The IHR Blog |

Victoria County History

Revealing local history


DD-SAS c212-10-1 map for web

There is still time to sign up for one of our Being Human edit-a-thons in London and Leicester on 21 November.

As part of the Being Human Festival, British History Online (BHO), Senate House Library (SHL) and Victoria County History (VCH) will be leading two simultaneous Wikipedia edit-a-thons in London and Leicester on 21 November. An edit-a-thon is an event where editors get together to write or improve articles centred on a specific topic. We will provide training in editing Wikipedia and no prior experience is necessary. The theme of our edit-a-thons will be local history, which will involve both editing articles about particular places, but also editing articles about the practice of local history in the UK.

The idea to have a local history Wikipedia edit-a-thon first occurred to us when we had a Wikipedia training session at the IHR way back in March. Our trainer was Edwardx (who conveniently will also be the London trainer for this coming edit-a-thon) and during our session we were amazed at how easy the process of editing and improving Wikipedia articles was after a little bit of training. Jessica Davies and Rebecca Read from VCH were thinking of ways they could improve articles about various aspects of local history, and I was thinking about how to encourage more editors to consult BHO since Wikipedia encourages citing online, accessible materials where possible. Following the session, the three of us agreed that the theme of local history would an interesting one for an edit-a-thon. We envisioned local historians, Wikipedia editors, students and academics all coming together and learning from each other. The Being Human Festival, with its focus on the humanities’ ability to inspire and enrich our everyday lives, seemed like a natural fit for the event we were dreaming up.  Jordan Landes, the history librarian at SHL, had organised the initial training for us and kindly offered to help facilitate the edit-a-thon. Soon we were partnering with a team in Leicester, and taking the edit-a-thon beyond our immediate vicinity and bringing it to a national scale.

We’ll admit we were slightly stumped about whether our events would relate to this year’s Being Human Festival theme, “Hidden and Revealed.” But we quickly realised that the goal of revealing is already behind the work that we do.

2006_0731Image0006_1We believe local history should be cared for and preserved in archives, but it should not remain there. It is our communal responsibility to study history, to learn from it and to share it. With the VCH volumes, authors comb local archives and untangle the history of places in order to present those histories to the public in the form of the VCH red books. What is that if not a process of revelation? They take something that might not be hidden per se but rather, difficult to access, and reveal the history of a parish, a hundred, or a county in a clear, encyclopaedic format.

Similarly, by digitising the red books, BHO further reveals these histories by allowing VCH texts to be freely accessible from anywhere in the world. One of my responsibilities at BHO is to manage our email account, and I love receiving emails like the one from the Australian woman who found the history of the small village where her great-grandmother was born, or from the mayor who learned new things about his own town, or from the homeowners who discovered the rich history of the place where they live, or from the elderly man who is brought back to his schooldays. To all those people and many more, uncovering the history of where they come from is nothing short of a revelation.

And finally, Wikipedia—one of the most visited websites in the world—is driven by a desire to make human knowledge accessible to everyone. Wikipedia relies on source material like VCH, and BHO content is already heavily cited across the site. Wikipedia democratises the construction of knowledge by allowing articles to be edited by anyone from anywhere in the world.

So to us, the revelation of the hidden is about understanding the history of where we come from and sharing that with each other. Our goal in these events is for everyone to feel like they can participate in the creation of their own history. One thing I have learned since being at BHO is that British history is never only British; and local history is never only local. We are connected on a global level and we share a global history, which might begin with the local but it never stays there.

Follow the edit-a-thons on Twitter with the hashtag #revealinglocal.

This post has been edited since a third event in Gloucester has been cancelled.

Interning at the Victoria County History


blog photo

Clara Clarson, VCH intern

My name is Clara Carson and I am an undergraduate student, studying history at Richmond the American International University in London. I have been fortunate enough to be interning at the Victoria County History (VCH) as part of my degree for the past six weeks, but even more fortunately, I still have three weeks to go. This internship has been an incredible opportunity for me, not only being able to work at the VCH, which in itself is a piece of history, but also through being associated with the Institute of Historical Research (IHR); I have been able to experience and learn so much from both incredible organizations.

