Publication 42 years in the making is now complete

Publication 42 years in the making is now complete

A publication that was started over 40 years ago by a group of Yorkshire-based Archaeologists and Historians is now complete.

British Historic Towns Atlas Volume V: York was first started in 1972 by York Archaeological Trust shortly after its inception, in conjunction with Historic Towns Trust.

The volume forms part of an international scheme, conceived by the International Commission for Historic Towns in the early days of the post-war European movement, to provide same-scale historical maps of all of Europe’s historic towns. Primarily intended for geographers and urban historians, a resource that defined, period by period, what is known of York’s past in a topographical sense would also be of immense value to archaeologists, town planners and to developers.

The international scheme requires the standard base map for all atlases to be of 1:5000 scale of the city as it was in the first quarter of the 19th century, before it was much affected by the Industrial Revolution and the accompanying rise in the population. However York was fortunate in that an extremely detailed Ordnance Survey plan of the city was published in 1852 at the vast scale of 1:1056 or five feet to one statute mile.

Working in close cooperation with the British Historic Towns Atlas cartographers at Lovell Johns Ltd of Long Hanborough, the central section of the 1852 map was vectorised, in effect digitally re-drawing every polygon of space shown on the original. The data on the 1852 map was edited and simplified, details deemed superfluous such as pavement edges, seating within public buildings and so forth, being omitted, while a range of new data, including information from archaeological discoveries, was added. By use of symbols and colouring it was possible to highlight all major buildings still surviving in 1852, those not surviving but whose layout was known, and those not surviving but whose general position was known. Similarly a range of symbols was adopted which show former or surviving earthworks, water-filled features and the land-use in 1852.

A reduced version of the main map, at the scale of 1:5000, was used as the basis for a further series of period maps, purporting to show York as it was, in so far as knowledge will presently allow, in AD 200; between the 6th and 9th centuries; in the 9th-11th centuries; in 1100; in 1300; in 1530; about 1600; about 1700; in 1800; and in 1836.  Each incorporates data about buildings and features known to have been in existence at those times, the earlier maps also showing hypotheses, based on the evidence of archaeological finds, documentary sources or surviving buildings, as to areas that might have been occupied at each period. In addition there is a map showing the boundaries of York’s multiple parishes, each often with a complex series of detached portions, as they were recorded on the 1852 map, and a map of the main wards of York as they were in the later 19th century.

York_Roman York_1836

Says Dr Peter Addyman, who was the main link between York Archaeological Trust, Historic Towns Trust and the vast number of contributors who assisted in the scehme, “In a similar way each of these maps in the historic towns atlas for York, which are the best we can do in the present generation, pose immediate questions and challenges for historians and archaeologists. While the present team hopes it has left a useful tool to posterity it will be best pleased if the main outcome of the publication of the Volume V: York will be a golden age of future research – leading to a much enhanced, digitised, interactive and even three-dimensional future edition.

“Although the production of the York volume of the Historic Towns Atlas has taken an inordinately long time there have been benefits. 43 years of archaeological research have greatly increased the amount of ground-tested data about York in the past that could be incorporated in a York atlas. Similar strides have been made in the study and understanding of the documentary and cartographic sources in which York is so rich, whilst methods of map production and design have been revolutionised over the four and a half decades.  In 1972 computers, for example, were rarely used in any of the work, but now digital mapping is the norm.”

British Historic Towns Atlas Volume V: York will be available to purchase from most York booksellers from the 4th February. RRP £70.

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