History Comes Alive Thanks to Old-Time Hacks; TONY HENDERSON Dips into Pages from the Past as a Major Heritage Venture Is Launched Online

Article excerpt

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. …

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