Thinking back to my first week, I remember feeling intimidated as I walked through the large doors at the entrance to the Institute, and how quickly ny fears subsided as I was introduced to everyone at VCH, and as I began to form acquaintances within the IHR; including a personal introduction to the Director. I am so grateful to Adam Chapman and Rebecca Read and to all the team at VCH, for the extent in which they have taken me under their wing, always ready to help and introduce me to new ways of thinking and allowing me to learn from them; but especially for showing me where the endless supply of tea can be found.

I have learnt so much in my short time here and what I shall remember most is the level of interest everyone has taken in me and my career aspirations, and the extent to which everyone has gone out of their way to instruct me further in ways to achieve these aims. From working day-to-day with these professionals, I’ve gained an education both in my historical training but also my general knowledge of England’s past, researching periods of history that I had not previously focused upon. The individuals I have met, especially at VCH, have been a continuous source of aid and inspiration, they have given me the benefit of their time and proven to me that this is the type of career I aim to pursue. Furthermore, I have been inspired by the interests that they continue to specialise in alongside their work for the VCH, demonstrating that careers can have additional or multiple streams, which I had not appreciated before.

Both the VCH and the IHR have provided countless opportunities to learn and develop new skills, and I hope that I have utilized these chances to the best of my ability. The two organizations together offer such a wealth of knowledge that it would be almost criminal not to learn as much as possible about them and the work that they do. I feel privileged to have observed the work conducted by the VCH, to have been able to support and participate in this, and also to witness the continuation of a much respected and long tradition of historical research carried out by this unique organization. To have also been able to combine and further this education by using the facilities of the IHR, such as the amazing seminars and the knowledgeable staff, has meant that I have gained so much more than I thought possible in six weeks; I’ve had an amazing experience and I could not have asked for more; I would like to thank everyone who has been a part of this incredible experience.

New Red Book Published!


Somerset coverWe are pleased to announce the publication of our latest volume from the Somerset VCH series. Queen Camel and the Cadburys is the 11th volume of the Victoria County History of Somerset and is edited by Mary Siraut.

The volume is a comprehensive account of the ten parishes comprising the southern half of the Catsash hundred, an area rich in its archaeology and history. To the north, the Barrows, of which Queen Camel, North Cadbury and Sparkford (home of the Haynes Motor Museum) are the largest and most populous, lying in an area rich in archaeology and history. To the south, prominent hills include Cadbury Hill, crowned by Cadbury Castle, an Iron Age hill fort dating from 600–400 BC. In South Cadbury and the surrounding parishes there is much evidence of prehistoric activity such as Bronze-Age finds. From a later period, the manor at Queen Camel is recorded in 1066, though decimated by fire in 1639 and subsequently rebuilt in local Blue Lias stone; and the sites of abandoned medieval homesteads are visible at Sparkford, Weston Bampfylde, Sutton Montis and Maperton. Later still, Compton Castle in Compton Pauncefoot was constructed in 1821 while North Cadbury’s medieval manor house still survives today.

Dr Patricia Croot with Matthew Bristow at the launch in North Cadbury.

Dr Patricia Croot with Matthew Bristow at the launch in North Cadbury.

The book was officially launched in North Cadbury on 2 June and guests included VCH Director and General Editor Richard Hoyle with Adam Chapman and Matt Bristow also representing VCH central office. A presentation on the archaeological discoveries and the early exploitation of the landscape in the area – from the Bronze Age to the Romano-British period – was given by Dr Clare Randall.

Copies of volume 11 can be purchased from Boydell & Brewer.

Local History Summer School


064_Towncentre - grayThis post has kindly been written for us by Professor Richard Hoyle, Director and General Editor of the Victoria County History.

One thing which is pretty certain is that everyone who attends this year’s local history conference sponsored by the IHR and VCH lived through a part of the twentieth century – quite probably a fair chunk of it. And yet this conference starts with the premise that the twentieth century is often the hardest and most elusive period for local historians to deal with, being of our own times, familiar, yet strangely out of reach. It saw enormous upheavals in institutions, ownership and landscape, and in individual experience. Many of the familiar sources to address these sources disappear – so estate records – whilst others loose much of their evidential value (newspapers). Many modern records are closed to users: others may not even exist, having been swept away by records management. Yet other possibilities emerge, notably oral history, and for no other period do we have such abundance of maps and, of course, photographs (including those taken from the air).

