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Newspapers in the Archives and Heritage Service
You may have wondered why some newspapers - for example The Birmingham Post, The Guardian - are so large that they are awkward to hold. In the eighteenth century the government imposed a substantial tax on newspapers. They could only be printed on the stamped sheets of paper sold by the government. The Worcester Journal complained
' the Stamp'd Paper will come to near Three Fifths of the Money the Newspaper is to be sold for.'
Because the tax was per sheet of paper, the pages grew larger and larger and the print became smaller and smaller to include more news. Most newspapers continued as broadsheets until the second half of the twentieth century, presumably because the machinery was set up for printing them in this way.
Originally most news was taken from the London papers, especially the London Gazette, which held official government announcements. Local papers also contained many advertisements. Newspapers were expensive, so were read mainly by the well-to-do. The paper was of high quality; newspapers from two hundred years ago tend to be in much better condition than those from one hundred years ago. The oldest Birmingham newspaper in the Archives and Heritage Service of Birmingham Central Library is the weekly Aris's Gazette, later called the Birmingham Gazette. It ran from 1741 until 1956.
The industrialist, Joseph Tangye, came to Birmingham in 1852; he recalled 'provincial newspapers were published but once a week, and were high in price, and so I became a subscriber to a newsroom, paying a penny a week'.
The free libraries were set up in Birmingham from the 1860s onwards, they included newsrooms as a matter of course. From the mid nineteenth century the tax was reduced, newspapers became cheaper, many more titles appeared, but unfortunately the quality of paper deteriorated.
The Birmingham Post first appeared in 1857; the Birmingham Daily Mail, now the Evening Mail, in 1870; the Sports Argus in 1897; and the Sunday Mercury in 1918. There have been many Birmingham newspapers; some citywide, some for the suburbs. Many have short runs of only two to three years.
How to look at these newspapers
There is no index to the local papers. The Times index in the Social Sciences Library may be useful if a national event is concerned.
Or you can search in the Gale newspaper database for recent material or the Times Digital Archive 1785 - 1985. These are available on computers in Birmingham Libraries and on other computers if you have a library card.
Websites available to Birmingham Libraries users
The Archives and Heritage Service also holds news cuttings on specific topics - for example hospitals, music. Few of the original papers can be handled, as they are so fragile. Some have been microfilmed.
It is advisable to book a microfilm reader if you are visiting Central Library to research old newspapers.
If the print is very small, you can borrow a magnifying-glass from the main counter on Floor 6.
You can contact Archives and Heritage Service by
Tel: 0121 303 4217, 0121 303 4549 or 0121 303 4220
Fax: 0121 233 4458
Finding other West Midlands local papers
The NEWSPLAN West Midlands database is a valuable resource for locating newspapers.
This list of over 1100 newspaper titles published in the West Midlands region since the eighteenth century will enable researchers to identify libraries and record offices holding copies of relevant newspaper titles.
Please note We are not responsible for the content of other organisations' websites.
Current Newspapers in Social Sciences