Local history and local communities in Staffordshire
Submitting InstitutionKeele University
Unit of AssessmentHistory
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Keele University's long-standing research expertise in local history,
particularly that of its immediate region, has had a significant and
enduring impact on professional practice, community resilience and
individual well-being. Keele historians have provided vital assistance to
local archivists and heritage practitioners in the preservation and public
dissemination of the region's history and cultural heritage through the
provision of substantial works of reference and support for study-days and
community `road shows'. Their research has helped sustain local societies
and encouraged a variety of volunteering initiatives, whereby groups and
individuals are empowered to engage in their own study of the past.
This case study is founded particularly on the contribution of Keele
historians to the Staffordshire Victoria County History [VCH]
volumes. These are essential works of reference for all those working on
local history projects, including members of local history societies and
independent researchers as well as academic historians. Joint support for
the Staffordshire VCH is at the heart of sustained collaboration between
Keele University, and Staffordshire and Stoke Archives and Heritage
Service to promote critical understanding and engagement with local
history. The Victoria County History volumes are based on
systematic analysis of crucial source material in local and national
archives, and so provide guides to and interpretation of often intractable
or barely catalogued collections for the benefit of heritage professionals
and local and family historians. The volumes also provide a fundamental
framework for further research on the county, by analysing changing
administrative structures, social and economic developments, and religious
and political history. By taking the ancient parish as its focus, the Victoria
County History is the only national project which addresses specific
local developments in a way that can successfully communicate and engage
with independent scholars and the broader public in a convincing and
sustained way. Four volumes of the Staffordshire VCH [ref: 1] have
been published since 1994 when Keele assumed responsibility for the
enterprise, all researched, written and edited by Dr Nigel Tringham
(Lecturer in Medieval History 1993-2004, Senior Lecturer 2004-present) who
has worked for the VCH since 1979, and been employed by Keele since 1994.
Tringham brings to the VCH an unrivalled knowledge of the county's rich
archival heritage, and of the challenges involved in interpreting medieval
sources in particular, founded on his expertise in editing the records of
medieval religious institutions [refs: 6,7]. The quality of
individual volumes is assured through an editorial review process managed
by the central VCH office, Institute of Historical Research, London, and
recent volumes have broadened in scope to take account of developments in
historical scholarship. For the Staffordshire volumes this process has
owed much to two historians appointed in 1995 in part for their expertise
in local history. Dr Ian Atherton (Lecturer in History 1995-2003,
Senior Lecturer 2003-present), a specialist in the religious and political
history of seventeenth-century England, has encouraged a stronger focus on
the religious experiences of parishioners rather than on ecclesiastical
institutions as well as contributing expertise on early modern politics [refs
2,3]. The work of Dr Alannah Tomkins (Lecturer in History
1995-2007, Senior Lecturer 2007-present) on poverty, medicine and
professionalization has helped to broaden the social vision of the VCH [refs
4,5], seen in the full analysis of servants as well as landowners in
the most recent volume. All three historians have made significant
contributions to the history of Staffordshire from the pre-conquest period
to the nineteenth century but insights from other localities (Shropshire,
Herefordshire, and York, for example) have also informed approaches to
research on this county.
References to the research
1. The Victoria History of the Counties of England: A History
of the County of Stafford, vol. VII, Leek and the Moorlands
(1996); vol. IX, Burton upon Trent (2003); vol. X Tutbury and
Needwood Forest (2007); vol. XI, Audley, Keele, and Trentham
(2013); all edited by Tringham, IX and X have substantial contributions by
Atherton and Tomkins.
2. I.J. Atherton, `Royalist Finances in the English Civil War: the
case of Lichfield Garrison, 1643-5', Midland History, 33:1 (2008),
3. I. Atherton and D. Como, `The Burning of Edward Wightman:
Puritanism, Prelacy and the Politics of Heresy in Early Modern England', English
Historical Review, 120:489 (2005), pp. 1215-50
4. A. Tomkins, The Experience of Urban Poverty 1723-82.
Parish, Charity and Credit (Manchester University Press, 2006).
