Manuscripts and Special Collections

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Broadsheets and Ballads

The single-sheet ballads and broadsheets of the 18th and 19th centuries offer us a whole history of popular culture. The publishers sought popular material about current events or celebrities. Library collections of such ephemera now provide important source material.

The address to the singer Miss Louisa Vinning reads like an early piece of fan mail, written by an admirer after her concert in Nottingham in 1844. Such broadsheets were sometimes simply self-advertisements, calculated to raise interest in the subject.

'The Transport' ballad strikes a very different note, with moral purpose. It warns young men that bad company and the life of a "roving blade" will lead them to the Old Bailey and Botany Bay. Such melancholy sentiments were often the subject of song or verse.

There was huge public interest in crime and punishment. Cases of particular notoriety might inspire several publications, during the trial and after the execution. They give details of the prisoner's life and family, and are an important source for social historians.

When on Monday 2 April 1827 William Wells was executed on Nottingham Gallows for highway robbery, a broadsheet was immediately available. The image of Wells in chains, supported by weeping family, had a moral purpose.

Further sources relating to this subject area are held by Manuscripts and Special Collections at King's Meadow Campus. See our website for information about our collections and catalogues.

'Address to the Infant Sappho' Zoom in

'Address to the Infant Sappho'

'The Transport' Zoom in

'The Transport'

Execution of William Wells, 1827 Zoom in

Execution of William Wells, 1827

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