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British History Online

British History Online: End of an Era



Nicholas Gemini, Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0

In November, behind the scenes, there was an important change at the Institute. Bruce Tate, the Manager of British History Online, left the project after 11 years. You may know that this summer BHO celebrated 10 years of operation, from which you will see that Bruce was here before the site itself, developing the technical architecture of BHO from scratch.

Other people did play important roles in BHO as it grew larger and more complex, particularly our former colleague Peter Webster, who was Editorial Controller from 2005 until 2012 and contributed a great deal. But Bruce’s work ensured that BHO developed as a robust site, able to sustain the millions of monthly pageviews it went on to attract. Since BHO also has subscribers (only £30 a year, if you’d like to sign up) it is also essential that the site is always available whenever people need to use it. Bruce’s meticulous approach to project planning and technical implementation have made that possible. It’s a tribute to Bruce’s capabilities that the rest of us never worried about whether BHO had gone offline or crashed, because it never did.

Bruce’s main character flaw is that he is a season ticket holder at Chelsea. Chelsea have had 10 managers in the time that BHO has had one, proving once again that short-termism achieves little. We plan to build on the excellent work Bruce has done by updating and improving the site over the next 10 years; we thank him for his sterling contribution and wish him well for the future.

Andrew Minting on RCHME, Salisbury


In the latest in our series of posts on the RCHME series, we have a guest post by Andrew Minting, conservation officer in Salisbury, about the importance of the Salibury volume. Andrew writes:

If there’s one source of information I commend to those researching the buildings of the city of Salisbury, it’s the Royal Commission’s volume on the historic monuments outside of the cathedral close.

Its recent online publication is excellent news and makes the information much more readily accessible to the general public. The copy on my desk is well worn from use on a near-daily basis for many years, providing an understanding of individual buildings and the development of the city from its foundation.  As an historical record of the city in the mid twentieth century, it is invaluable, including buildings that had been demolished from the 1950s onwards.  In comparison with modern mapping, one can trace some of the dramatic redevelopments and losses of the last half-century – the extensive demolition to facilitate the ring road, the Old George and Cross Keys shopping malls, for example.  Many buildings are brought to life through excellent detailed drawings of their timber frames, such as the Plume of Feathers, while plans showing chronological development are particularly useful for those considering the sensitivity of sites to proposed alterations.

The introduction and footnotes provide very useful pointers to all of other primary and secondary sources available, many of which are now to be found at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

One important note for those unfamiliar with the hardback version of the volume, the planned grid layout of much of the city centre led to the adoption of names for the blocks of the grid, known as chequers, in addition to street names. Where appropriate, the Royal Commission organised the monuments of the volume by chequer, rather than following the lengths of individual streets.  Perhaps the most useful image for users of the online version is to be found in Plan 1, which shows both chequer and streetnames, although the Naish plan of 1716 is a beautiful alternative.

Andrew Minting

Sarah Rose on Westmorland


In another in our series of posts by experts in particular counties, Dr Sarah Rose of Lancaster University writes for us about the RCHME volume for Westmorland:

I would like to reiterate the comments made by Professor Dyer, written in response to the online publication of the RCHME’s Northamptonshire volumes, regarding the general importance of this series. The number of architectural features included in these volumes, dating from the prehistoric era to the 18th century, together with the sheer breadth of research conducted by the Royal Commission, make them an essential starting point for anyone interested in landscape and place, whether they be actively engaged in research or merely curious.

Since its publication in 1936, the importance of the Westmorland volume has perhaps been underscored by the absence, to date, of a VCH volume for the county. As such, RCHME Westmorland has become a vital source for those writing in-depth local studies to county-wide surveys, including Matthew Hyde’s revised volume of Pevsner’s gazetteer for the ancient counties that make-up Cumbria.(1) The RCHME volume for Westmorland is particularly important as a pioneering survey of the county’s vernacular architecture, highlighting, for example, the rich legacy of plasterwork in traditional buildings:

Cumbria’s past is currently being explored in great detail by volunteer researchers working for the Victoria County History of Cumbria project, now in its third year. The RCHME volumes are cited at a national level as an essential resource for VCH researchers. This is as true for the volunteers working on Westmorland as in any other county. The RCHME volume often serves as an initial guide to the history of major local buildings, such as the parish church, for example, but also outlines important historical features which may be less obvious to the untrained eye.

