Wednesday, 20 February 2013

James Bettley on RCHME Essex

Following the publication of the RCHME, Essex volumes on British History Online, the architectural historian James Bettley has kindly written a guest post about the value, and limitations, of these volumes. Dr Bettley's revision of the Pevsner Architectural Guide to Essex was published by Yale University Press in 2007; he was also one of the contributors to the Victoria County History of Essex, Volume 11, published in 2012.

The Inventory of Historical Monuments in Essex

The Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England) covered Essex in four generous volumes, published between 1916 and 1923. Essex was larger then than it is now – the south-west corner was cut off in 1965, to become the London boroughs of Barking, Newham, Havering, Redbridge, and Waltham Forest – but nonetheless the number of pages devoted to the county is a fair indication of the quantity of interesting buildings still to be found within its borders.

The fieldwork was carried out before the outbreak of the First World War, so it would not be unreasonable to question the value of an inventory that is now nearly a century old. But for those of us who work daily with historic buildings – and for those who only very occasionally wish to find out about an individual building – the Essex volumes remain an invaluable source of information. The descriptions of the major buildings, especially churches, are more detailed than Pevsner’s could be, and because they are written in fluent English, with a minimum of specialist terminology, and follow a standard format, they are easier to follow than the often impenetrable descriptions of the later statutory lists. Nearly all the parish churches, and selected secular buildings, are accompanied by a plan that shows the different phases of building, and there are numerous photographs taken in what was arguably the heyday of architectural photography. The maps are still often the best way of locating an individual building. And for those who wish to know more, the investigators’ original notes, often with additional plans and photographs, can be consulted at the National Monuments Record in Swindon.

Of course, the volumes have what seem to us now to be shortcomings. The brief was to cover buildings ‘from the earliest times to the year 1700’, extended in 1913 to 1714; any building (or any alteration to an older building) after that date was usually just described as ‘modern’. Moreover, works of this kind are only as good as the current state of knowledge, and timber-framed houses (especially plentiful in Essex) were assumed to be 17th, or sometimes late 16th, century, unless otherwise stated; most are now known to be considerably earlier. But that does not detract from the overall value of the descriptions.

The volumes have also become monuments in themselves. They record buildings that no longer exist, such as Little Horkesley Church

Little Horkesley, the Parish Church of St. Peter & St. Paul

destroyed by a stray bomb in 1940; or the interior of Castle Hedingham, before it was ravaged by fire in 1918. Many of Essex’s country houses are of later date than 1714, but Albyns, Belhus, Hallingbury Place, Marks Hall, Shortgrove and Weald Hall

all now demolished, are described and illustrated as they were at their period of greatest extent.

The circumstances surrounding the compiling of the volumes are also of historic interest, as Rachael Lazenby’s post mentions. But there was another aspect to the work that was not covered in the surprisingly interesting Report that was printed at the beginning of the first Essex volume. In the Report one of the investigators, Captain R. E. M. Wheeler, is congratulated on his commission in the Royal Field Artillery. Wheeler was to become better known as the archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, and in his biography Still Digging (1955) he gives an account of his first day’s probationary work in Essex with the senior investigator, J. Murray Kendall, in 1913. They met (with their bicycles) at Liverpool Street Station and began with what Kendall called ‘a Little Reinforcement’ – a ‘double whisky in new milk’. This was followed with similar reinforcement upon arrival at Dunmow, before starting work at Stebbing, where Wheeler’s realisation that he knew nothing about the items he was being asked to describe was consoled by a third reinforcement at the White Hart. What with that, and the outbreak of war the following year, it seems miraculous that the volumes ever appeared at all.

