Three hundred and fifty years of history at your fingertips

Quiz time – what’s the oldest British newspaper still being published?

While you’re thinking about it, I will tell you that the oldest surviving paper in the world is  Post-Och Inrikes Tidningar, or ‘Post and Domestic Times’, the official government newspaper of Sweden, founded in 1645. It took 20 years for the British to catch on that this might be a good idea but on 7 November 1665, the London Gazette was born.

The London Gazette was first called the Oxford Gazette, since Charles II and his ministers had wisely left London to avoid the Great Plague. To be honest, the first issue, as described by the diarist Samuel Pepys sounds a bit  dull: ‘very pretty, full of newes, and no folly in it’, but things soon hotted up (literally) when the Gazette returned to London in issue 24, something the journalists may have regretted when they had to cover the ‘sad and lamentable accident of Fire lately happened in the City of London’ in issue 85.

You can read up on the history of the Gazette, and jolly fascinating it is too. But it’s not for news coverage that the paper is best known but as the official journal of record of the British government. It is published daily online and covers such matters as public appointments, military honours, bankruptcy, wills and probate.  This makes it a fascinating source for family history… and just general nosiness! You can search it to see if anyone you know has had an army promotion (see if Great Uncle Ernie’s claim to have become a Major while doing National Service was true), become insolvent or been given an honour. With 350 years of records, it’s a treasure trove for genealogists.

The London Gazette is available free online, but for many newspapers you need a subscription to access their full archives. However, don’t worry – we do that bit so you don’t have to! Just go to our Online Resources page and scroll down to see what we have. Remember to have your Westminster library card with if you are on your home computer as you’ll need it to log in. Most of the titles are self-explanatory but there are some gems you need to hunt for.

ukpressonline is the archive of the Daily Mirror and Daily Express, but the package includes some other oddities you might not have spotted. In the World War II collection (which actually covers the period 1933 – 1945) you can find not just the Express and Mirror but a whole range of other papers too. While we certainly wouldn’t endorse the politics of Blackshirt or Fascist Week, there’s no doubt that they make fascinating reading and shed light on a very dark period of British history. For some political balance, there’s also the (socialist) Daily Worker or if you want to see a different angle, have a look at the (Methodist) Watchman or (Anglican) Church Times.

If your taste runs to the rather more scholarly you might want to look at the International Index to Music Periodicals and International Index to the Performing Arts. Both do what they say on the tin – they are searchable databases of over a thousand  publications covering the full range of music, stage and screen and endlessly fascinating to anyone with an interest in the arts.

But if what you want to do is just read a newspaper, we have LibraryPressDisplay. On the left hand side of the display, pick a country and see what’s available. If you choose the United Kingdom you can browse through the latest issues of over a hundred newspapers and magazines. If you’re more interested in what’s happening on the other side of the Channel, there’s about the same amount of French and German papers though Finland is only represented by 16 titles and Bulgaria a mere five. Whichever part of the world you’re looking for, there’s bound to be a newspaper – there are 25 Lebanese periodicals, all available on the day of publication. So whether you’re researching your travels or feeling a little homesick, have a look and see what you can find. You may even see your own hometown paper.

Happy reading.

[Nicky]

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