You will have to be a member of a UK university of college of further education, or else a visitor to the British Library (St Pancras or Colindale), but if you are one of those lucky souls you will be able to make use of 19th Century British Library Newspapers, the latest digitised newspaper resource. This is a collection of 2,000,000 pages from forty-eight newspapers and journals which ran during the period 1800-1900. For copyright and trademark reasons, the project (funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee, which has paid out millions for a number of mass digitisation projects designed to benefit UK HE/FE) had a cut off date of 1900.
Of the forty-eight titles that were selected (none could be titles still running today, such as The Times or Guardian), these cover the 1890s period when motion pictures first came on the scene:
Aberdeen Journal (Coverage: Jan 06, 1800 – Jun 30, 1900)
Baner Cymru (Coverage: Mar 04, 1857 – Dec 29, 1900)
Belfast News-Letter (Coverage: Jan 01, 1828 – Dec 31, 1900)
Birmingham Daily Post (Coverage: Dec 04, 1857 – Sep 29, 1900)
Bristol Mercury (Coverage: Jan 04, 1819 – Jun 25, 1900)
Daily News (Coverage: Jan 21, 1846 – Dec 31, 1900)
Derby Mercury (Coverage: Jan 02, 1800 – Dec 26, 1900)
Era (Coverage: Sep 30, 1838 – Dec 29, 1900)
Freeman’s Journal (Coverage: Jan 01, 1820 – Sep 29, 1900)
Genedl (Coverage: Feb 08, 1877 – Dec 25, 1900)
Glasgow Herald (Coverage: Feb 04, 1820 – Dec 31, 1900)
Goleuad (Coverage: Oct 30, 1869 – Dec 26, 1900)
Graphic (Coverage: Jan 01, 1870 – Dec 29, 1900)
Hampshire/Portsmouth Telegraph (Coverage: Jan 06, 1800 – Dec 29, 1900)
Illustrated Police News (Coverage: Jan 05, 1867 – Dec 29, 1900)
Ipswich Journal (Coverage: Jan 04, 1800 – Dec 29, 1900)
Jackson’s Oxford Journal (Coverage: Apr 03, 1762 – Dec 29, 1900)
Leeds Mercury (Coverage: Jan 03, 1807 – Dec 31, 1900)
Liverpool Mercury (Coverage: Jul 05, 1811 – Dec 31, 1900)
Lloyd’s Illustrated Newspaper (Coverage: Nov 27, 1842 – Dec 30, 1900)
North Wales Chronicle (Coverage: Oct 04, 1827 – Dec 29, 1900)
Northern Echo (Coverage: Jan 01, 1870 – Dec 31, 1900)
Pall Mall Gazette (Coverage: Feb 07, 1865 – Dec 31, 1900)
Preston Chronicle (Coverage: Jan 01, 1831 – Dec 02, 1894)
Reynolds’s Newspaper (Coverage: May 05, 1850 – Dec 30, 1900)
Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post (Coverage: Jan 02, 1800 – Dec 29, 1900)
Western Mail (Coverage: May 01, 1869 – Dec 31, 1900)
This is a sensational selection, which should certainly lead researchers beyond the obvious and familiar to some of the other major newspapers of the day (The Daily News, The Graphic) as well as neglected local newspapers. Digitisation is not just about making things easy, but about opening up new avenues of enquiry, enriching the learning experience. Particularly exciting for film researchers is the digitisation of The Era, the theatrical trade journal, which is a marvellous source of information on the early film business in Britain. Music halls and theatres were the usual exhibition outlets for the first films, and The Era is rich is advertisements, reviews, and articles on the new phenomenon.
I tested out the Bioscope’s favourite test keyword, Kinetoscope, and got 431 hits. As an example of the riches on offer, here’s a review of the very first film exhibition in Britain, the Kinetoscope show at 70 Oxford Street, London. A press showing was held on 17 October 1894, and this report appeared the day after in The Daily News:
This is the ugly name of a beautiful thing. It is a sort of improved zoetrope. Gazing through a peep-slot in a wooden case the spectator beholds a barber shop, wherein a customer seats himself, is lathered and duly shaved. It is a “living picture” of a new order. To take another example – a skirt-dancer is seen amid her floating drapery, and she bends her knees, travels on her toes, and indulges in a giddy spin. It is just as one sees her on the stage. Again, two pugnacious cocks try conclusions, and as the encounter waxes warm their feathers fly; other peep-slots reveal a blacksmith exercising the muscles of his brawny arm in the fashioning of a shoe; a female acrobat exhibiting some curious contortions; and a disreputable fight in the bar-room of a public-house. The question naturally arises, How is it all done? A general idea of the invention can be conveyed in a few words. Mr. Edison has contrived a camera that will take photographs at the rate of forty-three a second, thereby recording, at imperceptible intervals, the successive phases of movement. If these may be described as snap-shots they are the snap-shots of a photographic Maxim gun. The views are taken on an endless film, and set in such rapid motion that the pictures pass through the field of vision at the rate of two hundred and eighty a minute. Mr. F.Z. Maguire is Mr. Edison’s European representative, and he permitted a private view of the invention last night, at 70 Oxford-street, W., the specimen shown being those indicated above. Mr. Maguire did not say whether the mechanism is susceptible of being reversed. It is conceivable that people would be amused to see the accomplished act revoked, and the clean-shaven man become the man in need of a shave. Mr. Edison is seeking to combine the principles of the phonograph and kinetoscope, so that one may watch the gestures of the orator while listening to the words that have escaped his lips.
Quite a first review. F.Z. Maguire is Franck Zeveley Maguire, one half of Maguire and Baucus, the Edison agents whose British business went on to become the Warwick Trading Company. The Edison films shown include Blacksmith’s Shop, Cock Fight, The Bar Room and Barber Shop. The dancer could be Annabelle or Carmencita, while the contortionist is presumably Ena Bertoldi, although film of her is not usually mentioned among those featured at this first British film show.
So, a wonderful resource, and probably just a little bit annoying to anyone not in UK higher and further education or without easy access to the British Library. There are rumours however of Gale (the company behind the Times Digital Archive) eventually making the resource available to anyone, via subscription.