Anyone who has spent hours poring over fragile, yellowing sheets in local archives or at Colindale knows how engrossing old newspapers can be. The popularity of the British Newspaper Archive, which recently celebrated its first year online, proves how keen many of us are to explore the past through the contemporary press. For family historians, enjoyment comes not just from seeing our ancestors’ names in print or learning about the worlds they inhabited, but in reading the very words they read. Depending on the nature of the publication, this can give us insight into popular opinion or into the mind of the establishment.
Much as I enjoy using online newspaper databases, which I do at least once a week, I was delighted to receive a couple of old newspapers from Historic Newspapers at http://www.historic-newspapers.co.uk/
The pleasures of holding a full-size paper, feeling the thickness of the pages, and being able to judge just how tightly my ancestors had to squint to read the fine details of Mr. William Shadforth’s “Special” Heart and Nerve Tonic are rare, and something I miss in the digital experience.
Although companies like Historic Newspapers market their papers for special occasions, such as anniversaries or significant birthdays, the possibility of choosing a specific title from a specific date can be useful for family historians. I have collections from local archives of photocopied newspaper columns featuring my ancestors: my great grandmother’s obituary in The Stage, the inquest into my great great grandfather’s death, and more recent cuttings of the achievements of close family members.
Sometimes I’d like to keep the entire newspaper, to see my ancestors’ activities in the context of what was happening around them. This is possible with companies like Historic Newspapers, although it can be more expensive than visiting a local history centre and copying from a microfilm or scanner. Occasionally, the cost may be weighed against the issue that dedicates an entire page to an ancestor’s military bravery or a detailed obituary, and that features a death announcement and a letter on the event elsewhere. Given how easy it is for researchers and library users to find an article in The Times Digital Archive or the Daily Mirror online, it is not surprising that these titles are the most popular with Historic Newspapers’ customers.
One of the papers I was sent was the Sunday Pictorial of 25 April 1926. With smallish, thick pages and heavily illustrated, this is markedly different from other newspapers of 1926. I chose this particular edition as I was keen to see how contemporary newspapers reported the F.A. Cup victory of Bolton Football Club – captained to a 1-0 victory by my great grandfather’s cousin, Joe Smith. As mentioned in the post on the National Football Museum, my grandmother claimed to have drunk out of the F.A. Cup when she was 15. On the back page of the Sunday Pictorial was a large picture of the Bolton player, David Jack, draining a draught from the very cup. And at the bottom of the page was a smiling Joe Smith, surrounded by helmeted police officers, carrying the cup to the Bolton dressing-room at Wembley Stadium.
The FA Cup final took place on a Saturday and was reported the following day. Copies of Sunday newspapers are harder to find. Historic Newspapers holds fewer newspapers for Sunday than for the rest of the week, and they are consequently more expensive. There are lesser-known titles among the Sundays, however, like the Sunday Pictorial.
My favourite article in this issue is titled, “Is Dancing Overdone To-day?” This feature by Clifford K. Wright on the dance craze of the period begins:
Has dancing to-day become an obsession?
Do we dance too much? One would
imagine so from the frequent attacks to which
this form of enjoyment is subjected.
When at the conclusion of the Great War
people welcomed dancing as one of the easiest
avenues to forgetfulness it was pointed out
that wars and social cataclysms like the French
Revolution were frequently followed by some
similar craze. It was though that this out-
burst also would prove a mere craze and be
short-lived. yet in 1926 we find that the cult
of the dance is pursued by everyone with un-
abated zest and enthusiasm,
Wright ends with the defence:
But most important of all are the mental re-
actions produced by dancing. It is the ideal
cure for a fit of the blues. Through it we can
find an escape from the usual groove of our
lives into a secret and magical world of our
Historic Newspapers has the largest private archive of British newspapers in the world. The archive has been built over many years from various sources: initially from the newspaper group’s original archives as they moved out of Fleet Street in the 80s, and continues today, as virtually all the national Scottish and English newspaper titles send us their daily editions. Papers are also continually being sourced from libraries and other collections from all over the world. The newspapers are stored in leather binding, from which they are carefully removed when sold, and sent out in presentation boxes. The company will sell the last paper for a date, but have scanned leading titles in order that an original archive remains.
Historic Newspapers is offering readers of this blog an exclusive 15% discount on anything on the site by using the code: 15TODAY.