Defying Superstitions – London’s Thirteen Club

Posted on January 13th, 2017 by Mary McKee


We have all fallen victim to superstitions.  I avoid walking under ladders, never open an umbrella indoors, and dread spilling salt at the table.  Even Napoleon was influenced by superstitions.  Once when he was separated from his beloved Josephine, a picture of her fell over and with haste Napoleon sent a message to Josephine to make sure she was well.  A look through the British Newspaper Archive proves that people of all walks of life have been touched by fear of Friday the 13th.  The Aberdeen Press and Journal called it a Friday the 13th jinx when not one but four flights scheduled to fly after 7pm were delayed or cancelled due to mechanical failures.

In November 1931, the Aquitania, a ship carrying Mr Bennett, the Canadian Prime Minister, refused to sail on Friday the 13th and waited until one minute passed midnight to begin its voyage.

Throughout history and folklore, 13 has been known to be an unlucky number whether it is because there was 13 people at the last supper, including Jesus’ double-crossing 13th apostle Judas Iscariot or Loki, the god of mischief and the 13th guest at Valhalla where he killed the god of joy.  Likewise, Friday has long been known to be an unlucky day.  Therefore, the combination of the two could only be a day of misfortune.

However, not everyone was willing to bend to such superstitions. In defiance of such bad omens, groups of people who stood up to superstition formed thirteen clubs.  They gathered regularly to confront superstition and cheat death by walking under ladders and spilling salt.

In 1882, a Civil War veteran, Captain William Fowler, who survived 13 battles, started the first Thirteen Club to challenge all superstitions.  The first meeting took place on 13 January 1882 in the 13th room of Fowler’s Knickerbocker Cottage in New York.  The club grew in popularity and notoriety, boasting a number of US presidents among its members.  During each gathering, money was raised for local charities and associations.  Not wanting to miss the latest social trend, London started its own club in 1890.  The London Thirteen Club was established by William H Blanch, a writer and historian.

The club hosted numerous unconventional dinner parties.  The tables were decorated with mirrors for the guests to break, small coffins, and peacock feathers, known to be unlucky because they are marked with the evil eye.  The guests were directed to walk under a ladder to get to their tables which were always set for 13 diners.  In 1894, at one dinner at the Holborn Restaurant (in the 13th room, of course) two diners were absent.  To ensure that they did not break one of the chief club rules, two waiters were recruited to dine with the members and the table of 11 became 13.

The guests were encouraged to spill salt but never allowed to throw it over their left shoulder.  At another lunch, the guests were given umbrellas to open indoors.  In this photograph from the Dundee Evening Telegraph, you can see the club members standing indoors with their umbrellas opened and a ladder positioned over the door.


At another event of the Thirteen Club in the Green Park Hotel, two donkeys were invited so that the members could toast them.  An action which is considered unlucky in Sardinia.

The London Thirteen Club tackled unfounded fears outside of their lunches.  In 1930, the members debunked a curse when they moved a stone tablet commemorating the murder of a sailor at Devil’s Punch Bowl in Hindhead.  The stone was inscribed, ‘Cursed be the man who injureth or removeth this stone’.


The club believed it was their duty to combat superstitions.  Dr Weldon, the headmaster of Harrow, told the members that, ‘Superstition has been the bane of human life, and I am only too glad that you should slay it’.  The club was offered free tickets on the Oriental Express from Paris to Vienna, as long as they agreed to travel in car number 13.  The manager needed to demonstrate to passengers, who refused to travel in that ominous car, that their fears were completely unfounded.

As the club grew in popularity from the 1890s through to the 1930s, other branches opened up around the world including a Russian Thirteen Club.  However, not all the clubs were as fortunate as their London counterpart.  In 1919, the Yorkshire Evening Post published a warning to The London Thirteen Club from a thirteen club in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  A day after their first meeting with 13 members, one member committed suicide.  Another member, a journalist, wrote a humourous account of the club, but died the morning it was published. Ten other members died mysteriously.  At the time the warning was published, the club had one remaining member who refused to admit he was a member of the fatal club.

