With the 150th anniversary of Edinburgh’s foremost newspaper, Edinburgh Evening News, on 27 May 2023, there is no better time to highlight that ease of accessing current and historical newspapers with your library membership. Along with Pressreader and microfilm holdings in our Edinburgh and Scottish Collection, a vast online archive of newspapers is available at the British Newspaper Archive website, including Edinburgh Evening News editions up to 1955. You can access British Newspaper Archive for free whilst using a library computer or on the library wifi.
In preparation for a display celebrating this important anniversary for the Evening News, staff within Central Library’s Edinburgh and Scottish Collection used the British Newspaper Archive to find articles on significant events within the city during the late 19th to early 20th century – from the inception of Edinburgh’s public library system to Edinburgh as a battleground for RAF fighters during World War Two.
The British Newspaper Archive is a partnership between the British Library and Findmypast to digitise the British Library’s vast collection of newspapers from 1710-1955. It’s an invaluable resource for everyone interested in history, and especially for family and local historians. Access is available at any one of our Edinburgh libraries with a library membership by clicking on the ‘Register’ link from the top of the main page and creating an account. Once signed in with your account, you’ll have access to view all pages on the entire database for free.
The Evening News articles we read up on offer a timeline of Edinburgh’s history from the late 19th century to World War Two. In a society where it is common for journalists to generalise and seek the bigger picture, the Edinburgh Evening News reports on an Edinburgh and Lothians’ local perspective on news, culture and events. The newspaper was founded by John Wilson and was first published in 1873. Its main competitor, the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch was subsequently first published in 1886, then becoming the Evening Dispatch in 1921. These two newspapers merged to form the Edinburgh Evening News & Dispatch in 1963, which became the Edinburgh Evening News in 1967.
One of the major news events the paper reported on in the 19th century were the celebrations that took place throughout Edinburgh for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. It appears as though events were similar to what we are used to today when a royal occasion comes about. Public offices and stores closed to commemorate the day, and people took advantage of the public holiday and good weather to travel into the country by train (a relatively exciting phenomena at the time!)
The newspaper also commemorated the opening of our very own Central Library in their issue published on the 9 June 1890. The first public library in the city, the newspaper reports on the significant sum of £50,000 offered by Andrew Carnegie for the building of the library after the passing of the Free Libraries Act. The article offers a wealth of information on the library’s inception, such as the appointment of George Washington Browne as architect and his choice of a French Renaissance architectural style for the building. It also sets out the departments open to the public – the lending library, the newsroom and the reference room. With the expansion since then to include departments focusing on art, music, children’s literature and Scottish history, the article demonstrates how much the library has adapted to give more representation to the arts and local studies.
Fast-forwarding twenty-four years, the Evening News was at the forefront of the reporting on Scotland’s role and experience in World War One. There is a clear patriotic tone to the article “Well done, Hearts!”, with evident pride being directed towards the sixteen players from Heart of Midlothian F.C. for enlisting for active service. The players “have done the right thing” the reporter states and it is of his opinion that other teams and fans will follow suit and also take up arms. Enlisting in the army may even make them more skilled football players according to the reporter, as “they will chase the ball with easier minds, for they have done their duty”. It is apparent that journalism had an important role to play in encouraging national unity and participation in the war effort.
With the end of World War One, we see the Evening News mark the end of the independent burgh of Leith on Monday 1 November 1920 when Edinburgh swallowed in the old port and four Midlothian parishes within Midlothian. The small article has a somewhat sombre tone, perhaps in a bid to show empathy to Leithers who were overwhelmingly in favour of their town staying separate from Edinburgh. The bailie of the burgh is quoted as saying that Leith had been “done to death against the express wishes of the citizens” and that “if it were put to Scotland, Leith would yet arise from the ashes and be a separate burgh”. Over 100 years on, Leith has stayed true to its distinct and independent character while also embracing modernity to become one of the most dynamic areas in the city.
The Evening News was also invaluable in its covering of the events of World War Two. This article, subtitled, “Over Dalkeith”, reports on the first German aircraft to be shot down over Britain after being attacked by RAF fighters over the River Forth in October 1939. We once again see attempts to stir national pride, with the paper including the sentiments of M.P. Mr Robert Boothby who expresses his admiration for the British fighters in displaying both speed and efficiency. The newspaper’s long-standing ability to find citizens with first-hand accounts is clear, through evidence given by two local citizens who saw the enemy planes being chased by RAF fighters over southern Edinburgh. For readers, the article will have been a frightening indication of what was to come over the subsequent war years.
In 1956 the paper bid farewell to a familiar feature in the lives of many Edinburgh citizens when Edinburgh’s electric trams stopped service after thirty years. The article recognizes the progress of cities’ public transport services over the years – from the sedan chair to the stage coach, then from the horse bus to the horse tram, from the cable-car to the electric tram, and then finally buses replacing them all. With trams being a regular sight again in our city sixty-seven years on, it clearly wasn’t a permanent goodbye after all!
These are just some of the millions of articles you can access on the British Newspaper Archive, so make the most of this brilliant resource by visiting one of our libraries. You can browse through significant moments in the history of Scotland and the world, or discover if your ancestor appears in the births, marriages and deaths notices, or even in a news story.
Pop into Central Library’s Edinburgh and Scottish Collection to find out more about the Edinburgh Evening News through their current anniversary display and also discover the various means of accessing it through your library membership.