Tuesday, 1 November 2011

News - Researchers hope to pick up where Victorians left off (Notts)

After more than a century a venerable history of Notts is finally being modernised and completed with the help of a group of passionate volunteer writers and researchers. Mark Patterson reports...

A PRESTIGIOUS history of Notts is finally being updated and expanded more than a century after it was first published.

New local history research to modernise and complete the two-volume Victoria County History of Nottinghamshire, published in 1906 and 1910, is now being done on a parish-by-parish basis with the first new material, a history of Plumtree, already online.

More parish histories are in the pipeline which may be published in book-form next year, updating the old history for the first time since before the First World War – and effectively giving Notts a new county history. The Victoria History of the County of Nottingham, to give it its full title, was part of a grand late Victorian project to provide definitive histories of every county in England.

Founded in 1899, the aim of the project, described as "the greatest publishing project in local English history", was to produce volumes to a standard format which traced a county's history back to earliest times.

Work on 34 counties began immediately.

Two thick general Notts volumes appeared just a few years later and contained a rich store of knowledge covering natural and ecclesiastical history, Roman and Anglo-Saxon remains, political and social history, agriculture, sport and industry.

Despite their age, the books are still regarded as key sources of knowledge for researchers, writers, planners, or indeed anybody who has an interest in local history.

Yet the great national Victoria County History project was to be unfinished.

Funding first ran out in 1908 and the First World War then brought research on all county histories in the series to a halt.

Work resumed on a fragmented basis after the war but the project today still remains incomplete, with one county – Northumberland – having no such books to its name at all while coverage in other counties has come and gone depending on funding.

The Notts history was meant to cover four volumes – the two general histories and then another two books covering manorial and parish histories.

It is these last two books, which never appeared, which are now being researched and written by a group of local retired history enthusiasts, guided by a professional historian, Philip Riden, of the University of Nottingham.

A first 18,000-word history, of Plumtree with Clipston and Normanton-on-the-Wolds, is now online and other parish histories in preparation include those of Arnold, Bramcote, Cossall, Gonalston, Greasley, Stapleford and Tollerton.

Initial work has also begun on parishes near Mansfield such as Skegby and Mansfield Woodhouse. It is hoped the first new printed volume in the Notts Victoria County History to appear in over 100 years, a book containing ten to 15 parish histories, can be published next year, or in 2013.

Progress depends on funding – and gaining more volunteer researchers.

"I would hope that within the next five years we can work towards a full-length record of Notts," said Mr Riden, who is also editor of the Derbyshire Victoria County History.

In all, books in the series are currently being written in 14 counties.

The Notts volunteers meet regularly at the Nottinghamshire Archives, in Wilford Street, Nottingham, which funded the project with £22,000 over two years.

Most of the researchers have tended to gravitate toward parts of the county they know best or have a connection with. For retired primary school teacher Sheila Leeds, who has written the history of Plumtree, the connection with the village dates back to when she was a little girl.

"When I was six years old I went on a school trip to the smithy in Plumtree and I've always had a memory of it," she said. "The smithy has long gone but you can still see the horseshoes around the arch where it used to be. "

The research and writing took a year to complete and Mrs Leeds, of West Bridgford, is now starting on the parish history of Tollerton.

A longer history of Arnold is being finished by Eric Dove, who hopes to have his 30,000-word project completed by Christmas.

It's a big research job: the last history of Arnold was published in 1912 and a great deal has happened in and around the northern suburb since then including the loss of Arnold's true independence when a tram link to Nottingham began running in 1915.

Breweries and factories appeared in Daybrook – and more recently closed down.

All of this, and much more, has been researched and written by Arnold-born-and-bred Mr Dove, who worked in the textile industry until retirement.

"Nostalgia is flavour of the month, isn't it? It's very popular," he said. "And I'm also getting 'free' academic guidance from Philip Riden."

A notable aspect of the Victoria parish histories is that they are all written to a standard format, with research steered towards several clear subject headings such as social history, economic history, religion and local government.

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