Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Times Archives, They Are A' Changing


My attempt to discover something of earth-shattering importance that happened on my birthday led me to the Times Archives, just at the point when they were being re-launched as an on-line, interactive service. And to mark the event (the re-launch, not my birthday) access to the complete digital archive (from 1785 to 1985) is free of charge for a limited introductory period. Never been able to resist any invitation which contains the phrase "free of charge", I signed up and entered the dusty digital cellars where some 200 years of scanned and digitized content is stored. And, of course, one of my first stopping-off points was the 17th June 1948 (I know Burnett's Second Rule of historical newspapers says that I should have been looking at the 18th June, but rules are there to be broken). It has to be said that the new Times electronic archive is still suffering from a few teething problems of the Terminal 5 variety. Sometimes you can do a search, sometimes you can't. Sometimes you get an image, sometimes you don't. And rarely can you print or save anything. So my search was limited to just the front page of that day's newspaper, and being the Times the front page was nothing more than a collection of classified adverts. But what better way of getting a taste of an age? The minutia of lost and founds, births and deaths, for sale and to lets provide a unique insight into the world when I was young (very young). Here is a sample:

BOX of BEAUTIFUL FEATHERS, mixed colours including the new Princess shades sufficient for brightening up dozens of hats and coats; Post paid. 0s. 6d. per box.-Fancy Dept., Pettitts of Reedham. Ltd.. Reedham. Norfolk. When visiting Broadland call in and see our wonderful collection of Rural crafts.

AN IDEAL GIFT. for boy or girl, suitable for use in house or garden, a Wigwam Tent. Self-supporting on four poles (no ropes or pegs needed). 4ft. by 4ft. by 5ft. high; strongest multi-coloured duck cloth: complete 87s. 3d. carriage paid -GEMS. 202. Cambridge Road. Norbiton, Surrey. Closed Saturdays.

HOME CANNING with the "HOMCAN" Outfit is the modern. most efficient, and simplest method of preserving your surplus fruit and vegetables. Thousands are enjoying its advantages and recommend it. -Write for details to Home Canning Equipment Co.. Ltd.. Africa House. Kingsway. W.C.2. T

SCHOOLBOYS' HOLIDAY CAMPS. Public and Preparatory Schools; August-September. Norfolk coast. -Brochure from O. K. Bond. M.A.. The Coign. Evelyn Drive. Hatch End. Middlesex.

GIFT FOOD PARCELS.-Why not express your gratitude by taking out an annual subscription to "The Times Weekly Editon " for your friends? Send to the Subscription Manager. Printing House Square the names and addresses of your friends abroad, together with 30s. 4d. for each.

COUNTRY HOUSE, looking south; easy car reach station, 35 minutes Victoria; 7 good rooms, plus usual: redecorated, modernized; garden, garage. £300 p.a.- 'Phone, Norwood Hil 146.

PRIVATE owner wishes to dispose of 312-litre Rolls-Bentley Gurney Nutting Owen Sedanca Coupe; £300 recently spent on overhaul: offers over 2,000 guineas considered. Ring Wargrave 402.

MINK COAT, darkest Canadian skins. latest design, as new. £1,450: immediate sale. Owner going abroad.-Write Box R.1259, The Times.

NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE.-Applications are invited for the Posts of (1) SECRETARY and (2) FINANCE OFFICER, with accountancy qualifications, to the Hospital Management Committee of the Orpington and Sevenoaks Group. The salaries of the posts are fixed by the number and classification of beds in the group and are expected to approximate, for Secretary £1,070 -£1,420 and for Finance Officer £860 -£1,130.

HOLIDAYS at Home or Abroad through the " WEST " Fully inclusive service. Holiday Camps from £9 1s. Isle of Man from £11 15s. Eire from £14 10s. Switzerland from £19 15s. Brittany from £16 15s. also France. Norway. Write WESTMINSTER TOURING ASSOCIATION LTD., 92, Victoria Street. S.W.l. Tel., Victoria 6301

DOMESTIC Help also Cook-General required immediately for small, modern luxury and labour-saving house in London; two adults in family only: liberal outings; excellent wages; own bed rooms, radio and television in modern American kitchen. Experienced Persons write, with copy references, to Box 0.6701 A.K. Advertising, 212A. Shaftesbury Avenue. W.C.2.

CLERGYMAN'S daughter 50 seeks post; good cook and driver; country lover; references. Miss M. George, Guyhirn Viarage. Wisbech.

As some other newspaper once declared "All Human Life Is Here". You could happily put together an half hour documentary on what these few adverts say about the state of Britain in 1948. The persistence of shortages and rationing (feathers to trim up your dress, home canning to make your broad beans last longer, and subscriptions to the Times for Cousin George in America who is kindly supplying you with food parcels); the low price of property (a seven room country house just 35 minutes from Victoria for just £300 per year); the revolution taking place in the new National Health Service (and how much better things would be if we were still paying the Finance Officers £850 per year); and the emergence of new cultural trends (the holiday camps and the television being provided for the cook-housekeeper).

And this is just one page of one day taken from over 200 years of newspapers. I have a feeling that I will not get much work done until the free offer comes to an end.

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