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William Waite Hadley and St Peter, Northampton

From Nonconformist to editor of The Sunday Times

William Hadley had a long association with Northampton as a journalist and ultimately the editor of the Northampton Mercury. However, his career did not end in the town and when many think of hanging up their trilby and putting on the carpet slippers Hadley started a new phase of his career as a London based political journalist and finally as editor of the Sunday Times for 18 years including through World War 2.

William Waite Hadley


William Walter Hadley was born on 18th January 1866 in East Haddon, Northamptonshire the son and one of ten children of Joseph and Elizabeth Hadley. Joseph Hadley was a gardener. The Hadley family were committed to the Congregational church in the village. Joseph was both a deacon and treasurer of the chapel for many years.

On leaving school at the age of twelve or thirteen, William likely worked on the land like his father. During this period his education continued part-time by an under-master from Rugby. He was taught shorthand at this time acquiring speed by taking down scores of sermons. He later attended night school at Northampton1

The Hadley family

The journalist

Hadley became an apprentice reporter at the Northampton Mercury, in 1881, at the age of 15. an exciting time in the political life of Northampton as both the town and its MP, Charles Bradlaugh, were thrust into the national spotlight. Hadley witnesses much of this first hand. Although Bradlaugh was an atheist support for him divided the church, particularly the nonconformists. In later years when Hadley was in his nineties, he described in detail these events in an article for Northamptonshire Past & Present2. This was a good training ground for Hadley who after eleven years’ experience on the Northampton Mercury behind him, moved on to the Rochdale Observer for a short period before being appointed editor of the Merthyr Tydfil Times, only to return to the Roch­dale Observer as that paper’s editor in the same year, 1893.

Whilst at Northampton in 1889 he married Emma Chater also from Northampton at the Castle Hill Congregational Chapel3.

In 1908 at the age of 42, he returned to Northampton as editor of the Northampton Mercury. Both Hadley himself and the Northampton Mercury adopted a Liberal standpoint, whilst its rival the Northampton Herald held a Conservative view from its nearby offices on the Market Square. The literary style and content of the Mercury outshone its rival at this time. In 1920 he wrote a book to commemorate the Northampton Mercury’s bicentenary.

In 1923, Hadley decided to move to London, relinquishing his editorship and became Parliamentary correspondent of the Daily Chronicle4.

. For some years he continued to write a weekly political commentary for the Northampton Mercury.

In 1931 at the age of 65 rather than taking retirement, he accepted the position of Assistant Editor of the Sunday Times. This however was only a short appointment as in 1932 he became editor of the Sunday Times, on the death of Leonard Rees. This was the post he continued to hold for 18 years, through World War 2, finally retiring in 1950 at the age of 84.

1881-1892 Journalist, Northampton Mercury
1892 Journalist, Rochdale Observer
1892-1893 Editor, Merthyr Tydfil Times
1893-1908 Editor, Rochdale Observer
1908-1923 Editor, Northampton Mercury
1923-1931 Parliamentary Correspondent, Daily Chronicle
1931-1932 Assistant Editor, Sunday Times
1932-1950 Editor, Sunday Times

William Waite Hadley’s career

The writer

Even as a journalist he was not afraid to express his views. Hadley was a firm friend of Neville Chamberlain and a warm supporter of his policy on Germany. Towards the end of the Second World War he wrote a short book Munich: Before and After5 in which he brought out the aims of Chamberlain’s policy, the courage with which he pursued them, and the wide measure of support which he enjoyed.

There is no doubt that his political awareness was tuned during the Bradlaugh crisis which he reported on first hand and was later to summarise in an article for the journal Northamptonshire Past and Present6. In 1920 he wrote a book to mark the bicentenary of the Northampton Mercury. It was an excellent biography of that newspaper and included an amusing series of extracts from its earlier numbers.7

St Peter, Northampton

Whilst editing the Northampton Mercury, Hadley commenced a series of articles that appeared weekly describing his visits to churches around the town. The days of his youth made him the perfect candidate for this task, both listening to sermons and his shorthand skills. One unnamed Anglican church he visited did not fare so kindly at his pen, as he reported:

The writer of the articles on “The Message of the Churches” went to a Northampton parish church on Sunday morning. He sat towards the middle of the building, but though his sense of hearing is keen, he could hear so little of the sermon that it was impossible for him to write a connected account. Which church it was he does not say.8

Thankfully his experience at St Peter’s was more satisfactory even to his nonconformist ears. The actual sermon is historically interesting as it deals with the subject of heritage. Consequently, it is repeated here in full:

St Peter, Marefair, Northampton, 20 April 1913

People walking along Marefair at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning may have been surprised to hear the congregation at St. Peter’s Church singing “God Save the King.” Inside the church it rather amazed me; for I had not realised that tomorrow is St George’s Day or that the anniversary is usually observed in this fashion. The National Anthem is so associated in the mind with vociferous outbursts at great popular festivals that at first it seemed to strike harshly on the ear just as one was expecting to hear the opening sentences of morning prayer. Happily, the hymn was not sung through. Loyal as I trust I am and always ready to sing “God Save the King,” I always stop before the doggerel of the third verse.

