In praise of very old newspapers


Well…apart from their misleading adverts and outdated old school discrimination that is!

I spent much of this afternoon in the Cambridgeshire Collection on the 3rd fl of the Cambridge Central Library in Lion Yard. Everything I post below is courtesy of the Central Library so if you enjoy these blogposts, please support the Friends of Cambridge Central Library.

I managed to get through about six months worth of weekly newspapers of the old Cambridge Independent Press in the two to three hours I spent in there while it poured with rain outside.

The Cambridge Independent Press of 1907 informed people of the facts

…and were aided greatly by the regular publication of statistics by public organisations.


From the Cambridge Independent in 1907 via the Cambridgeshire Collection

The above image shows a whole host of data published to keep people informed about what Cambridge Constabulary was getting up to.


The health authorities also published data too

Some of us started mentioning the historical tradition of publishing regular headline stats in newspapers.

…so we were very happy when they updated this for the social media age.

We also find that Eglantyne Jebb and friends at the Cambridge Charity Organisation Society was not only doing great things in 1907, but that Eglantyne’s book Cambridge – a brief study in social questions was already having an impact on local public policy.


The Cambridge Independent Press praising Eglantyne Jebb’s book

The quotation they take from the book is striking:

“The book is not written primarily for the philanthropist, but for citizens who, though they cannot devote any considerable portion of their time to working for their town, yet wish to be kept informed of its needs, and to contribute in one way or another in making it a better and happier place for their successors to live in”


Eglantyne Jebb – founder of Save the Children and hero of Cambridge


The ground-breaking action that Eglantyne and friends delivered was to make sure that donations got to those that really needed it. Remember this was before the founding of the welfare state in 1945 and before Lloyd George’s reforms in 1911. Note too that Eglantyne founded the first job centre in Cambridge – before job centres had even been invented.

Posh boys behaving badly

So while the wonderful Eglantyne Jebb was busy being wonderful and lovely and amazing, and while the core of Newnham graduates were putting their expertise towards solving the problems of Cambridge, the young men were doing the opposite. Especially when Keir Hardie MP, the first Labour MP turned up to speak in Cambridge.


Fortunately the workers were prepared. So the rioters took their testosterone out on our guildhall…and an innocent carriage driver.


Even worse, the carriage driver hadn’t received any compensation for his smashed up carriage. What a bunch of scum balls!


…hence the above letter of apology blaming an unrepresentative minority. Other editions note complaints about Cambridge University authorities failing to control their students and failing to punish them in the same manner as if it were townsfolk that had smashed things up.

“Let’s hear more about the women heroes – the men just depress me!”

Too right. Here’s the Cambridge Independent talking about Mrs Keynes.


Mrs Florence Ada Keynes is one of the most amazing and splendid and wonderful of women to have lived in and to have served Cambridge. Sadly most people who have heard of her simply know her as John Maynard’s mum. A minor achievement in comparison to the great things she achieved for Cambridge. A candidate for the board of guardians and soon to become the first woman councillor elected to the town, now city council, the above article shows she was popular with both Conservative and Liberal parties. Florence was one of the key figures in the campaign to remove the ban on women standing for election to local councils. I use the term ‘remove the ban’ rather than ‘being given the right’ because the right should never have been taken away from them in the first place. In my opinion.


The column goes onto say that both Florence – and also Clara Rackham, a Suffragist and one of the founding mothers of the Cambridge Labour Party would encourage other women to put their names forward. Cambridge was blessed at this time with some of the most talented women in our city’s civic history. The current generation certainly have their work cut out, hence I want to use the examples of the Cambridge Heroes of the late 1800s/early 1900s to inspire a new generation to get involved in local democracy.


A Cambridge Hero in the true sense – Cllr Florence Ada Keynes.

There were also some interesting predictions of the future – such as the demise of newspapers and the delivery of news through telephone wires.


Just replace the horns with headphones and the other bit of the apparatus with a tablet/phone/laptop and boom. Remember the above was published in 1907.

Some things don’t change though – such as politicians claiming about the lack of factual accuracy of the leaflets of their opponents.


Cambridge Borough MP Stanley Buckmaster KC (Liberal) complaining about his Conservative opponent.

And when you got a formal update from him about things in Parliament, you got not just an update, but a thesis.


Four of those seven columns above are one of his updates from 1907.

Without TV, radio or the internet, newspapers and public meetings were essential to keep the population of the town informed about local democracy.

I picked up a couple of really strange court cases too – but I’ll save those for a separate blogpost. This one being a spat between preachers on Mill Road.


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