Page last updated at 23:43 GMT, Wednesday, 17 June 2009 00:43 UK

19th Century news goes digital

Page from the Illustrated Police News
The melodramatic Illustrated Police News covered crime in graphic detail

Two million pages from 19th Century British newspapers are now available online for the first time.

The British Library has digitised pages from 49 national and regional titles, giving the public access to a complete cross-section of society at the time.

Among the big stories covered are the Jack the Ripper murders, the Battle of Trafalgar and the first England-Australia cricket test match in 1877.

Searches will be free, but there is a charge to download most material.

Photographs

The collection includes national papers such as the Daily News and regional papers like the Manchester Times, North Wales Chronicle, Belfast Newsletter and the Glasgow Herald.

It also includes specialist titles which document Victorian radicalism and reform movements, such as the Chartists.

Some of the biggest stories have a ring of familiarity about them - notably the spectacular collapse of the City of Glasgow Bank in 1878.

And some of the writers named in the papers may also strike a chord - Dickens and Thackeray are two of the famous by-lines to be found.

Newspaper Report on the Glasgow Bank collapse of 1878
A familiar story from 1878 - the failure of a major bank

The British Library believes there is a "huge appetite" for the material, particularly among people researching their family histories.

Editor of Ancestors Magazine Simon Fowler said: "Realistically, for the first time it is possible to use newspapers to complement other records to build up a rounder portrait of our ancestors, with information that would not be possible to obtain elsewhere."

Users can buy a 24-hour or seven-day pass to download full-text articles, but access to The Graphic and The Penny Illustrated Paper is free.

Simon Bell, the British Library's head of product development, said: "The new pay-as-you-go service will enable users across the UK who don't wish to travel to our reading rooms in London or Yorkshire to delve into this unrivalled online resource."



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SEE ALSO
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