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Paperless Research

Now Screening: Telegraph Historical Archive and the British Popular Press

Now Screening highlights NYPL's recent electronic resource acquisitions. This month: Telegraph Historical Archive, 1855-2000, available at any NYPL location, or remotely using your library card.

Telegraph Historical Archive Image

Good news, Anglophiles! The Library has a new electronic resource for you: the historical run of London newspaper The Daily Telegraph (also known throughout points in its history as the Daily Telegraph and Courier and the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post), from its first issue in June 1855 to 2000. (Later issues are available in our Infotrac Newsstand and PressReader databases.) The Telegraph was Britain's first "penny newspaper." Its lower price opened up a new population of readers and helped it become the largest-selling newspaper in the world by 1876. We can gain new perspectives on British society by researching the Telegraph and its fellow voices of the popular press, as well as by comparing its content and editorial style with more "highbrow" publications like the London Times

The growth of the penny press was facilitated by two favorable events: the repeal of the Newspaper Stamp Act in 1855, which removed taxes on all printed papers, and the elimination of the paper duty six years later. This made it possible for the Telegraph to debut at a price of two pennies, lowered to one penny less than three months later.

The Telegraph covered stories both international and domestic; special wartime correspondents included Winston Churchill, Rudyard Kipling, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  The paper also supported British exploration, financing and reporting on Henry Morton Stanley's African expedition, George Smith's Nineveh expedition, and the 1933 Mount Everest expedition.  Beginning in April of 1899, it began publishing a Sunday edition, which included a page devoted to women's issues.  After discontinuing the Sunday paper in late May (it was reinstated in 1961), the Telegraph moved the women's page to Saturdays. 

The Daily Telegraph's first "women's page," from the April 9, 1899 issue
The Daily Telegraph's first "women's page," from the April 9, 1899 issue

Often when people think of the nineteenth century popular press, they think of sensationalist stories and eye- (and coin-) catching headlines. More space was devoted to crime coverage, and these articles were often accompanied by lurid illustrations and explicit details. Rosalind Crone notes that it was more the stylistic approach, rather than the subject matter itself, that distinguished these typically-weekly popular papers from their "establishment press" peers.  (As a daily, you could say the Telegraph occupies a middle ground between these two approaches.) Let's look at a crime story with which we're all probably familiar—the Jack the Ripper case—to see the variety of online resources available for this period and some suggestions for productive research.

First, the Telegraph, of course. If you're searching for articles on Jack the Ripper, what terms do you use? The perpetrator was never identified, he went by multiple aliases, and there was coverage before the crimes were linked to one person. Articles are searchable by a variety of factors—full text, title, author, date, day of the week (helpful, by the way, if you're interested in browsing those women's pages), newspaper section, and article type—but not by subject.  So, articles about Jack the Ripper aren't uniformly tagged as such.  However, we can target this topic with keywords like:

Whitechapel AND murder*

These search terms will return articles with both the word Whitechapel and any permutation of the word murder (murder, murderer, murdered, etc.). The asterisk is a "wildcard" standing in for any number of unknown letters. Since Jack the Ripper's activities were limited to the London neighborhood of Whitechapel, this is an effective way to focus our search. Checking the "Allow variations" box below the search box makes your search "fuzzier"—it accounts for variable or archaic spellings of your keywords. Finally, we can limit the date range to 1888-1891, when this killer was active.  

Advanced search screen in the Telegraph Historical Archive database
Advanced search screen in the Telegraph Historical Archive database

The first page of search results includes multiple articles on the deaths of Martha Turner and Mary Ann Nicholls, two deaths often attributed to Jack the Ripper. As seen in the image below, you can select a result to see your search terms highlighted and, in the right-hand sidebar, browse the surrounding articles.  This last feature is useful for serendipitous discovery of new content and for contextualizing a story within the other news and concerns of the day.

Result view in the Telegraph Historical Archive database
Result view in the Telegraph Historical Archive database

The Telegraph Historical Archive fits into a larger universe of nineteenth and twentieth century British periodical literature, and the Library's online resources reflect this wider context. If you're interested in penny presses, there is 19th Century British Newspapers. This database contains over 100 different titles, including penny papers like Lloyd's Illustrated Newspaper and Reynolds's Weekly Newspaper. It also includes Illustrated Police News, a weekly "police gazette" that circulated crime reporting to the general public.

An illustration from Illustrated Police New's September 22, 1888 issue
An illustration from Illustrated Police News' September 22, 1888 issue. 19th Century British Newspapers.

Another highlight is the Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003. This publication's lavish engravings made it a bit more expensive than a penny (its first issue costing six pence), but its visual immediacy appealed to a mass audience. It covered affairs both domestic (like the Great Exhibition of 1851) and foreign (like the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb). The paper did not limit itself to light pleasantries: wartime correspondents risked their lives to sketch events like the Franco-Prussian war, where one artist hid his drawings on cigarette papers, in case they needed to be smoked and thus destroyed at short notice, while another transported finished sketches from besieged Paris back to London by balloon. Even with its wider focus, the Illustrated did not ignore the news of London's streets and safety, including crime coverage in its wider reporting ambit.

Engraving from the Illustrated London News' September 22, 1888 issue
Portion of an engraving from the Illustrated London News' September 22, 1888 issue, depicting police activity for the Whitechapel murders. Illustrated London News Historical Archive.

Finally, I would be remiss for not mentioning Nineteenth Century Collections Online (NCCO). This database brings together digitized archival collections from institutions like the British Library, the Bodleian Library, the Royal Archives, and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Its  British Politics and Society section includes collections like the Hue and Cry and Police GazettePeople's History: Working Class Autobiographies (including accounts from smugglers, criminals, convicts, and other lawbreakers), and The Whitechapel Murders Papers: Letters Relating to the "Jack the Ripper" Killings. The last of these originates from the London Metropolitan Archives and includes multiple letters purportedly authored by "Saucy Jack" himself.

Excerpt from October 1888 letter purportedly from Jack the Ripper
Excerpt from an October 1888 letter purportedly from Jack the Ripper. Nineteenth Century Collections Online.

So sleuth away all, using our extensive collection of historical newspapers and magazines and starting with the newest jewel in our online resource crown, the Telegraph Historical Archive.  And for more on the Telegraph, the penny press, and nineteenth to twentieth century British culture, consider visiting the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building to read these and other print sources:

Daily Telegraph/Daily Telegraph and Morning Post 
Select print issues ranging from 1910 to 1950

Illustrated London News 
An almost complete print run ranging from 1842 to 2003

The Dawn of the Cheap Press in Victorian Britain: The End of the ‘Taxes on Knowledge,’ 1849-1869
Martin Hewitt

English Newspapers: Chapters in the History of Journalism, Volume II
H.R. Fox Bourne

Violent Victorians: Popular Entertainment in Nineteenth-Century London
Rosalind Crone

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