- Old Newspaper Reports
The British Newspaper Archive is a must for the history enthusiast. It contains copies of millions of newspaper pages dating back to the beginning of this method of communication and new pages are being added all of the time. A subscription can be pricey, however. I would suggest taking out a single month subscription and setting aside plenty of time to make the most of it.
The most fascinating newspapers are those that are local to you. For me, that would be the Sheffield Star and the Derbyshire Times. While researching my latest publication “Sin in the Cinema”, I found an article in a Sheffield newspaper that gave me cause to think. Here’s an extract from my little book:
“However, I did find one short newspaper report of a case which took place in Sheffield in 1922. Up in court on a charge of indecency in a picture house were Dora Jones and Peter Whistler. But my initial thought that this pair were a courting couple that had simply got carried away was dispelled as I considered the facts further. The most interesting point was that while Peter was fined £5, Dora was committed to prison for a month. The wide separation between their residences also flagged up that there was more to this case than was reported in the reticent newspaper article. Dora lived on Acorn Street in Sheffield, which is in the Kelham Island area of the city. Back then, this would have been an unpleasant place to live. I had a grandparent that was born just one mile away, and I remember the tales of the stench rising from the River Don and the continual thumping of the hammers in the steel works. My Great Grandmother drank herself to death after giving birth to baby after baby that didn’t live. Kelham Island offered the sort of life that can drive people to desperate acts. Peter meanwhile gave his residence of a manor house in a small village in Derbyshire. I doubt he was the master of the manor, he was probably a servant there; who had either caught a train and returned to Sheffield to visit family, or to sample the sins that were not on offer in the small close knit villages around where he worked. It therefore seems unlikely that Dora and Peter were an ordinary courting couple. The severity of her sentence compared to his strongly suggests that she was a prostitute, plying her trade in the warm dark of the picture house. The report stated that Peter denied the charge…if the pair were caught in flagrante perhaps what he was in fact denying was the fact that money had changed hands. Dora only stated that she was sorry for what had happened. Poor Dora.”
This shows that a combination of old newspaper reports and local knowledge can help you to unravel the untold stories of the past.
Why not find a few articles in local papers from the 1920s to the 1950s – a time distant enough for us to have an objective view but close enough for living memories to be able to play a part. As a creative writing exercise you could re-write the story into a new truth. Or tell the story from the point of view of two of the protagonists. This is a good exercise in forming and getting into characters.