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Founded in 1899 and originally dedicated to Queen Victoria, the Victoria County History (VCH) is an encyclopaedic record of England's places and people from earliest times to the present day. The VCH is written by historians working in counties across England and is without doubt the greatest publishing project in English local history.
To date, 165 volumes of the VCH, covering counties from Cumberland to Somerset, have been digitised and published via British History Online (BHO). The majority of these are organised by parish, but some deal with the religious houses of a particular county.
Strengths and weaknesses
British History Online is particularly strong in local history, and the VCH is a key resource in this field. Unlike the most of the material published through BHO, it is a secondary source, which synthesises a vast array of primary source material. While the VCH covers most of England, there are some gaps, for example there is no material for Cornwall, while for other counties only one volume has been published.
Texts on British History Online have been double-rekeyed by specialist data capture companies, to a minimum 99.95% accuracy (in practice higher accuracy rates are achieved), with a lightweight XML markup. Quality assurance of the keying and markup is carried out by editors at the Institute of Historical Research before it is published.
About the project
The VCH was founded in 1899 as a private enterprise, with the intention of producing a history of each English county to a standard plan which, in the words of Arthur Doubleday, the founding general editor, made a special feature of general articles which should bring into prominence the main characteristics of every phase of county life.
Work began almost immediately in 34 counties, and volumes (still known as big red books) appeared regularly from 1900. Unfortunately Doubleday had underestimated the problems involved in bringing together multi-authored projects of this scale, and despite adjustments and replanning, work came to a halt in 1908 as funding ran out.
After various negotiations it resumed in 1910, but only in ten counties which were able to provide some local funding so that a great deal of work completed before the end of 1908 was never published. The First World War brought all work to a halt. From 1923 the general editor, William Page, was able to publish a handful of volumes, mostly written before the First World War, but he secured the future of the VCH when in 1932 he offered it to the University of London as a research project to be run out of the Institute of Historical Research. As a result, work was resumed in Oxfordshire and Warwickshire. The VCH Central Office remains in the IHR and research continues in 23 counties.