Friday, 30 November 2012

Caroline Barron on RCHME

Professor Caroline Barron has kindly written a guest post for us about the importance of the London volumes of the Royal Commission series. Four of the five volumes are now freely available on British History Online and can be found here. The outstanding volume, on Roman London, will be published soon. Professor Barron writes:

The five London volumes of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, published between 1922 and 1930 are an invaluable resource for historians of London. The industrious and indefatigable compilers recorded and photographed all the surviving buildings erected before the beginning of the eighteenth century.

This was particularly important in the case of volume 4 which covered the wards of the City of London since this, the oldest part of London, had inevitably suffered the greatest assaults upon its built fabric: the dissolution of the monastic houses in the sixteenth century, the Great Fire of 1666 and the extensive ‘improvements’ in the Victorian period. Luckily for historians, the RCHM volumes were published before the final and greatest assault upon the City, the bombing of the Second World War.

Thus we have recorded the ground plans and details of the medieval fabric of destroyed churches such as Austin Friars (the Dutch Church) and the Grey Friars (Christ Church, Newgate Street). Many of the Company Halls were also destroyed in the Blitz, but in the numerous photographs in the RCHM volume which included their fireplaces, paintings and panelling, we have a priceless record of these lost treasures.

All those who study the history of the London will need to have recourse to these volumes which preserve a unique record, in text, ground plans and photographs, of a City that is otherwise almost completely lost. What John Stow achieved in his Survey of London in 1598 was matched by the compilers of the RCHM London volumes five hundred years later. Both works are essential tools for understanding the built environment of the City of London.

Professor Caroline Barron

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Appeal for Copyright Holders

British History Online is currently digitising the inventory volumes of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. These volumes contain some images which appear to be copyright to individuals. We will make all reasonable efforts to contact individual copyright holders where we can find them, and to that end we are publishing a list below. The list covers all volumes published between 1910 and 1985.

If you are one of the copyright holders on our list, or if you believe that you are a copyright holder for one of the RCHME images, please use our Contact Us page, or write to us at: British History Online, Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, University of London, WC1E 7HU.

To see the RCHME published on British History Online so far, visit this page.

Individual copyright holders

Mr W. E. Martin
Messers Romaine Walker and Jenkins
Mr Herbert Skryme
Mr W. E. H. Clarke, architect to the Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral
W. H. Bustin
Sir Dr Cyril Fox FSA
Mr G. H. Kitchin
Mr G. H. Jack FSA
Mr T. H. Whittaker
Mr Alfred Watkins
Mr Edward Frankland
Mr E. W. Atwood
Sir T. G. Jackson (Wadham College)
Mr F. W. Troup
Mr R. Wynn Owen
Mr R. Fielding Dodd
Sir Charles Nicholson
Dr F. S. Eden
Sir Arthur W. Blomfeld
Mr F. C. E. Erwood
Mr Frank Green
H. Hodge
Dr William Martin
J. C. Melliss & Co.
Mrs E. Bambridge
R. Wailes
Mr F. R. Newens of Oxford
Dr Venn CMG, Queens' College, Cambridge
Mr Maurice Hill
Mr AHA Hogg
Miss Frances M. Forster
T. C. Lethbridge
Miss C. J. Fell
J. R. Boyden
Peter Ferrey
W. A. Miles
I. M. Blake
T. P. Harlow
W. Calcott Stokes
A. Moray Williams
C. E. Bean FSA
H. J. R. Bankes
S. A. Hamilton Fletcher
Lt-Colonel H. E. Scott of Encombe
C. F. Steil
Mrs C. M. Aitken
K. C. C. Selby
R. H, C, Atkinson
C. D. Drew
T. V. Holmes
N. H. Field
G. W. G. Allen
V. P. M. Oliver
G. R. Crickmay
Mrs H. E. O'Neil
Captain H. S. Gracie
Mr W. A. Baker
Major W. G. Allen
Dr Graham Webster
Mr P. J. Fowley
Mrs M. U. Jones
G. Till, Stamford
J. D. Dolby, Stamford
Mrs M E Cox
W. Fowler
R. H. Hayes
R. W. A. Dallas
J. P. Pritchard
G. B. Mason
Miss C. I. Fell

Additionally, the following people may have copyright in derived images and we would very much like to hear from them if they do assert copyright:

L.P. Wenham
S.N. Miller
G. Willmot
P. Corder
C. Roach Smith

Monday, 8 October 2012

Survey of London: Clerkenwell

This is a guest post from Mark Aston of the Islington Local History Centre, to mark the publication on British History Online of two volumes of the Survey of London covering Clerkenwell.

