The app that marries history and mapping for perfect English county walks

Monday 12 July 2021

Downloaded more than 4,000 times since it went live in January 2020, A History of English Places, an exciting map-based smartphone app from the Institute of Historical Research’s (IHR) Centre for the History of People, Place and Community, has been transforming the way people view their local area and communities. And it has proven a helpful tool for those who have taken to local walks as an antidote to pandemic restrictions.

Developed by the IHR’s Victoria County History (VCH) project in collaboration with technical partner Aimer Media, it is a new way to access the British History Online web resource of nearly 1,300 volumes of British and Irish history and histories of empire, 40,000 images and 10,000 tiles of historic maps of the British Isles. And by opening the content of more than 175 of VCH’s ‘Red Books’, an ongoing public-sourced project to write the history of every county in England, and linking them to geographical places, it is bringing history to new audiences, tourism and conservation possibilities.

‘“Exploring Places”, the theme for the 2021 Festival of Archaeology, which takes place from 17 July–1 August, offers a perfect opportunity to broaden the reach of the innovative VCH app and showcase the value of having detailed histories of over 3,000 English places at your fingertips” says Matthew Bristow, VCH architectural editor.

As part of VCH's involvement in the Festival of Archaeology two of its academics will join the executive director of the Council for British Archaeology (CBA), Neil Redfern, on 19 July to talk about VCH work and understanding places using the app. This will form part of a series of event and visits Neil will be making as he travels around the country on a two-week tour to highlight the Festival of Archaeology. Through the VCH app the CBA will be helping to showcase the immense store of knowledge captured by the VCH which has been long regarded as the starting point for any archaeological desk-based study.

‘I don’t think you can underestimate just how important and helpful the VCH is to archaeological work and understanding. It is an amazing store of knowledge and information. I can still remember using it to inform my first deskbased assessment over 20 years ago. The History of English Places app will help bring this store of knowledge alive and place it at everyone’s the fingertips. It will also highlight how much work there is still to be done to complete the coverage of the VCH and amazing work of the VCH team who are busily compiling and enhancing the resource all the time. I am really looking forward to using the app on my tour and helping people access it,’ says Neil Redfern, executive director of the Council for British Archaeology (CBA).

There’s also a financial incentive for app users. VCH will give a free licence to the full online content behind the app to the CBAs Young Archaeologists Clubs and local groups for use during their meetings, fieldwork and digs. And it will offer a 50 percent discount on first year subscriptions during the two-week life of the festival.

The smartphone app employs historic map layers (present day and first-edition Ordnance Survey) and 13,713 locations to help users explore England’s rich heritage. It connects them with places such as those described in Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of England (1848) and the town, parish, village and township histories published by VCH between 1901 and the present day.  

‘A History of English Places’ is the first dedicated mobile platform produced by the IHR, part of the University of London’s School of Advanced Study, with the help of a £20,000 ‘new initiatives’ grant from the University of London.

It is a timely initiative as more people are sparked by the Covid-19 restrictions to explore their neighbourhoods and local stories. One review of the app reveals that, while on an adventure walk in Somerset during lockdown, the historic map layer helped the user avoid a close encounter with an extant, but long forgotten, coal mine shaft.  

‘This app is an amazing way to discover the hidden histories all around us, drawing on the unique research of the Victoria County History into our places, from the earliest times to the present day,’ says Professor Catherine Clarke, director of the Centre for the History of People, Place and Community.

The free version of the app offers basic information for 13,713 locations across England, and the subscription model cost £1.99/month or £9.99/year for full Victoria County History content.

Ends

Notes for Editors

For more information about VCH, please contact catherine.clarke@sas.ac.uk.

