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British Library Newspaper Library
British Library Newspaper Library, London
Printing with moveable type is thought to date to about 1440, and is attributed to Johann Gutenberg of Mainz, Germany. Details of early printing history are difficult to come by, as techniques were generally kept secret. These early attempts to hang onto expensively discovered secrets lingered in a conservative industry that remained largely unchanged for roughly the next four hundred years. Early newspapers appeared soon after the invention of printing, first in Germany, then elsewhere. Early news pamphlets in English started to appear in the 1620s, with the Weekly News published from 1622 being the first regularly published title (see History of European Printing by Colin Clair).
In 1790, a Londoner, William Nicholson took out a patent with regard to various inventions relating to printing. His ideas foreshadowed many of the essential features of later printing machines, and he even suggested round stereotype plates to fit around revolving cylinders, years before this was practically possible. Nicholson was full of ideas, at a time when technology could not realise them. It was Frederick Konig, twenty years later, who produced the first practical printing machine. This machine started printing The Times on the 29th of November 1814, at 1100 copies an hour.
Newspapers were to become hugely influential, reporting news, but also in the process shaping events. As communications improved, events could quickly reach the reading public. In the Crimean War, 1854 - 1856, the electric telegraph allowed for the first time, rapid communication of events across great distances. Events could be followed almost as they happened, and The Times articles of William Howard Russell had a huge readership. These articles drew attention to the terrible conditions suffered by soldiers in the Crimea and encouraged attempts to improve the situation. A different kind of influence was demonstrated by the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who is often credited with using the New York Journal to bring about the Spanish American War of 1898. Writers such as Sidney B Fay have claimed that as the First World War neared the popular press blew up every minor disagreement into a more newsworthy crisis and so helped the momentum towards war. Part of this tendency towards moralising emotional drama in popular newspaper writing traces its origins to the nineteenth century traditions of the Nonconformists of northern England. One of the most influential exponents of early popular journalism was William Thomas Stead, the son of a Congregationalist minister from Yorkshire. Stead was a major force in creating a journalism, which has been described by A.N. Wilson as a style in which: "... a fervour, a craving for the emotional excitement of the prayer meeting and the conversion experience was awkwardly translated into secular spheres" (The Victorians P463). In this kind of writing there are heroes and villains, smiles and tears. It is generally an emotional style, and the threat of enemies, and the intensity of war, could be seen as a natural part of it. Today, particularly following the news management exercises of the Blair government, the effort to manage news in the popular press is as important as managing events themselves.
Newspapers, as a record and a shaper of events, have been collected by the British Museum since the 1820s. Initially all newspapers were held at the British Museum site at Bloomsbury, until in 1900 space ran out. A repository was then built in north London at Colindale for regional newspapers. Colindale is now part of the British Library, which took over the library departments of the British Museum in 1973. Colindale now holds the entire British Library newspaper collection, except for pre 1801 London newspapers. Reading rooms are available for visitors who wish to read the newspapers. An on-line newspapers catalogue of 52,000 items, from which items can be ordered by credit card is available at the library's newspaper catalogue.
Admission to the Newspaper Library is by a Newspaper Reader Pass. This is available to anyone over the age of eighteen. One proof of identity is required - passport, driving licence - and one proof of address - a bank statement, utility bill. Alternatively you could apply for a Reader Pass at the British Library in St Pancras. Visitors under the age of eighteen might be granted access, as long as you ring in advance and discuss your requirements.
Opening Times: Please use contact details below.
Address: British Library Newspapers, Colindale Avenue, London NW9 5HE
Directions: The library is in Colindale Avenue, North London, just off the A5 Edgeware Road. Click here for an interactive map centred on the British Library Newspaper Library.
Access: Disabled visitors can reserve parking spaces. There is Braille signage, and induction loops in the entrance lobby and the Main Reading Room.
telephone: 020 7412 7353
fax: 020 7412 7379