The early days
The world was a different place when enterprising young businessman William Kirkham Morton brought mechanical typesetting to a small market town in the heart of rural Lincolnshire more than 140 years ago…
Nothing provides greater evidence of this than the fact that William was packed off to sea aged just 10 years old by his father, who claimed he was a nuisance child!
While the parenting methods of the Victorians may have left a little to be desired, it’s clear that this experience helped to shape William into an ambitious and fearless youth.
On his return – having been shipwrecked three times – William, then aged 21, bought a printing company and set up shop in Horncastle in 1878, which laid the foundations of Mortons of Horncastle.
Over the ensuing years, Mortons’ business extended across the county and developed pioneering print technology. William even decided to buy out his father’s printing and stationery business in Boston, allowing his old man to retire in peace.
The fall and rise
Despite surviving the strains of the First World War and the Wall Street Crash, when William died in 1934 the empire he’d built began to crumble without him. Mortons of Horncastle faced the prospect of being consigned to the history books until a Lincolnshire journalist and entrepreneur stepped in…
In the late 1950s the bankrupt remains of the company were purchased by Charles Edward Sharpe, owner of the Market Rasen Mail. With both the Horncastle News and Woodhall Spa News facing closure, Charles consolidated his assets to save the publications and Mortons of Horncastle was revived as printer and publisher of several Lincolnshire local newspapers.
Mortons is reinvented
Acquisitions and launches expanded Mortons’ reach into local news media and this was accompanied by significant investment in print equipment that quickly saw the company become a UK market leader.
Having previously been responsible for the production of the Horncastle News, Phillip Sharpe took the reins at Mortons of Horncastle from his father and has remained as head of the company ever since.
Under his direction, Mortons of Horncastle continued its expansion as it embraced the new technology that arose towards the end of the 20th century. Throughout those years, the company branched out into new areas. One of these was classic motorcycling – and it was soon to take over as Mortons’ main publishing endeavour…
In 1999, Mortons of Horncastle divided its operations between three new companies – Mortons Print, Mortons MotorCycle Media and Mortons Media Group. Having taken over publishing duties for Old Bike Mart and The Classic MotorCycle shortly before the new millennium, the year 2000 saw Classic Motorcycle Mechanics also come under the Mortons banner.
It wasn’t just published materials either; Mortons purchased the two annual classic motorcycle shows held at Staffordshire County Showground.
A new era
In 2001, Mortons of Horncastle took the radical step of ending its operations in local media publishing, selling its group of regional newspapers to Johnston Press. In the same year, the organisation extended its involvement in hobbyist-based magazine publishing with the acquisition of three monthly titles, including the successful Heritage Railway magazine. The synergy between publishing and events continued to grow too, as more classic motorcycle weekends became an increasing part of the Mortons portfolio.
Although local newspaper publishing wasn’t at the heart of Mortons’ operations any more, contract newspaper printing most certainly was. The legacy of investment and enhancement that was started by William more than a century before continued to be channelled as state-of-the-art print facilities were added and the company acquired Lincolnshire Mailing to support its contract print work.
By 2004, a new media centre had been opened and both Angela Spencer and Helen Harness had joined the Mortons of Horncastle board, becoming the third generation of the Sharpe family to do so.
Mortons Media Group
In 2013, after continued growth and expansion despite the world’s economic problems, Mortons of Horncastle brought all of its operations under one single company, of which it remains the whole owner.
Today, Mortons Media Group consists of four divisions – publishing, events, print and mailing. More than 20 regular hobbyist-led publications are written and designed within its offices, more than a dozen individual motoring events are hosted at venues across the country and a wide range of print and mailing contracts are fulfilled.
The Horncastle Technology Hub is also housed within its offices, an initiative that gives local organisations access to ground-breaking technology including virtual reality software and 3D printing.
With a constant eye on the future, taking on the exciting challenges that the new digital age has to offer is at the heart of Mortons of Horncastle’s ethos and will continue to be a driving force behind its operations.