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Digital Digging

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April 2017

Wouldn’t it be great if you could look at an O.S. map of your area and peel back layers of time, like taking the skin off a rice pudding, so that you could see how the place was in the past. Well, you can. At their March meeting the Thornbury History and Archaeological Society were finally dragged into the 21st century by Anne Lovejoy from South Glos. Council, who told us all about the ‘Know Your Place – West of England’ project.

‘Know Your Place – West of England’ is a digital mapping heritage project which gives you a free online research tool that is perfect for anyone who wants to explore the heritage and history of their area or to contribute towards it. Bristol City Council had already been leading the way in digital mapping when in 2010 they applied for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to set up a heritage project together with other councils in the West of England using similar technology.

Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and B&NES have all contributed materials from their archives such as tithe maps, enclosure maps, town maps and others, as well as material from the Historical Environment Register such as records of listed buildings and archaeological excavations. Most of the maps used date back to the mid 19th century. Earlier maps are not generally of sufficient accuracy, but some do go back to the 18th or even 17th centuries, such as a town map of medieval Bath. A host of local history organizations, such as our own Thornbury museum, have also contributed large amounts of information such as photos, videos, oral histories etc.

Tithe maps are not the most manageable of documents, being several feet across, and it takes a large group of volunteers to digitize this data so that it can be correctly superimposed over an O.S. map to be viewed online. In an operation that NASA would be proud of each map is carefully positioned onto a rolling platform under a high-tech scanning camera. As the map rolls underneath the camera the data is digitized. It then has to be painstakingly positioned parish by parish onto the base O.S. map. Parish boundaries are very stable over time and this is the best way to match up pieces of map. Each parish is digitally cut and then fitted like a jigsaw piece into the O.S. map. Golf courses seem to cause the most difficulties as they tend to obliterate all previous boundaries.

So, the big question – how can you use this valuable resource? The website address is www.kypwest.org.uk. If you don’t have access to your own computer then you can access the website at your local library. Go to the map of your area and click the ‘Layers’ icon at the top right to view all the layers of information that can be superimposed on the modern map. Any coloured hotspots that appear can be clicked on to see specific information about that particular feature. On the green ‘Community’ layer you can add information of your own or attach photos, (please ensure you have the copyright), by clicking on the ‘Pencil’ icon on the right.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, please take a couple of minutes to say what you think about the website. The Heritage Lottery Fund needs to know their money is well spent. So far 62% of users felt more connected to their neighbourhood and 79% got a deeper knowledge of their area. So, no excuses, get browsing and do some digital digging. This is the future of history. Many thanks to Anne for showing us the way.


The Thornbury Local History and Archaeology Society always welcomes new and occasional members. Details of our programme can be found on this website, the library or the Town Hall. Our meetings are on the second Tuesday of the month, held at St Mary's Church Hall beginning at 7.30pm. Visitors are always welcome at the society for the small charge of £2.50.

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