During lockdown the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre has worked to bring our collections to you in as many different ways as possible. This difficult period has emphasised the importance of having a strong digital presence and we are continuing our endeavours to help everyone gain better access to our county’s wonderful heritage resources.
One method of doing this is increasing our capacity on the Know Your Place website. This project, which began in Bristol and later expanded across the south west of England, layers historic maps of the region and provides interactive layers of historic data, archival collections and community input. This enables the public to compare and contrast contemporary OS maps with historic maps, such as tithe and estate maps, which is great when studying the development of areas and communities. But not only this, it pinpoints (geotags) heritage collections of all shapes and sizes to their relevant locations on the maps – these are known as information layers. Watch this short video to get an idea of why you might use Know Your Place and the ethos behind this progressive project, which is always looking to add documents and detail for public consumption.
Here at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre we have been working hard during lockdown to improve our part of the site, KYP Wiltshire, by creating more layers to assist with local history research across the county. A huge amount of work has been done during the last 6 months, by multiple members of staff, to recreate the tithe awards layer. Some of you may have noticed this layer before, or even used it in the past, but not every tithe award was uploaded, and some were found to be faulty. The layer is now up and running, with every tithe award (over 350 T symbols as below) accessible on the site.
For detailed information on tithes, we recommend browsing The National Archives’ handy research guide, but here’s some brief information on how are they can benefit local history research. In 1836 the Tithe Commutation Act was passed, which put an end to tithes being paid in kind to the church (as was often the case previously). Tithes (one tenth of agricultural produce) were now a monetary tax to be paid to the church, but in order to ascertain who would have to pay what, a nationwide survey was taken, with the whole country being mapped (tithe maps). Alongside the maps, the tithe awards (part of a larger document called the tithe apportionments) were produced, which detailed landowners and occupiers of the land.
Plot numbers, listed alongside names, link the award to the map, and show how much each plot of land is due to pay in tithes. Any historic document that lists names in relation to a place is going to be useful for family historians. The tithe award will place a family in a specific location, give an idea of how wealthy (or not) they were, e.g. if they are listed as a landowner that would infer wealth, and they sometimes throw unexpected names into the mix. For example, their relatives may be living nearby and would thus be recorded in the same document. In terms of local and social history, tithes give us a great sense of how the land was being used at a certain point in time, and by whom.
We thought it might be of interest to describe exactly what’s gone into making this data available. Our fantastic volunteers from the Wiltshire Family History Society had previously transcribed the documents in our search room and created a mammoth Microsoft Word document, so this needed to be split up into single documents for each parish. We then needed to convert every document into a PDF (the preferred file format for Know Your Place). Finally, we had to get easting and northing grid references for every individual parish, which proved very time consuming and required some serious local knowledge from various members of staff. This enabled the team in Bristol to upload the tithe awards very accurately over each parish church, or otherwise in the centre of the town, village or hamlet.
To activate the tithe award layer and find the data, follow these simple steps:
Thanks to the interactive nature of the website, you can view the award data in conjunction with any of the historic maps available, or indeed the present-day OS. To change the map, simply click on ‘basemaps’ on the legend to the right of the screen and choose whichever map you’re interested in, though in this instance you may wish to view the tithe award data in conjunction with the tithe map, which can be found at the very bottom of the ‘basemaps’ section. You can also bring a second map into the equation, by clicking ‘comparison map’ at the top of the legend, choosing your map and then using the drag and slide function across the main screen.
There is also a spy glass function, on which you can change the transparency to examine change in a precise spot on the map – this can be used by clicking the small square towards the top right of the page and then the slider beneath it manipulates the levels of transparency. This may all seem a bit fiddly to begin with, but you soon get used to it.
The drag & slide, together with the spy glass function, is a valuable tool to local and house historians. Area development is easy to examine, as is property history. For large or very old properties, it is often possible to see boundary changes over time, as well as structural changes or additions, such as extensions to properties.
