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: Broadside

Category: Sociology & Demography, Broadside

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In the centuries before there were newspapers and 24-hour news channels, the general public had to rely on street literature to find out what was going on. The most popular form of this for nearly 300 years was 'broadsides' - the tabloids of their day. Sometimes pinned up on walls in houses and ale-houses, these single sheets carried public notices, news, speeches and songs that could be read (or sung) aloud.

The National Library of Scotland's online collection of nearly 1,800 broadsides lets you see for yourself what 'the word on the street' was in Scotland between 1650 and 1910. Crime, politics, romance, emigration, humour, tragedy, royalty and superstitions - all these and more are here.

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Just as programs are sold at sporting events today, broadsides -- styled at the time as "Last Dying Speeches" or "Bloody Murders" -- were sold to the audiences that gathered to witness public executions in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain. These ephemeral publications were intended for the middle or lower classes, and most sold for a penny or less. Published in British towns and cities by printers who specialized in this type of street literature, a typical example features an illustration (usually of the criminal, the crime scene, or the execution); an account of the crime and (sometimes) the trial; and the purported confession of the criminal, often cautioning the reader in doggerel verse to avoid the fate awaiting the perpetrator.

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