2024 marks 125 years of the Victoria County History (VCH). In this second VCH at 125 blog post, Ruth Slatter (VCH General Editor – Architecture) sets out our ambitions for the project’s future. If you have not read the first post you can find it here.

2024 marks 125 years of the Victoria County History (VCH), which was founded in 1899 to research and write encyclopaedic histories of every English parish from the earliest times to the present day.[1]  Today, the VCH is a national network of place-based research made possible by professional historians, subject-specialists, volunteers, and local people working to explore, share, and publish histories of England’s places.  

While reflecting on 125 years of the VCH, we (the VCH central office team) have identified several important priorities for the project’s future. These priorities will build on the project’s existing strengths, as identified in a recent external report, including around knowledge creation, local pride, training and development, and wellbeing.

1. We will continue to highlight the importance of places and their histories.

As part of this process, we will emphasise and advocate for the relevance of the VCH’s place-based research within contemporary conversations around the place agenda.  

2. We will continue to produce the highest quality place-based research.

This will necessarily involve the use of a range of methodologies. As a network of researchers, we will continue to utilise our expertise in archival, archaeological, and architectural analysis. We will also increasing explore the potential of using oral history and participatory approaches to coproduce histories of place with local communities.

3. We will make to make VCH knowledge even more accessible.

Over 170 VCH red books are already freely accessible for anyone to read on BHO and work is now well underway to make many more on these volumes available.[2] Books like Louise Ryland-Epton’s Bremhill Parish through the Ages, which drew on VCH research but was produced in collaboration with and specifically for Bremhill’s local community, also offer another model for making VCH knowledge more accessible to a wider audience. 

4. We will work to make the VCH network and the knowledge it produces open to and relevant for everyone living in England’s parishes, towns, and cities today.  

We are committed to ensuring that our research, events, and outputs engage with the histories of all local communities and ensure that everyone living in England knows that they have equal access to and right to engage with the many varied pasts of the places in which they live.  

5. We will continue to provide relevant training for everyone engaged in place-based research.  

Locally and nationally, we will work to identify and respond to the training needs of those engaged in place-based research. Central office welcomes suggestions for specific training we could provide. Please email info@victoriacountyhistory.ac.uk with ideas. 

Contributing to the VCH will also continue to provide an effective practical apprenticeship for historians of place. As members of a network which generously shares its knowledge, experience, and skills, all contributors will have access to support as they research and write about a broad range of topics, sources, and time periods that may initially be outside their area of expertise.

6. We will continue to foster a VCH community in which researchers of all types can flourish professionally and personally. 

In particular, we recognise we are well placed to support ECRs from all backgrounds undertaking place-based research from any perspective and to proactively engage with local communities to co-produce histories of specific places and spaces.  

[1] John Beckett, Matthew Bristow, Elizabeth Williamson, The Victoria History of the Counties of England: A Diamond Jubilee Celebration 1899-2012. London: University of London Press, 2013. p.11. 

[2] Digitising VCH red books has been made possible by funding from the March Fitch Fund and the IHR. 

Dr Ruth Slatter is Lecturer in Historic Environment & Knowledge Exchange Manager at the Institute of Historical Research.
Ruth is interested in people’s everyday experiences of religion, faith and spritituality since the nineteenth century. To explore these themes, she uses architecture and material & visual culture, historical geography and participatory approaches.