The Mercury’s hazy summer of 1991

I’m slowly, but surely, decluttering the absolute mess which is 853 Towers right now. As part of this, I dug out last night some old papers I’d stashed away many years ago. Ever got into that habit of saving newspapers from specific dates? I used to save daily newspapers from my birthday (think I’ve thrown those out, unfortunately), while somewhere I’ve got copies of the Guardian from 1 January 2000 (surely one of the last dates there was a rush on UK newsagents) and 12 September 2001. There’s a few old NMEs, oddly from around the time I moved into this flat in 1999. Perversely, there’s the last ever issue of Today from 1995 (with a strange 4-page pullout imploring readers to buy The Sun, endorsed by then-opposition leader Tony Blair) and less strangely, the Evening Standard from the day of Margaret Thatcher’s resignation in 1990.

But I was most pleased to find my first ever bylines – from a spell of work experience, aged 16, on the Mercury in July 1991. I thought I’d thrown them out (I definitely lost a later set of local paper bylines), so it was good to know I still had them.

I’m not going to go into full-on comparison mode – I’ll save that for another time, although the collapse in classified advertising is painfully obvious. It’s also worth pointing out the Mercury then published fully separate editions for Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley – further split into two separate versions in each borough. (That said, I don’t think the Greenwich & Eltham Mercury differed from the Woolwich & Charlton Mercury in anything other than the masthead.) Now each borough gets almost the same newspaper. But a few things tickled me that I thought I’d share here. Firstly, and slightly inevitably… house prices. Not as many property ads in later years, and unlike the past decade there’s no ads for any local new-build projects. But if you fancied a move to Erith, Dartford, or Crystal Palace, your luck was in.

Forty thousand pounds for a new-build studio in Erith? Not so far-fetched looking at today’s prices – Erith having been missed out from most of south London’s big transport improvements – but the days of a two-bedroom Crystal Palace flat for seventy thousand pounds seem long gone.

Fancy a night at the cinema? Woolwich, Well Hall Coronets? Catford ABC? The original Greenwich Cinema (I have the opening flyer for this, incidentally)? Prices to sit in absolute discomfort at the Coronets were £2.50 on Monday-Wednesdays, £4 on other days, incidentally.

And whoever said Woolwich had no nightlife? Flamingo’s even took Access!

“Oh yes it’s ladies’ night… oh what a night.”
I never had the joy of a night at Flaming Joe’s, and I’m not sure I really missed out there, really. Full marks for the smutty ad for a tiling company in Lee below, by the way.

A couple from the Evening Standard of 22 November 1990, to end with, finally – firstly, remember the days before mobile telephones? Thrusting young business types had to resort to the likes of Mercury Callpoint… “just be within 100 metres of our distinctive blue and white triangles… it’s like having a callbox in your pocket”. One2One (now T-Mobile UK) was still three years away.

Finally, the thing that most surprised me. If it wasn’t for the slightly dated Virgin typeface, and the giveaway of a TWA ad – those prices for a flight to New York haven’t changed in nearly 20 years, have they?

I’ll return to these at another date, and try to news compare coverage then with now – I think the News Shopper was still a year or so off from launching in Greenwich and Lewisham, so the Mercury then had pretty much a monopoly of Greenwich borough. If there’s anything you’d like to see, please ask!


  1. There were two or three other freebie sheets started around that time – can’t remember their names, but one of them had an office in the Woolwich Road, next door but one to the Labour Party Office. None of them lasted very long. The Kentish Independent must have lasted until what – 1983? 1984?
    I once read my way through the earliest Mercury editions and in the 1850s and 1860s the amount of drink-fuelled violence was astonishing. At one point the Mercury ran an anti-crinoline campaign – this was because of women who bent over to stoke the fire and caught their dresses alight. Everything was much more respectable in the 20th century.

  2. I was talking about similar stuff with a pal at the weekend – the great gin panics of the past. I imagine the anti-crinolene campaigns were echoed in those cheap tracksuits people wore in the early 90s!

    I think the KI ended even earlier – ’81? Wonder who has the archive of that now?

  3. I don’t know what happened to the actual archive but I was told that Greenwich Local History dept. were tipped off after the offices were closed, and that there were photographs all over the place.

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