In rural areas like Cumbria, an online version of RCHME for Westmorland tackles the issue of accessibility to resources of its kind, which are invariably limited to reference libraries and archives. For VCH volunteers, many who do not live in easy distance of such facilities, this online publication should be particularly welcome.

(1) M. Hyde and N. Pevsner, Cumbria: Cumberland, Westmorland and Furness. The Buildings of England (London, 2010).

Peter Salt on RCHME, Cambridgeshire


British History Online has now completed its digitisation of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England series; all volumes are now freely available to read online. The following post originally appeared on our British History Online blog.

Of the last volumes published, three related to Cambridgeshire. Our own Cambridgeshire man, Peter Salt, Editor of the Bibliography of British and Irish History, kindly agreed to write a blog post about the City of Cambridge volume. Peter writes:

When the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments’ inventory of the city of Cambridge was published in 1959 in two substantial volumes with a separate container of plans,1 they were priced at the princely sum of five guineas (£5.25).  They were out of print by the time that I paid £52.00 for my copy about 25 years later.  I was conscious at the time that this was virtually ten times the original selling price but I reasoned to myself that they would never be cheaper.  So I greet the appearance of the Cambridge inventory in British History Online with mixed feelings – freely accessible online publication, to the high standards associated with British History Online, is a great boon to scholarship but may reduce demand for the printed volumes and therefore may have devalued my copy!
Naturally, College and University buildings fill most of the Cambridge inventory.  However, it also covers the growth of the town.  Furthermore, from 1946 the Commissioners were empowered not only to make an inventory of ‘Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions’ predating the eighteenth century, as had been done before World War II, but also to describe ‘such further Monuments and Constructions subsequent to’ 1714 ‘as may seem in your discretion to be worthy of mention’.2  In the Cambridge inventory, as in the preceding one covering Dorset, this resulted in the adoption of an 1850 cut-off date3and, for buildings that could be identified as being earlier than 1850, little or no selection seems to have been applied in practice.  Furthermore, as the preface observed, ‘the first half of the 19th century’ was ‘a period of notable urban development in Cambridge’.4  The result was that the volumes cover not only internationally known monuments such as King’s College Chapel, but also include some quite modest terraced houses – so modest, indeed, as to include the house in which I lived from 1991 to 2005, which had been built (it was suggested) for the “outside staff” of the larger houses in the same development.5

Such houses were sometimes recorded with almost as much care as the major monuments – the development of which my house formed a part is illustrated by a layout diagram and by internal plans of representative houses, the latter presented alongside plans of similar houses to facilitate comparison.  Even so, there were times when the surveyors were virtually unable to find anything to say: after they had diplomatically described early nineteenth-century houses in Brunswick Walk as ‘pleasant in their simplicity and lack of ostentation’, they were reduced to reporting that ‘Willow Place and Causeway Passage … are even less distinguished than the foregoing’.6 Nonetheless, the recording and comparison of small terraced houses that were then little more than one hundred years old would have been ground-breaking at the time.

In some cases the survey recorded buildings that were soon to be demolished.  Indeed, Willow Place and Causeway Passage have largely vanished.  That small late-Georgian terraced houses should fall victim to 1960s and 1970s improvements is not surprising (they had been assessed in 1950 as “fourth class” and although, if they had lasted a few years longer, they might well have been refurbished and extended as desirable pieds à terre, it has to be said that our favourable view of Georgian domestic architecture rests in part on the destruction of its meanest specimens).  Perhaps more surprising in a town that trades on its “heritage” is the loss of the ‘good brick front of 1727′ belonging to the Central Hotel on Peas Hill, where Pepys was supposed to have ‘drank pretty hard’ in 1660, and one of the secular buildings deemed by the Commissioners to be ‘especially worthy of preservation’,7 but replaced in 1960-2 by a hostel for King’s College.
As Professor Chris Dyer observed in his post in this blog on the Northamptonshire volumes, the Royal Commission’s post-war inventory volumes ‘marked a high point’ in its work that was not sustained.  Since 1984 the Commission and English Heritage (into which the Commission was incorporated in 1999) have continued to record and to analyze, but have published the results in thematic volumes, rather than in parish by parish (or town by town) inventories.  Theforeword to the last inventory volume, published in 1984, admitted that ‘the creation of an adequately researched and assessed inventory of England’s archaeological and architectural heritage is now accepted … as a complex and infinite task’ (my emphasis).  Indeed, what seems ‘adequately researched and assessed’ to one generation may disappoint the next one.  Now that Causeway Passage has vanished from the map we might well wish that the inventory had gone into a bit more detail.  And, just as 1714 came to seem, after World War II, too remote an end date for the survey, resulting in an expansion of the Commissioners’ remit, the 1850 cut off chosen for the Cambridge volumes will seem too remote to those who want to study Cambridge’s later nineteenth-century growth.  In practice, though, we must be grateful for what was achieved, and (notwithstanding the potential decline in the value of my printed copy) the online publication of the inventories is very much to be welcomed.