Both the London and New York clubs bragged that their members were always healthy and prosperous.  When asked if anything ever happened to the club’s members, Mr W H Blanch, the founder of he London Thirteen Club, said that only one had died since the club was established four years earlier and that particular member had not paid his subscription.


Read more about the Thirteen Club and their outrageous dinners and lunches.

Gloucester Citizen – Monday 15 January 1894

Wellington Journal – Saturday 20 January 1894

London Evening Standard – Thursday 14 March 1895 

Yorkshire Evening Post – Saturday 08 March 1919

Lancashire Evening Post – Wednesday 02 April 1930


Vintage news

Posted on January 6th, 2017 by Mary McKee

Each month, we will examine the newspapers from 100, 75, or 50 years ago and pull out the top headlines as well as the lesser known events from our villages and towns.  This month we found stories from the ongoing First World War, a career criminal, a modern Don Juan, tips for housekeeping, and more.


On this day, in 1917, the front page of the Illustrated London News displayed the faces of the British generals who received promotions in the New Year.  In the centre of the page, is the portrait of Field Marshall General Douglas Haig.  Haig was commander-in-chief of the British Army during the Battle of the Somme. The Illustrated London News also provides vibrant illustrations from battlefields of the Frist World War.  On page 8 is a double page illustration of British troops storming a German stronghold at Beaumont.  The image shows the troops, along with a massive tank, rushing over the trench into the German territory.



War at home

The papers are filled with daily war reports from Europe and Africa, but you can also read how the war affected every part of society.  The Cheltenham Chronicle recounted that the Stroud Urban Council monthly meeting’s chief agenda was the congratulations of Captain Eugene Paul Bennett, who was awarded the British Army’s highest distinction, the Victoria Cross.  The district planned to hold a reception in his honour.  On the same page, The Cheltenham Chronicle reported that the omnibus services from Kings Head Hotel in Cirencester to the GWR station had been affected by the war.  Because of the lack of customers and the fact that the bus has been running at a loss, the service was ended, disrupting travel for many who still used the service.


Criminal – A bad record

Reports from the local assizes in the Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser showed that Alfred Dicken, a 51-year-old labourer, pled guilty to stealing 12 shirts and sentenced to 18 months of hard labour.  However, the report revealed that this was not Dickens first offense.  The chairman said the prisoner had a ‘shocking record’ and had been in out and gaol from 1904 with charges across the Midlands.  I wonder if we will come across the career criminal again in the newspapers?


Romance – Don Juan soldier

In the Birmingham Mail’s Table Talk column you will find a story of a modern day Don Juan. The story told that a private was seen at the New Street Station with no less than fourteen women around him to bid him farewell.  When the train arrived at the platform, the women lined up to give ‘the warrior a hearty buss on the lips’.  The train then moved off, and the soldier must have felt content with himself. All the girls walked away amicably together.


The home- Housekeeping tips and recipes

To start off the New Year, Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald provides excellent tips for housekeeping for example cool rain water mixed with soda ‘will remove machine grease from washable fabrics’. Discover what to do with those leftover small pieces of soap. ‘Keep all odd pieces of soap and place them in a tin, the bottom and top of which have been previously bored into several holes.  When you are washing the dishes, etc. place the tin into the basin and pour your hot water through it.  You will then have a nice soapy lather’.  The article also offers various recipes for fish as a break from all the rich meats consumed during the Christmas season.


Science – Curative S-Rays

On 6 January 1917, The Sphere reported on the latest curative technology in science, the Simpson Lamp.  The Sphere provides diagrams of the device and explains its different uses.  The Simpson Lamp produced ‘S-Rays’- which were being used to treat shrapnel wounds and even chronic infections.  The rays were created by the electric combustion of a mineral called wolframite, a combination of iron and manganese.  The article did not go further into the scientific findings but only claimed that many intractable cases were cured after the treatment of S-Rays.