In 2008, staff at Islington Local History based at Finsbury Library, in the heart of Clerkenwell,  were delighted when the publication of the Survey of London (SOL) two volume-set (Vols. 46 & 47) (covering Clerkenwell) afforded a near-definitive source of reference detailing the history and development of this former inner London parish, now part of the London Borough of Islington. While it was known that this new addition to the well-respected SOL series was being researched, it was still a ‘red-letter day’ when staff first thumbed through the volumes’ 800 or so pages and studied with pleasure the accompanying images.

Not since the publication of William J. Pinks’s The history of Clerkenwell (1865) has such a comprehensive study of one of the oldest inhabited areas of London been undertaken and made widely available. Many books, pamphlets and manuscripts have been produced since Pinks’ history first appeared on Victorian bookseller’s shelves, but none such as the Survey has covered in great detail the places, events and people that have all contributed to make Clerkenwell what is has become today, an enduring and ever-evolving part of the capital.

For over four years now the printed copies of the two-volume set has been a veritable corner stone of information for Clerkenwell at the Centre. Not a day has gone by when staff or enquirers have not reached out to the Survey to begin researching, for example, a local building to discover its origins or to simply better understand the location in which a family historian’s ancestors once lived, worked or played; Clerkenwell was also once a playground for London’s elite and not so well-heeled with its spas, pleasure grounds and theatres – all covered in the Survey! Planners, architects, conservationists, local history societies and resident associations, genealogists, students and the wider public have all found the volumes’ pages the first place to begin when commencing their studies on an aspect of Clerkenwell’s past.

It therefore goes without saying that when staff and I first heard the news from English Heritage’s (and contributor to the Survey) Colin Thom that the volumes were to be made available on British History Online (BHO), including accompanying colour images and architectural drawings, it was extremely welcome. BHO is one of a number of online resources consistently used and recommended by Islington Local History Centre and, without sounding sycophantic, staff really appreciate the wide range of other publications available on the site as well.

While the Centre welcomes approximately 5000 visitors each year through its doors, a large number contact staff for information through our e-mail and online services. To now have the Clerkenwell Survey of London volumes available for consultation on the site is a great bonus. The Centre receives daily e-mails from researchers across the globe but especially those from English speaking countries: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. Many of course are family historians, with ancestors once born and/or resident in Clerkenwell.  As much as staff would like to undertake in-depth research on behalf of these long distance enquirers, it’s unfortunately not practical to do so given the volume of queries and limited staff resources. However, a simple link to BHO will now doubtless help satisfy many questions about the area. In addition, linking to the site will introduce researchers to nationwide reference sources, not just covering Clerkenwell and its environs.

The printed volumes will, of course, remain mainstays of our secondary source collection but the online versions offer even more scope for the researcher. Benefits include keyword searches, hyperlink references within the online text, capability to enlarge (and save) images and the inevitable, but essential, copy and paste facility. While the printed copy has an excellent index, it is naturally limited and an online keyword search highlights results within the text, allowing for quicker access. I especially find the hyperlinked references an excellent feature and a great time saver; the volumes’ extensive references are another very useful attribute, while also providing a superb bibliography for the location. And, the ease at which text can be copied and used, for example, when answering a remote enquiry or when using text in a report, is a great asset - full citation always given of course! The availability of accurate and reliable information found online in publications such as the Survey of London series will, in time, and hopefully, replace the need for researchers heading in the first instant to well-known online encyclopaedias for historical information. While these provide easy and quick gratification, we know that  content can’t always be relied upon and, therefore, should be validated from sources recognised as being reliable by professional academics and researchers, such as those found on BHO.

Finally, I’d like to highlight a couple of entries in the Survey which I think blog readers may like to peruse to learn a little more about the ancient parish of Clerkenwell. At the heart of the area lies Clerkenwell Green; I don’t think that the location has witnessed grass, or any greenery for that matter, in many centuries but the entry’s fascinating account of its history and development almost deserves a separate volume. In its time the Green has played host to, amongst others: a medieval nunnery, a holy well, a lost river, the Peasants’ Revolt, a magistrates’ court, Oliver Twist, radical political meetings, the world’s first public underground railway, Lenin, the Marx memorial Library and some great pubs too! Take a look also at Sadler’s Wells and the origins of this world famous dance theatre – a true survivor in every sense, with its entry providing a thorough description of the various buildings and uses of the location since the late-17th century.