  • The Victoria County History of England was founded in 1899 and dedicated to Queen Victoria. It 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 volumes were published over a century ago, while others are now in progress or planned for the future. Seventeen counties are currently active across England. The VCH project is led by the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, where it is based in the Centre for the History of People, Place and Community. The Centre and VCH project are directed by Professor Catherine Clarke. The VCH first moved to the Institute of Historical Research in 1933, but Red Books have been published by external publishers since then. Recent VCH Red Books have retailed at £95 each. Under the new publishing initiative with University of London Press, readers will be able to choose from a variety of different formats at different price-points, from e-books to paperback and hardback. The first publications under this new model are expected from 2021. www.history.ac.uk/research/victoria-county-history 
     
  • The VCH smartphone app, ‘A History of English Places’ (www.history.ac.uk/a-history-english-places-vch-smartphone-app), is produced in partnership with Aimer Media and is available for iOS and Android operating systems. The free app gives access to a modern map layer and the first Ordnance Survey map (19th century), with 13,713 pins giving brief topographical information on English settlements, drawn from the Topographical Dictionary of England (Lewis, 1848). The free app (with an in-app subscription of £1.99 per month or £9.99 per year), gives access to digitised VCH histories. 
     
  • The Institute of Historical Research was founded in 1921 is dedicated to training the next generation of historians, and to producing and facilitating ambitious, innovative historical research. The Institute helps foster public understanding of history and its social, cultural, and economic importance, advocating for the long-term future of the discipline and supporting its growth and development. It offers a wide range of services both onsite and remotely which promote and facilitate excellence in historical research, teaching and scholarship in the UK, by means of its library, events programmes, fellowships, training and publications. It is a leading centre for the creation of digital resources for historians and promotes the study of the history of London through its Centre for the History of People, Placeand Community. https://www.history.ac.uk
     
  • The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled resources, facilities and academic opportunities across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. Last year SAS welcomed 996 research fellows and associates, held 1,500 events highlighting the latest research in the humanities, received 31.6 million online visits to its research resources and platforms, and hosted 100,119 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads Being Human, the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities. Find out more at www.sas.ac.uk or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.
     
  • The University of London is a federal University and is one of the oldest, largest and most diverse universities in the UK. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University is recognised globally as a world leader in higher education. It consists of 17 independent member institutions of outstanding reputation, together with a number of prestigious central academic bodies and activities. Learn more about the University of London at http://www.london.ac.uk
     
  • The Council for British Archaeology (CBA) is the UK’s leading archaeology charity committed to making archaeology accessible to anyone interested in exploring the stories of people and place. As the voice of archaeology in the UK we bring together community groups, commercial units, academics and heritage organisations to create and share opportunities to participate, discover and be inspired by archaeology.vFounded in 1944, the CBA today takes the form of a membership organisation, bringing together institutions and individuals to create a unique forum for the archaeological communityThe CBA provides opportunities for people to participate in archaeology through the annual Festival of Archaeology and Young Archaeologists’ Clubs, delivers the Archaeological Achievement Awards and a range of other events and activities throughout the year. Through our Listed Buildings Casework team and advocacy work we fulfil our statutory role to speak up for the historic environment, while our youth engagement team ensure 16–25-year-olds have opportunities to develop skills and leadership tools. By supporting our affiliate members and CBA groups with guidance, networking, promotion and training opportunities we help ensure that anyone can access the archaeology in their local area. The CBA publish British Archaeology magazine, an award-winning bi-monthly publication focusing on archaeological endeavours around the UK.
     
  • The Council for British Archaeology’s Festival of Archaeology is the UK’s biggest annual celebration of archaeology. The 2021 Festival will run from Saturday 17 July – Sunday 1 August. The theme of this year’s Festival is “Exploring Local Places”, encouraging archaeology enthusiasts of all ages to discover the archaeology that is all around them by exploring their local area and the stories of the people and communities who lived there. The CBA helps over half a million people to engage in archaeology, explore stories of place and connect with the environment around them, with hundreds in-person and virtual events delivered by community groups, heritage organizations, universities, and commercial units. The Festival also holds its own flagship events such as A Day in Archaeology and Ask an Archaeologist Day. This year, for the first time, the Festival will promote downloadable resources so individuals can get involved from wherever they are, all year round.