Entertainment – The picture house

The Belfast News-Letter reported that the film East Lynne would be showing at the Lyceum picture house on Antrim Street in Belfast.  The film is an adaption of Ellen Wood’s famous novel and involves five acts across 117 scenes. The lead roles are played by Mr Fred Paul and Miss Blanche Forsyth.

Let us know what you find in the newspapers and don’t forget to like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.


A Study in Sherlock

Posted on December 30th, 2016 by Molly Wunderli

The Premiere of Sherlock Holmes
What better way to ring in the New Year than with the premiere of the latest series of the BBC’s Sherlock?

The hype generated by this latest iteration of the famed ‘consulting detective’ is far from unprecedented. From the first appearance of the sleuth at 221B Baker Street, audiences have been glued to the page and eager for more.

Sherlock Holmes first graced the pages of Beeton’s Christmas Annual in the 1887 printing of A Study in Scarlett. The novel was printed as a serial to great success.

On the heels of its success, it wasn’t long before Arthur Conan Doyle had a new Sherlock story. The Sign of Four came out in 1890.

You can read the serial installments of The Sign of Four in the Hampshire Telegraph on The British Newspaper Archive.

It’s important to remember that before radios and televisions became ubiquitous in homes, newspapers were a primary source of both news and entertainment. You can imagine the anticipation felt as people waited for the latest installment of a serial. Friends and family may have even gathered together to read aloud the latest chapter of a Sherlock Holmes mystery – the nineteenth century version of live tweeting about the latest Sherlock episode!

Fully serialised stories like those of Sherlock Holmes played a role in the readership of a newspaper. The enticement of a new chapter being printed kept readers coming back to the paper, creating a loyal following of subscribers. Seralised stories would often be subsequently printed as stand-alone novels, often broken up into several volumes.

History of serial literature in newspapers

Victorian England saw a rise in literacy, coupled with advances in both printing and distribution, which resulted in the rapid growth and popularity of seralised fiction. Printing installments in newspapers was less costly than publishing entire stand-alone novels and was more economical for readers.

The success of Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, first printed in 1836, is credited with proving the potential and appeal of seralised literature. As authors were paid by line and installment, novels of the era were particularly lengthy.

A voracious readership put pressure on authors to write more and faster to provide additional installments. As you can imagine, not all authors flourished under such conditions. Others, however, did – Alexandre Dumas found great success in writing serial fiction and could write upwards of 14 hours a day.

Serial fiction started its slow decline with the growing success and availability of broadcast radio and television. As broadcast took on the role of entertainment, newspapers shifted to focus more exclusively on news. The serial publications that did continue into the 20th century were received with mixed reviews.

Sherlock’s enduring legacy

The appeal of Sherlock Holmes endured past the pages of such newspapers as The Strand and met with equal success as printed books and, later, on the small and big screens. But the devotion extended even further: seventy-one years following the debut of A Study in Scarlet—and twenty-eight years after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s death—there was opened a public house in London dedicated to Sherlock Holmes. The public house ‘contains a fascinating museum of exhibits and relics from his many cases, as well as a reconstruction of his rooms in Baker Street’.

The Sphere article introduced this public house in an article entitled ‘The Singular Case of the Classic Detective: After Seventy Years Sherlock Holmes is Still the Master’.

‘As careful students of The Sphere will be aware (for a photograph has already been published in these columns), there is now in London a public-house called The Sherlock Holmes. This is the first public-house in Britain to be named after the most famous of all the detectives of fiction – the most famous of all detectives for that matter – and it really is astonishing, when you come to think about it, that this should be so. […] It is also, I believe, the only house of public refreshment anywhere in the world to have been honoured in like fashion’. The Sphere, 8 February 1958


In 1951, Britannia and Eve published an article entitled ‘Holmes of Baker Street’, which commented on the ‘universal appeal’ of Sherlock Holmes—

‘Sherlock Holmes in his heyday cast such a spell on his readers that hundreds of them wrote to him at No. 221 Baker Street convinced he was flesh and blood. […] What is the secret of Sherlock Holmes’s universal appeal? What makes devotees write to him, prove so enthusiastically into his life, form societies to study him, produce books about him, and—surely the ultimate tribute—hold an Exhibition in his honour? […] Among other things he is—if Poe’s Dupin and Gaboriau’s Lecoq be excepted—fiction’s pioneer detective. He is a great character in his own right. He is the brilliant fathomer of crime, in who presence we are all Watsons. He is the virtuoso of deduction, who, with a technique that never fails to impress, can tell a man’s life-history from his pince-nez on his walking-stick’. Britannia and Eve, 1 May 1951


However, in spite of the public’s clear adoration of Sir Arthur’s creation, the author himself grew quite the dislike to his consulting detective.

