Newspapers and journals

This guide was last updated in 2014

Digital collections of newspapers and magazines are the best place to start your search.

Variety shows and music hall entertainment took off in spectacular fashion as the nation prospered from the mid-19th century. Backroom tavern concerts drew in
crowds seeking light relief from a humdrum existence in Britain’s industrial towns.

Sheridan Smith was wowed by a favourable review of her ancestors’ performance in The Era, which between 1837 and 1939 published weekly advertisements for shows and concert critiques.

Surviving runs of The Era can be searched by name at the British Newspaper Archive or These websites are also great for locating reports about smaller acts published in regional newspapers, which sometimes printed obituaries about local artists.

The Stage competed with The Era from 1880 and its digital archive is available online at If you’re really lucky you might stumble across an illustration or photograph.

Remember that some performers will only be found under their stage name, or the name of the troupe in which they performed, so a bit of digging in archive collections might be necessary first. Specialist databases are also useful for discovering an entertainer’s pseudonym.

Entertainment ancestors
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