Annual report and accounts

Professor Keith Lilley writes about the past year's activities on the Historic Towns Atlas...

2015 and 2016 have been two productive and energetic years for the Historic Towns Trust

Following on from the publication in March 2015 of Volume IV of the British Historic Towns Atlas on Windsor and Eton, another significant atlas appeared nine months later in December. Working in partnership with York Archaeological Trust, and after forty years of research and major financial investment by the HTT, Volume V in the atlas series was published for the city of York. The atlas was launched in February 2016 at the Merchant Venturers’ Hall in York by the Lord Mayor of the city, with over one hundred attending the event from across the city and county. The atlas was so successfully received in the first few months of publication, it was soon sold out and a second printing took place.

In January 2016, the HTT published and launched the first of our Town and City Historical Maps series. The Historical Map of Oxford was presented for the first time at the Divinity School, Bodleian Library, in Oxford, accompanied by an exhibition on historic maps of Oxford held by the library and a display of the materials used to create the new map. The first print run of the attractive map quickly sold out and soon reprinted and made available through Oxford’s many local booksellers, including Blackwell’s of Oxford. This map will also form part of the Historic Towns Atlas of Oxford which through the year has received generous support from benefactors and is progressing well. The Trust has been actively engaged with fund-raising and local events to ensure the Oxford atlas can proceed through to publication in the next few years to form Volume VII in the series.

Meanwhile, work on the Winchester Historic Towns Atlas is nearing completion and the Trust anticipates its publication early in 2017. In 2016 the Trust received a much-welcomed grant from the Avocet Charitable Trust to enable us to produce a second map in the Town and City Historical Map series to complement the map of Oxford. The new map of Winchester was launched in October in Winchester at the Guildhall at a public event organised by the Hampshire Cultural Trust and was very well received by those present. The Town and City Historical Map series forms an affordable and accessible output for a wide audience, including local communities and organisations interested in how their town or city developed over past centuries.

The Trust has begun work in collaboration with the University of Hull on an Historical Map of Kingston-upon-Hull for publication timed to coincide with the city’s 2017 UK City of Culture status. This is one of a number of new initiatives the Trust is developing to expand the geographical and historical scope of the Historic Towns Atlas series and the new Town and City Historical Maps. The HTT is also aiming to develop projects in a number of towns and cities across the UK, including Swansea, Colchester, Exeter and Liverpool, as well as revisiting towns and cities published in the first three volumes of the Historic Towns Atlas, including Cambridge (Volume II) and London 1520 (Volume III).

The Historic Towns Atlas web-site continues to be a key public face of the Trust with a steadily increasing number of hits and positive feedback on the usefulness of contents. The number of web pages has been expanded over the year, to include information on the governance and structure of the Trust and our strategic aims and objectives, as well as further details on our atlas and mapping projects.

Internationalising the Historic Towns Atlas project is an important aim for the Trust, since our atlases do form part of the wider European historic towns atlas programme involving countries including France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Austria, and Ireland. Working in partnership in particular with our colleagues at the Irish Historic Towns Atlas (IHTA), the HTT co-hosted the IHTA’s annual seminar held in Dublin at the Royal Irish Academy in May 2016. With a very successful series of papers on the theme of Medieval Townscapes, the seminar drew comparisons between the towns and cities of the British and Irish Historic Towns Atlases. Other symposia and events that the Trust has been involved with over the past year include the British Cartographic Society’s annual symposium in York, the North American Conference on British Studies in Washington DC, and Das Stadtdenkmal Basel Kolloquium, held in Basel, Switzerland.

Over the past few years the Trust has invested substantially in atlas and map projects, and it is now gratifying to find that the financial returns from our sales mean that we can look to invest in future activities. Nevertheless, finding the substantial sums of money required to resource the continued production of our atlases and maps remains and always will be a considerable challenge to the Trust. The quality of the Trust’s outputs is highly regarded and this helps us to attract generous and much-needed donations to support specific projects, but the need to increase the core capital of the charity will be a much more challenging task for the years ahead. The Trust is particularly ambitious in its plans to achieve a target of £1,000,000 by 2019 – marking the fiftieth anniversary of the first atlas publication in 1969 – and to yield returns from investments to make it possible to drive the project forward beyond our golden jubilee.

Over the past year, the Historic Towns Trust has had a busy and exciting time, completing projects as well as initiating new ones. As Chair of the Trust, I am very well supported by Trustees who devote much of their time and energy to our projects and activities, and I am grateful to them for this and offer my gratitude and appreciation. Going forward, the Trust is in excellent shape and 2017 promises to be another significant year for us.

Keith Lilley

October 31st 2016

The report and accounts for the Historic Towns Trust for the year ended 30th September 2016 will shortly be available below to view as a PDF.