This November, the IHR’s Centre for the History of People, Place and Community is celebrating 120 years of the Victoria County History with a crowdsourced project to tell the story of England – in 17 boxes!

VCH logo

A lighthouse from Northamptonshire? Flint tools from Salisbury Plain in pre-historic Leicestershire? A talking squirrel in Cumbria and a toy tractor from Nottinghamshire?

This November, the IHR’s Centre for the History of People, Place and Community is celebrating 120 years of the Victoria County History with a crowdsourced project to tell the story of England – in 17 boxes! And you’re invited to join us on Wednesday 20 November (4.30-7.30pm) for ‘England’s Histories: Unboxed!’ an event in partnership with the Being Human Festival 2019, bringing together an exhibition, object handling, live 3D printing, panel discussion – and even specially-baked VCH cupcakes ….

The Victoria County History of England – an ongoing project to write the history of every county in England, from the earliest times to the present day – is well known to historians of all periods and specialisms.

Founded in 1899 and dedicated to Queen Victoria, the VCH is one of those great national projects, like the Oxford English Dictionary or Dictionary of National Biography, which help to shape our sense of collective heritage and identity. But it’s also all about local communities and their stories.

Durham volumes from the VCH Red Book series, founded in November 1899
Durham volumes from the VCH Red Book series, founded in November 1899

The VCH is famous for its series of Red Books, compiling the histories of England’s counties. With a nod to these iconic Red Books, this year we’ve sent every active VCH county (all 17 of them!) a special Red Box, to fill with objects which tell the story of their county in quirky, surprising and creative ways.

Some of the fascinating finds include sheet music for the Dam Busters March by Eric Coates (a Nottinghamshire native) stamped as property of the Boots orchestra.

Image of seventeenth-century musket balls

Or musket balls from Oliver Cromwell’s siege of Basing House (Hampshire) in 1645. The flat ones hit the walls and fell to the ground; the round ones came from panicking soldiers who didn’t load their muskets properly – the balls just rolled out!

Stunning sari fabric panels from Leicester’s Belgrave Road represent this ‘golden mile’ of Asian retailers – and home to one of the largest Diwali celebrations outside India.

Many of the items in the Red Boxes are edible, too – from a Melton Mowbray pork pie to Herefordshire apples, Durham mustard seeds, and a twist of Essex salt.

Local VCH County Trusts have involved local people and communities, sourced ideas on social media, and collected a treasure trove of objects telling England’s stories. Our hope in this anniversary year is to get more people excited about the rich and colourful local histories of England, and involved with the ongoing VCH project – largely powered by volunteers – to research and publish these stories.

VCH red box

Please come and join us for our festivities on 20 November: free booking required at https://www.history.ac.uk/events/englands-histories-unboxed.

The exhibition ‘England’s Histories Unboxed!’ launches at Senate House, University of London on 20 November, and will be open to visitors, as well as accessible online in a ‘virtual’ format.

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