Writing an Urban History


Aims and approach

The VCH welcomes proposals for urban volumes in its red book series. This section describes the background to urban history, and sets out requirements for a VCH urban study. The guidelines are designed partly to reflect the VCH’s distinctive contribution to the subject area.

VCH volumes devoted to particular towns are not intended to provide a conventional urban biography of that place; rather, like the VCH volumes devoted to non-urban areas, they are primarily works of reference with a strong emphasis on topography. A town generally has a clearer identity, trajectory and narrative than a non-urban area, however: these need to be recognised.


Urban topography - the form, fabric and layout of towns – is particularly important in the VCH context. Authors are required to draw on documentary sources, plus cartography, historical geography, town planning, architectural history and archaeology.

Over time, the VCH has developed its own style of urban research, but because towns differ in their size and complexity, both today and in the past, a large town may warrant a volume on its own. A smaller one may be the centrepiece of a volume which also includes parishes from its adjoining area.

Also included in urban volumes may be the pre-urban history of parishes which are now within the urban complex but which were independent in the past. These were parishes that had their own self-government until boundary extensions brought them within towns.

The final decision on the scope of the volume in question lies with VCH Central Office.

NB. The term “town” should be understood as referring to a town or city.