The Picture Archive of The Illustrated London News (ILN) is most readily accessed through the website of the Mary Evans Picture Library. In principle, the Archive still has its own website, but in practice it is likely to prove inaccessible. Since 2007, following a change of ownership of the ILN Publishing Group, the archive has been housed at Mary Evans. This transfer is unfortunate in some respects, since Mary Evans is a commercial rather than an educational organization and it charges fees to download images. The original site also had extensive background material on the history and printing processes of the ILN that does not appear in the new setting. Nonetheless, one can browse the watermarked images of the Mary Evans Picture Library for research purposes – and its ILN section now has more material than the original site, as new pictures are scanned into it. And of course one can always move from the ILN to scan the whole Mary Evans collection.
The story goes that Herbert Ingram, who founded the ILN in 1842, noticed as a newsagent in Nottingham that when newspapers included pictures, their sales increased. Most journals at this point were still grudging in their resort to illustrations, so when Ingram moved to London and founded a paper committed to lavish use of images, he was immediately successful.
Pictures of dramatic events such as the 1848 Revolution in France and the Crimean War (1853-6) helped its reputation for exciting journalism. By the 1860s, the ILN was selling 300,000 copies per week, far outstripping the circulation of conventional newspapers. To begin with Ingram printed only black-and-white wood engravings, but the ILN later made use of color, and, especially from the 1920s, photographs. Ingram also started a policy of hiring famous illustrators and top writers, including Robert Louis Stevenson, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Conan Doyle. The archive has pictures from issues running from 1842 to 1971, including those from other journals in the "Great Eight" that came together in the 1920s, the best known apart from the ILN being The Tatler.
The search facility allows users to opt for ILN images only. Each of the 10,000 or so in the archive is well referenced with a number, date, description and further details. As an example of using this site, searching under children brings up an eclectic collection of 282 images. Some only incidentally concern this heading, for example when King George V appears because there is a mention in the text to his six children. Others are on the whimsical side: "Caught!" (ref. 10216446) shows children discovered by their parents in the larder scoffing jam from a huge jar. The text informs us that "sentimental or humorous scenes such as these were a popular addition to the ILN, especially over the Christmas period."
The royal families of Europe feature prominently as well as novelties, such as "Children being treated with ultra-violet light" (ref . 10216701). However Ingram, a Liberal MP, had some sympathy with the poor. Hence there are little clusters of pictures depicting children during such events as the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, the United States Civil War, and Jewish migration to London during the 1900s. "Children searching for potatoes" during the Irish famine (ref. 10220183), for example, conveys the desperation of their situation effectively.
More cheerful images from everyday life include "Audience of Children at a London Music Hall, 1882" (ref. 102216500) and "Children at the Circus, 1948," (ref. 10219941). There are also pictures of school strikes, somehow always with a portly-looking policeman in attendance (e.g. from 1889, demanding "shorter hours" and "no cane," (ref. 10219381), a Montessori school (ref. 10215457) and London youth clubs during the 1880s (e.g. 10220713).
In sum, the archive has a variety of delights for the historians to search through, and a well-organized website, though no great depth of coverage or supporting material.