All footnote references are to the city of Cambridge inventory. The volumes were continuously paginated and are treated as a single entity by British History Online.

Chris Dyer on RCHME, Northants


British History Online recently published the six inventory volumes for the county of Northamptonshire. To help to put these volumes in context, Professor Chris Dyer has kindly written a guest blog post explaining their importance. Chris Dyer is Emeritus Professor of Local and Regional History at the University of Leicester, and so is the perfect person to introduce these volumes. Professor Dyer writes:

“The inclusion of the Northamptonshire volumes of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, England on British History Online will be welcomed by anyone interested in Northamptonshire, but also in the study of many aspects of the material evidence for the history of the English countryside. When they appeared these volumes marked a high point in the work of the Royal Commission. There were volumes on historic buildings, which was the traditional strength of the RCHME’s earlier county inventories, but these were more inclusive and systematic than in the early volumes, because village plans were included, with the older buildings marked, and accompanied by brief descriptions of ordinary houses and cottages, and occasional plans and photographs. Larger houses and churches, the usual subjects of surveys of local architecture, received full treatment as well. All of this was thoroughly researched, with  documentary background studies as well as scholarly architectural analyses.

The great innovation and achievement of the Northamptonshire volumes however, is to be observed in the volumes devoted to archaeological sites. Air photograph evidence of field boundaries and settlement sites, mainly of the iron age and Romano-British period, were transcribed on to modern maps, and for the medieval period hundreds of sites marked by earthworks were carefully planned and analysed. They included the famous deserted medieval village sites, and the remains of villages that still survived but had once been much larger. These had only been identified as sites 30 years or so before the Royal Commission planned them. Part of  the medieval rural landscape were the fields, visible as ridge and forrow, and some examples of these survivals were also planned. There was also a great variety of sites and features : park boundaries, moated sites, fishponds, pillow mounds from former rabbit warrens, sites of water mills and the mounds on which windmills had stood. Any past activity which involved digging into the earth and making heaps left indelible traces for the researchers of the RCHME to discover. As the work progressed the plans grew ever more sophisticated, and the interpretations of the meaning of the sites became more accomplished. To give one example of the lessons learned from preparing these volumes, post medieval garden earthworks were recognized and planned in detail, and researchers all over the country realised that the expanses of mounds and ditches that had puzzled them suddenly became explicable. Anyone interested in the formation and decline of rural settlement, landscape history, and aristocratic manipulations of the landscape will find important source material in these volumes. They also mark a chapter in the intellectual history of the study of the rural past. They are finally a sad comment on the philistine treatment of the heritage, because not long after these volumes were completed, instead of declaring the intention of carrying out similar studies of the other English counties, the Royal Commission was merged with English Heritage, and ceased to compile inventories.”

Chris Dyer

Roman Inscriptions in the RCHME


Over the last couple of months we have published two volumes about Roman remains in England: Roman London and Eburacum, Roman York. These have been part of our current digitisation of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments inventory series for England.

This subject matter is somewhat unusual for British History Online, although we do have similar material elsewhere, as in the Victoria County History volume for Oxfordshire, Volume 1, and as part of the RCHME we will soon be adding a volume on Iron Age and Romano-British monuments in the Cotswolds. But these two latest RCHME volumes have been a bit of a challenge to digitise because of the large number of inscriptions they contain.