‘Conan Doyle’s heart was not in his money-spinning detective. Ambitious for literary fame through his historical novels, he was never proud of Holmes. In fat he soon grew positively to dislike him; and even before the end of the Adventures he was wanting to liquidate him. He was dissuaded then by his mother, but nobody could stop him from killing Holmes off at the end of the Memoirs. But that, as the world knows, was far from the end of Sherlock Holmes. Public outcry having compelled Conan Doyle to raise him from his Alpine grave in 1903, insatiable public demand decreed that he continue to turn out tales about him until 1927, when the great sleuth made his final exit in The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place’. Britannia and Eve, 1 May 1951


Addressing the resurrection of the great detective, the Portsmouth Evening News shared Sir Arthur’s account of the heartbreak and outrage felt by his readership upon the reception of Sherlock Holmes’ death in The Final Problem: ‘I was amazing at the concern expressed by the public…“You brute,” was the beginning of a letter of remonstrance which one lady sent me. I heard of many who wept…’. Sir Arthur’s surprise did not cease there – he continued to underestimate just how loved Sherlock was by the masses. When he was approached by Sir George Newnes, the publisher of the Strand Magazine, about writing another series of twelve of Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle thought to dissuade the man by requesting an exorbitant amount of money—£80,000—but the instead, ‘at once the publisher wrote out a cheque for that amount, and left it with him!’

The day following his passing, the Portsmouth Evening News published a lengthy piece on the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, including stories surrounding the creation and reception of Sherlock Holmes.

In 1899, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle determined to write a stage play of Sherlock Holmes. In looking for the right man to don the role of the famous consulting detective, Sir Arthur found the actor and playwright William Gillette to collaborate with. Gillette, so taken with Sherlock, famously asked Sir Arthur if he could marry the detective. Sir Arthur, ‘in so high estimation did he hold Gillette […] that he replied: “You may marry or murder him or do anything you like with him!”’

It seems his enamored following tended to believe that Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were one and the same. To this end, Sir Arthur was even persuaded to aid in an investigation of a robbery – only to be outdone by the local village policeman!

Follow the detective and his adventures in the pages of The British Newspaper Archive. Delve into the archive and see what other serials you can find.

Search the newspapers


New titles this month! December 2016

Posted on December 28th, 2016 by BNA

We have added eight brand new titles this month.  These include the lavishly illustrated titles we blogged about earlier in the month, and the greatly anticipated Lloyd’s List.   This month also saw the arrival of The Homeward Mail from India China and the East which is a huge boon for those researching the history of empire, or for those with British or Irish ancestors who lived in India.

Most recently we added an exciting new title for sports fans, we currently have 105 issues of Cricket and Football Field, with more to come.

Click on each of the titles below to learn more about the newspaper and read a Sample Issue for FREE.

The Sphere

The Sketch

Britannia and Eve

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News

Lloyd’s List

The Homeward Mail from India China and the East

Kerry Evening Post

Cricket and Football Field


New issues added – remember we add new issues/pages to existing titles every week.  You can see which newspapers have had more pages added by clicking here.  This month we added to the following titles:

Barnsley Chronicle, etc.
Belfast News-Letter
Bradford Observer
Brighton Guardian
Carlisle Journal
Derry Journal
Durham Chronicle
Evening Star
Irish Times
Mayo Constitution
Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Shipley Times and Express
The Graphic
Western Mail



Pushing girls through windows and throwing punches in the street: What would you do for a bargain?

