Historic Environment Records: a valuable research tool

apnnningThe Hertfordshire Historic Environment Record (HER) is maintained by a historic environment record officer who is part of the County Council’s Historic Environment team. The HER is a comprehensive computerised index of all the known archaeology in the county, and it is one of 84 HERs in England that all adhere to a set of national standards that have developed gradually since the 1970s. The early HERs were known as Sites and Monument Records but as their remit widened to include information about the wider Historic Environment the name was updated to reflect this.

Components of the HER

The Hertfordshire HER (established in 1977) currently has 31,600+ database records which span the full range of human history from the Palaeolithic to the 20th century and include Neolithic and Bronze Age barrows, Iron Age hill forts, Roman villas, medieval settlements, field systems, buildings (both historic and more recent), industrial sites, railways and canals.

Alongside the ‘monument’ records we maintain ‘event’ records of the archaeological work that has been carried out across the county, including archaeological evaluations and excavations, geophysical and other surveys, historic building recording and other investigations.

Attached to the database is a mapping system which allows us to present all this data visually in the County Council’s geographical information system.

Recording and adding to the database is often referred to as enhancing the historic environment record. This is when we add information to records we already have, or create new ones when things are found. We use many different types of sources to create or enhance a record. Much of our information comes from archaeological reports but we also use old maps, photographs, newspapers and magazine articles as well as books and other documents. All this material forms an archive which is cross-referenced to the HER.

The Purpose of HERs

HERs play a variety of roles but the main two are to record information about the local historic environment and to provide that information to the public, researchers and academics, and to commercial archaeology companies on request. The HER also forms the basis for the archaeological advice provided by the County Council’s historic environment team to the local planning authorities in Hertfordshire.

The database is fully indexed and a wide variety of enquiries can be answered using its in-built searching facilities. The database is a good resource for those who want to carry out local research, and most HERs provide a free service (as doesHertfordshire) for those who are undertaking personal or academic research.

Searches can be carried out to provide information on particular areas (such as parishes or towns), or on a set distance around a national grid reference or location (e.g. 1km radius around TL 06087 20217 or 500m radius of Panshanger Park) or on particular topics (such as Bronze Age barrows or World War II pill boxes).

Hertfordshire ‘monument’ data is also available through a national website run by Historic England – the Heritage Gateway (www.heritagegateway.org.uk), but we hold more detailed information, and copies of the sources our records are based on, here at County Hall. This material is all available to look at in person, but since our space is limited this has to be by prior appointment.

Our contact details for general enquiries are: tel. 01992 555021 or email: historic.environment@hertfordshire.gov.uk

Rebekah Hart and Alison Tinniswood, Herts Historic Environment Record