James Bettley

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Richard Wade on Herefordshire

Recently we published Volume One, Volume Two and Volume Three of RCHME, Herefordshire. Richard Wade, Archivist of the Herefordshire Archive Service, has kindly written this guest post for us, explaining the significance of these volumes:

The Inventory of Historical Monuments in Herefordshire

In 1908, The Royal Commission on Historical Monuments for England were appointed to undertake a massive project to survey all the pre-1714 buildings, monuments and architectural features surviving in England at the time. The survey is of immense value as it recorded buildings that existed prior to the destruction inflicted by the Second World War and subsequent reconstruction and development. They cover many diverse items including buildings from manor houses to churches, castles and city cottages and include features such as fireplaces, bells, chests, ceiling decorations, doors and porches and effigies. The work of the surveyors was compiled into published volumes. There are three volumes for Herefordshire, which were first published in 1931: volume one covers the South West of the County, volume two covers the North West of the county and volume three covers the east of the county.

Unlike some counties, many of the buildings and features described still survive in Herefordshire. Hereford itself has the 17th Century Old House and the 15th Century Booth Hall and there is a Black and White trail around the north of the county where several of the villages, such as Dilwyn, are still predominantly still made up of Black and White Timbered Houses. There also several Iron Age Hill Forts around the county, such as those at Dinedor and Credenhill, which are described in detail in the volumes with diagrams. As many of the features have survived, the volumes form less of a record of what has been lost as in other counties. The inventories do however; still draw peoples’ attention to items that they perhaps know very well and maybe even walk past everyday without stopping to think about their history or significance. The inventories give detailed accounts of each parish with the monuments in it, highlighting those items of particular interest. They provide much background information to anybody wishing to visit these monuments, and in the case of churches for example, show plans of the churches and which parts of the churches date from which periods. The volumes also highlight features you may not otherwise necessarily see, such as capitals in the chancel arches in Garway and Rowlestone Churches. It is important that these features are described and people can appreciate them, when at the present time several churches and chapels have been made redundant and are difficult to access and others such as All Saints in Hereford now have Cafes in, which have dramatically changed their appearance inside. I am sure many developments have also taken place in some of the private homes that are described.

The area which has probably changed most is Hereford itself, and the volumes give information by street of all the pre-1714 buildings that existed at the time, many of which are no longer in existence and all of which there are brief histories given of.

Much attention is paid to the features of Hereford Cathedral, but there are also detailed notes on Dore Abbey and Croft Castle and the Feathers Hotel and Market Hall in Ledbury all feature.

As a result, the volumes are a valuable resource for anybody studying local or architectural history in the county and it is of great benefit to have them made available online.

Richard Wade
Herefordshire Archive Service

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Thank You to Copyright Holders

BHO users may have noticed that we are gradually adding the inventory series of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England. Since this is an architectural series there are, of course, many photographs and diagrams - totalling about 20,000 across the entire series. A large part of the work in digitising this series has been in determining who owns the copyright for each image and, where copyright needs to be cleared, contacting the relevant body or individual to ask their permission.

We have been very pleased that so many of the organisations we have contacted have willingly allowed us to use their copyrighted material. A few organisations did ask for a fee; when we explained that this we have no budget for paying for licences and that we are making the volumes free for all to use, in a continuation of the print project for which copyright was originally granted, a number then kindly waived fees for us. A few organisations were not able to waive fees and this means that where their images would have been displayed there will be a placeholder referring users to the printed volume.

We would like to thank all those organisations who have generously allowed us to use their images. Their public-spiritedness has meant that this rich resource of text and images will be available to anyone with an interest in English local history.

We are now in the process of trying to locate and contact individuals who may own copyright to certain images. We have published a list of them on this blog - if you know any of them please do contact us.

Finally we would like to give special thanks to Rachael Lazenby, who worked with us on the project as the Permissions Controller. Rachael worked through the 20,000 images with outstanding attention to detail and a rigorous methodology that made things very easy for the rest of the team. Because of the complexity of the process, Rachael has written a report laying out her approach to the project. This may well be useful to others, so we have placed Rachael's report on our institutional repository, from where anyone is welcome to download it.