Victoria County Histories
To create a meaningful family history genealogists need to research the background of their ancestors lives as well as names and dates. A good starting point for this would be to consult the section for the parish or parishes in which your ancestors lived within the Victoria County Histories.
The series of books that much up the histories are a goldmine for family historians and those interested in local history. The series started in 1899 and the project was dedicated to Queen Victoria hence the name. It was a massive undertaking to write a complete history of the land, places and prominent people of each English county, but the Victorian were ambitious people and obviously the founders of the VCH thought it could be completed. I think they would be surprised to find that the project is still being worked on and completion is a little way off.
The model for each county was that the topography, geology, flora, fauna and history would be covered, each area was to be written by a eminent specialist and the books were to be scholarly. Each set of county books ran into several volumes and most large libraries subscribed and still subscribe to the series.
What is in Victoria County Histories for the genealogist?
The volumes of interest are the ones in which the county is broken down into parishes. Each parish contains a history dating back as far as it is possible to go, even back to the Domesday Book of 1086 if it was recorded. There is mention made of prominent buildings such as the vicarage or rectory, the manor house and other landowners homes.
The history and lists of the inhabitants of the manor or manors within the parish, and the history and incumbents of the church. Mention is also made of any chapels attached to the parish church and also any non conformist meeting houses or chapels. Descriptions of charities set up to administer monies and properties left, often for the relief of the poor of the parish, in the wills of parishioners are recorded. Mention might also be made of any mills and fisheries within the parish.
There are also often sketch drawings of the church, manor house, coats of arms etc.
Below is an example of the section on the parish of Wonston, Hampshire, the article then goes onto describe the three manors, the church, advowsons and charities and has illustrations of the floor plan of the church, the Scotney manor house and coats of arms for the Scotney, St Valery, MCreagh and Thornhill familes. All the material is footnoted so that source documents can be traced and inspected for further information if necessary.
The parish of Wonston covers an area of 5,493acres, of which 8 are covered by water. The greater part of the land is included in the northern slope of the high ridge of downland which rises north-west of Winchester and slopes down towards the north to the tributary of the Test as it runs a generally north-western course through the centre of Wonston parish.The parish boundaries from east to west narrow near the river, and here is the village of Wonston, west of which is the closely dependent, but now larger and more important, village of Sutton Scotney. North of Sutton Scotney are Cranborne and Norton Farms, the centres of the original manors of Cranborne and Norton, the lands of which, making up the rest of the parish, stretch away in a long narrow piece of land of about two miles of open field and downland to a dark clump of woodland which covers the north-east corner of the parish and joins the south-eastern edge of the Freefolk Woods as they run west and form the northern boundary of Wonston. Two roads from Winchester lead to Wonston; one the road which runs north-west from the city through the Worthies and Stoke Charity and approaches Wonston village from the east; the other, the main Roman road to Andover, which runs north-west from the city and,skirting Flower Town east of Littleton, sends off branch road north over the north-eastern part of Wortley Down, through Sutton Scotney village, and thence east towards Wonston. The latter road after climbing Wortley Down rises on Cow Down and thence descends sharply between a clump of fine trees standing on the west side of the road and two or three detached houses lately built on the opposite side,running along through open country over which the buildings and plough-lands of South Wonston Farm lie to the east. Continuing over hilly country for about a mile and a half north, the road rises to a house which standing to the west at the top of the hill is the first sign of Sutton Scotney village, and from here the road curves east sharply downhill past outlying thatched cottages and farm buildings into the village. Here it branches west to Stockbridge, north to Whitchurch,and east past the railway station (fn. 1) over the railway bridge to Wonston village. The branch running north to Whitchurch becomes the chief village street, standing east of which at the corner of the road leading to Wonston is the Victoria Diamond Jubilee Institute with its clock tower. Beyond this on the same side of the road is the small wooden chapel of ease for Wonston church. But the chief features of the village,apart from its numerous picturesque thatched cottages,its small provision shops and post office, are the two old inns which stand on the west side of the road in the centre of the village, the ‘White Swan’ with its stuffed bird representing its sign in a dusty glass case over the north entrance, and the yellow-painted ‘Coach and Horses,’ which stands close by on the north side of the small courtyard-like space which separates the two.
From: ‘Parishes: Wonston’, A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 3 (1908), pp. 453-461. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42027&strquery=
Where can Victoria County Histories be found?
Most major libraries will have the histories for their county and some may have a complete run of all counties published so far. County Record Offices will almost certainly also have copies. Copies of the histories can be purchased from the Institute of Historical Research who now run the project. However the cost per volume can be as much as £100.
The British History Online website offers copies of the volumes on the internet free of charge and this is the main source that most genealogists use. Simply put the name of the parish you are interested in the search box on the front page of the web site, click and then scroll down the list of hits and chose the one that says “A History of the County of …..” this will take you to the relevant page.
These histories will give you much valuable background information on the parishes in which your ancestors lived and worked. Occasionally you may even find your ancestors named and if they were holders of manorial rights then a line of succession to those rights will be listed. Take a look at these parish histories and I am sure you will soon be including them in your files for all your families.