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18 September 2014
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Reading the Landscape by Richard Muir (Exeter University Press, 2000). An excellent recent guide to interpreting the landscape and giving extensive help about understanding what the landscape is telling you, by one of the country's leading landscape historians (very readable, too!).

The Local Studies Library: A Handbook for Local Historians by Diana Winterbotham and Alan Crosby (British Association for Local History, 1998). If you are not sure where your local record office or archive centre is, the local studies library should be able to tell you where it is, or you can check on (click on 'browse' for a full list of archive repositories in the British Isles).

For further information about aerial photographs try your county or district archaeologist (if there is one) or the university archaeological unit, or the local library or record office. Superb national collections of aerial photographs are held by the National Monuments Record.

There are two very accessible and extremely helpful guides to the practicalities of research and writing-up, both thoroughly recommended:

Researching and Writing History: A Practical Guide for Local Historians by David Dymond (British Association for Local History, 1999)

How to Write and Publish Local History by Bob Trubshaw (Heart of Albion Press, 1999)


The British Association for Local History: Publishes the journal The Local Historian: BALH is the leading national society for local history and local historians.

The English Place-Name Society: Publishes county volumes on the history and meaning of English place-names. It has been going since the 1920s and has several major research projects in progress.

The Family and Local History Handbook: A very valuable gazetteer and directory of organisations, explanatory articles, useful addresses and helpful introductory notes is the published each year by The Genealogical Services Directory. It includes a county-by-county directory of organisations and societies; lists record offices and archive repositories; and has directories of museums, libraries and heritage centres.

The Historical Association: The main national organisation for anybody interested in history in general.

The Workers' Educational Association: One of the organisations which holds courses on local history in different towns and villages across Britain.

The British Library: One of the organisations which holds courses on local history in different towns and villages across Britain. It is invaluable because the BL catalogue is now online. As the national library it has just about every book which has been published - excellent for checking details of books and for seeing if there are books on your area.

The British Newspaper Library: This is situated at Colindale, North London, and holds by far the largest collections of newspapers in Britain, including a huge number of local titles. It is a branch of the British Library. The site is part of The British Library site. Select 'Collections' then 'Newspapers' on the home page.

The Library of the Society of Genealogists: Based in London and holds extensive collections which may be of interest to local historians (non-members are charged for use).

The Public Record Offices: In Kew, London, is the location of the national archives of the United Kingdom, a very large proportion of which is also important for local history research. The PRO, as it is always known, is increasingly putting its catalgoues and other finding aids online.

The National Library of Wales: Based at Aberystwyth and has most books published on Welsh local history and places in Wales.

The National Archives of Scotland: In Edinburgh, is the equivalent to the Public Record Office but holds a large amount of local archive material as well. In other words, it includes material which would in England and Wales be more likely to be found in a county record office.

National Library of Scotland: Also in Edinburgh. A very useful source.

Places to visit

Easy! Go and look at the landscape in your area. Walk along the footpaths and lanes in the countryside, or along the streets of your town or village, and look at everything around you with new eyes.

In the countryside, note the shapes and patterns of the fields, the alignments of lanes and paths, the humps and bumps in the middle of fields and unexplained changes of direction in roads. Think about where the farms and cottages are situated - why might they be in those places?

Look at the different sorts of land use. Are there patterns in the distribution and location of woodland? Does the moorland edge have a distinctive character such as high boundary wall?

In the town, walk along the main street and look at the first-floor windows, to see if there is evidence that the buildings might be older than they seem. Think about the street pattern - are there lots of little narrow lanes running of main streets, which might indicate a medieval street pattern. You can do this anywhere. Landscape is all around all of us. Local history is everywhere.

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Published: 03-03-2005

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