In the absence of the Vicar of the parish, the Rev. R. M. Sarjeantson, the service was taken by the Rev. A. S. Jukes9. There was a large congregation, most of the seats being filled, and there was a larger proportion of men than usual at Sunday morning services. How many of them, I wonder, came under the spell which held me on this first visit to the old church? Here for four hundred years the same liturgy has been said by Northampton people; and for more than four hundred years before what some of us still call the Reformation priests recited in the Latin tongue a far more ancient order of service. An ever-deepening stream of life and conflict has rolled by outside. Kings and mailed Knights, cardinals and heretics, great lawyers and merchants, Cavaliers and Roundheads — the procession has never once stopped through the centuries in which the church of St. Peter’s has borne its witness. From far and near people now come to look at the beauty of the noble tower, and the rare dignity of the unique interior; but to me, and I hope to many more, the “atmosphere” is created not so much by the marvellously preserved glories of early Norman builders as by the silent testimony of long dead and gone generations of men who, amid all the excitement and contention, did in some fashion hold up to their day and generation the ideal of the Christian life.

The service was admirably read by Mr. Jenkins. Nothing was snipped or mumbled: every word was perfectly clear, and the delivery was too uniformly vigorous. The message from the Bishop, asking for generous support of the Diocesan funds, received full justice. Let us hope that everyone paid due attention to his lordship’s appeal for “a living wage” for the poorer clergy. The minimum asked for was £200 or nearly four times the amount which, it is said, Mr. Lloyd George means to secure for the agricultural labourer.


The sermon was of a different type from any that I have heard lately. The text was the eighth verse of the first chapter of Haggai: “Go up to the mountain and bring wood and build the house; and I wall tale pleasure in it, and 1 will be glorified, said the Lord.”

The preacher explained the conditions of the time in which Haggai declared his message. Under the auspicious reign of Cyrus, B.C. 536, the Jews were allowed to return from their captivity to Jerusalem, about 42,000 of them, under the Governorship of Zerubbabel. Within a few months the altar of burnt offerings was built and the daily offerings resumed.

The building of the Temple went on slowly, partly because of the opposition of the Samaritans who, because of their departure from the true faith were not permitted to join in the work. They appealed to the Persian Court; during the reign of Cambyses, who followed Cyrus, progress became less and less; and the next Emperor, Artaxerxes, decreed that the building should cease.

A year later Darius succeeded to the throne, and influences more favourable to Jerusalem prevailed. But the Jews were now rich and indifferent.

In such conditions Haggai declared his message to the people. There was a revival of zeal, the building of the Temple was pressed forward with the promise of God’s blessing.

What do we learn from this history? asked the preacher. First the exclusiveness of God’s work; only His people can join in it. This is Diocesan Sunday, and never before did God so call on us to arise and build. And the building must be done by legitimate means. Often we find that money for spiritual work is raised by unauthorised means; but God does not want His work bolstering up by the Devil’s means.

Another lesson to be learned is the wideness of God’s work. Not only Church officials, but all God’s people must take part in it. Ordinarily congregations are quite satisfied if the parson and churchwardens, and, perhaps, the sidesmen, take hold, and nobody else bothers a bit. In this story of the re-building of the Temple the work was successful because people of all kinds helped.

Other points to be remembered were that God’s work was an old work, going back to the beginning of things, and, also, that it was the best kind of work. Here the preacher referred to other functions, in which the best service is aimed at. After mentioning the schoolmaster, he said: The statesmen, by which I mean the ideal statemen, not such as we have so often to-day, must so work on the nation as to guide it through all storms.

In the churches and Sunday schools we are building up character, but the work is neglected. Look at our old buildings and old schools; the people don’t bother their heads about them. Think of all the work of pious people in past ages who built beautiful churches such as your own. What a splendid heritage! How it should draw upon your hearts for blessing and your pockets for needed support!

The men and women of to-day are indifferent like those of Haggai’s time: they think this is not a suitable time to build. But. you know the despicable attempts to rob the Church in the Welsh Disestablishment Bill. God wants you to return and to re-build the House in order that not your own ideas, but Divine ideas may be reestablished.

That is an outline of Mr. Jukes’ short and vigorous sermon. The service was over by about twenty minutes past twelve.

W W Hadley10

  1. William Waite Hadley (Obituary), Joan Wake, Northamptonshire Past and Present, 1961, Vol 3 No 2.
  2. Bradlaugh and Labouchere, an Episode in Constitutional History, Northamptonshire Past and Present, 1959, vol 2 no. 6, pp273-282
  3. Now Castle Hill United Reformed Church
  4. The Daily Chronicle merged with the Daily News in 1930 to form the News Chronicle, which itself was absorbed into the Daily Mail in 1960.
  5. Hadley, William Waite. Munich: Before and after, William Waite Hadley. 2nd ed. London: Cassell, 1944.
  6. Bradlaugh and Labouchere, an Episode in Constitutional History, Northamptonshire Past and Present, 1959, vol 2 no. 6, pp273-282
  7. Hadley, William Waite. The Bi-centenary Record of the Northampton Mercury, Etc. (1720-1920.). 1920.
  8. Northampton Mercury, Friday 07 March 1913
  9. Rev Arthur Starr Jukes was curate of St Giles, Northampton. He enlisted and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in November 1915 and served with 10th Battalion, London Regiment which formed part of 162nd Brigade, 54th (East Anglian) Division. In December 1915 the Division was evacuated from Gallipoli to Alexandria in Egypt and the following year occupied No.1 (Southern) Section of the Suez Canal defences. He died aged 44 on 6 March 1917 and lies buried in Suez War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt.
  10. Northampton Mercury, Friday 25 April 1913

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