It just leaves me to thank Jonathan Blaney for inviting me to write a few words in salute to the online publication of The Survey of London Volumes 46 and 47: Clerkenwell, and how useful a resource BHO is to those working in and using local history centres, archives, museums and research establishments across the country and beyond.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Trials and Tribulations of the RCHME Commissioners

A guest post from the Permissions Controller for the digitisation of RCHME volumes:

As announced earlier in the year, the IHR is undertaking a project funded by English Heritage to digitise the 43 volumes produced by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England.(1) The volumes date from 1910 to 1985 and concern earthworks and ecclesiastical and secular buildings in England constructed prior to 1850. The team at IHR is making good progress in preparing the text and images for online publication and we expect the volumes will begin to go live towards the end of October. In the meantime I thought it would be interesting to post some observations on the difficulties faced by the men and women who carried out the original work on the print volumes.

Insights into the problems encountered by Commissioners over the years can be found in the prelims of the volumes. The prelims usually consist of a preface by the Chairman, the Royal Warrants, and the official report by the Commission to the reigning King or Queen. A frequent gripe, especially in the volumes published between the wars, is the lack of funds provided by the Treasury limiting, both the scope of the work and the speed at which it could be achieved. (2) I’m sure many civil servants today would empathise!

Perhaps some of the toughest challenges were presented by the First World War. Before war had even broken out, work on the Essex and London volumes was interrupted by the frequent arrests of Commissioners whose activities were deemed highly suspicious by the local constabulary and military police.(3) In the later years of the conflict staff from the Commission were seconded to the war effort. Some of these men and women received awards for their service on return, but some were killed in the line of duty. Others survived serious physical and mental trauma, but were not capable of returning to work for some years, if at all, due to the injuries they sustained.(4) Mr E. A. Rahbula lost his right arm in battle but taught himself to use his left arm in order to continue his work for the Commission as a draughtsman(5):

© English Heritage

Decades later, disaster struck with a fire in the Cambridge office of the Commission. This necessitated a repeat of many of the surveys which had already been carried out for Cambridgeshire - a reminder of the perils of research in the pre-digital age.(6) In 1970 a tragedy occurred during the preparation of the York volumes. One of the Commission’s Senior Investigators, Mr Jeffrey Radley F.S.A., was accidentally killed when part of the defences collapsed during an excavation.(7)

These events, all briefly sketched in the opening pages of the volumes, provide glimpses into the workings of the Commission over the course of the twentieth century.  Anyone using these volumes will be able to appreciate the herculean task of amassing so much information and preparing it for publication; I am that bit more appreciative now having read about the hardships faced by the people who were responsible for that task.

In the coming weeks we will post further updates on the project, including a piece on the illustrations which accompany the text.

Rachael Lazenby

(1) This post describes the scope of the volumes in more detail.
(2) See for example Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England): An Inventory on the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire Volume I (London, 1931) p. xviii.
(3) Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England): An Inventory on the Historical Monuments in Essex Volume I (London, 1916) p. xvii.
(4)  A full list of staff involvement in the war is provided in Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England): An Inventory on the Historical Monuments in Essex Volume II (London, 1921) p. xxi-xxii.
(5)  Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England): An Inventory on the Historical Monuments in the City of York Volume I (London, 1962) p. xxvii.
(6)  Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England): An Inventory on the Historical Monuments in Dorset Volume I (London, 1952) p. xxx.
(7)  Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England): An Inventory on the Historical Monuments in the City of York Volume II (London, 1972) p. xvii.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Consultation on Eighteenth Century Texts

At BHO we are considering the possibility of republishing some of the transcriptions produced by Eighteenth Century Collections Online Text Creation Partnership (ECCO-TCP). Our aim would be to select texts that work particularly well with current BHO content, but we would be delighted to hear the views of BHO users.

