Fashion-Focused Digital Resources: The British Newspaper Archive

The British Newspaper Archive is a new partnership between The British Library and Findmypast, making millions of pages of British newspapers available online to the public for the first time. The database includes publications dating back to the eighteenth century and spanning all of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (both Northern and the Republic).

While the tally on the home page currently stands at over 10 million, there are plans to digitize up to 40 million pages of newspaper from the British Library’s collection over the next ten years, making the collection available to a much larger audience and saving hours of time spent hunched over a microfilm reader.

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The archive is accessed through a paid subscription service (use the code MAR15 to get one month’s access for only £1). After signing up for an account, researchers can create folders to organize bookmarked pages. The website will also save your viewing history and search history – a feature that allows you to easily revisit a previous session’s research or go back to find that one page you forgot to reference.

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In addition to the main news articles, researchers may discover valuable information in the family notices, advertisements and illustrations also found within each newspaper. The transcription of the article text is often not 100% accurate, which can make researching a bit difficult, but there is an option to amend text within the record – allowing researchers to aid in article transcription accuracy. Within the page viewer, the search keyword is highlighted and zoomed in upon for easier reading. Full pages of every newspaper can be printed or downloaded as PDF files, although the images are usually not of a very high resolution. I found it easier to take screenshots of each result I wanted to keep for reference if the article was small, or transcribe excerpts that interested me in longer articles.

Out of curiosity about the city where I am currently based, I conducted a quick search for the keyword ‘fashion’ in the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette between 1900 and 1919. The results included several interesting articles, often sensational pieces decrying the frivolity of fashion. In addition, there are many local wedding announcements with reference to the bride’s dress, as well as shorter dispatches from the larger world of fashion – a short announcement of the wartime closure of the House of Worth’s London premises, for example, in 1915.

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‘Worth’s London House to Close – The announcement is made today that Worth, of Paris, the famous dressmaker, has decided to close his London establishment in Hanover square, owing to the war. Nearly two hundred employees, most of whom are quite unsuited to the making of war munitions, will be thrown out of work, but will be granted “indemnities” to tide them over financial difficulties. The decision has been a heavy blow to the workers, many of the girls having spent a number of years in the service of the firm. Some of the women had even brought their families from Paris, and had settled, as they thought, for life in England. Two of the brothers Worth are serving their country at the front, one at the Dardanelles.’ – Bath Chronicle, August 14, 1915, page 6.

A small article like this at the very bottom corner of the August 14, 1915 edition of the newspaper may seem insignificant and be easily missed, but it does provide some human context to an event that is often given one sentence in fashion history texts. This small article has now got me thinking about researching Parisian dressmakers and seamstresses living and working abroad for couturiers in the foreign outposts…

Do you know of any fashion-focused digital resources that you would like to see covered by Michelle or myself for this column? We welcome your comments below.

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