An Evaluation of the 19th Century British Library Newspaper Collection with Regards to the Berkshire County Meeting of the 1800s

Using the 19th Century British Library Newspapers for local history research can be quite useful depending upon which local area you are interested in. For the purpose of this evaluation I have chosen to evaluate the collection for researching County Meetings in Berkshire. These meetings happened on a regular basis and were reported about in multiple local and national newspapers if there was something worth reporting about.

The collection is an impressive selection of articles which were printed in the 19th Century and include a variety of newspapers of the 1800s such as The Morning Post and The standard. By using primary resources such as newspapers, we can gain valuable evidence of what was being reported on in the news for the general public.

This then allows us to decipher what life was like in the period we are reading about but only through the lives seen in these newspapers. However, there are drawbacks to this collection. Upon searching for articles dealing with the Berkshire County Meetings, there were only 24 articles out of 2 million that were relevant.

Although the articles have been painstakingly digitised, the actual quality of this has made some of the collection barely readable. To read them in a physical sense may be better but for those who are restricted to reading the articles from a computer screen, this may cause inaccuracy in the research and should be read with caution and the research backed up once physical reading has taken place.

Another weakness of this particular collection is its lack of local or regional newspapers of the smaller variety. Yes there are a percentage of local newspapers included in the collection but it appears that they do not cover most areas. If research relied upon this specific collection for a local study and there were no newspapers that were connected to your area of research then your research could not use this collection. It is only when you delve further afield would you be able to continue looking into your study.

The county meetings took place in Reading were reported about when there was something that would interest the public. For example, in The Morning Post (January 17, 1810) it was reported that ‘As early as twelve o’ clock the Hall was completely crowded…’ for a meeting at the Town Hall in Abingdon. Not only was this reported in The Morning Post but it was reported in The Leeds Mercury on January 20th 1810 using practically the same words. However The Leeds Mercury was not the only newspaper to publish nearly the same article.

The Lancaster Gazette and The Bury and Norwich Post both published nearly identical accounts of the meeting. The only reason that this article needs to be repeatedly printed is the distances between where the article was published. For example, it is highly unlikely that the article will be seen by the same people within the same period of time in London and Leeds.

One aspect of this particular meeting is its focus on Lord Folkestone. If the local history study you were researching involved Lord Folkestone then this particular collection would be beneficial for your study. Though if the words Lord Folkestone were searched through this collection, a massive 4145 results are found, proving that this particular collection would be most beneficial for researching this person.

However, greater resources would need to be found in order to extend your research. For example, looking at the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers Database or even the Berkshire Chronicle newspaper may increase your chances of finding more information on Lord Folkestone and his dealings with Berkshire and the meetings.

If we look at the third section of the article we can see that Lord Folkestone is said to have mentioned ‘that a forty schilling freeholder was entitled to as much attention as any individual in the county’. If your local history study was not only dealing with Lord Folkestone but on prominent persons of the county whom believed in equal rights, this collection is one that can be quite useful in this respect though limited.

The only foreseeable problem with this collection is that the amount of local history it shows in its selected articles is lacking quantity. The researcher would need to rely upon other avenues to research from other than this collection. This would include places such as local history libraries, actual visits to the British Library and University libraries in order to provide the research they need, not to mention online resources and physical visits. The 19th Century British Library Newspapers website however is a great place to start looking.