top of the map.
Undated. View of the Bull and Mouth Hotel at number 138 Briggate. This was first used as a centre for heavy baggage wagons and became a coaching inn in 1800, soon becoming one of the busiest coaching inns in Leeds. In 1903 it became the Grand Central Hotel, and in 1921 the name was changed again to the Victory Hotel. It closed in 1939. Photograph by Wormald of Leeds. (Leeds Library and Information Service, www.leodis.net)

Born around 1841, Sam seems to have inherited his trade as a newsagent from his father, Benjamin, as this 1861 census return for Leeds shows:

1861 census return, showing Benjamin Schofield and his son, Sam, working as newsagents. From Ancestry.com

Sam, however – using his flair for dialect verse as an advert for the daily news  – soon became a familiar and much-loved local seller in his own right, known for his high-peaked cap bearing the legend “I AM THE NEWSMAN” – “who from time to time shouted the sensation of the day”, according to a Yorkshire Evening Post article on January 6, 1910.

Yorkshire Evening Post, January 6, 1910

Sam’s success was such that he could open his own newsagents shop, first in Wellington Street and then, more permanently, on Bishopgate. It was the Bishopgate newsagents that was later taken over by N.G. Morrison on the same site, and which was captured on photograph into the 20th-century.

23rd March 1937. View shows Bishopgate Street. City Square is visible to the left with the Life Assurance building behind. Cars and vans are driving past. People can be seen crossing the road. The premises of N.G. Morrison newsagent and stationer can be seen to the right. Cars are parked along the road and a lamp post and tram lines can be seen. (Leeds Library and Information Service, www.leodis.net)
23rd March 1937. View shows N. G. Morrisons newsagent on Bishopgate Street. A “to let” sign and other advertisements are on the end of the building. Cars are in a car park in the centre and a ladder leans up against a building in the background. Tram lines are on the road with cables overhead. Pedestrians are visible to the far right. (Leeds Library and Information Service, www.leodis.net)

So well-known was Sam that his caricature appeared on several political cartoons of the 1860s, usually with very little explanation; a clear indication of both his familiarity and his wide appeal. Sam’s image can be seen in the three images below, all from the 1868 Parliamentary Election for Leeds, and all taken from our 19th-century Political Cartoons Collection.

Sam can be seen in the very middle of this image
Sam is at the window in this cartoon
Sam is at the middle-bottom here, just below the box on the stage

Sam was also known as a prolific seller of theatre programmes – initially outside the New Theatre Royal on Hunslet Lane and the Royal Amphitheatre in King Charles’ Croft, both of which burned down in 1875 and 1876 respectively.

The New Theatre Royal (Leeds Library and Information Service, www.leodis.net)

Following this double-tragedy, Sam took his trade to the newly-opened Grand Theatre (1878) on New Briggate; and it was this latter station that was captured in a reminiscence piece appearing in a 1910 edition of the Yorkshire Evening Post:

Yorkshire Evening Post, September 17, 1910

For all the slightly patronising tone of this article, Samuel Schofield achieved as much in his life as many of his contemporaries, before his untimely death in 1884, aged just 42. Indeed, such was Sam’s popularity, even long after, that the Leeds-born caricaturist Phil May was able to draw his image from memory a full fifteen-years later, a sketch which was “submitted to several gentlemen, all of whom have recognised in it the features of the once familiar newsvendor.”

Yorkshire Evening Post, April 19, 1901

Sam may not be remembered by Leeds in the same way that, say, Ralph Thoresby or Edward Baines is – but, in his own unique way, ‘Sam the Newsman’ contributed just as much to Leeds and its people: the affection of familiarity and the texture of the everyday; those small, fleeting interactions that cumulatively make the places we live. He should be remembered.

Sam died of tuberculous and was buried in Leeds General Cemetery at St. George’s Field in Woodhouse. He married Elizabeth Scott in 1863, with whom he had five children, none of whom entered the newsagent’s trade. 

1863 record of Sam and Elizabeth’s marriage. From Ancestry.com
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