IT has been said that newspapers are the first draft of history – and today up to four million pages go online as part of a massive heritage project.
The British Newspaper Archive website includes pages from more than 200 different papers from across the UK and Ireland with first-hand accounts of events including the wedding of Victoria and Albert and the Charge of the Light Brigade.
It is based on the British Library’s newspaper collections, which are among the finest in the world.
Today sees the launch of the first stage of the project, which aims to scan up to 40 million pages over the next 10 years, and which includes the Newcastle Courant from 1911, The Journal from 1832-67, and the Newcastle Guardian and Tyne Mercury from 1846-71.
Users can search for free on www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk but there is a subscription payment for examining pages in detail to help cover the costs of the project.
Ed King, the British Library’s head of newspapers, said it opened up the collection as never before.
He said: “Rather than having to view the items on site at the library, turning each page, people across the UK and around the world will be able to explore for themselves the gold mine of stories and information contained in these pages – and the ability to search across millions of articles will yield results for each user, that might previously have been the work of weeks or months, in a matter of seconds and the click of a mouse.”
The scale of the newspaper publishing industry from the early 19th Century onwards is enormous, with many cities and towns publishing several newspapers at the same time, often aimed at distinct audiences depending on social status, geographical location and political affiliation.
The first stage of the British Newspaper Archive focuses on runs published before 1900.
A team of experts have spent a year at the British Library’s newspaper library, digitising up to 8,000 pages a day.
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. Thank goodness ageing newspapers are being brought back to life through new partnerships and modern, accessible media.”
The project is a partnership between the British Library and brightsolid online publishing, owner of online brands including findmypast.co.uk and Friends Reunited.
The British Library’s chief executive, Dame Lynne Brindley, said: “Historic newspapers are an invaluable resource for historians, researchers, genealogists, students and many others, bringing past events and people to life with great immediacy and in rich detail.
“Mass digitisation unlocks the riches of our newspaper collections by making them available online to users.”
The Journal was given a preview of the website yesterday.
In 1833 the paper’s headline announced “Another assault upon the proprietor of the Newcastle Journal”.
It reported how a court at Sunderland “was crowded to excess to hear the particulars of a serious charge against Mr John Kidson (son of John Pexall Kidson, , the Earl of Durham’s law agent at Sunderland), for having committed an assault upon Mr John Hernaman, proprietor of the Newcastle Journal, in the High-street of Bishop- Wearmouth.
“Among the company present we noticed a large party of merchants, shipowners and others, friends of Mr Hernaman, and other dependents of his lordship.
“Mr John Kidson (who has been brought up to the law in his father’s office) undertook his own defence.”
The report says: “I looked round to see if I could obtain the protection of a police officer upon which Mr Kidson placed himself in a boxing attitude with clenched fists, put his hand to my collar, called me a **** and deserved hooting out of the town, and threatened that he would knock my eyes out.”
in 1867 The Journal reported a fracas between a Newcastle magistrate and a Gateshead engineer.
It said: “We have been familiar with rumours in reference to an alleged case of public horsewhipping, in which a fond lover and a Newcastle magistrate played, in the parlance of the playbill, the leading parts.
“The facts are of the most painful character, and, if correct, the person in question thoroughly deserved the horsewhipping.
“The gay gentleman, in whose family the lady in question acted as governess, is a magistrate, a member of the Newcastle Town Council, and a lawyer.
“He has been living apart from his wife for some weeks past, and, in company with the governess, has been taking advantage of the bracing airs which are wafted down the mountains in the vicinity of Rothbury.”
On a lighter note at Christmas in 1861 The Journal reported how the Theatre Royal in North Shields had staged the “best pantomime ever produced at this theatre.
“Boxes, pit, and gallery were crowded to overflowing, by an audience who were frequently in convulsions of laughter, through the pranks of the clowns and Harlequin.”
In 1864 the paper reported on “The Forthcoming Dog Show” at which “Lord Hastings, president of the Great Northern Exhibition of Sporting and other Dogs, has contributed the handsome sum of £100 as his donation towards the prize fund.
“This is another example of the liberality of his lordship, who fully appreciates the object the promoters of this show have in view, viz the improvement of the breed of sporting dogs.”
The Foresters of the Wear, the Tyne, and the Blyth also held their grand gala day in Hulne Park, Alnwick, by permission of the Duke of Northumberland.