Roman writing did not contain such useful things as spaces between letters, punctuation or differences of case. If you owned a book yourself then you could mark it up for reading yourself, to make things easier. Obviously this couldn’t be done with inscriptions, so there was a tendency to add some former of marker between words to make things easier for the reader; here it is done with a mid dot in a dedication tablet from York:

Elsewhere in Roman inscriptions covered by the RCHME a leaf or other symbol is used. Notice that this still doesn’t make the inscription very easy to read: words can spill over onto the next line without any indication that they are doing so, as in the name HIERONYMIANVS above; also, like text messages today, Roman inscriptions tend to be highly abbreviated. Fortunately the RCHME editors have painstakingly transcribed, and then translated, the inscriptions for us, with abbreviations expanded. Here is the above:


‘To the holy god Serapis, Claudius Hieronymianus, legate of the Sixth Legion Victorious, built this temple from the ground.’

The editors then give us quite a lot of information about who this Claudius Hieronymianus was:

“Claudius Hieronymianus is identified (Prosopographia Imperii Romani, 2nd ed., II, 206, no. 888) with a vir clarissimusof this name involved in a judgment by Papinian about a will (Ulpian, Digest, 33, 7, 12, 40) and with the praeses of Cappadocia whom Tertullian (ad Scap. 3) mentions at the turn of the 2nd and 3rd centuries as persecuting Christians after his wife’s conversion…”

Thanks to the efforts of the RCHME editors for these volumes, there is a wealth of information of this type – photographs, transcriptions and translations – now available to all.

April photo competition winner


For this month’s competition the voting among my colleagues gave us a shortlist of three. In no particular order the two runners-up were:

Tudor Barlow’s picture of the cloisters at Gloucester Cathedral

This will be a familiar setting to many but the light in this photograph is evocative. The bright light of the open doorway at the end of the cloisters conveys just the numinous effect that Gothic architecture, presumably, aspires to achieve.

Our other runner up was Disused Slate Mine by stephen bolton1. A photo which I find gritty and melancholy but also eerie – or, if you like, earthy and unearthly at the same time.

After discussion, however, we chose as our winner, Little Moreton Hall by alan tunnicliffe

Like Gloucester Cathedral, this a well known setting, but the photograph is quite unsentimental, perhaps because of the tripartite sky: part lowering, part blue and part irradiated. The context of the house seems to be in harmony with the building, both being somewhat overgrown and chaotic.

Everyone is welcome to add their photos the the British History Online group on Flickr. We are picking our favourite every month in order to celebrate our 10th anniversary. The winning photo will, with permission, appear on the BHO homepage.

Copyright and images, part 2


The Permissions Controller for the digitisation of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England, Rachael Lazenby, wrote an introductory guide to copyright for images, drawing on her experience on this project and on other work that she has done. Originally appearing on our British History Online blog, part one of Rachael’s guide was reposted here; the rest of the guide is reposted below.

