Broadsides in Old Scotland

The National Library of Scotland has made available online digital copies of Scottish broadsides. So … what is a ‘broadside’? Not just in Scotland, but in many locations (in Europe and across North America) these printed news announcements were a method to inform the general public of any events happening in a town or village. Not just social or church events, but the type of news that might also be in a newspaper. The large sheets of paper were printed in multiple copies and then posted in numerous areas. All types of topics were covered, from local crimes, business happenings, political occurrences, taxation laws, to everyday local events. Not everyone could read, so generally one person with the ability to read, stood and read aloud what was posted.

These preserved broadsides are a wonderful window into the everyday life and concerns of our ancestors. This digital set is for Scotland, however many people shared similar events and happenings.

The site has a search box on the left side so a researcher can place a certain time frame, surname or event to be searched. There are approximately 1,800 different broadsides on the site, which cover from 1650 to 1910. Just to do a comparison of concerns and interests of people in 1723 vs 1845 and then 1900 is fascinating.

In the search if you place a date such as 1798 there are six different summaries first shown. It will provide a full date (when known) along with an overview of what was printed on the broadside. Even with one date, it could be listed on a broadside with other information. There is the 1820 broadside of public executions in Glasgow, Scotland between 1765 and 1820, stating what the crime was and the exact date of the execution. On one side is the scanned original broadside along with a transcript of what was written. This is one broadside you might not want an ancestor’s name to appear, having been executed. There were even a few ‘ladies’ on the list. Another broadside of 1868 has the list of the names, the crime and date of execution covering 1668 to 1868 – 200 years. People were executed for robbery, forgery, high treason, housebreaking, witchcraft, along with murder. It is fascinating to see the various crimes for which a person paid the highest.

Many of the broadsides were in the form of serious and others as humorous ballads or poetry. These served as ‘lessons of life’, demonstrating what poor behavior can produce.

Over the years, some had illustrations, which were made from wooden cut-out to be printed on a specific broadside, but also one that was general enough to be used in a future broadside. An example would be an illustration of a horse. If it at all related to the broadside, it was used. However, most broadsides were strictly text print.

So browse some of the many broadsides on the site, it can be quite interesting.

Photo: The upper portion of a broadside in Scotland concerning Miss Elisabeth Watson; printed in the 1830s.

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