This is a conference is for everyone who wants to contribute to an emerging agenda of looking at the relatively recent past. It offers guidance on some of the sources whilst describing, through worked examples, how the researcher can make their own contribution to deepening knowledge and understanding of the twentieth century. It explores what is before us, and is sometimes too obvious to see.

For further information on the School programme or for an application form, please see:

Natural History and the VCH


Every so often we get an enquiry about a natural history entry in a VCH red book. Largely completed before the First World War, the general volumes in each county series include natural history and provide a fascinating snap shot of the local ecology a century ago. The first natural history editor, Aubyn B.R. Trevor-Battye, recruited some of the most eminent naturalists of the day to write entries outside of his specialities. Notably the Revd T.R.R. Stebbing wrote the entries on crustaceans for all 40 counties.

Entries are often idiosyncratic and sometimes slightly bad tempered! Colbran J. Wainwright, in the introduction to the Lepidoptera section of Warwickshire Volume 1 (1904), bemoans the fact he has to rely on the Rugby School Natural History Society for a particular area as these are “..merely schoolboys’ records and naturally very untrustworthy”. Despite “many absurd errors which made one distrustful of the whole list” he admits that “no schoolboy is likely to be wrong about a species like Zeuzera pyrina, L.” and includes the reports “excluding the most improbable ones”.

Zeuzera pyrina. Photograph taken by Olaf Leillinger.

Zeuzera pyrina. Photograph taken by Olaf Leillinger.

Whilst the charm of the writing alone often makes the chapters worth reading, there is still much valuable ecological knowledge to be gained. One of our more surprising requests came from the Kazkhstan Entomological Society looking for information on a particular spider (Sardinidion blackwalli). The researcher had found a reference to the entry in The Victoria History of the County of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely: Volume 1 (1938) but could not find a copy in any library in Kazakhstan, Russia or Finland. In these cases we are happy to assist individual researchers when we can. For more on red book publications see our website

This post was kindly written by Rebecca Read, VCH Administrator.

Shropshire volume launched


On Friday 24th October 2014, the eighth volume of the Victoria County History of Shropshire series was launched in Shrewsbury. Shropshire Volume VI, part 1, is the first of a two part treatment of the town and Liberties of Shrewsbury and is the first volume published in the Shropshire series for 16 years.

The launch took place in the parish church of St Mary the Virgin. The largest of Shrewsbury’s medieval parish churches, designated as redundant in 1987 and currently in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, St Mary’s provided a dramatic setting for the launch of the volume and the second of 2014’s Marc Fitch Lectures.

Trevor Rowley (Kellogg College, Oxford) delivered this autumn’s Marc Fitch lecture which comprised reflections on his seminal work, ‘The Making of the Shropshire Landscape‘ forty years on from its original publication.

The lecture was preceded by an address from the incoming VCH Director, Professor Richard Hoyle whose introduction to both the Shrewsbury volume and the Shropshire series detailed his plans and aspirations for work in the county to begin again in earnest and included a call for pledges of financial support and assistance in forming a County Committee to move the project forward.

Professor Hoyle presents the Mayor with a copy of the volume.

Professor Hoyle presents the Mayor with a copy of the volume.

Upon the conclusion of the lecture and following a short break for wine and refreshments, attention turned to the formal business of launching the volume. Speaking on behalf of the numerous contributors to Volume VI, part 1, Dr Bill Champion gave a lighthearted account of the long and, at times, turbulent gestation of the Shrewsbury volume. We were thrilled the Mayor of Shrewsbury, Beverley Baker was able to join us and Professor Hoyle presented a copy of the volume to her.

The event was excellently attended, with more than 100 people present to see the volume launched; a number no doubt inflated by Professor Hoyle’s interview on BBC Radio Shropshire the previous day. In addition to the Mayor, County Archivist and numerous members of the Shropshire local history community, it was especially pleasing to see so many who have been associated with the VCH Shropshire project to date, including Shrewsbury volume contributors Bob Cromarty, Barbara Coulton and Nigel Baker, former County Editor George Baugh and Reverend Canon D.T.W. Price, who was Assistant to Shropshire’s first County Editor, A.T. Gaydon in the late 1960s. After this successful event we now must turn our attention to the completion and publication of Volume VI, part 2. Keep checking our website for news and updates on this volume.

