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Early newspapers

This page describes the range of 17th- and 18th-century news books, news pamphlets, and newspapers which are held with other early printed materials at the British Library's St Pancras building.

These are primarily London titles, but there are also some British provincial and Irish newspapers which were received as part of larger donations or purchases.

Other categories of news media are consulted in the Newsroom. There are also early newspapers in the Asia, Pacific & Africa Collections, primarily English-language materials issued in South Asia.

Burney Collection of Early English Newspapers

The 700 or so bound volumes of newspapers and news pamphlets gathered by the Reverend Doctor Charles Burney (1757-1817) represent the largest single collection of 17th- and 18th-century English news media available at the British Library. The material is overwhelmingly published in London, although there are also some English provincial, Irish and Scottish papers, and even a handful of examples from the American colonies. The collection is arranged chronologically: all newspapers issued in a given year are bound together. Much material from other sources has been added to the Burney Collection since its arrival at the British Museum in 1818 (the collection now numbers nearly 1300 physical volumes). 

Catalogue entries for most Burney items can be found in the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). The only detailed catalogue to the Collection however is a manuscript listing arranged by year of publication. A copy of this chronological catalogue is kept on the open shelves in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room. There is also a rough title index, the only copy of which is held at the Rare Books Reference Enquiries Desk in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room.

The original Burney volumes are now in a fragile physical state and are therefore restricted from ordinary reading room use. The collection has been digitised and is available via 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers (Gale Cengage). A complete set of microfilms of the Burney Collection is kept in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room.

Information about other Charles Burney collections now in the British Library can be found in the directory of Named Collections of Printed Materials.

Newspapers in the Thomason Collection

Although the Burney Collection contains some news media from the period of the Civil Wars in Britain (mid-17th century), the Thomason Collection contains substantially more material. The newspapers in this collection date from 1641 to 1663 and were for the most part issued in London. There are however some examples of news items issued elsewhere in the British Isles. The newspapers are not normally gathered into runs but are dispersed across the collection.

Volume 2 of the Catalogue of the pamphlets, books, newspapers, and manuscripts ... collected by George Thomason includes a 69-page index to the newspapers in this collection (copies at RAR094.20941 BL and the Rare Books Reference Enquiries Desk in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room).

Further information about this collection is given on the Thomason Collection of Civil War Tracts webpage.

London (Oxford) Gazette

The London Gazette is the official newspaper of the Crown, containing state, parliamentary and ecclesiastical notices. It began in November 1665 as The Oxford Gazette (published whilst the King was away from the capital avoiding the Plague), and transferred to London in February 1666, where it is still issued today. Although the Burney Collection contains a large number of issues, other sets of The London (Oxford) Gazette are more complete and easier to consult.

The main set is at shelfmark: 1565/113. This covers the years 1666 to 1792, although some parts are missing. Issues from this sequence can be ordered from storage using Explore the British Library. There is also a complete run for 1665 to 1827 in the King's Library. This run is distributed across a range of historical shelfmarks; staff at the Rare Books Reference Enquiries desk (e-mail rare-books@bl.uk) can advise on ordering volumes from this set.

An entire run from 1665 to the present day is held by the Social Sciences and Official Publications department (shelfmark: O.G.E.70). Issues for the period 1665 to 1800 are only available on microfilm (shelfmark: SPR.Mic.P.2). Staff in the Social Sciences Reading Room can advise on access to these sets.

Other Early News Media at St Pancras

There are other early newsbooks, news pamphlets, and newspapers kept with the main collections of early printed materials at the Library's St Pancras site. These include:

  • Various 'corantos' from 1620 to 1621, especially at shelfmark: C.55.l.2. These are restricted due to their poor physical state, but a published facsimile is available at shelfmark: L.R.25.c.10.
  • Bound photocopies of various news books issued 1622-1623 and 1638-1642, the originals of which are in the care of the Duke of Rutland or York Minster (shelfmarks: L.R.263.b.26-39 and L.R.263.c.1-13).
  • A run of the London Chronicle for 1757 to 1813 collected by King George III and now part of the King's Library. This run is distributed across a range of historical shelfmarks; please seek advice from staff at the Rare Books Reference Enquiries desk (or e-mail rare-books@bl.uk).
  • A complete run of The Times from 1785 to the present day on microfilm. These are kept on the open shelves in the Humanities Reading Room (shelfmark: HUR072.1). All British Library Reading Rooms also subscribe to The Times Digital Archive, an electronic database which provides full digital facsimiles of all issues from 1785 to the late 20th century.

Early English Newspapers Microfilm Series

The microfilm series Early English Newspapers was originally published by Research Publications of Woodbridge, Connecticut, in the early 1980s. It primarily reproduces material held in the two most important collections of early British news media:

  • The Burney Collection at the British Library;
  • The John Nichols Collection at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

The latter set should be consulted in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room, where a copy of the publisher's guide to the series has been annotated with British Library shelfmarks (kept at the Rare Books Reference Enquiries Desk). Whereas issues of a particular newspaper may be distributed across several annual volumes in the Burney Collection, this microfilm series brings them all together into straight-forward chronological runs. Researchers wishing to follow the publication of a single title through several years may therefore find this microfilm series easier to use.

Printed Heritage Collections
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