British Library

The British Library is opening its digital doors to allow access to millions of pages of old newspapers

Credit: Yui Mok/PA

The British Library has made part of its archive of 18th and 19th century newspapers available online following a year-long digitisation project.

The scanned pages – around four million – come from more than 200 mostly 19th century newspapers across the UK and Ireland.

All human life is here, as the News of the World motto once went, from national coverage of large-scale historical events like the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Crimean War, and the Charge of the Light Brigade, to family notices from some of the country's smallest regional newspapers.

The digital archive will be free to search but cost £6.95 for 48 hours of access to the documents. There will also be 30-day and annual subscriptions available for researchers and academics. The digital archive is free to access at the British Library in King's Cross.

The scanned pages come from the British Newspaper Library's newsprint archive in Colindale, London, which houses around 20 miles of newspapers stacked on shelves. Over the past 12 months, the library has been working with online publisher Brightsolid to scan up to 8,000 pages a day, with around 40 million pages expected to be scanned over the next 10 years.

The project has so far focused on out-of-copyright material from before 1900, but Brightsolid is negotiating with rights holders in order to be able to put more recent editions online.

Ed King, the British Library’s head of newspapers, said in a release that the new digital archive "opens up the British Library’s newspaper collection as never before".

"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."

Ed Vaizey, the minister for culture, communications and creative industries, called the archive a "rich and hugely exciting resource".

"It's a great example of the public and private sectors collaborating to deliver something that neither party could have delivered by themselves. I searched for my own constituency of Wantage and within seconds had 42,000 results – an indication of the breadth and variety of material featured.

"I'm delighted that the British Library and Brightsolid are working together to transform access to the nation’s published memory."

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