Broadside Ballads

  1. A broadside or broadsheet is a sheet of paper printed on one side with a ballad, rhyme or news. They were a common form of printed material between the 16th and 19th centuries, particularly in Britain, Ireland and North America.

  2. What's available

    • Blackletter Ballads – these are the earliest ballads in the collection and are extremely rare. They date from 1550 to 1680 and were mostly printed in London. Many were damaged and are incomplete. Items are listed in the Wing Short title catalogue of early printed books.
    • Dating ballads – there are several thousand items, mounted in scrap books, and divided into eight separate collections according to their origin. The content of the volumes is random and, as one sheet often contains four or five ballads, it's not possible to provide any logical arrangement. We have tried to preserve traditional page references.
    • Pearson Collection – this collection has been in the library since the 1870s and was likely bought brand new. It is arranged in order of the publisher's catalogue which is preserved with the collection.
    • Collection of John Harland (ref: Ms f 821.04 B25)

  3. How to access

    Ask a member of staff in the Central Library search room for the card index (ballads by first line, title and subject).

    You can also look at items from the collection in the search room, please make an appointment (with at least one day notice).

    We're working to make the card index available online. In the meantime, if you'd like us to check it for you, email:

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