Christopher Elrington on the work of the Victoria County History
The British Library’s Main Exhibition for 1989, now open, is 'Particular Places: English Local History and the Victoria County History'. It marks the fact that in 1989 the VCH will have published altogether 200 volumes. It is intended to show the enormous variety of topics that belong to local history, to give an idea of the vast range of source material that is available, to draw attention to the work of the VCH both completed and still to be done, and so to encourage an active interest in local history among a wider public.
Fifteen different topics are illustrated. The most prominent are people at work, provision for the poor, schools, family history, social life, and local government. The last is particularly appropriate, since from the 1950s most of the research for the VCH has been funded by local committees supported very largely by local authorities. Each topic is exemplified by exhibits relating to one or two particular places. The places are drawn from all over England but mainly from the twelve counties where the VCH is at present in progress.
Within each county the VCH volumes are divided between general chapters on a country-wide basis and topographical accounts of particular places; most of the volumes that contain the general chapters were published in the early years of the VCH (before the First World War), so that more recently work has concentrated on the topographical accounts. The emphasis of the exhibition, therefore, is on the history of relatively small areas.