Ever participate in – or even hear about – ‘A Pigeon Eating Wager’? Odds are, most likely not, but that is just one of the strange headlines you can read about in the collection of British newspapers on findmypast.com.

Through an exclusive partnership with the British Library, brightsolid is digitizing 50 million pages of British newspapers, from 1700 to 1950, over the next 10 years. Prior to this project researchers would need to visit London, search the archives and read the text to find what they wanted. Now people can search 12 billion words in seconds.

Out of more than 65 million articles, findmypast.com has selected the top ten strangest stories form the past, dating back to 1838. A feat of technology and historical preservation, the British Newspapers are also a unique look at local culture, the way news was reported and linguistics.

TOP TEN Strangest Headlines from the British newspapers*:

  1. ‘Squirrel Became a ‘Living Torch’

    16 February 1950, The Press and Journal, Aberdeen, Scotland

    • Three youths were "remanded for a fortnight" for soaking a squirrel in paraffin and lighting it on fire.

  2. ‘Lived for Years Under Hedge, A Woman’s Contempt for Men’

    24 April 1927, The Sunday Post, London

    • A woman, known to the locals as "Old Betty" was removed from her shanty-tent in the bushes after having lived there for four years. She declared it is her intense contempt for men that has led her to take up this solitary way of living in a home made of old socks and rags....with her cat.

  3. ‘Man found Asleep In Bed’

    10 December 1912, Hull Daily Mail, Kingston upon Hull, England

    • While the headline appears to be newsworthy enough, the crux of the story is that he was an escaped prisoner that broke into his sister-in-law's house to have a nap.

  4. ‘Naked Travellers, An Awkward Dilemma’

    1 June 1903, The Evening Telegraph

    • Thieves broke into the sleeping saloons on a train from Moscow and stole all the clothing of the passengers as they slept.

  5. ‘Man Eats Eighty Ducks’

    4 August 1902, Hull Daily Mail, Kingston upon Hull, England

    • After his neighbors complained of constant loud quacking, a man was ordered to get rid of his eighty ducks. He did so by eating them.

  6. ‘Packet of Vipers Sent By Post’

    2 September 1899, Hull Daily Mail, Kingston upon Hull, England

    • A bishop had received a package mislabeled as "dried fruit." His enemies had sent him 8 deadly vipers "ferocious and hungry" that were "only killed with a great deal of difficulty. #OldWorldProblems

  7. ‘Living Ornaments; bejeweled living tortoises’

    22 January 1898, Edinburgh Evening News, Edinburgh, Scotland

    •  Reports of a new Parisian fad of bejeweling tiny turtles with Jewels and wearing them "among lace and flowers on an evening corsage" by attaching them with a safety. It says the tiny turtles "bear the weight of wealth without the least inconvenience."

  8. ‘Smuggling By Pigeons’

    11 July 1896, Worcestershire Chronicle, England

    • A tired pigeon fell from the sky with a cargo of diamonds attached to it. "The pigeon had been released from the deck of an ocean steamer by someone who wished to bring the diamonds in the US without payment of duty."

  9. ‘Vagaries of an Elephant’

    8 May 1885, Royal Cornwall Gazette, Cornwall, England

    • A description of the trials and tribulations of a circus elephant in the 1800's.

  10. ‘Theory of Cats’

    15 September 1838, Reading Mercury, Reading, England

    • The article takes a revealing journey through the psyche of the common house cat.

*Subscribers can view these articles. Not a subscriber? View them for free with a 14-day FREE trial