Posted on December 26th, 2016 by BNA




The Christmas rush is over, but now it is time for the January sales to begin.  A search through the newspaper archive for bargain hunting mishaps proved shockingly easy. It turns out that shoppers throughout history have been prepared to go to incredible ends to get a good deal, with confrontations often leading to brawls on the streets. However, not everyone was so ruthless. One group of women sang songs while queueing for a summer sale at a clothing shop for 19 hours.

Then there was the time that the shopkeeper decided not to sell any more tomatoes, as he only had 17 left but there were 50 people waiting outside for them. When they refused to leave, he called the police.


Some people clearly had their priorities right. There were reports of some 500 men and women queuing daily for several hours outside West Hartlepool’s newest wine shop.

If you are a woman, maybe this sale season you should consider sending a man out to do your shopping for you. By being able to engage in some political chat with the shopkeeper, or, indeed, anything other than “household worries”, he could come home with a special discount. In fact, these “helpless” men could just be your key to an extra kidney from the butcher.


A sales assistant perfectly summed up the concerning “bargain rush” mentality, saying “I never thought women could be so stupid… Time after time I have heard someone comment to her neighbour ‘Well, I do not really want this, but it would be a pity to miss such a bargain.'”



The sales rush soon started leading to much darker consequences, with casualties reported across the country. If the newspapers tell us anything, it’s that the next time you find yourself in a sale, steer clear of the plate glass windows.



And beware of queue-jumping old men.



The queue is one of the most iconic images of the January sales. It’s an obstacle many are prepared to face for hours on end to get their hands on a bargain. Some desire clothes, others wine. During wartime, foodstuffs were highly coveted luxuries. But could it really be possible that some people just join a queue for the fun of it?


The Spirit of Christmas Fake

Posted on December 25th, 2016 by Abigail Rieley

The Vice Chancellor’s court in Westminster must have been chilly indeed on Thursday January 11th 1844. We don’t know if the court room was busy or if crowds had gathered to get a peek at one of England’s literary darlings. They might well have. When A Christmas Carol was published on December 19th the previous year, it had been to near universal acclaim. The first edition had sold out by Christmas Eve. But for author Charles Dickens, there was no resting on his laurels. When a pirated version of the story appeared in Peter Parley’s Illuminated Magazine in early January, Dickens immediately sought an injunction against the publication.

Despite the rapturous reception it had received, A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story for Christmas was a huge gamble for its author. Dickens had been unhappy with his earnings from Martin Chuzzlewit so instead of agreeing to a lump sum for the publication of his festive novella, he decided to opt for a percentage of the profits after financing the publication himself. However, high production costs meant that he only received a fraction of what he had been expecting.

When Parley’s pirated his story, he saw red. They had changed only one of the names and the story of a miser being visited by three ghosts and learning the meaning of Christmas had remained intact, as had Dickens’ words. So that cold January day Dickens went to the courts he had covered so often as a journalist.

The Examiner covered the first day of proceedings the following Saturday.


Dickens won his suit, but the publishers of Peter Parley’s Illustrated Magazine simply declared themselves bankrupt. Dickens was left with £700 in costs, a bill equivalent to roughly £63,000 today. He was most disappointed by the financial failure of the book as it was one he held particularly dear. The message of love and generosity overcoming selfishness and greed was one that he returned to again and again in the years that followed. He sanctioned a stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol which opened in February 1844 and ran for 40 nights.


He also published additional Christmas stories in 1844, 1845, 1846, 1847 and 1848, which all followed the same pattern as that followed by Scrooge with a strong theme of social justice.

Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 1 December 1845 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

A Christmas Carol has never fallen out of print, and Dickens tale really did help to create Christmas as we know it today. The phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ became popular after it appeared in the story, and Scrooge and his impatient exclamation of ‘Bah Humbug’ has entered into the language in its own right. All this despite the rather rocky start its publication had for Dickens.

Ricky Tomlinson & Liverpool’s Carters

Posted on December 23rd, 2016 by Molly Wunderli

Whether your ancestors were royalty or the servants of royalty, it can be just as satisfying and surprising to learn where you come from. Last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? was no exception, when Ricky Tomlinson learned that he came from a hardworking line of carters in Liverpool.

