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Mark Holland samples the millions of pages of old newspapers now available online.

The great London newspapers offer the deepest coverage of national and international politics and business. Slavery and abolitionism, immigration and emigration, the transition from a rural to an urban-based industrial economy, the supply and pricing of food and transport, exploration and the growth of the empire – all are covered in the debates and editorials emanating from those most closely involved in the capital. It is the regional press that offers excellent coverage of local affairs nationwide – and not always where you might expect to find it.

I grew up in the village of Cuckfield, in mid-Sussex. Newspapers record its everyday events in news and advertising sections, and some of these references appear in papers as far afield as Bristol, Glasgow and even Boston (New England), highlighting the absence of copyright and the later rise of the telegraph and Reuters. From the Whitehall Evening Post and London Intelligencer we learn that in Cuckfield in 1749 Mrs Hopestill, Warden of Butler’s Green, died ‘in the 95th Year of her Age, greatly respected by all her acquaintance, remarkable for a hospitable disposition, and cheerful temper, with a great memory, which she retained to within a few days of her death’. The Manchester Guardian reports that Robert Trotter of Borde Hill was a committee member of the Brighton South-Eastern, Lewes and Newhaven railway; while readers of the New England Boston Courier in 1841 were told that during its construction between seventy and eighty lives had been lost, and the railway ‘had furnished the Sussex County Hospital with between 300 and 400 accidents’. 

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