Copies of this volume are available directly from our publisher, Boydell & Brewer.


Renowned rural historian to head the Victoria County History project at the Institute of Historical Research


R Hoyle_Press Photo_300 dpi_largeThe Victoria County History (VCH) project, which publishes historical reference works on English counties and is coordinated by the School of Advanced Study’s Institute of Historical Research, is to get an internationally respected new Director and General Editor.

Part of the University of London, the VCH welcomes the appointment of Richard Hoyle, currently Professor of Rural History at the University of Reading. He takes up his position on 1 October as Professor of English Local and Regional History.

With its scholarly volumes based on original research, the VCH is an important resource not only for county and local historians but also for anyone researching genealogy and family history. As a leading economic and social historian of early modern England, Professor Hoyle brings a wealth of erudition and experience to an initiative that has been built into a national treasure over 115 years and is without parallel.

‘I have long been an admirer of the Victoria County History, which in many respects is the English national history,’ said Professor Hoyle. ‘I look forwards to maintaining both the principles of the founding fathers and the standards achieved by their successors. Under my direction I hope that VCH will continue to offer its readers the very best of the old whilst accepting new challenges. I am very much looking forwards to getting to know the VCH family over the next few months.’

Professor Hoyle has written extensively on the political history of the 16th century but is probably best known as a historian of the economic and social history of many aspects of the English countryside, with publications on subjects as varied as the history of tenure and popular politics in the 16th and early 17th centuries, early modern famine and 19th and 20th century field sports.

He retains a strong interest in the history of northern England, especially the history and landscape of his native Yorkshire.

He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and is the long-serving senior editor of Agricultural History Review, the leading English language journal in the field. He is also President of the European Rural History Organization (EURHO).

Professor Miles Taylor, Director of the Institute of Historical Research, said: ‘I am delighted that Richard Hoyle is coming to lead the Victoria County History. He has few rivals as a prolific and original scholar of the social and economic history of rural Britain. He will bring distinction and leadership to the VCH and ensure its remarkable work develops and expands.’

Notes for editors:

1. For further information please contact Dee Burn at the School of Advanced Study, University of London at / 020 7862 8670 / 07900 401 240. Images available on request.

2. Founded in 1899, the Victoria County History (VCH) was originally dedicated to Queen Victoria. It is an encyclopedic record of England’s places and people from earliest times to the present day. Based at the Institute of Historical Research in the University of London since 1933, the VCH is written by historians working in counties across England and is without doubt the greatest publishing project in English history.

3. The Institute of Historical Research (IHR), founded in 1921, is one of 10 member institutes of the School of Advanced Study, University of London. It is home to two important research centres and a major open access library, hosts over 60 seminar series and offers doctoral supervision in a wide range of historical subjects. It has a substantial publishing programme, hosts a number of innovative digital research projects, administers fellowships, runs specialist research training programmes and organises a variety of conferences and workshops each year.

4. The School of Advanced Study (SAS) at the University of London is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. The School brings together 10 prestigious research institutes to offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. The member institutes of the School are the Institutes of Advanced Legal Studies, Classical Studies, Commonwealth Studies, English Studies, Historical Research, Latin American Studies, Modern Languages Research, Musical Research, Philosophy, and the Warburg Institute. The School also hosts a cross-disciplinary centre, the Human Rights Consortium, dedicated to the facilitation, promotion and dissemination of academic and policy work on human rights. 

5. Professor Hoyle is a leading economic and social historian of early modern England, notably of rural society. He was previously a Research Fellow of Magdalen College Oxford, taught for a period at the University of Bristol and has held chairs at the Universities of Central Lancashire and Reading. In 2004-6 he was a British Academy Research Fellow. He is also respected for the contribution he has made to Tudor political history, in particular to the history of the 1520s and 1530s, for his work on popular politics, on taxation and public finance, and the history of the North of England. In the first months of 2014 he was a visiting research fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC, where he took the opportunity to write about one of rural England’s mythical inhabitants, Robin Hood.

Professor Richard Hoyle appointed as VCH Director & General Editor


Professor Richard HoyleThe IHR is pleased to announce the appointment of Professor Richard Hoyle to the position of Director and General Editor of the Victoria County History. He will join the University as Professor of English Local and Regional History from 1 October. Joining us from the University of Reading, where he is Professor of Rural History, Richard is one of the leading economic and social historians of early modern England, and notably of rural society. Richard will bring a wealth of erudition and experience to the role as we move the VCH into the future.

