The National Archives Logo
Guide reference: Domestic Records Information 123
Last updated: 17 September 2012

1. Why use this guide?

This is a brief guide to researching newspapers and the history of the press. It will tell you where to start if you are looking for:

  • newspaper collections
  • archival records that shed light on the history of the press

2. Online newspaper collections

It is always best to start online if you are looking for newspapers. A growing number of websites provide access to digitised newspapers.

Search British and overseas newspapers online, for example:

Some of the sites are free, but many are subscription-based (£) and offer subscriptions only to institutions, not to individual people.

You can access some of the sites in research libraries. Contact a library such as the British Library or The National Archives' Library to ask whether they have an institutional subscription.

3. Where can I find newspaper collections that aren't online?

Some libraries and archives have newspaper collections.

Find regional newspaper collections in:

Search the ARCHON Directory to find other libraries and local archives that hold newspaper collections.

4. Does The National Archives have newspapers?

The National Archives is not the best place to start if you're looking for newspapers, but we do have some newspaper collections.

4.1 Government gazettes

The National Archives has government gazettes - the official newspapers of former British colonies and British dominions.

To find colonial or dominion government gazettes, search Discovery, our catalogue, using the name of the territory and the phrase 'government gazettes'.

Examples include:

  • Jamaica (1794-1968) in record series CO 141
  • Kenya (1908-1975) in CO 542
  • Canada (1926-1978) in DO 29

They have not been digitised, but the originals are held at The National Archives at Kew. They all have the letter codes CO (Colonial Office) or DO (Dominions Office).

If you are in the reading rooms at The National Archives at Kew, ask to see the CODOFO paper index, which includes a list of colonial newspapers.

If you want to search the London Gazette it's always best to look on The Gazette website first, but The National Archives also holds an archived copy (1665-1986) in ZJ 1.

4.2 Transport-related newspapers

The National Archives also has a large number of transport-related newspapers, magazines and journals. Try searching for the title in our catalogue, within the following departments:

There is also a card index compiled by British Transport Historical records (BTHR) in the reading rooms at The National Archives at Kew. Use the index to find references to all original documents and publications (including some references to overseas railways) up to 1972.

5. Researching the history of the press

Always start with published histories. Useful books and directories include:

  • Encyclopedia of the British press by Dennis Griffiths (Macmillan, 1992)
  • Read all about it! A history of the British newspaper by Kevin Williams (Routledge, 2009)
  • Benn's media (1975-present)
  • Willing's press guide (1928-present)
  • Mitchell's newspaper press directory (1846-1907)

You can use The National Archives' library catalogue to find more histories of the press. Many books have been published on individual newspapers, journals and publishers.

Search the Scoop! database (£there will be a charge) to find out about British and Irish journalists, 1800-1960.

6. Archival records relating to press history

Search the National Register of Archives (NRA) database to find records held in local archives. You can look up the name of a journalist or a business, or make an advanced search of the business index restricted to the 'paper, printing and packaging' category.

You can also search the Access to Archives (A2A) database, or check the annual Publishing Digest in the Accessions to Repositories survey.

Archives holding relevant records include:

Finally, try to find out whether The National Archives has records that are relevant to your research. It's worth searching our catalogue using keywords such as 'newspaper' to find records which relate to the history of newspapers and the press.

You can also find whole newspapers, newspaper articles and cuttings which have been inserted into The National Archives' records. These have not always been catalogued, but it is possible to discover them by accident.

Guide reference: Domestic Records Information 123

Our catalogue

Search descriptions of 20 million documents from the UK central government, law courts and other national bodies.

  • Download this guide as a PDF