It is well worth exploring the webpage further, such as the Historic Environment Record section of the information layer which includes monuments and listed buildings – each item in the list can be accessed in the same way as the Tithe Award data.
It has come to our attention that certain tithe maps have enlarged scale drawings of town or village centres on the physical document, but due to the nature of the digitally stitched together maps, these could not be included on the tithe map on Know Your Place. However, we are now in the process of creating image files of these sections of maps, that will be included as data points in due course, which will be accessed in the same way as the tithe award data.
As I mentioned earlier, this project welcomes community input. This is done through the ‘community layer’ which is automatically active each time you open the webpage (the green dots all over the screen). So, if you have a local monument, church, school or an old photograph of your ancestor’s home, you can take the picture, add some information, and add it to the layer. This can be done by clicking the pencil like symbol on the far right of the screen, then clicking directly on the relevant location and then following the instructions from there.
We’ve been helping get the community layer started by adding some examples from our History Centre collections. You will find images of schools and churches. There’s also the results of the Public Art Project, a fine array of images of public art in the county. If you spot any gaps, why not take a photo and add it to the community layer yourself?
Other organisations have been adding to this layer, Chippenham and Salisbury Museums, the Swindon Heritage Action Zone project to name just a few, plus members of the public and local history groups.
So why not take a look and digitally explore Wiltshire, both past and present. Check to see if you can spot your house on the 1st edition OS map or see if you can find any family members’ names in the tithe award data, but be warned – you may spend more time than you intend when you get ‘lost in the map’!
Finally, keep an eye out on our social media announcements of more historic documents being added to the information layers and feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns. You can find our KYP centred Facebook page @KYPWilts.
At the end of August I celebrated five years with the archaeology team here at the History Centre in Chippenham. I thought this a suitable milestone in which to reflect on some of the most exciting discoveries in the central part of Wiltshire (the area I cover), discovered through the advice we give on planning applications.
The Government set out its requirements for the planning system in the National Planning Policy Framework in 2012. Section 12 deals with conserving and enhancing the historic environment. The advice we give on planning applications follows this guidance which needs to be relevant, proportionate and necessary. It is important to understand the significance of heritage assets impacted by development, which is why we ask for a proportionate level of investigation to be undertaken prior to determining applications. Various stages of investigation are carried out. To begin with an archaeological Desk Based Assessment (DBA) pulls together existing information, using as a baseline the Historic Environment Record and other sources where available such as historic maps, aerial photographs, field surveys and site assessment. The DBA helps to establish the potential for archaeological remains to be present within a development site. Sometimes, there is little existing information available because there have been few investigations within the area. In such cases geophysical survey is a useful method for revealing unknown archaeological remains within a site. We get greyscale plots and interpretation plans to help understand what potentially is of archaeological origin. In most cases we ask for trial trench evaluation following geophysical survey. Trial trenching enables us to understand the significance of the archaeological remains which will be impacted by development. Depending on the heritage asset’s significance (to use NPPF terminology) we may ask for a site to be preserved in situ i.e. not impacted by development, or preserved by record i.e. it gets excavated, the remains assessed and then reported and/or published. The following examples show previously unknown settlements which have been found through such methods.
Westbury Trial trench evaluation followed a geophysical survey in 2015 which discovered a number of features dating to the Romano-British period including a number of trackways and ditches. The site has yet to be developed.
Melksham Trial trench evaluation followed a geophysical survey in 2014 which confirmed the presence of a Romano-British settlement. The site is currently being excavated, more detail to follow.
At another site in Melksham, a geophysical survey identified a number of features and the trial trench evaluation confirmed remains dating to the prehistoric, Roman, medieval and post-medieval periods. The site has yet to be developed.
Trowbridge Geophysical survey across a large proposed development site highlighted two sites of particular interest. Trial trench evaluation confirmed a concentration of early Romano-British ditched enclosures associated with trackways and pits and posthole features which appear to represent settlement remains. The relationship between the two sites is of interest. More ephemeral prehistoric activity was represented in other parts of the site which the geophysical survey did not pick up.