The list below is not a list of proposed candidates, but simply illustrates the range of texts that ECCO-TCP has to offer:

  • John Arbuthnot: An Enquiry into the Connection Between the Present Price of Provisions and the Size of Farms
  • Madame d'Aulnoy: The History of the Earl of Warwick, Sirnam'd the King-Maker
  • John Brown: A Compendious History of the British Churches in England, Scotland, Ireland and America
  • Daniel Defoe: A Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain
  • Charles Dibdin: A Complete History of the English Stage
  • Robert Douglas: The Peerage of Scotland
  • John Hawkins: Observations on the State of the Highway
  • David Hume: The History of England: under the House of Tudor
  • Maiden Hospital: Statutes of Maiden Hospital
  • Joseph Moxon: Mechanick Execises: or the doctrine of handy-works
  • William Oldys: The Life of Sir Walter Ralegh
  • Thomas Paine: Common Sense
  • Thomas Pennant: A Tour of Wales
  • Adam Smith: An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
  • Horace Walpole: Anecdotes of Painting in England
Please do comment if you have an opinion on which kinds of ECCO-TCP texts you'd like to see on BHO. Please note, though, that ECCO-TCP is only a small subset of the much larger ECCO resource.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Assessing hidden savings in using British History Online

During June 2012, we undertook a survey of British History Online's registered user base looking at their opinions towards the issue of sustainability. This is the first in a series of blog posts in which we explore the results and deals specifically with the issue of hidden savings.

We asked our users the following question:

Thinking about when you have used British History Online, has it ever saved you making a journey from your home to a library?

If they replied 'yes', we asked a series of follow-up questions to ascertain how many journeys were saved, their mode of transport, the distance travelled, the duration of the journey and cost of any ticket. By combining these figures, we have estimated the level of saving in terms of time and cost achieved by researchers who use the service.

Our methodology is at an early stage; in its draft form, it shows that, on a conservative estimate, we save the United Kingdom Higher Education community interested in history approximately £1.2 million per annum. This equates to around 71k individuals, just over the average number of users which visit BHO in one week.

The methodology also allows us to look at reducing carbon emissions which have to be reported by universities to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) from 2013. We'll be publishing this methodology in full over the coming weeks.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Journal of the House of Lords: new volumes

We have just published four new volumes of the Journal of House of Lords on British History Online. These are volumes 31-34, which cover the period 1765-76, and thus are a useful source for, among other things, the British reaction to increasing tension and hostility between the American colonies and the British government, as well as the War of Independence itself. As an example of the colourful rhetoric, here is a motion for an address from October 1775

That the Powers which they have assumed, and the arbitrary and oppressive Acts which they have done, leave no Doubt of their traiterous Purpose to induce the Colonies to shake off the Controul of the Supreme Legislature, and to bury in an ungrateful Oblivion the Remembrance of the great Industry with which they have been planted, the softening Care with which they have been nursed, the many Advantages which they have enjoyed, and the Expence of Blood and Treasure with which they have been protected by this Nation.

The publication of these volumes fills a gap in BHO's digitisation of the Lords Journal and we are pleased to say that we now have 42 volumes available in this series, all of them freely available.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Trial Browse Feature

We are trialling a new feature on the browse page of British History Online and would be grateful for any comments from our users on what they think of it. At present the feature does not work with Internet Explorer.

If you select any of the checkboxes under Regions, Subjects or Periods you will now be shown a network diagram of the group-level connections to your choice of topics. Below is an example showing the groups that are connected to the selection Midlands, Economic History, 16th century and 17th century:

Below the diagram you can still find the list of relevant publications that you will probably be familiar with. Please try out the new feature and let us know what you think.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Alumni Oxonienses

The Alumni Oxonienses, 1500-1714, is now complete on British History Online.

This series lists all known members of Oxford University from 1500 up to 1714. A second series, covering 1715 to 1886, was compiled by the same editor, Joseph Foster: we very much hope to add the later series to British History Online in the future.

Foster painstakingly worked through the University Archives, cross-referencing with other reference sources of the time, such as registers of the Inns of Court, ecclesiastical and political records. The entries vary in length; for example, here is that of Simon Laude:

Laude, Simon, s. Lewis, of Tamerton, Devon, sacerd. Exeter Coll, matric. 18 Feb., 1626-7, aged 16; B.A. 26 Jan., 1629-30.

Whereas the next entry, for Archbishop William Laud, is quite a bit longer. For many obscure people, such as Simon Laude, this is probably the only printed biographical summary of their lives, and so the Alumni is a particularly valuable resource.

We have tried to make it even more useful for users of British History Online by splitting the text into two columns, with names in the left-hand column to make them easier to scan; we have also put occurences of Oxford and Cambridge college names in bold.

