The Atlas of Rural Settlement in England GIS

Since its publication by English Heritage in 2000, Brian Roberts and Stuart Wrathmell’s An Atlas of Rural Settlement in England has become a key point of reference for understanding the development of rural settlement in England.

The maps of 19th century settlement and terrain from the Atlas are now available as data that can be used in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software and viewed in ‘geobrowsers’ like the Google Earth* mapping service.

Andrew Lowerre's paper on the Atlas GIS has been awarded the inaugural Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) Recycle Award.

The CAA award recognises those who 'breathe new life into old data,' by applying digital technologies or techniques that were not envisaged by the original creators of the data, enabling new discoveries or increasing the value of the data to researchers and/or the general public.

A map showing settlement provinces, sub-provinces and local regions boundaries overlaid on terrain types, together with the CAA Recycle Award 2012 logo.

A map showing Roberts and Wrathmell’s settlement provinces, sub-provinces and local regions boundaries overlaid on terrain types (Uplands, Intermediate Lands and Lowlands), together with the Computer Applications in Archaeology (CAA) Recycle Award 2012 logo. Andrew Lowerre
© English Heritage

Atlas of Rural Settlement

The maps in the original, printed Atlas were produced digitally, but were created as graphics files which cannot be used in GIS or similar programmes. GIS software is now widely used in the management and study of the historic environment. Many people have access to ‘geobrowser’ software like the Google Earth* mapping service. There is also a rich and steadily growing array of spatially enabled data relating to the development of England’s landscape.

Given these circumstances, English Heritage wanted to make it possible to use Roberts and Wrathmell’s results in current, spatially-aware computer applications. The aim was to enable more effective re-use of the Atlas materials.

Prof Brian Roberts (Durham University) supplied copies of the original graphics files used for the printed Atlas. Andrew Lowerre (Archaeological Projects Team) and Eddie Lyons (Archaeological Graphics Team) converted the files into georeferenced data ready for use in GIS and ‘geobrowser’ software.

Andrew Lowerre also prepared detailed documentation and metadata (ie data about the data). The documentation and metadata describe the various layers in the data collection and the processes by which the graphics files were converted.

Anyone wishing to use the data collection is strongly encouraged to read the documentation carefully in order to understand the origins, contents, strengths and weaknesses of the data.

Format of Data

The GIS data is available in two formats: Esri Shapefile and Google/Open Geospatial Consortium KMZ (compressed or ‘zipped’ Keyhole Markup Language). The Shapefile format can be read by most leading proprietary and open-source GIS applications.

Recent versions of many CAD (Computer-Aided Drafting/Design) software packages can read Shapefiles as well. Shapefiles can also viewed in free GIS ‘data viewers’ such as Esri’s ArcGIS Explorer**. The KMZ format is most often viewed in ‘geobrowser’ software such as the Google Earth* mapping service. Esri’s ArcGIS Explorer** can also read KMZ files.

It is hoped that making the data available in a format usable by those who do not have GIS software will make the Atlas materials more widely accessible.

Benefits of the Atlas as GIS

With the key maps from the Atlas in GIS-enabled form, it becomes possible to look at Roberts and Wrathmell's materials in new ways. Some exploratory analyses and re-visualisations of the data are presented in an article: The Atlas of Rural Settlement in England GIS by Andrew Lowerre in the journal Landscapes.

The greatest benefits of having the Atlas materials in a GIS-compatible form will come from combining the Atlas GIS with other spatially-enabled data. For example, data created as part of English Heritage’s National Mapping Programme can be used to examine past field patterns or evidence of settlement not recorded on the source maps Roberts and Wrathmell used.

The Atlas GIS will also help provide a national framework for English Heritage’s work on Historic Landscape Characterisation . Materials from research focused on regional or local scales can be more easily related to the national picture. Some examples include English Heritage’s work on Protected Landscapes  or from the Whittlewood Project

What’s in the Data Collection

The Atlas of Rural Settlement in England GIS data collection is made up of a number of different elements:

  • spatial and attribute data, in Esri Shapefile and Google/Open Geospatial Consortium KMZ
  • text and figures for the settlement province and sub-province descriptions from the original printed Atlas (in PDF format)
  • ArcGIS** ‘layer’ definition files and an ArcGIS** map document – compatible with ArcGIS** versions 9.0 and above – depicting the shapefiles in the data collection; these symbolisations were used when creating the KMZ files
  • UK GEMINI version 2.1-compliant discovery level metadata in XML format for the spatial and attribute data
  • a data dictionary (in PDF format) detailing attribute field names, suggested aliases and descriptions of the types of data held in each field
  • documentation (in PDF format) detailing the nature and limitations of the data in the data collection and the processes by which the data and accompanying metadata were created

How to Obtain the Data

You can download the data, metadata and documentation from the list of related documents on the right-hand side of this page. To make downloading the data collection as straightforward as possible, it is supplied in compressed or ‘zipped’ files. You need appropriate software on your computer to un-compress the downloaded files before you can use the data.

There are two different ZIP files available: one contains the spatial and attribute data in Shapefile format, the other contains the data in KMZ format. Please make sure you download the ZIP file containing the data in the format appropriate for the software you intend to use. Both ZIP files include the province and sub-province descriptions from the original printed Atlas, the metadata and the documentation.

To get a copy of the data collection on CD, please contact the Enquiry and Research Services Team  at the English Heritage Archive. Please note that a charge may be made to cover the cost of handling your request and sending the CD by post.

All of the Historic Environment Records (HERs), Sites and Monuments Records (SMRs) and Urban Archaeological Databases (UADs) in England using GIS software now have copies of the Atlas GIS data collection. You may be able to look at the data at your local HER. You can find the address of your local HER on the Heritage Gateway list of HERs.

Terms and Conditions

You may use the data collection downloadable from this web page subject to the following terms and conditions:

  • Title, copyright and all other proprietary rights in the GIS data, metadata and documentation remain vested in English Heritage, Brian Roberts and Stuart Wrathmell
  • English Heritage does not guarantee that the GIS data are free of errors; users of the data should check it against other sources before relying on it
  • English Heritage cannot be held responsible for any decisions made on the basis of this data or for any products or services derived from it
  • You accept the GIS data as delivered; English Heritage does not guarantee the GIS data will be suitable for use with any GIS or any other computer software
  • You are authorised to download the English Heritage data from this page for personal and business use
  • The data must not be used for purposes which may lead to damage to archaeological sites, historic buildings and landscapes

Questions or Problems?

If you have any questions about the contents of the data collection, discover any problems or errors, or would like to share how you have used the data, please contact Andrew Lowerre via email or telephone 023 9285 6700.

Please understand that it will not be possible to provide detailed guidance on the use of specific GIS or ‘geobrowser’ software.


Roberts, B K, and Wrathmell, S, An Atlas of Rural Settlement in England, corrected reprint edition, English Heritage, 2003

*Google Earth is a trademark of Google Inc.

**Esri, ArcGIS Explorer and ArcGIS are trademarks of Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (Esri)