I was in need of an article printed in 1925 in The Weekly Dispatch, and there was only one place to go, The British Library Newspapers Collection, in Colindale. When I told someone I was heading up to Colindale, the response was, why on earth there? There is nothing there to see!
But they were so wrong. Even though when you step out of the dreary tube station, there is indeed nothing of interest, just some blocks of new flats, a desperate looking row of houses, and a stern building across the street that screams of Orwell’s Room 101. It’s quite a despairing atmosphere when you gather your bearing in the sunlight and wonder why you ever thought of coming here, but it’s in that austere building, behind those sturdy doors, that awaits a world that every historian, novelist, or curiosity seeker can access without an expensive time machine.
In this depository in North London there is an almost complete collection of British Newspapers printed since 1840. Quite a feat considering how many papers there were on offer. Someone quite clever in 1869, created The Legal Deposit Legislation which required every newspaper to supply a copy, a view to future historian’s needs, or if you like conspiracy theorists, a way for the government to keep tabs on what was written. I prefer the first idea. Someone was having a cup of tea, thinking of me in the future, who would desperately need a copy of an article well over a hundred years later. Quite a clever little feat indeed!
Quite a number of newspapers are on-line, but since it takes a great deal of time to scan fragile newsprint, the rest is on micro-film, something that I have not used since early high school. I get intimated by machines with fragile strips of film. When told I needed to use the micro-film files, I instantly imagined putting the film into the machine, doing something wrong, and shredding it to bits. The staff was extremely helpful in teaching me how to use the micro-film machines, and then later, to copy the articles that I needed. Even though there is only a vending machine to dispense tea during a much needed tea break, and not much on offer in the area around the library, this is a researcher’s dream. After all there are loads of places to take a gorgeous tea break in London, but not so many where you can spend an afternoon deep in the depths of 1925.
The British Library Newspapers Archives is easily accessed on the Northern Line, Colindale Tube Station, ( which was bombed in September 1940) and the library is literally just across the street. One doesn’t even need to bring an umbrella if it’s raining, just a quick dash and you are there.
You do need a reader’s pass to access the library, and the reader’s pass is a little tricky to get in this digital age. You do have to have something with your name and address on it such as a current bill, council tax, or bank statement, along with your photo id. With everything digital these days with on-line billing, it pays to hold on to the council tax bill even if you pay on-line. But once that’s sorted, you just need to get into the archives and lose yourself in time, and for a writer, this is simply my idea of a perfect day!