Monday, 23 April 2012

New resources for architectural history

We're just about to begin work on a new digitisation project: of the inventory volumes of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. The definition of a monument is widely drawn, to include historic buildings and structures of all kinds, and the volumes give accounts of their history and structure, based on a detailed measured survey. Before 1946 only monuments created before 1718 were recorded, but after 1946 coverage was extended to record all 18th and 19th century sites. The project is generously funded by English Heritage, of which the Royal Commission became part.

The 43 RCHME volumes form the counterpart to the publications of the slightly older Survey of London, which was taken over by the RCHME in 1986, the volumes of which are already on BHO. Together they offer a record of England’s monuments unrivalled in range, coverage, detail and accuracy. They also form a counterpart to the architectural content of the Victoria County History, with which the Commission’s history is intertwined. Architects, such as (Sir) Charles Peers, contributed surveys to the volumes of the VCH published before 1908 and went on to contribute surveys to both series for a short time. But the founding of the RCHME soon led to the VCH abandoning detailed survey and record, and to the two series being seen as complementary, with the VCH concentrating on using built evidence for tracing the history of settlement. Cross-searching all three series (a task often undertaken using the books) will be immeasurably enhanced by having all the volumes of the VCH, Survey of London and RCHME available online.

We expect the first volumes to appear this summer, with the set being complete by August 2013.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

An index of sustainability: ISURV

This project will investigate the creation of a sustainability index which will be the product of three variables: unique visitors, their return rate and the number of page requests per visit.
  • Unique visitors: this is related to a number of factors, such as the uniqueness of the content, the longevity of the site, how it is promoted, and access fees.
  • Rate of repeat visits: a measure of how suited the site is to our visitors' needs, aka loyalty
  • Page views per Visit ('stickiness')
Giving: Index of Sustainability = U × R × V

Take the example of a cafe: it can increase its business by getting more people through the doors (U), increasing the amount its customers spend each time (V), and improving the frequency with which each customer comes back (R).

In terms of resource allocation, the cafe has to decide which of these factors it could invest money in to bring it the biggest benefit; advertising to bring more people in (U), changing the product range or ambiance to increase money spent per visit (V), or the more diffuse aspects of loyalty (R) which could include more complicated activities such as taste tests.

This project will mainly focus on improving user experience (V), and refining the effectiveness of ISURV together with a set of orthogonal indicators which can be used to compare the functional performance of sub-site areas, a whole site, or even between separate sites. It will amend discrete areas of content, leaving whole other areas untouched to allow contrast, and communicate its results in a non-specialised language.

Our first set of figures will be published in April 2012.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

BHO wins new funding

We are pleased to announce that British History Online has been awarded funding by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) under strand B, 'Enhancing the Sustainability of Digital Collections', of the 16/11 Digital Infrastructure call.

Entitled 'Developing a sustainability index using British History Online (ISURV)', this project will investigate the creation of a sustainability index which can be used to compare the performance of functionality of sub-site areas, a whole site, or even between separate sites.

Its core objectives include:
  • giving senior managers a richer set of performance indicators and attempting to better communicate the value of digital products upwards
  • use the results to promote service excellence across the field of digital humanities
  • large scale user engagement
  • encourage (challenge?) historians to adopt new tools and techniques for navigating and locating content
  • attempt to communicate to both audiences, i.e. senior managers and users, to create a positive environment for the product
You can keep up to date with the project, and learn how to take part, by following this blog.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Mapping the medieval countryside

We're delighted at BHO to be playing a part in this new AHRC-funded project, led by the Department of Digital Humanities (DDH) at King's College London. Our involvement is the digitisation for BHO of 29 volumes of the Calendars of Inquisitions Post Mortem, the single most important source for the study of landed society in later medieval England. Those volumes will be available along the two early volumes for Henry III and  Edward I that are already live. The forthcoming volumes cover the periods 1236-1447 and 1485-1509.
In addition to the volumes being accessible through BHO, the team at King's, working with colleagues at the University of Winchester, will create an additional database of the material for 1399-1447, allowing map-based and other statistical analyses of the data. Further details are available from the DDH site.

Monday, 27 February 2012

London Sheriffs' Court Roll

An edition of the court roll for 1320 is now live. Edited by Dr Matthew F. Stevens, it gives a complete edition and index of London's only surviving such roll for the medieval period, for July-Sept 1320. It was produced as part of the Centre for Metropolitan History ESRC-funded project 'London women and the economy before and after the black death' (2009-10). More information on the project is available on the project site; see also an introduction to the court roll itself.