5. A. Tomkins, `The excellent example of the working class:
Medical welfare, contributory funding and the North Staffordshire
Infirmary from 1815', Social History of Medicine, 21:1 (2008) pp.
6. N.J. Tringham (ed.) Charters of the Vicars Choral of York
Minister, 2 vols. Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record
Series, vols. 148, 156 (1993, 2002).
7.N.J. Tringham (ed.) `Three thirteenth- and fourteenth-century
surveys of Burton Abbey Manors' and `Select documents for the medieval
borough of Burton-upon-Trent', Staffordshire Record Society, 4th
series, volume XX (2004), 1-58.
Sept 2007-Jan 2008: Dr Tomkins, AHRC Research Leave, `Provincial
Obstetrics in late eighteenth-century England'.
Sept 2007-Jan 2008: Dr Atherton, AHRC Research Leave, `Cathedrals
and the British Churches, 1538-1670'.
Oct 2012-Sept 2015: Dr Tomkins and Dr Tringham, AHRC Collaborative
Doctoral Award, `Staffordshire landed estates and the development of urban
communities in the long nineteenth century'.
The research has been published by leading publishers and in
Details of the impact
Active involvement in researching and writing local and family history is
a significant marker of individual well-being and community cohesion and
resilience. Consequently, Staffordshire and Stoke Archive and Heritage
Service are committed, indeed required, to undertake systematic public
engagement and educational activity, and to provide the resources and
training that support individuals and groups in their own historical work.
The VCH volumes and associated initiatives of the Keele historians
involved with the VCH make a very significant contribution to the Archive
Service's outreach work. The value placed on Keele's research expertise is
demonstrated by the generous funding given to the university by
Staffordshire County Council, to support Dr Tringham's work on the VCH and
other local history activities. This funding has included £260,000 in
grants between 2008 and 2013, with the County Council continuing to pay
£30,000 per annum, despite current funding constraints [source 1].
As Tristram Hunt MP wrote on the launch of the latest VCH volume, `these
big red books are invaluable sources', and serve as starting points for
most research on local history. They are widely available in local
libraries and systematic attempts are made in Staffordshire to make them
accessible to the public. High-profile public launches of each volume are
one element in this strategy; Hunt's Marc Fitch lecture at the launch of
the latest volume attracted an attendance of more than 100; in the local
press he noted that the VCH was `changing with the times', bringing the
`downstairs world' of Trentham Hall to life [source 2].
Furthermore, Staffordshire Archive Service has arranged cheap paperback
publication of specific sections, such as the constituent Pottery towns,
Lichfield cathedral, Walsall borough, and small villages, such as Gnosall.
Some 300 copies have been sold to date, bringing an income of over £1500
to the Record Office. Finally, most of the volumes are now freely
available in electronic format through the Staffordshire VCH website, part
of the Institute of Historical Research's British History Online. Recent
volumes are attracting over 20,000 downloads each year: between 2008 and
2012 inclusive vol. VII (Leek and the Moorlands) was accessed approx.
117,000 times, vol. IX (Burton) 112,500. Older volumes are still relevant:
Lichfield was accessed 101,500 times over the five years, while Stoke and
Newcastle (vol. VIII) was accessed over 30,000 times per annum (174,000 in
all) [source 3].
These figures indicate the value of the VCH to readers and researchers
beyond academic institutions (particularly as they largely match general
population patterns in the county). The scholarship in the VCH is an
essential reference point for Staffordshire Archive Service, deployed as
contextualization in cataloguing and informing successful applications for
grant support, as in the 2009 award to calendar and digitise Quarter
Sessions records, so extending access to vital materials for understanding
Staffordshire's (and Britain's) past. VCH articles inform many of the
service's public dissemination activities, including exhibitions, `road
shows' and its website. `Out of Darkness', an exhibition which highlighted
the county's rich collection of original pre-Conquest documents, was
informed by VCH work on Domesday, and the paperback edition of the
relevant section from vol. IV was on sale. Each year the Archive Service
takes a road show (featuring a local exhibition and activities with
archives) to a different village, the choice influenced in part by whether
it has or soon will be featured in the VCH. For Gnosall in 2011, the
Service arranged for the reprint of the VCH article on the village.
