Newspapers had been around for quite some time prior to the third quarter of the 19th century, but decreasing costs, improvements in printing technology, speedy distribution via rail and increasing literacy mean that access to news in printed form became much more widespread after 1850.
In the UK, events like the establishment of the Reuters news agency in London in 1851 followed by the Press Association in 1868 show that this quarter was a significant one in the development of news delivery. All duties (advertisement, stamp, paper) affecting newspapers ceased by 1861, reducing costs and triggering increases in the range, availability and affordability of newspaper titles. Newspaper circulation tripled from the 1830s to the 1850s!
The Bucks Herald reports on the impact of rail schedules on newspaper deliveries in Great Berkhampstead 1871
The chance of finding surviving local newspapers, that wonderful trove of social history, gets better and better the later you go. Newspapers have generally been fairly well preserved in national libraries, local archives and the like so you are bound to find something of interest for your one-place study in their collections. Most online newspaper archives are an ongoing project, so do check back from time to time particularly if the newspapers for your place’s region aren’t currently available.
A brief meander through some issues of the Bucks Herald published in this particular quarter century, looking for entries related to my one-place study of Wing, revealed an inquest and subsequent court case regarding a murdered child, another inquest on a mistreated child, an accidental shooting during a snowball fight (with my ancestor’s brother being a snowballing participant), stolen lambs, a post-beverage assault (let’s be honest, there was more than one of those!), cattle fencing prizes, farm sales, reports on concerts and other forms of entertainment, and a highway robbery most notable (in my OPSer opinion at least) for revealing the nickname of one resident to be “old Crutchey”.
Some key online newspaper archives around the world for you to explore:
UK – British Newspaper Archive is digitising the collection of the British Library and covers England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland from 1710 to 1960. The slightly newer website Welsh Newspapers Online is undertaking a similar exercise for the holdings of The National Library of Wales which includes both Cymraeg and English newspapers for 1804 to 1919, and is free to access. Irish Newspaper Archives has Irish newspapers from 1738 right up to today.
US – the pay site NewspaperArchive.com has US newspapers from 1607, Canadian newspapers from 1872, and even a selection of newspapers from a smattering of other overseas countries. There are plenty of other (free!) archives to look at as well, including the Library of Congress’ collection.
Canada – Canadian newspapers can be found in NewspaperArchive.com mentioned above, but also be sure to check out this list of online Canadian newspaper archives.
Australia – Trove has Australian papers for 1803 to 1954, all freely available to search and download, along with the facility to improve the OCR for articles you are viewing.
NZ – Papers Past from the National Library of New Zealand has a collection of NZ papers from 1839 to 1945, again all freely available to search and download.
A final tip – check with your local library as your library membership may entitle you to access newspaper subscription sites like The Times Digital Archive for free and from home.