The ‘big red books’ of the Victoria County History are being transformed by an injection of £3.5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, says John Beckett.
The Victoria County History (VCH) was founded in 1899 with the laudable intention of writing the history of every English county and parish. It was the last great enterprise of a long established and venerable tradition of county historical writing, and it is still with us today.
The hardback volumes in which the histories appeared were popularly known as ‘big red books’. More than two hundred and fifty have been published – and thirteen county sets completed – although some so long ago that they are now in serious need of revision and updating. Before the First World War the VCH was based in London, and its writers followed a specific and fairly rigid agenda drawing on printed public records or those held in the Public Record Office. Since 1932 the VCH has been owned by the University of London, which houses it in the Institute of Historical Research.