How do you read a series like the Victoria County History?


The benefits of a digitised volume.

“In the mid 18th century the vicar [of Hayes] complained his parishioners at800px-Noisy_Cockeral_(6880838548)tended cock-fights, swore, & rioted in the churchyard during Shrove Tuesday services. At about the same date he was having trouble both with his choir, which upset the congregation by singing the wrong psalms, and with the bellringers, who rang the bells during the services and spat from the belfry upon the seated congregation.” A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 4 (1971)

Many volumes (165 to date) of the Victoria County History are digitised, online and free to view at British History Online. For many readers and collectors the joy in a red book comes from the in-depth and thorough investigation of a particular parish in a particular county; perhaps the county in which the reader resides or where they are originally from. There is much to be gained in reading the history of place this way but quite often I prefer another…

As Publications Manager I am responsible for communications including the set-up and maintenance of our Twitter account (@VCH_London) and sourcing our Facts of the Day for our website. I regularly use our digitised volumes for work such as this as I am able to search thematically, with key words, across a county set. Searching in this way allows me to find relevant material to focus tweets and facts to current events, important dates or special occasions. Sometimes the returns on these searches can be quite quirky such as the opening lines of this blog taken from a quick hunt for Shrove Tuesday facts. Colourful extracts such as the above from Middlesex volume 4 often reveal ways of life or practices now extinct or only distantly remembered yet they are often somehow familiar too.

How about…

A 16th-century witch feeding her familiars“For the first few months of 1579 Fisherton parsonage was the home of Simon Forman (1552–1611), astrologer and quack. Fisherton is also associated with two witches: Agnes Mills, widow, hanged for murdering by witchcraft William, son of Edward and Agnes Baynton, in 1564…” A History of Wiltshire: Volume 6 (1962) 

…perhaps not so familiar an event (!) but fascinating nonetheless. All red books contain detailed footnotes and our digitised versions are just as thorough, enabling the reader to follow up their research with the primary source if they want to delve even deeper into a particular topic.

So, next time you have a few minutes to spare I urge you to dip in-and-out of our online digitised volumes, you never know what you might find!

‘Locality and Region’ – the Victoria County History seminar at the IHR


220px-Edmundbeingmartyred05Adam Chapman is Editor and Training Coordinator at the Victoria County History office in London. In between bringing VCH volumes to press and creating training material for volunteers his own research is into the Wales and England in the later middle ages.

The Victoria County History as part of the Institute for Historical Research has its own seminar series, with the theme of ‘Locality and Region’ held at Senate House, London on alternate Tuesdays .The idea is that the seminar welcomes all those who are interested in the relationship between local and national history and who wish to share ideas, viewpoints and work in progress.

Some of the speakers are contributors to the VCH, but most are not, and this allows them to make some points about the work I do for the VCH and about what we publish. The VCH has been around for so long that one speaker described early volumes (available on British History Online – ) as ‘a primary source for local history’. She had a point; one of the unique features of the VCH is that its histories go right up to the ever moving present. Since the VCH started in 1899 many of the volumes published before the First World War, for example record communities, buildings and local economies that have changed beyond all recognition and it is only right that the VCH gives researchers an opportunity to present their work.

This is one way in which the VCH makes a contribution to the wider academic world, and part of my work with the VCH is to be the lead convenor. As you might expect, the content of these seminars is extremely varied; this year so far our speakers have spoken about such diverse subjects as nineteenth century industrial communities in Sevenoaks (and how this leafy commuter town appears in Marx’s Das Kapital), the cult of St Edmund in East Anglia in the middle ages, the effects of the Reformation on Sussex churches and Medieval Welsh Law.

While the seminar is open to anyone with an interest, obviously it is not convenient for everyone to come to London to be in the audience, so we have started to offer selected seminars as podcasts so that anyone can listen whenever they want. Only two are available so far, and these could hardly be more diverse, with Louise Rayment discussing her current work on networks of scholars and musicians in a 16th century London parish, and Simon Draper speaking about the development of surnames in Britain. You can find them here together with the programme for the remainder of this year. []

< Older Posts