Writing a Parish History

VCH parish histories are a very particular form of Local History. Although interpretative, they are works of reference, encyclopaedic in character in that they aim to treat all places in England systematically. They record what is known, but cannot go into great detail – instead they provide the infrastructure from which local historians may be able to write fuller histories of their parish. The infrastructure we provide means that every parish is researched to a standard which makes comparison possible within counties and between counties across the country. In consequence, VCH parish histories are relatively brief and pithy, their tight structure enabling their length to be kept within bounds. For rural parishes most articles - intended for publication if Red Books - ought not to exceed 16,000 words in length, although large parishes containing multiple settlements may require slightly more. 

Note that VCH 'Shorts' should also be written to this structure, but should be c.30,000 words long.

The VCH works to two guiding principles.

  • The text should be based as far as possible on primary evidence, published or unpublished, rather than on existing secondary sources (although these should always be consulted). The VCH has always sought to work from primary sources to try to prevent the recycling of misleading information.
  • The evidence on which every statement in the text is based should be supported by a footnote citing the source from which the information has been taken. This is because, as a work of reference, it does not cover every topic in detail, but provides information which will enable future researchers to cover the subject in more depth.

The encyclopaedic aspect of the VCH requires a clear template to ensure consistency of approach. The following sections, listed below and accessed via the links at the foot of this page, provide the current framework within which all authors of VCH parish articles are expected to work, and update and advance the guidelines which were prepared c.2010 and published on the VCH website. This revised framework takes account of how different counties have interpreted the guidelines, in order to provide a template which fits with current practice.

Structure of a parish article.

After a brief introductory paragraph, a VCH parish history will normally consist of six chapters in the following order:

1. Landscape, Settlement, and Buildings

2. Landownership

3. Economic History

4. Social History

5. Religious History

6. Local Government

The following pages consist of detailed guidance on the content of each of these chapters, the order in which the sub-chapters should be presented and links to key resources.

The VCH style guide is available here.

A downloadable PDF of the complete parish history template is available below.