By Catherine Clarke

During this period of social distancing, we’ve been looking at new ways to share VCH content, and support the work of historians who are unable to access libraries and archives. We’re pleased to announce a special offer on VCH Shorts – our accessible, engaging short histories of towns, parishes and other local places across England. We’re making the Kindle e-book versions of our VCH Shorts available for just £1.49 (the lowest price we’re permitted by Amazon). Please note that we have now extended this offer until 20 September 2020.

The VCH Short for Wem, Shropshire, published in November 2019

You may already know the VCH Red Books. But now could be a great time to discover the wide variety of what the VCH does – and some of our exciting plans for the future. And, if you are in a position to be able to, it could be a moment to think about whether you could support the work of the local VCH Trust in your county, whether by a donation, or by volunteering in the future.

The Victoria County History (VCH) is an ongoing national project to write the history of every county in England. The project was founded in 1899 and dedicated to Queen Victoria, which is how it derives its name. The VCH aims to complete authoritative, encyclopaedic histories of each county, from the earliest archaeological records to the present day. VCH studies cover topics from landscape and the built environment, to economic, religious and social history. Some VCH volumes were published over a century ago, while others are now in progress or planned for the future.

Most historians are familiar with the iconic VCH Red Books of county history – spotted recently on the bookshelves behind HRH Prince Charles in his video message about the impact of the Covid-19. For generations, they’ve been the trusted reference work for English local history. But the VCH is in fact a rich eco-system of varied publications and activities: the Red Books, as well as the VCH Shorts, and now also the exciting new ‘History of English Places’ smartphone app, which allows you to explore places across England – even from your own home. Much of the Red Books archive is also freely available via British History Online.

The ‘History of English Places’ smartphone app

The VCH is also a vast, diverse and lively community of historians, researchers and local groups, working on county histories across England. The project is led and managed in London by the Centre for the History of People, Place and Community at the Institute for Historical Research, University of London, but is driven by local County Trusts and their members, most of whom are volunteers.

VCH Shorts are a relatively new project for the Victoria County History: the first was published in 2013, building on a model of shorter volumes developed by the VCH for the Heritage Lottery-funded ‘England’s Past for Everyone’ project (2005-10). You can view the full catalogue on the University of London Press website, or browse by individual volume on Amazon to buy the Kindle e-book.

Today, VCH Shorts are available for counties including Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Leicestershire, Middlesex, and Shropshire. You can discover topics as varied as the evolution of the port and seaside resorts at Harwich, Dovercourt and Parkeston in the nineteenth century, the history of Wem, a planted medieval castle-town, in Shropshire, the forgotten stories of London’s Knightsbridge, London, or the full thousand-year sweep of history in Castle Donnington, Leicestershire, from medieval castle to modern motor-racing. We’ll be featuring each of our VCH Shorts in content on social media over the coming weeks.

Ebook version of the VCH Short for the London parish of St Clement Danes

Titles now available as Kindle e-books for £1.49

Further Shorts from our back catalogue will also be joining the offer soon.

We’re hoping to grow our VCH Shorts series further, too. There are exciting possibilities to open up thematic topics, connecting locations (‘Victorian seaside resorts’, anyone?), or drawing on material from our archive in new ways (more than you would ever guess on the early history of golf!). We’re also hoping to expand and diversify our distribution, so our Shorts are available from a wider range of sellers, and you can find them more easily in your local bookshop.

None of this would be possible without the amazing efforts of local VCH County Trusts, who fund the research and writing of these volumes, co-ordinate, train and mentor teams of volunteers, and deliver these fascinating new insights into places and their history. Local County Trusts rely on donations to keep their work going. If you’ve enjoyed one of our VCH Shorts – and if you are in a financial position to be able to do this – please consider supporting that County Trust with a donation: watch out for specific links and detail on Twitter, or support the wider VCH project here.

Professor Catherine Clarke is Director of the Centre for the History of People, Place and Community at the IHR, and Professor of History at the University of London.