In January 2022, Wiltshire and Swindon Historic Environment Record (HER) joined many of its cousins on Historic England’s Heritage Gateway. Heritage Gateway covers the whole of England and is the only place where you can search across county boundaries for heritage information. It also includes links to individual County and National Park HERs.
So how and why did these collections of historical sites arise?
General Augustus Pitt Rivers, perhaps better known for his archaeological excavations on his estate on Cranbourne Chase, became the first Inspector of Ancient Monuments in 1882 and created the first catalogue of archaeological sites.
In 1908, the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) was formed to create an inventory of ‘Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions’.
A card index system from the mapping of antiquities on maps had also been developed by the Archaeology Division of Ordnance Survey (OS), which was transferred to the RCHME in 1983. We still have some of these cards in our paper records.
Local County Sites and Monument Records (SMRs) formally began in the 1960s, and the computerisation of these was funded by Department of the Environment, and subsequently English Heritage, from the 1980s. SMRs evolved into HERs in the early 2000s with the addition of historic buildings.
HERs are an important starting point for anyone interested in the archaeology, built heritage, and history of an area. Access to a HER is also a requirement of the National Planning Policy Framework as part of the planning system, to ensure that local authorities have up-to-date evidence about the historic environment in their area when considering the impact of any planning application.
Some parts of the Wiltshire and Swindon Historic Environment Record (HER) can be accessed by the general public via our website
All local authorities now maintain or have access to an HER and nearly two-thirds of English HERs are available online through Heritage Gateway.
However, the records on our HER website and Heritage Gateway only include ‘Monuments’ – albeit tens of thousands of records on a wide variety of buildings and archaeological sites, from finds of prehistoric flint tools to medieval castles and Second World War pillboxes.
Joining Heritage Gateway will allow our archaeology data to be more widely accessible and comparable nationwide and more useable for the public for research purposes.
As well as ‘Monuments’, the full Wiltshire and Swindon Historic Environment Record contains detailed information on ‘Events’ (excavations) and the ‘Sources’ (reports, periodicals, etc) that go with them. This is used to give planning advice in relation to National Planning Policy Framework requirements, e.g., for commercial planning, conservation advice or agri-environment purposes.
HER staff are here to provide extracts of all this data to anyone needing it for such purposes, to ensure they have the most comprehensive and up-to-date information available.
Carol Lewis, Historic Environment Record Data Manager