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About the VCH
Victoria County History
The Greatest Publishing Project in English Local History
The VCH was founded in 1899 as a private enterprise, with the intention of producing a history of each English county to a standard plan which, in the words of Arthur Doubleday, the founding general editor, made ‘a special feature of general articles which should bring into prominence the main characteristics of every phase of county life’.
Work began almost immediately in 34 counties, and volumes (still known as big red books) appeared regularly from 1900. Unfortunately Doubleday had underestimated the problems involved in bringing together multi-authored projects of this scale, and despite adjustments and replanning, work came to a halt in 1908 as funding ran out.
After various negotiations it resumed in 1910, but only in ten counties which were able to provide some local funding so that a great deal of work completed before the end of 1908 was never published. The First World War brought all work to a half. From 1923 the general editor, William Page, was able to publish a handful of volumes, mostly written before the First World War, but he secured the future of the VCH when in 1932 he offered it to the University of London as a research project to be run out of the Institute of Historical Research. As a result, work was resumed in Oxfordshire and Warwickshire. The VCH Central Office remains in the IHR.
Counties provided funding to employ staff, often in conjunction with the local record office, whose task was to research and write extended parish histories, which were then published in topographical volumes by the IHR. Fewer general volumes appeared, but work was able to proceed in a number of counties as a result of this re-ordering. With the reorganisation of local government in 1974, and the loss of some historic counties, funding for the VCH again became fragile, but over time a number of counties made different financial arrangements including the transfer of staff to local universities. This has not prevented the gradual erosion of county staff, and county-based projects, but work continues in sixteen English counties, with 3-4 red books being published annually.
In 2005 the VCH received a substantial grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund enabling it to undertake a different type of work, and by the time this was completed in 2010, fifteen paperback books and numerous web resources had been produced. Today the VCH produces red books, paperbacks, and web resources. It has a Central Office in London and works with a mixture of professional county staff and volunteers. In recent years new initiatives have been taken in several counties where little or no work had taken place for many decades, and the widespread interest in local and family history means that the VCH continues to have a vital part to play in the promotion of English local history.