The New York of Europe

In the 1800s, Liverpool was a major port city that depended on carters to transport goods from the docks into the city. As seen in the episode, this excerpt from the article ‘Liverpool: Port, Docks, and City’ discusses the importance of the port in making Liverpool the ‘New York of Europe’.

Working conditions for carters

Despite the vital importance of carters to the thriving port city, their working conditions were perilous in the over-crowded streets of Liverpool. Ricky learned of some of the hardships and dangers faced by carters when he discovered that two of his ancestors died on the job, being crushed to death by their carts.

If you know your ancestor’s occupation, you can discover a lot about the challenges faced in that profession. Bodily harm from the tools of the trade was not the only danger facing carters. In the Liverpool Mercury on 26 May 1868, it is reported that a man attacked a carter whilst he travelled in his cart.

Another article from the Liverpool Mercury describes the scene of riots by those further impoverished by winter: ‘…others attacked a carter who was proceeding along the street with a load of coals, overturned his cart, and were evidently bent upon committing acts of violence if they could do so with impunity’.

Work reform in the latter part of the 1800s

As we saw in last night’s episode, there were steps taken toward the end of the nineteenth century to bring about work reform for carters. For instance, in the 6 October 1890 issue of the Liverpool Mercury, there is a report on the Liverpool carters’ strike.

Industrial schools for impoverished children

However, such work reform came too late for some of Ricky’s ancestors. After learning of the workplace death of William Tomlinson, Ricky discovered that in 1862 the two youngest children of Mary Tomlinson, William’s widow, were admitted to the Kirkdale Industrial School. There is much that can be discovered about the Kirkdale Industrial Schools in The British Newspaper Archive.

From this article we learn about the founding of the Kirkdale Industrial School:

It was found, for some years prior to its establishment, that the juvenile pauperism of Liverpool was so largely on the increase as to be incapable of being accommodated in the workhouse. It was accordingly determined, after long and anxious debates in the vestry, that Schools should be erected at some short distance from the town, where the young children thrown upon the parish should be located apart from the adult paupers, and instructed, not only in the elements of a plain education – reading, writing, and arithmetic – and in their religious duties, but in the most common and useful trades. The institution was opened May 1, 1845, and commenced with 300 to 400 scholars: at present it contains 1123 children, of whom 640 are boys, and 483 girls; the number is limited to 1150. […] The trades which the boys are taught are tailoring, shoemaking, and carpentering. The girls are instructed in knitting and needlework, in washing, ironing, mangling, cooking, and general household work, to qualify them for domestic servants.

On 9 December 1876, we read of a report condemning the school regarding, in part, the prevalence of ophthalmia (inflammation of the eye) among the children.

Twenty-one years later, this health issue is still wreaking havoc, which can be gleaned from this headline in the Liverpool Mercury from 3 March 1897.

However, in 1892, at least one inspector had a favorable review to give. This is from H Rogers, H.M. Department Inspector of Industrial Schools, reported in the Liverpool Mercury on 4 May 1892: ‘“My visit has afforded me more even than my usual satisfaction, for I find improved work, continuous good progress, and excellent influence and order”’.

Newspapers can help flush out the details of your ancestors’ lives – from illustrating more clearly the day-to-day realities of their profession or their living conditions in a workhouse or industrial school.

Delve into the newspapers to find out more about your ancestors


Looking in Lloyd’s List

Posted on December 20th, 2016 by Molly Wunderli

Among the oldest continuously published periodicals in the world, Lloyd’s List dates back to 1734. Up until 2013, Lloyd’s List (also known as The List) was printed on a daily basis; since 2013, the publication has been updated hourly in its digital format only. Modern coverage in Lloyd’s List includes such details pertaining to the shipping industry as marine insurance, research and logistics, and international shipping news.

