THE coronavirus has achieved something that in all of The Northern Echo’s 150 years has only been previously been managed by the Luftwaffe.

On Wednesday, it drove the last of the journalists, at least, out of the head office which has been the paper’s home in Darlington since it was first published on January 1, 1870.

The only time this happened before was two nights in 1941, when the Blitz was at its height, and the Echo moved its entire operation as a trial to Durham City where it was produced and printed “under the shadow of (and nearly in the foundations of) the cathedral” to escape the German air force.

In these days of remote working via the internet, for journalists it has been fairly easy to leave Priestgate, although a skeleton staff from other departments has remained, sensibly sitting two metres apart - just as a skeleton staff did in 1941, only then they were “based in an air raid shelter chamber, keeping the wires between Fleet Street and Durham open”.

In the days when everything existed in physical form, it had taken major planning to move to the Durham Advertiser’s office in the city. An additional press had been acquired, and a duplicate library had been made of printers’ metal blocks of pictures of people, like Winston Churchill, who were likely to be in the news.

Then all the staff, including the linotype operators, compositors, telegraphic operators and shorthand typists were taken by car and motor coach, along with “special Censor guidance books and the hush-hush codes for communicating between the paper and the Ministry of Information”.

Today, so much information pings in via easily forwardable email, but back then the paper’s network of reporters from York to Berwick typed up their stories and put them on the train to Darlington, so a small staff of messengers was left at Bank Top station to forward all the envelopes to Durham.

Then, “under the shadow of the cathedral”, according to an article written later by the editor Reginald Gray, the sub-editors got to work creating the paper. Nowhere does Mr Gray actually say where in the cathedral’s shadow the paper was produced, so we assume it was in the Advertiser’s offices in Saddler Street.

The Durham trials produced the papers of May 20 and October 21, 1941, away from Priestgate – but, although coastal places like Sunderland and Middlesbrough were badly bombed during the Blitz, Darlington largely escaped with a little singeing from a few incendiaries. And then in 1942, Durham itself was targeted by the Baedeker raids – the Germans used a tourist guidebook to decide where to attack.

And so never again, until now, did the Echo leave Priestgate.

But Mr Gray judged the trails to be a success, in that the paper was printed and distributed on time. “There was something just not right here; something small there definitely wrong,” wrote Mr Gray, “but the paper was recognisibly The Northern Echo.

“Perhaps a few readers up and down this great North-East coast may have felt a vague difference as they handled their Northern Echo over the breakfast table. If so, we never heard about it.”

In truth, they probably did notice, as last lines had dropped off some stories, and the pages were printed at a jaunty angle – but this was wartime, and you accepted such things, just as, we hope, readers today accept a few imperfections as we fight Covid-19.