Copyright and images – an introductory guide, part 2

Rachael Lazenby

Identifying copyright holders, orphan works and due diligence

Frequently publishers will include images which have appeared in other publications. The modern convention is to include a caption with the image which makes it very clear who the copyright holder is and who should be approached for permission to reproduce an image. However, the older the publication, the more likely it is that such information will not be found in a caption. The RCHME volumes, the earliest of which date from 1913, contained copyright holder information in a variety of places. This included the illustration lists, footnotes, and the preliminary materials of the texts as well as in illustration captions. When considering using images from older works it is advisable to check in all these places for information on the copyright holder if the original publisher no longer exists or does not retain rights information on older publications. Internet searches, local history societies and local museums may also be able to help in establishing the copyright status of historical images.
Inevitably there were some images included in the original RCHME volumes whose owners could not be traced. Such images are known as orphan works. Different organisations take different stances on how to approach such images and every organisation will have advice on what constitutes due diligence in attempting to establish a copyright holder.(1) A record should be kept of all efforts made in trying to trace the current rights holder.
Crown Copyright
Crown Copyright applies to images produced by certain UK government bodies and lasts for 50 years. The National Archives has a very informative section on this topic, including a list of bodies whose images now fall under Crown Copyright. Many images which are protected by Crown Copyright can be used if a link appears with the image directing the reader to a ‘click-to-use’ licence.
Fair use and Enforcement
So far I’ve tried to avoid distinguishing between reproducing images for a limited circulation (such as a dissertation) and a wide circulation (such as a paper published in a journal). Theoretically copyright law covers any reproduction of a work regardless of the circulation or the commercial value of the work. Of course in practical terms the greater the commercial value of an image the higher the likelihood that the copyright holder may take legal action to prevent or punish any unauthorised use of their image.
Fair use is a concept which enables students and researchers to provide examples and quotations of other people’s works in essays and papers without first obtaining permission from the originator. Generally speaking quotations tend to pose fewer problems than images and providing they appear in the body of a text and for educational, critical or journalistic purposes, they can be used without express permission.  Most educational institutions and publishers have a legal team who will be able to advise on any concerns you may have about reproducing images. In addition universities will often provide guidance on matters of copyright in student handbooks.
It is important to note that while fair use can be used as a legal defence, copyright is a complex issue, and copyright holders have the right to protect their work from any unauthorised use.(2) Following the principles of fair use will not necessarily prevent a case from going to court. The internet has made it easier to reproduce images without the consent of the copyright holder and the laws covering copyright are constantly evolving in response to new cases.(3) Although the copyright of images of buildings belongs to the photographer or artist, an interesting case went through the French courts a couple of years ago concerning the Eiffel Tower. Photos of the tower at night were deemed to be protected by copyright law as the lighting display constitutes a work of art.(4)
I hope this post has shed some light on the issues surrounding copyright of images. A few key points to take away with you are:
  • Copyright arises in a work, it does not have to be registered.
  • Publicly accessible content is not necessarily in the public domain.
  • Record your efforts to trace copyright holders if you intend on reproducing orphan works.
  • Stay within the guidelines of ‘fair use’ but bear in mind it will not always prevent legal action.
  • Check with your institution’s legal department if you have any doubts about content you intend to use.


(1) This link will redirect to information on the European memorandum of understanding on orphan works retrieved on 22/2/2013.
(2) retrieved on 22/2/2013
(3) The difficulties of dealing with such issues are discussed in these articles on policing the internet:  retrieved on 22/2/2013 


(5) St Swithin’s Church London Stone. This is a Wren church destroyed in the Blitz and not restored. 

Image Copyright – An Introduction


The Permissions Controller for the digitisation of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England, Rachael Lazenby, has written an introductory guide to copyright for images, drawing on her experience on this project and on other work that she has done. This is part one of Rachael’s guide; the second part will follow shortly. Rachael’s posts were originally published on the British History Online blog, but we thought them so useful that they should be republished here.

Copyright and images – an introductory guide

Rachael Lazenby

I’ve recently been working on the project to digitise the inventory volumes of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England (RCHME). Some of the volumes are already live and can be accessed here.

My role has been to identify all images which were not provided by the Commission and seek permission to reuse them on British History Online. A full report on the methodology I devised for this work along with the results is freely available and is published here.

The work has touched upon many issues relating to copyright which are common when using images in research and so I thought it would be useful to explain some of the basics of copyright, how it affects images in particular, along with providing links to various resources available online.

Lammerside Castle, Wharton (1)

Definition of Copyright

Where better to start than with a definition of what copyright actually is:

the exclusive and assignable legal right, given to the originator for a fixed number of years, to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material (2)

A key feature of copyright is that it arises in a work the moment it is created by the originator. It does not have to be registered in the way that a patent might be for a process or a product. It is also important to note that ideas are not subject to copyright – it is the expression of ideas that is subject to copyright. This expression might be a photograph, a piece of text, a musical score or a painting. Copyright may be assigned by the originator to another party or waived by the copyright holder in certain circumstances.

Wherever an originator chooses to display or publish their work the copyright of the work remains with them unless they explicitly assign it to another party or until a fixed number of years have passed after their death. Copyright law varies country by country but in the UK a work remains in copyright until 70 years after the death of the creator at which point it passes into the public domain.