Attendance at these road shows usually varies from 150 to 300; the
enthusiasm generated at the Gnosall event prompted the formation of a
local society that won lottery funding for new interpretation panels [source
1]. The VCH is also referenced on the Archive Service's
Staffordshire Places website article on Gnosall [source 4].
Tringham gave a lecture at the opening of the `Out of Darkness'
exhibition, one of many examples of how the expertise of Keele historians
in partnership with the Archives service contribute to informing the
public, and encouraging active participation in historical research. A
talk by Atherton on the early modern heretic Edward Wightman prompted
commemorations by Lichfield city and the cathedral of the 400th
anniversary of Wightman's execution in April 2012 [source 5].
Keele historians speak at regular themed day schools (on Landscape in
2009, for example) and at the annual Staffordshire History Day (organised
since 2012 by the Archive Service, and Birmingham and Keele Universities)
that is attended by over 100 people. In addition there are annual `VCH
Study Days' held at the Record Office introducing smaller groups to
research techniques on specific topics (Aristocracy in 2009, Industries in
2012, for example). All events are evaluated by the Archive Service and
responses feed into future developments [source 1].
The VCH offers experienced independent researchers and newer local
historians opportunities to research and publish local history. A member
of the North Staffordshire Guild of Historians and an independent garden
historian (previously unpublished) contributed to the work on the
household at Trentham for volume XI, as did members of the history society
in the small village of Betley (where 172 people attended the archive road
show in 2009) [source 6]. The combined impact of the 2010 road
show and the start of VCH work on south-east Staffordshire prompted the
formation of a local history society at Clifton Campville. Some of its
members participate in the Staffordshire Community Research Group run by
Tringham and archive staff at the Record Office, which is now working
mainly on sources for the next VCH volume. A study of `Lordship and
Community' in the medieval village is already on the central VCH `Explore'
website, which also features work on Gnosall [sources, 1, 7].
Local volunteers contribute to national initiatives, such as the project
to catalogue and digitise the 19th-century correspondence of the
London-based poor law commissioners with local guardians, run by the
British Association for Local History (BALH) with the National Archives.
Through Tringham's initiative and supported by a grant of £36,100 from the
heritage lottery fund, 15 people from north Staffordshire, mentored and
trained by experienced local historians, are part of a Midlands volunteer
research community working on `Pauper prisons... pauper palaces',
illuminating the history of the Victorian poor [source 8].
The significance of the VCH then is not just that it has impact on, but
that it works in partnership with, the local archive service and both
sustains and benefits from a thriving group of local historians and
societies. The county council's generous support for the VCH and broader
local history initiatives at Keele is linked to their `Healthy Living
Initiatives' as well as their heritage strategy. Evaluations suggest that
the main audiences and participants come from active older people although
younger people are represented in the Community Research Group [source
1]. The VCH team similarly recognise that local history is a
democratic rather than an exclusive endeavour, that active participation
in historical research empowers individuals, and that informed and
critical understanding of the past helps sustain local communities. Their
dissemination, partnership and training activities aim to maximise these
Sources to corroborate the impact
Source 1: Staffordshire and Stoke Archive and Heritage Service.
Source 2: Tristram Hunt MP website, `The Sentinel — the
importance of County Histories', 14th May 2013: http://www.tristramhunt.com/web/2013/05/14/the-sentinel-the-importance-of-county-histories/
Source 3: VCH Central Office, Institute of Historical Research.
Figures to the nearest 500.
Source 4: Staffordshire Archive Service website:
Source 5: Lichfield Cathedral.
Source 6: Member of North Staffordshire Guild of Historians.
Source 7: Victoria County History Website `Clifton Campville:
lordship and community':
Source 8: Research and Records Coordinator, `Pauper prisons
...pauper palaces', Midlands project, British Association for Local