The name John Russell Fox is familiar enough to most residents of Andover these days as the Wetherspoons’ pub and restaurant. Until 1987, the building at 10 High Street was home to Holmes’s stationers and fancy goods, whereas above and behind these shop premises were the offices of the Andover Advertiser. John Russell Fox was the founder of the paper in 1858.

Until the 1850s local newspapers were not commonplace because of the various taxes that had to be paid in order to produce them. There had been a stamp duty on newspapers, a tax on advertisements and a duty on newsprint. By 1855, all of this had been abolished, allowing local newspapers of limited circulation to be produced economically.

John was born in 1831 at Devizes, one of at least four sons of John James and Mary Ann Fox, whose linen drapery business was in St John’s Street. The family was non-conformist and the birth is registered as would be expected at Devizes, but five years later John James and Mary Ann registered their (by then) four sons’ births at the Dr Williams’ Library in London. The youngest of these was Richard Parsonage Fox, born in 1836.

There is some evidence that John first served an apprenticeship at the Wiltshire Independent, a newspaper founded in 1836 in Devizes, but at the age of 19 we find him in Hospital Street, Nantwich, Cheshire, listed in the census of 1851 as a bookseller’s assistant. Censuses provide a snapshot of the moment they were taken and it is impossible to say how long he was in Cheshire but certainly five years later he was back down south, when he married Harriett Collen at Chippenham whose father ran the mill there. At the time of his marriage in July 1856, he is described as an Andover bookseller. Soon afterwards, he decided to start running a newspaper as well. Andover was ideal, as not only had all the newspaper taxes recently been abolished, there was as yet no local newspaper, and crucially the town was now connected to London by the railway that arrived in 1854.

As the railway navvies were still digging their way on from Andover to Salisbury, Fox put out a trial monthly newspaper called the Andover Monthly Advertiser and Illustrated Family Miscellany, which soon evolved into the weekly Andover Advertiser at the beginning of 1858. The four-page paper had pages 2, 3 and 4 printed in London with national news before being sent by rail to Andover; the remaining page 1 was printed here with local news and advertisements. The news gathering and the printing office must have been small-scale as even in 1861, the proprietor was employing only one man and four boys.

At some point after this, younger brother Richard Parsonage Fox joined him and a partnership was formed. Richard had married Frances Earle in Devizes in 1861 and they probably came to Andover soon afterwards - their first son Harry Bertram Earle Fox was born here in 1863. However, the partnership was short-lived as a notice in the London Gazette of March 1863 states that the arrangement was being dissolved by mutual consent. By this time Richard must have already assumed ownership of the Advertiser as John’s name disappeared from the Advertiser’s masthead in the autumn of 1862. There may not have been any acrimony here as John had returned to Devizes to run the Wiltshire Independent whose former proprietor had died, and no doubt the county paper with its larger circulation was an attractive step up from the fledgling Andover Advertiser. He ran it until 1876 when he sold out to the Wiltshire Times. As a retired local editor, he subsequently entered the civic life of his home town.

Years later, in his 1918 obituary, it was written that John ‘tired of Andover’. He may have wished for more that was newsworthy; Andover, famously and a little unfairly, was once described as a place so quiet, that the dogs asleep on the pavements were disturbed when anyone stepped over them, so surprising was such an event.

After the founder’s departure, his brother Richard Parsonage Fox ran the Advertiser in Andover until 1868 when he sold out to the paper’s third editor, Windsor-born John Burgiss-Brown. Over the next decade or so, Richard and his family travelled north to Lincoln, and then south to Lambeth before going off to France to run the Paris version of the New York Herald and also at some time, Galignani’s Messenger. He must have only recently returned to England when he gave a talk to the Wiltshire Field Club in 1910, entitled ‘Thirty Years in Paris’. We last find him in 1911, rather sadly, back at Devizes as a widower, living alone in a furnished bedroom and sitting room at 34 Short Street. His death was in 1914.