Misconceptions about the right to use images, especially those appearing online, abound.  One of the most common is that if an image does not appear with the copyright symbol and a named copyright holder it is not protected by copyright law. Although such copyright notices can help identify a copyright holder, images without this symbol are still protected by copyright law.  An image that is publicly accessible is still protected by copyright and an image being publicly accessible does not mean it is in the public domain. Copyright protects a work from any unauthorised use. Even if the reproduction of an image is not commercial, for example if it appears in a blog post, it is not legal without the permission of the originator.

Reproducing art and photographs

Cases involving paintings and drawings which are owned by museums can be complex. For example, should you wish to reproduce a photo of a painting by a living artist, you will have to gain permission from the artist, in addition to the permission of the organisation who owns the photo. It is frequently the case that photography is not permitted in museums and galleries, but if you have taken the photo yourself, and the composition is artistic and takes in more than just the painting itself, it may not be necessary to obtain permission. If an artist is deceased you may have to approach their estate for permission to reproduce an image if they have died within the last 70 years.

There are some organisations which specialise in sourcing paintings and drawings and for a fee will make available a high resolution scan of the work as well as arranging permission for an image to be used. Some UK based examples include the Mary Evans Picture Library specialising in historical images, and the Bridgeman Art Library.(3) Many national and university libraries also have extensive image collections which they are making available to students, researchers and commercial parties (although there are often charges for the service).

A great source of historical images with no known copyright restrictions can be found on the Flickr website: Their Creative Commons area is a project making freely available content from museums and galleries across the world. They also encourage tagging of the 
images to increase information available about the content.

The Ley, Woebley (4)

For images which have previously appeared in print or online, it is usually the publisher who can advise on who the copyright holder is, and how permission to reproduce an image can be obtained. The originator of an image might have transferred copyright to a publisher permanently, usually termed ‘assigning copyright’, or they might have granted permission for it to be used only in a specific publication in which case it is referred to as granting a licence.

Licences to use images in publications including online projects will state where and how images can be used. So for example to illustrate this article I can use an image which is now owned by English Heritage, as they have given us permission to use images to promote the digitisation of the RCHME volumes. I could also use any images which are now out of copyright. I cannot use images in this post which have been cleared for use in the volumes by outside parties as permission does not extend to any other use of the image.


1. Lammerside Castle, Wharton. Royal Commission on Historic Monuments of England, Westmorland (1936) plate 80 retrieved 23/2/2013
2. retrieved 7/12/12
4. The Ley, Woebley. Royal Commissions on the Historical Monuments of England, Herefordshire: Volume 3 North West (1934) plate 176 retrieved 23/2/2013
5. Plan of Ramsey Abbey. Royal Commissions on the Historical Monuments of England, Huntingdonshire (1926) p. 208 retrieved 23/2/2013


March photo competition winner


Our photo competition is ongoing through the summer, when we will be celebrating British History Online‘s 10th anniversary. As with last month, a great variety of images were added our BHO Flickr group.

This month we shortlisted three, not because the quality of the others was low but because of the way the voting broke down (staff of IHR Digital vote for their favourites, which then produces a cut-off point for the shortlist). Members of the BHO Working Group then met to discuss the shortlist and choose a final winner.

Again, the shortlisted photographers have kindly sent us copies of their photographs and permission to post them here.

Our two runners-up, in no particular order, were joycemacadam‘s Scotney Castle LR:

The judges admired the composition of this photograph, with the inclusion of quite a lot of surroundings giving pertinent information about the building’s context.

Secondly we have Bewcastle Ancient Cross by karenwithak:

This was an interesting picture, the ancient cross somewhat out of place among the more conventional gravestones, and yet expressing the same commemorative purpose.

After much discussion, we chose as April’s winner Derelict signal box in Stamford, by uplandswolf.

Derelict signal box will appear on the BHO homepage gallery for a month.

Keen readers of this blog may remember that uplandswolf was a runner-up in last month’s competition, so congratulations again to him. The judges like the unusual and dilapidated subject, a timely reminder of our industrial heritage, alongside the just-visible modern railways station. It turns out that there is an online database of signal boxes, from which you can find that, for example, the Stamford example was built in 1893.

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