I came across Bell’s Life in London by accident the other day, while searching newspaperarchive.com trying to find the earliest occurrence of the phrase “wonder dog” as a favour to a friend. The oldest occurrence that I could find was in an article in an 1850 edition of Bell’s Life, which read:

“Last Thursday, the sports gave general satisfaction to a numerous muster of gentlemen. The little wonder dog Tiny, 6-and-a-half pounds in weight, destroyed 20 large rats, his time being 3 min 50 sec.”

I’d always assumed that ratting had always been an illegal, or at least illicit, pastime, yet this paper had a dedicated ratting column, with reports on the various upcoming fixtures, complete with the estimated number of rats (in the hundreds) that were due to be dispatched.

I browsed through the rest of the paper and realised that it was packed full of remarkable stories of Victorian life, mainly of a sensational and lurid nature, told in a language that is rich with the texture of the time. The headlines alone were wonderful: “The Cruelty To A Pauper Girl”, “Vicissitudes Of A Gambler’s Life”, “Alleged Indignities To A Charge d’Affaires”, “The Mysterious Baby”.

I could happily read old newspapers all day and I very much wanted to read more of Bell’s Life, but I have so much other work to be getting on with that I could justify doing so only if I disguised it to myself as some sort of work that might entertain other people. And so I created this blog, on which, each week during 2011, I’ll post stories from the edition of the paper that was published exactly 150 years previously. (And from other papers from that week, if any stories particularly catch my eye.)

In some ways, it will be no different from those “This Day In History” columns in modern newspapers, but the stories should be more interesting, and concerned with much smaller-scale events. They’ll certainly feature an awful lot more heart-breaking tragedy and old-fashioned cruelty to children and animals.

God save the Queen!


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