Durham the most newsworthy city in UK History.
Updated: Oct 29
Durham has been named the most newsworthy city in the country following new analysis of more than 67 million historic newspaper pages published between 1710 and 2021.
Researchers from family history website Findmypast analysed their extensive collection to reveal that Durham was the city that received the most mentions when the numbers are adjusted for population size – using an average historical population figure to reflect change over time. Durham was mentioned more than 6.7 million times across the archive – the equivalent of 313 articles per resident. York, Salisbury, Armagh and Oxford round off the remainder of the top five.
Closer analysis of keywords revealed the key reasons behind the top cities’ newsworthiness. Experts have revealed that a combination of topics, including ‘strike’, ‘ghost’, ‘famous’, ‘murder’, ‘war hero’ and ‘pickpocket’ are key drivers of news articles over the past 300 years.
Experts found that the industrial strikes in the 19th and 20th centuries contributed significantly to Durham placing top of the list. In 1893, Durham was at the heart of industrial action across the country, while from 1871 onwards, Durham played host to the annual Miners Gala, dubbed “The Big Meeting”.
In 1925, papers reported that miners threw a cleric into the river at the event, believing him to be the Bishop of Durham, who had urged the miners not to strike. They had, in fact, thrown in the Dean of Durham, J Weldon, who was rescued by one of Brown’s boatmen. Events in the past 12 months show that industrial action still generates clicks and searches – with Google Trends data indicating bigger peaks than at any previous point in the last five years in December 2022, March, July and October 20233 due to a spate of rail and health worker strikes.
Scandal and celebrities have hit the headlines regularly over the past 300 years, with open court cases offering an opportunity to publicly divulge juicy details. Just as the Rooney vs. Vardy case gripped the public eye in 2022, Durham vicar David Evans’ divorce case made the headlines across the country in 1904 when the details of his scandalous life were laid bare in the courts – including drunkenness, misconduct, domestic violence, and living with his young female servant. In fact, by 1925, the Bishop of Durham was so concerned by the “moral sewage” reported in divorce cases in the papers that he publicly called for the broadcasting of them to cease.
Analysis of the records revealed that York appeared in second place due to the city’s strong military links. The Yorkshire regiments – the Dragoons and Hussars – played a significant role in the Boer War and First and Second World Wars. To cite just one report of the city’s war heroes in 1917, Lieutenant Colonel Bertram Best-Dunkley was awarded the Victoria Cross for "most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty” at the Battle of Passchendaele.
The city can also boast historic royal connections – something that continues to drive the news agenda today. Over 130 years before the royal wedding pulled in 2bn viewers and generated millions of news articles, the Duke and Duchess of York visited their namesake city for the first time as a married couple.
Over several weeks in 1893, the Yorkshire press reported proceedings for the official visit, including detailing the citizens of York’s wedding gift of a silver gilt cup made by local craftsmen Messers Colburn & Co, decorations made by local people, and those involved in the day itself.
Several of the top locations also have strong sporting traditions in common – in particular horse racing at York and Salisbury. A recent report highlighted the impact of events like the Commonwealth Games for Birmingham and Premier League football – even when finishing bottom of the league last season – for Norwich4.
Meanwhile, Milton Keynes was found to be the least newsworthy city within the historical research – likely due to its relatively short history, having only been founded in 1967 (see table 2).
Jen Baldwin, Research Specialist at Findmypast, said: “What’s fascinating is that the themes that drive our news haven't changed that much over the past few hundred years, it's the people and their experiences that have. The UK’s cities are rich in history, but what grabs our attention is the unique human stories – from finding fame to standing trial in court or sacrifice during the War.
“It's now easier than ever to discover whether your ancestors made the news thanks to the 70 million historical pages available online to search on Findmypast. We hope that these stories inspire people to unlock their own fascinating family stories and secrets – and find out something about themselves in the process too.”