Edward Lloyd, the original owner of Lloyd’s Coffee House in London, started Lloyd’s News in the late 1690s for his regular customers, namely those involved in shipping such as insurance underwriters and merchants’ agents. Such clientele proved eager for various news and gossip. In this early iteration of what would become Lloyd’s List, there was no clear, exclusive focus on shipping, rather, Lloyd’s News was printed as a general news bulletin.

It was an evolving publication, however, and would soon become a source for reliable information for those concerned with the commercial shipping industry. Thomas Jemson, who inherited the coffee shop after Lloyd’s daughter’s second husband died, is responsible for this version of Lloyd’s List. This shipping intelligence paper was published weekly up to 1735 when it began to be released twice a week. During this time, it covered details of ships arriving in English and Irish ports. By mid-1837, the paper was being published daily (excluding Sundays). Lloyd’s List joined up with the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette in 1884, becoming Shipping and Mercantile Gazette & Lloyd’s List up until 1914. Early issues from the start of the 1800s were only two pages long. By the end of the 1800s, issues had expanded up to 10 pages.

You may think that such a publication has little relevance to your own research, but keep in mind that this was during a time when everything and everyone travelled by ship. Shipping routes remained exceptionally busy right up until the first commercial flights commenced in 1914.

The details provided in Lloyd’s can aid in your research by providing, for instance, the movements of vessels and casualties at sea, as well as the names of owners and their ships.

If there is a particular shipwreck of relevance to your research, Lloyd’s List is a great place to start your research. For instance, you can discover additional details about the sinking of the Lady of the Lake in 1833 after she struck an iceberg.


Read more about the Lady of the Lake


News regarding individual vessels was also recorded in the pages of Lloyd’s, including accounts of speakings, which was when one ship pulled up alongside another ship to exchange news and possibly goods and provisions. This was before the advent of ship radios, which would make such a process of communication unnecessary.


Discover more speakings


Additional news of individual vessels may include details about mishaps during its voyage, such as a lost anchor or needing a tow.

News impacting vessels can also provide insight into world events happening at that time. In this notice, we read that a Cholera-related quarantine had just been lifted, allowing vessels to proceed in their voyages. A cholera pandemic reached the United Kingdom in 1932 resulting in more than 55,000 deaths. In London, where the death toll surpassed 6,000, it became known as ‘King Cholera’. Such epidemics can have a lasting impact on both local and family history.

The British Newspaper Archive will make available all the issues of Lloyd’s List currently held by the British Library for the years 1801 to 1910. The 1910 cut-off is due to the 107-year copyright law; each year we will be able to add another year of issues (depending on the British Library holdings).

Explore Lloyd’s List today!


Cheryl’s Maritime and Military Ancestors

Posted on December 16th, 2016 by Elizabeth Bundy

In this week’s episode of Who Do You Think We Are?, we found out about Cheryl’s four times great-grandfather, John Wood Laing, who was born in Newcastle towards the end of the Industrial Revolution. At the age of 19, he became a mariner’s apprentice and, ten years into his career, became a master, or captain. Since Newcastle was a shipbuilding hub at the time, it was not surprising to discover that there was a branch of mariners in Cheryl’s family tree.

As a lot of newspapers, including some specialised titles, included shipping intelligence, you can follow the movements of ships through reports of arrivals and departures (also called ‘sailings’). When within hailing distance of each other, the captains of passing ships would simply shout the name of their vessel, their port of departure, and their destination to each other as they passed. This form of communication was known as ‘speakings’, and were logged by the captains. Such communications were later reported in newspapers, such as Lloyd’s List. Casualties and lost ships were also covered, as Cheryl discovered when she searched on The British Newspaper Archive for the La Belle, the ship under the command of John Wood Laing.

The Great War

In the second half of the episode, we discover that Cheryl’s great-grandfather, Joseph Wilson Ridley, served as a pioneer on the Western Front during the Great War, before marching south to dig and fight in the Battle of the Somme. Pioneers were tasked with the heavy labour of digging trenches as well as building roads, railways, and bridges. Cheryl’s great-grandfather, along with the 11th Battalion, had to face the nightmare of digging out advanced trenches during the Battle of the Somme, which would let British troops advance their front line.


