HISTORY IN NEWSPAPERS

The Bednall Archive

Last updated 20/01/2013


Introduction Newspaper Archives Newspapers As Sources Newspaper Contents
The Derby Mercury The Macclesfield Courier British Library Newspaper Archive On-line Journals

Introduction

While carrying out local and family history research related to Leek (Staffordshire) and Macclesfield (Cheshire), the writer made rough notes on interesting, 18th and 19th century references in local newspapers.   These references do not represent all the Leek and Macclesfield references that thorough research (for that purpose) might reveal and this should be kept in mind when looking through those listed here.  The references are (generally) identified by the name and date of the newspaper in which they occurred. They do not therefore comply with modern good practice with regard to the indexing of newspapers since they do not give the relevant page and column numbers.  The descriptions of most of the references are very short except where they concern a topic which was of key interest at the time the writer was searching the newspapers.

The two newspaper collections used were:

the Derby Mercury (1735 to 1899) archive in the Derby Local Studies Centre; and

the Macclesfield Courier etc. (1811 to 2004) archive in the Local Studies Centre, Macclesfield.

Both are now available on film but pre-booking is necessary. 

NB: Much of the Derby Mercury has now been indexed for the period 1840 to 1899 and can now be accessed through the British Library Newspaper Archive   There is currently no comprehensive index of the Macclesfield Courier.


Other Newspaper Archives

Other  newspaper archives useful to local history and family history researchers include:

 Palmer's Index to The Times, 1790-1980  Note: The Index to "The Times" is available as a series of bound volumes at Keele University

The Staffordshire Advertiser (1795-1973), archive at Keele University, Staffordshire.

National Library of Australia -Trove

Genuki

Newspapers & Family History. 

The BBC History website also provides useful information.


Newspapers As Sources for Local History:

Newspapers are a valuable source of material for anyone studying local  history and can provide insights and detail that may not be obtainable from other sources. W.B. Stephens, in a book about sources for local history, was of the opinion that for 19th century studies "newspapers must be regarded as an essential source for the local historian".    Leek (Staffordshire UK) newspaper proprietor, Matthew Henry Miller, also recognised the historical value of newspapers when he drew on articles and other items from past editions of his own newspaper to produce “Leek Fifty Years Ago” in 1887 and “Olde Leeke” in 1891.

Of course, when using newspapers as historical records, a sceptical approach should be adopted and confirmation sought elsewhere.  Newspaper proprietors and editors have their own interests and political views which may affect the news they select for publication and the way it is presented. Some knowledge of their political views and attitudes should be sought, therefore, difficult though this may be, in order to take account of any likely bias.


Newspaper Contents in the 18th & 19th Centuries

Virtually all aspects of history - social, political, commercial, industrial, national, local and family - are reflected in past newspapers. The detail that the various items provide will, however, obviously vary with the size and coverage of the newspaper.

In the eighteenth and for much of the nineteenth centuries these provincial newspapers were aimed at the professional and commercial middle classes and the local gentry. They therefore concentrated chiefly on what government, parliament and "Society" was doing, often simply reprinting news from the London papers. Law and order was of keen interest to their property owning readers and so news of civil disturbances, the Quarter Sessions and Assizes, and "important" crimes would be reported. Readers were evidently also interested in unusual, mysterious, bizarre or astonishing events, since accounts of such events, often taken from other newspapers, would be included. The newspapers would also carry a few tradesmen's advertisements, bankruptcy, public and other notices - usually on the front page - and, occasionally, items of local interest including a few births, marriages and deaths.

After the 1750s, changes occurred. Increasing advertising was emphasised with many papers calling themselves "Advertisers" and with up to 25% of available space given over to it. In many cases, newspapers also increased in size and coverage thus becoming more useful to family and local historians.

In the 19th century the coverage of everyday affairs in the locality increased and news of industrial and commercial interest was included together with additional society and fashion news. The Macclesfield Courier, for example, doubled in size and fell 30% in price between 1812 and 1850.

The effects of revolutionary changes in manufacturing industry and transportation and of local government, legal and social reform were reflected in the columns of the newspapers. Railway time tables, reports from the London and provincial markets, annual statements of banks and other institutions, council meetings, police reports, industrial accidents and a multitude of other matters became important to editors as society and readership changed.

For the local historian, the most useful material in earlier newspapers is likely to be the advertisements and notices advising the public of the impending sale of houses, inns, land, factories etc; notifying creditors of bankrupt traders of the need to make claims and the dates of meetings to distribute any dividends, announcing the formation of partnerships, associations or the transfer of an old established business; offering rewards for information leading to the capture of a criminal; or promoting the virtues of some patent medicine. Useful information on local matters can also be gleaned from the other sections of these newspapers, although searching 18th century newspapers may require a considerable amount of effort and bring little reward. In contrast, 19th century newspapers provide much more material for the local historian.


© awbednall, macclesfield 1990