Your BNA Stories – ‘The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton’ – The British Newspaper Archive Blog

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Your BNA Stories – ‘The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton’

‘The British Newspaper Archive is a grand project on a scale the Victorian themselves would applaud’ – Jeremy Clay

The BNA as a muse for writing books
In addition to using the BNA for ancestral research, there are many researchers who visit The Archive to do other types of historical research.
The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton

On top of that, there are a fair few folk who are writing books about what they’ve been finding in the BNA. One such person is Jeremy Clay, who works as a Features Editor on The Leicester Mercury. Jeremy has just written a book with the splendid title, The Burglar Caught By A Skeleton, and, truly, the title perfectly captures what this book is all about. In short, Jeremy has gathered together a gallimaufry of quirky, weird, surreal and downright outrageous stories (escaped lions in hotels, bulls in china shops, a drunk monkey smashing up a bar…) from the BNA.

Jeremy has written a short piece about his book and has kindly allowed us to publish his article below – and we’ve also included newspaper clippings for two of the highlighted stories. Not only that, but Jeremy is something of an expert on the history of newspapers in Leicester, and has written a short article about this subject – you can also read this article on the BNA blog.

Jeremy takes up the story of writing his book…

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A summer’s afternoon, 1889. In a hotel in the sedate Welsh resort of Llandrindod Wells, holidaymaker Mr T.J. Osborne is preparing to catch the train home. The day is warm. The window is open. A fully-grown African lion leaps in.

In the animated few minutes that follow, a startled Mr Osborne gets a crash-course in lion-taming, and later becomes the hero of a pithy write-up in the newspapers.

historical newspaper report about an escaped lion

Sheffield Independent – Thursday 04 July 1889

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000181/18890704/035/0006

The report of this unlikely encounter is just one of countless extraordinary tales which lay unseen and unknown in the dusty recesses of newspaper libraries across the nation.

I’m a journalist on the Leicester Mercury, and from time to time I would find myself leafing through one of our hefty old back issues to check a date or the spelling or some other fact. A five-minute job, which invariably ended up eating up half an hour or more because I’d get distracted by all the other daft stuff I’d find along the way.

The British Newspaper Archive turned this idle diversion into an agreeable addiction. Soon after I chanced upon the story of the unfortunate Mr Osborne, I found the tale of an actual bull in an actual china shop (damage: none, curiously, although some rubberneckers pressing to see what was going on did smash a few plates on display outside).

And from there on in, the curiosities came thick and fast. An unseemly brawl between a bearded lady and a snake charmer. A drunken monkey smashing up a bar. A grieving husband dying of shock when his wife revived in her coffin. A cricket match between one-armed and one-legged players. A woman living with her husband’s corpse to claim his pension. A missing girl found in a fair with fur glued to her face, billed as the dog-faced girl. A cowboy in the audience in an American theatre who took exception to the baddie in a play and shot him. An editor horse-whipped by chorus girls…

historical newspaper report about a drunk monkey

Northants Evening Telegraph – Saturday 22 June 1901

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000412/19010622/001/0001

And from there on in, they came thick and fast. An unseemly brawl between a bearded lady and a snake charmer. A drunken monkey smashing up a bar. A grieving husband dying of shock when his wife revived in her coffin. A cricket match between one-armed and one-legged players. A woman living with her husband’s corpse to claim his pension. A missing girl found in a fair with fur glued to her face, billed as the dog-faced girl. A cowboy in the audience in an American theatre who took exception to the baddie in a play and shot him. An editor horse-whipped by chorus girls…

A year and a half’s worth of virtual rummaging later, I’d unearthed enough outlandish material to fill a book. The result is The Burglar Caught By A Skeleton (Icon, £12.99), the lost stories of the Victorian age; a tenner stuffed down the back of history’s sofa. Or a fiver, maybe.

There will be many important books to come which will rely on the digitised contents of the British Newspaper Archive. I’m a little sheepish to admit this isn’t one of them: that I’ve mined the contents for wry laughs and long-forgotten oddities. But it was hugely enjoyable finding them. And I hope it’s just as enjoyable to read.

Further information
You can find out more about Jeremy Clay and The Burglar Caught By A Skeleton on the Ludicrous Scenes website.

You can also follow Jeremy on Twitter @Ludicrousscenes.

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