Victoria County History Project
About the VCH Cumbria Project
The Victoria County History (VCH) is an internationally respected work of reference which ultimately aims to write the history of every town and village in England. For more information, please go to www.victoriacountyhistory.ac.uk
No VCH town or village histories had been published for the historic counties of Cumberland and Westmorland before the VCH Cumbria project was launched in 2010; the only parts of Cumbria previously to have been researched in detail by the VCH were the Furness and Cartmel areas, which were formerly in Lancashire and are covered in VCH Lancashire, Volume VIII (published in 1910). So, for the bulk of the county the VCH Cumbria project is starting from scratch. Led from the Department of History at Lancaster University and working with volunteer local historians, the project has embarked on an ambitious programme of work to start the process of researching and writing the history of every place in Cumberland and Westmorland.
The support of the Cumbria County History Trust and the organisations it represents has enabled the project to build a wholly new structure for coordinating the work of local historians in Cumbria. It is the hub of a network of collaboration, pioneering new ways of enabling volunteers in the regional community to contribute to a highly respected national work of reference. In doing so, the project is both enhancing skills and generating new knowledge. The project website acts as a training resource to support the work of volunteers and also as a databank, housing the fruits of volunteers’ research.
Progress to date:
- a team of over 100 volunteers from across Cumbria has compiled brief historical digests for each of the 344 parishes/townships in the county, forming a springboard for future work
- a smaller core of volunteers has embarked on researching and writing full parish/township histories to the VCH template, which will eventually form part of the national work of local historical reference
What our volunteers say:
‘I think the biggest impact on many of us is being able to make a real contribution to a national historical publication and, as a result, becoming ... more “professional” in our approach to local history’
‘this is a tremendous opportunity to enhance our skills and achievements ... It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this to us’
Townships and Parishes
Such a project must have an overall geographic structure. The VCH Cumbria project is using the Civil Parishes as they existed around 1900 as the basis for dividing the counties of Cumberland and Westmorland into units for the preparation of articles. This is a break with VCH conventions, as separate articles are normally written for each ancient ecclesiastical parish in other counties.
In Cumbria the ancient ecclesiastical parishes often covered vast areas, embracing numerous ‘townships’ or ‘constablewicks’, the civil administrative divisions (see the map showing the relationship between parishes and townships in part of Cumbria). Civil Parishes are often reincarnations of former townships, rather than ancient parishes. We are using them because it was often the township, rather than the parish, which functioned as the basic local administrative entity and many townships formed separate manors or estates. Some of the largest ancient parishes were notional, even for ecclesiastical purposes, as they were divided into chapelries, each of which functioned as a separate parish.
So, the Civil Parishes, set up under the Poor Law Amendment Act 1866, will provide the basic structure. We are using the Civil Parishes as they existed at the end of the 19th century, as later amalgamations and boundary changes, particularly those resulting from the Cumberland Review order of 1934, have disrupted the historic administrative pattern.
There are 344 places in cumbria for which separate VCH townhsip/parish articles will be written. Follow the links to view a list of these places.
All the work is being done by volunteers, under the overall direction of Professor Angus Winchester of Lancaster University, and with volunteer guidance and support provided by Dr Sarah Rose, Volunteer Co-ordinator. A free training programme is provided to help volunteers, and ensure that together we maintain the high standards of scholarship expected from the Victoria County History, and that our work provides a factual, reliable and authoritative work of reference for everyone with an interest in the history of their town or village - and possibly their family too.
Prof. Angus Winchester & Dr Sarah Rose
Become a VCH Volunteer
Details of how to get involved in the VCH project as a volunteer can be found on our Getting Involved page.