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Broadsides were typically single sheets, printed on one side, for the purpose of public information and entertainment. They were ephemeral - cheaply printed for distribution amongst the lower and middle classes and for pasting onto walls but not intended to last. This street literature included songs (broadside ballads), the dying speeches of executed criminals (hanging ballads), public notices, advertisements and, like the selection seen here, reward posters.
As evidenced by the body of broadsides in the Special Collections holdings, keeping printing costs minimal often meant re-using stock woodcuts therefore the illustrations do not necessarily provide the perfect complement to the text. (See the illustration on the annual meeting of the Association for Prosecuting Felons broadside and that referring to the theft from Thomas Young's pantry.) It is also interesting to examine the various typefaces which have been employed, even within the same document, especially when we think of the standardisation in today's publications.
The broadsides seen here contribute to our understanding of crime and the tackling of crime in early nineteenth-century North Shields. There was vandalism: “several of the PANTS belonging to the Proprietors of North Shields Water Works, were damaged and the PIPES broke or defaced”; theft: “Part of a SIDE of BEEF stolen” as well as the stolen pantry provisions; and arson: “a considerable Quantity of Gunpowder [was laid] near the Fire Place”. Many of the broadsides in the collection describe theft: of food from homes and gardens, clothes from washing lines, livestock and materials, such as iron, pans, nails and coals. Were these criminals simply “evil disposed” as the broadsides describe them? Or driven by poverty?
That we have these broadsides in our holdings is quite remarkable since they were intended to be discarded once they had served their purpose. Whilst some of our broadsides are currently uncatalogued, the Robert White, Rare Books, Bell/White and Robinson collections contain broadsides.