English Heritage is supporting a national programme of surveys of the archaeology, topography and historic buildings of England's historic towns and cities. The results will help local authorities, English Heritage and others to care for the fabric of our towns and cities in the future.
The programme was launched in 1992. The background to it is described in English Heritage's 1992 policy statement 'Managing the Urban Archaeological Resource'. The initial purpose of the programme was to help local authorities in England to implement Planning Policy Statement 5. Now, the programme is also contributing to wider aims, such as the planning of regeneration and conservation initiatives.
The programme is funded by English Heritage from its Historic Environment Commissions budget. It is being carried out by District Councils, County Councils and Unitary Councils across England. For each project, the councils receive grant-aid from English Heritage for the work. The councils themselves are also making substantial contributions to the cost of the work.
Roger M Thomas (Head of Urban Archaeology) leads the programme for English Heritage. The programme is carried out in close collaboration with members of the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers who lead individual projects in their areas. It is being carried out by District Councils, County Councils and Unitary Councils across England. For each project the councils receive grant-aid from English Heritage from the work. They are also making substantial contributions to the costs of the work themselves.
Stages Of Work
Each project involves three stages of work: database, assessment and strategy.
- The database stage involves gathering information from a variety of sources and adding it to a database. Sources include archaeological excavations and other discoveries; information about historic buildings; historic maps; historic documents; and published literature.
- The assessment stage involves writing a summary report on the history, archaeology and historic topography of the town in question. The report is illustrated with maps, and contains details of the sources on which the report is based.
- The strategy stage involves developing local authority policies for protecting and managing the archaeological and historic interest of each town, and (following consultation) publishing these.
Intensive and extensive projects
The programme of historic town surveys has two 'strands': intensive and extensive. This is explained in more detail below.
The intensive surveys cover the centres of 35 major historic towns and cities. These projects have focussed on below-ground archaeological remains and on surviving monuments and buildings up to the 17th century. Each town or city is the subject of a separate project, carried out through the District Council or Unitary Council concerned.
For these projects, the database which is produced may be held either as part of the local Historic Environment Record (or Sites and Monuments Record), or as a free-standing Urban Archaeological Database (or UAD). It is intended to publish the assessment reports as individual monographs. The strategy reports will be published.
The extensive surveys cover all the smaller historic towns of England on a county-by-county basis. Similar surveys will also cover major conurbations, such as Liverpool and Merseyside. These surveys are carried out through the archaeology service of the relevant County Council or Unitary Council.
For the extensive surveys, the database is held within the local Historic Environment Record (or Sites and Monuments Record). These records are held by County Councils, Unitary Councils or, sometimes, by District Councils.
Other surveys carried out by English Heritage
English Heritage has carried out a range of other studies in historic towns and cities in England. Recent examples include surveys of the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter, of warehouses in Manchester and of buildings connected with metal trades in Sheffield.
A wide range of other organisations are involved in studying English towns historic towns and cities, or in collecting historical and other useful information about them. Much of this information is now available over the internet.