AddThis SmartLayers

Hold ye front page: 19th century newspapers go online

A local newspaper’s first-hand account of the Battle of Waterloo is among thousands of stories that can now be viewed on a unique online archive

Up to four million reports from local and national newspapers dating back as far as 300 years have been uploaded to the British Library’s online newspaper archive.

Over the past year library staff have digitised up to 8,000 pages every day and it is hoped 40m pages will be scanned and uploaded to the archive by the end of the ten-year project, which is backed by online publisher Brightsolid.

Free examples on the site include a detailed report of the 1880 Tay Rail Bridge disaster in the Dundee Courier and a first- hand account of the battle of Waterloo in the Cambridge Chronicle and Journal in 1815.

An article from the Manchester Courier in February 1891 informed readers of how one couple avoid rows.

It read: “Whenever he came home a little ‘contrary’ and out of temper, he wore his hat on the back of his head, then she never said a word. If she came in a little cross and crooked, she threw her shawl over her left shoulder, and then he never said a word.”

Ed King, the British Library’s head of newspapers, said: “People will find this archive extraordinary on both a personal and historical level. For the first time people can search for their ancestors through the pages of our newspapers wherever they are in the world at any time.

“But what’s really striking is how these pages take us straight back to scenes of murders, social deprivation and church meetings from hundreds of year ago, which we no longer think about as we haven’t been able to easily access articles about them.”

The collection also includes infamous murder trials to stories of men and women transported to Australia for minor thefts, as well as the wedding of Victoria and Albert and the charge of the light brigade.

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “The British Newspaper Archive website opens up a magical new window on a magnificent treasure store of real history, recording the lives of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in vibrant communities, rather than merely the cold facts of politics and pestilence.

“Thank goodness ageing newspapers are being brought back to life through new partnerships and modern, accessible media, to enthral new generations.”

To date the project has concentrated on out-of-copyright material pre-dating 1900, but Brightsolid is negotiating with a number of rightsholders to obtain permission to digitise a range of more recent newspaper runs from the early to mid-20th century.

The site will continue to grow as newly-scanned pages are uploaded.

One comment

You can follow all replies to this entry through the comments feed.
  • November 29, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Perhaps this will be the only way to access ‘news’ from newspapers in the future – ie as historical artefacts and not current publications.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(0)