ONE of the finest pictures to see the light of day during The Northern Echo’s 150th anniversary celebrations earlier this month showed a Z Wright standing proudly in the doorway of his shop in Thirsk flanked by newspaper bills advertising just about every newspaper that circulated in North Yorkshire.

The Northern Echo’s bill is bottom right, of course, promoting its stories about the York Fine Art Institution and the Iron and Steel Institute. Racing reading.

Top left is a tatty poster advertising a concert by the Thirsk Choral Society which was to take place on “Wednesday ??l 20 188?”. So we have the beginnings of a date.

The newspaper bills give other clues. The North Star, published in Darlington as a Conservative rival to the Liberal Echo, talks of the Afghan War (still ongoing, unfortunately) and the Beaconsfield Monument. Scattered about the window are souvenir copies of a broadsheet publication called the “Life and Career of Lord Beaconsfield”.

This referred to Benjamin Disraeli, the Conservative Prime Minister, who had died on April 19, 1881.

The Yorkshire Post bill talks about “The loss of the Doterel”, which was a Royal Navy vessel which exploded on April 26, 1881, off Punta Arenas in Chile. All but 12 of her 155 crew were killed – in fact, so violent was the explosion that only three bodies were recovered whole.

There were fears that the Doterel had been attacked by Fenian terrorists, but after a couple of years it was decided that xerotine siccative was to blame. It was a chemical compound added to paint to speed up the drying process, but after it had been implicated in the sinking of three naval vessels, someone discovered that it contained kerosene and so was highly inflammable.

The Royal Navy banned it from its ships.

Which gives our photo a precise date – and yes, for those worried about the Thirsk Choral Society’s concert, Apl 20, 1881, was indeed a Wednesday.

But who was the Z Wright standing in his shop doorway that late April day in 1881, and what exciting first name could he have?

“Zaccheus Wright was my great-grandfather,” says Chris Wright, who still lives in Thirsk. “Zaccheus was a tax collector in Jericho who was saved by Jesus in the Bible.”

Our Zaccheus was born in 1845, and in 1860 became apprenticed for five years, eight weeks and two days to James John Packer, a printer, stationer and bookseller in Thirsk.

“His indenture stated that he should his Master serve, his secrets keep and his commands gladly do,” says Chris. “He should not commit fornication, nor contract matrimony. He should not play at cards or at dice tables. In addition, he should not haunt taverns or playhouses, nor absent himself from his Master’s service day or night unlawfully.”

Perhaps it was Mr Packer himself who was in need of moral instruction because he and his family disappeared one day – perhaps to New Zealand – and Zachy was left with the business.

As well as selling newspapers, he printed many local books and magazines, including the programme for the 1907 Thirsk Historical Play, in which he starred.

To be fair, most of Thirsk starred in the play, as the programme names 213 performers. Zachy appeared into the third act, playing Wulfstan, a 10th Century Archbishop of York in robes he had borrowed from the archbishop.

Mass participation historical pageants – the Edwardian equivalent of Kynren – were all the rage at the time. It was performed in the grounds of Thirsk Hall over two days, and the North Eastern Railway offered special fares from any station in Yorkshire to those attending.

The Thirsk play was in response to a fire which ripped through Selby Abbey in 1906, doing £50,000 worth of damage for which it had no insurance cover. Panicked, the ecclesiastical authorities looked at all their policies and found that most were inadequate – St Mary’s in Thirsk, for example, was insured for £6,000 whereas to replace it would cost at least £16,000, so the play was to raise money for increased premiums.

Zachy died in 1917, and the wide-ranging business passed to his son, Lewis, who moved it to the other side of the Fleece.

In 1970, the Echo honoured the Wrights as one of only three family newsagents who had sold the paper throughout its 100 years.

The business, though, didn’t make it to the Echo’s 150th year as it closed in 1988 when a third generation, another Lewis, retired.