Ever wondered what happens behind the scenes at The British Newspaper Archive?
We sat down with Product Director Ian Tester to find out who he is and what he does.
What does your job involve?
I’m responsible for growing the business in all its myriad forms.
My role covers marketing, building a better product, tweaking the pricing, choosing newspapers that we think will be of most interest and generally keeping everything running smoothly.
Less excitingly, it also involves balancing the books so we can continue to invest in more digitisation.
How long have you worked at The British Newspaper Archive?
I’ve worked here since October 2013, but I’ve spent over half my working life digitising history.
Before working at The British Newspaper Archive, I spent over six years with the family history website findmypast.
I actually started my career working with newspapers and magazines, so I know how to put them together and how they work. I published my first magazine at the tender age of 17.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve found in the newspapers?
I find something new and amazing pretty much every week. Finding stories about your own family is always an incredible personal experience. A few years ago, I spent most of Boxing Day running my mother through her family’s numerous appearances in front of the local beak.
Here’s a snippet about my granddad Sidney Tester from the Kent & Sussex Courier:
Kent & Sussex Courier – Friday 12 April 1935
Image © Local World Limited. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.
View the whole newspaper page
I’m always fascinated by how much you can find out about your local area as well. I’ve recently become a shareholder in Hastings Pier, so I have been researching the history of Hastings Pier and how it has evolved, as well as uncovering some of the acts that have played there over the years.
What’s the best thing about The British Newspaper Archive?
The thing I like most is the sheer diversity of the stories our customers unearth.
We’ve got schoolchildren researching Mozart, formerly abandoned babies researching the story of their discovery and academics from a host of disciplines researching everything from the development of urban sewage systems to the evolution of fashion design.
There are genealogists with incredible family stories and people researching football history for today’s matchday programmes, symphony orchestra regional touring schedules, the development of historic gardens, extinct sheep breeds and even Victorian attitudes to sex.
Every paper we digitise can mean a thousand different things to people with a thousand different interests and you never cease to amaze me with your discoveries.
What’s your favourite period of history, historical event or historical figure?
I’m fascinated by periods of change, which is perhaps why I love working in the internet industry. I’m intrigued by the Late Medieval Period and Early Renaissance when the printing press completely changed the world and specifically European culture.
In terms of historical figures, I’d have to go for Peter the Great. He was a true Renaissance man who made Russia more Western-facing, as well as being a pretty handy boat builder. But If I could live through one period again, I’d be born in 1800 in London.
I’d get the Georgians, the best of the Victorian period and experience the white heat of the Industrial Revolution as transport, manufacturing and industry changed the world once again. I’d also get to see London without high-rises, with St Paul’s dominating from all angles.
Tell us something unusual about yourself
I’m a secret smallholder and spend an awful lot of time tending bees, chickens and sheep and trying to grow vast quantities of vegetables. It’s certainly not the idyll you watch in the Good Life and it really gives you respect for farmers.
I also live in a somewhat dilapidated and ancient house, so I’m more familiar than most with wattle and daub, Victorian plumbing and lime mortar. I spend far too much time in reclamation yards and repairing timber frames.