Letter: Help needed for England's local history

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Sir: In 1899 the Victoria County History began a monumental project to record the local history of the 42 traditional counties of England. More than 200 volumes have been published, but many more remain to be written. Each is a meticulous survey - parish by parish, town by town, city by city - and forms the starting point of all serious historical research in the area covered.

For many years the VCH has been continued under the auspices of the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London, with support coming from a wide variety of academic and local authority sources, together with other sponsors. Present conditions have reduced or removed many of those past funds or supporters.

Nevertheless, the VCH's committee has approved a bold plan to undertake the work required to complete all the remaining volumes within 25 years, provided funds can be found. More volumes are in active preparation now than for many years and interest has already been rekindled in several counties.

As the centenary of this great English enterprise approaches in 1999, we look for a national initiative which will complement the academic and local efforts and secure the completion of this vital and scholarly endeavour. The resources we need are modest compared with the cost of some of today's works of art saved for the nation; small by the standards of national plans to celebrate the Millennium, and trivial indeed when set beside the resources devoted to other aspects of our national heritage.

Yet interest in our local history and community development has grown as never before; every part of the country celebrates its traditions and background as sources both of local pride and attraction to visitors, and the authority of the VCH underlines the new emphasis which many areas now place on their social and industrial history as well as their architectural or archival legacies.

Accordingly we call on Her Majesty's Government to acknowledge the last phase of this great enterprise, which is unparalleled elsewhere in the world. We ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage to examine for herself how the work may be secured and finished: and we urge all those interested in English local history to support this initiative in any way they can.

The Duke of NORFOLK

AMANDA ARROWSMITH

President of the Society of Archivists

The Rt Hon PADDY ASHDOWN MP

Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Councillor Sir JEREMY BEECHAM

Chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities

Lord BELOFF of WOLVERCOTE

The Rt Hon PETER BROOKE MP

(City of London and Westminster South, Con)

Professor PATRICK COLLINSON

Sir PATRICK CORMACK MP

(Staffordshire South, Con)

Professor R R DAVIS

Lord DONOGHUE of ASHTON

Professor CHRISTOPHER DYER

The Right Rev STEPHEN SYKES

Bishop of Ely

MARK FISHER MP

(Stoke-on-Trent Central, Lab)

Lady ANTONIA FRASER

PAMELA GORDON

President of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives

Councillor PETER GREENWOOD

Chairman of the Association of District Councils

ALAN HOWARTH MP

(Stratford-upon-Avon, Con)

Lord JENKINS of HILLHEAD

Professor COLIN MATTHEW

STANLEY NEWENS MEP

(London Central, Lab)

Professor CHARLES PHYTHIAN-ADAMS

Lord RENFREW of KAIMSTHORN

Earl RUSSELL

Councillor IAN SWITHENBANK

Chairman of the Association of the County Councils

Professor TONY WRIGLEY

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