The Christmas Truce

It was said that the Great War would be ‘over by Christmas’, but as December 1914 approached, it became clear that this would not be the case. This left many unexpectedly celebrating Christmas without their family.

Some small truces between soldiers on the Front occurred over the Christmas of 1914 (although, not the legendary organised football match between British and German soldiers). However, these were highly discouraged, and there were warnings that anyone found to have initiated one of these truces would be subject to Court Martial. Letters that arrived home telling of the Christmas truce were shared through newspapers in January of 1915.


There would be no such truce the following year.


Delving into the stories of the past can remind us of how different our present circumstances are.

The Homeward Mail – News from the East

Posted on December 15th, 2016 by Mary McKee

The British Newspaper Archive brings you news from India, China, and further East during the height of the British Empire.  The Homeward Mail from India, China and the East was first published in 1857 by Messrs. Smith, Elder, & Co. and provided Britain with news from its colonies in the East.  The publishing company also produced the first Dictionary of National Biography and worked with major authors such as Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, Alfred Tennyson, and Arthur Conan Doyle.  Along with The Homeward Mail, they published The Overland Mail, a newspaper for people living in the East featuring news of Britain and Europe.

A predominate part of The Homeward Mail focused on news from India, the crown in the British imperial crown.  Each edition displayed a table of content on the front page.  The news was organised by the three Indian presidencies – Bengal, Bombay, and Madras – and then news from China.  At the time of publication, India also included parts of present-day Pakistan, Bangladesh, Aden, and Burma.

Every edition usually ran between 30 and 40 pages in length and carried news of appointments, military orders, commercial and shipping intelligence, and the latest in political news. In the early years, The Homeward Mail was published every two weeks, and then by 1857, it was published weekly.  In 1907, the paper amalgamated with Allen’s Indian Mail and expanded its readership.

The first edition was published on 1 January 1857, only months before the beginning of the Indian Mutiny, also known as the Sepoy Mutiny or India’s First War of Independence.  The conflict was reported by The Homeward Mail as the revolt of the Indian Army.  On 13 November 1858, the details of a letter inciting rebellion from the King of Delhi, Bahadur Shah II, the last Mughal emperor, was published.  It laid out numerous grievances felt by natives against the British government, such as, ‘the fixed tax they pay to the British Government is exorbitant, they are insulted and ruined by the constant sales of their estates for unpaid revenues’.  To public servants, the King declared, ‘under the British Government they had little respect, low pay, and no manner of influence’.  The King also explained that artisans were ruined after the introduction of British fabrics.


The widespread uprising was a turning point in Indian history, leading to the dissolution of the East India Company.  After 1858, India was ruled directly by the British crown. Britain continued to rule India until 1947.

Another feature of the paper was to publish the names of passengers who arrived back in England and list births, marriages, and deaths.  Notable names received a full obituary.  For example, on Monday 17 June 1912, The Homeward Mail reported, ‘Dr. Selwyn, B.A., M.B., of Hyderabad (Sind) died at the Central Hotel, Kurrachee, on May 29.  She underwent an operation at Hyderabad on the 13th, and as there was no improvement in her condition she was brought to Kurrachee on the 27th.  She practised as a lady doctor in Hyderabad, and did much charitable work there, where she had a wide practice among the more notable zemindari families’.

State dinners were extensively covered, including the names of all those who attended.  The paper commented on society news and followed the happenings of the aristocracy.  On 4 January 1908, a commentary on a society event with both English and Indian women was published.

‘An Indian lady writes: A very enjoyable purdah party was held a day or two ago in Lady Stanley’s drawing-room.  Considering that the meeting was the first of its kind in Allahabad, the number of its high-class Indian ladies present was appreciable.  There were some English ladies also, among those present being Lady Burkitt, Lady Know,Mrs  Aikman, andMrs Richards.  The object of the meeting held at Lady Stanley’s was to promote social intercourse and genuine sympathy between England and Indian ladies’.

Let us know what you find while exploring The Homeward Mail from India, China and the East.