Not quite a trove

The other day I received an email from Andrew Gray, a reader of this blog, alerting me to the existence of a new online newspaper archive available at ukpressonline. I've used ukpressonline before for its complete runs of the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror, which were the most popular British dailies for most of the 1930s and 1940s. But it's not a free service. I don't mind paying, but the annual subscription rates are too prohibitive for me, and so when I do pay it's only for short-term access with a specific topic in mind. So it's not something I routinely draw upon.

But what Andrew pointed out (thanks Andrew!) was a new 'World War II' subscription package covering just the years 1933 to 1945, ie from the rise of Hitler to the end of the Second World War. It's only available by annual subscription, but I think £50.00 is more than reasonable for what it offers: not only the Express and the Mirror, but also the Yorkshire Post (one of the few conservative newspapers to take a stand against appeasement), the Daily Worker (owned by the Communist Party of Great Britain), and Action and Blackshirt (published by the British Union of Fascists and its successors). And it is promised that 'In the coming months, we aim to add major regional newspapers and some of the further-left press' (I would guess that the Yorkshire Post and the Daily Worker are the first of these, actually). This is a really excellent resource for anyone interested in the British press in this period; I've already signed up and started using it.

Still, this made me make, yet again, the invidious comparison between the state of online newspaper archives in Britain and in Australia -- in particular, the National Library of Australia's aptly-named Trove. Here, among many other things, you can get free access to many Australian newspapers, including the major capital dailies, in one place, using one (open-ish) interface. There's nothing like it for British newspapers, where everything is scattered all over the web, sometimes free but mostly not, often with no rhyme or reason as to the years available, and of course with highly variable user experiences. There are some advantages to the British approach (would the NLA be comfortable making Australian fascist literature available on the same basis as the mainstream press?), and the sheer volume of newspapers is vastly larger, so it's not practicable to have, say, the British Library digitise it all and publish it for free.

Instead of just griping about the situation, I decided to at least collate the various sources of online British newspapers for 1901-1950 (roughly, 'my period') and put it up in a list, which can be found on the sidebar on Airminded's home page. I used bigger lists compiled by Mike Dash and at The Bioscope, and added a few more I've found. I've excluded Irish newspapers (outside of Ulster), even though they were technically 'British' before 1922; but there is a good site for those already. Also, I decided not to link to archive sites which only allow institutional access (e.g. by libraries); they're a tease for the independent researcher. I'll try to keep the list updated, so please let me know if there is anything I've missed.

A few comments. The biggest surprise for me was finding that the Daily Mail is available from its founding in 1896 up until 1923, covering the Northcliffe years nicely. That's at an American paysite, NewspaperARCHIVE. Subscribing to that gives access to a rather random selection of more than a dozen other British newspapers from this period, the most interesting of which are perhaps Black and White (more of a magazine really, but one which often published speculation about future wars and the like) and Primrose League Gazette, a Conservative Party organ. Though if you're interested in Hackney you've got not one but three titles to choose from! (It also has the Guardian, but it's not the Manchester Guardian which became today's Guardian, but a London paper.)

There's nothing from Wales, unfortunately, and only the Belfast Gazette from Ulster -- like its London and Edinburgh equivalents, not a normal newspaper but an official government publication. Scotland has some reasonable coverage, with the Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald from its two biggest cities. There's also the Inverness Courier, though only an index of its articles is online: if you find something you want, you need to ask the poor librarians to scan it for you! Apart from the Yorkshire Post, the only regional English newspaper I've found so far is the Staffordshire Sentinel, published in Stoke-on-Trent.

There are some useful special-interest publications too. The women's suffrage movement is well represented, with Votes For Women (Women's Social and Political Union), The Vote For Women's Freedom (Women's Freedom League) and The Freewoman all freely available. New Age, an important literary journal, has long been online. There's also Temperance Caterer ('For temperance hotels, coffee palaces, coffee taverns and restaurants, cafes, coffee houses, cocoa rooms, refreshment contractors, hotel fitters, furnishers, &c') and the wonderfully named Tongues Of Fire, the official organ of the Pentecostal League ('A journal for the promotion and extension of spiritual life, purity and power'). And, of course, Flight!

One sad omission: The Times. I have institutional access, but it used to be possible to pay for access to The Times archive as an individual. Now that seems to be behind the subscriber paywall. Paying just to get the chance to pay again seems a bit retrograde.

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5 thoughts on “Not quite a trove

  1. I too had noticed the WWII package a little while back and am planning on subscribing to it myself. What's the quality of the scans like? Are text searches enabled and functioning?

  2. Post author

    The scan quality is quite good -- better than the microfilm equivalents for the Express and Mirror which I've used. In those, photos are often impossible to make out whereas here, although they're far from reproduction quality, you can at least see what's going on! And yes, full keyword searching is supported and the interface is user-friendly (until the NewspaperARCHIVE one which would be a pain to use for serious research). The PDFs you get have the full text layer too. The OCR seems pretty good. However, I've noticed minor differences between the database text and the PDF text: eg the search results which turn up for 'reprisal' do not always have that word in the PDF text layer, but 'repr isal' or 'rep risal' :) It's only about 1 in 20, and better that than the other way around.

  3. Post author

    A few comments on ukpressonline, after a bit more experience:

    (1) Actually, on average the quality of photographs is poorer than that from the equivalent microfilms; but they are more consistent (so you'll always be able to make out what they show which isn't always the case with microfilm).

    (2) The text database used for searching does have some errors in it.

    (3) The Daily Worker isn't yet available for 1940-1.

  4. Chris Williams

    Some of the text in the Daily Mirror and Daily Express scans is at the bleeding edge of legibility: I was trying to teach with them the other week and noticed this: the Times and Graun are a lot better. All three are better than Colindale, though!

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