Annual report and accounts

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

2016 and 2017 have been two productive and energetic years for the Historic Towns Trust

It is been a busy and extremely successful past year for the Historic Towns Trust (HTT). Thanks to funding gratefully received from a grant awarded by the Marc Fitch Fund a new map in the HTT Town and City Historical Map series was published in the Spring of 2017 for the City of Kingston upon Hull, timed to coincide with Hull’s status as UK City of Culture in 2017. Developed as a partnership between the HTT and University of Hull, the map was launched in Hull on May 31 2017 and received strong local publicity thanks to the efforts of Prof. David Atkinson at the University. Moreover, the Hull map was awarded a prize by the British Cartographic Society at its annual symposium held jointly with the Society of Cartographers, receiving a 'Commended' in the Stanfords Award for Printed Mapping, an open competition which attracted about 30 entries this year.

Keith Lilley (left), the authors of the Hull Map and the maps's cartographer at the launch of the map in May 2017

As well as a new map publication, the year has also seen major progress made towards the publication of Historic Towns Atlas volume VI – Winchester. After many years work and huge effort by a team of researchers, led by Professor Martin Biddle of Oxford University and the Winchester Excavations Committee, the atlas went to press in summer 2017. It will be published in late October 2017 and will be officially launched on November 15th in Winchester's Guildhall. The atlas publication for Winchester marks a major milestone in the British Historic Towns Atlas series, and will complement well the previously-published atlas of York, enabling scholars and general readers alike to compare in detail the topographical development of these two distinguished historic cities, both of which have strong royal connections.

As well as the Winchester atlas, the HTT also oversaw the publication in October 2016 of a new Historical Map of Winchester in our Town and City Historical Map series. This follows on from the success of the Historical Map of Oxford. Publication of the new Winchester map was made possible by a very generous grant from the Avocet Charitable Trust and we would like to thank the Trust for its kind help, as well as the Winchester Excavations Committee for their continued support of the Winchester atlas and map. Both the Winchester atlas and map make a major contribution to British urban history.

Over the past year, progress has also been made on the HTT’s publications on Oxford. The HTT's Town and City Historical Map of Oxford has already been reprinted, and continues to be well-stocked in Oxford bookshops and tourist venues. Further significant donations have been received to help assist in the publication of the Atlas, and the maps and texts for the volume are also well advanced. Donors who have financially supported the Oxford HTA were hosted at Canal House courtesy of the Master of St Peter’s College, Oxford, on May 16 2017 and HTT Trustees and the Oxford atlas team were present and we thank the Master of St Peter’s for kindly supporting this event. We now anticipate the Oxford atlas to be completed in 2018.

As Volume VII in the British Historic Towns Atlas series, the Oxford atlas will follow the format of the York and Winchester volumes, and together these atlases and the earlier volume on Windsor and Eton will represent a significant step change in the publication programme of the HTT. Indeed, with the publication of the Oxford atlas the current tranche of BHTAs will be complete. The question this then raises is, where next for the British Historic Towns Atlas? The Trustees are currently considering potential new atlas and mapping projects for other historic towns and cities across Great Britain. In Colchester, for example, a workshop at the University of Essex on June 23 2017 was organised by Dr Justin Colson to draw together interested parties to discuss the potential for a HTA of Colchester, which was well-received by those present. Other possible contenders for future atlases being actively explored currently are Canterbury, Exeter and Swansea, and we are also well aware of the need to look north, especially to the north-west of England, as well as Scotland, to ensure that the British Historic Towns Atlases have a wide geographical coverage.

In 2017 we find ourselves, then, in the exciting position of being able to look to the future, to map out a further programme of new atlas and map publications for the next decade. To help us in achieving this ambition, and guide the Trust's fundraising plans, the HTT have appointed a new Trustee with responsibility for fundraising and development. To take us forward, we are delighted to have secured the expertise of Anna Somerset, who joins the HTT in this role, as well as another new Trustee, Professor Helen Fulton, from the University of Bristol, who is an expert in medieval towns and has particular interests in Wales and the Welsh Marches. All of this bodes well for the creation of a new programme of atlas and map publications once the current batch of projects is completed.

As well as much good news, this year also brought the sad news of the death of former Trustee, Gordon Forster, who passed away on July 22 2017. For many years, Gordon had acted as Honorary Secretary for HTT meetings, carefully noting the proceedings in long hand and producing an immaculate copy for typing up.  Latterly, when Gordon ceased to be able to be a more active member of the Trust, he was very pleased to become an Emeritus Member. Gordon had a very close association with the Historic Towns Atlas of York (Vol. V) and helped to shape the contents of the chapter devoted to York's early modern history, contributing much scholarship to that section and to its maps. He was a scholarly and meticulous researcher, and a kind and approachable man, down to earth and practical, with a gentle sense of humour, and will be missed by all who knew him.

The HTT has also been busy internationalising the British Historic Towns Atlas project, 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 2017. With a very successful series of papers on the theme of 'Mapping Townscapes', the seminar drew comparisons between the cartographic methods and sources used by 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 and the International Commission for the History of Towns (ICHT) in Krakow in September 2017. At the latter, I am pleased to say I was appointed as one of the three joint conveners of the ICHT Atlas Working Group, a role which will help further cement the BHTA’s contribution to the wider European HTA project in the years ahead.

Over the past decades 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 — as our award-winning new map of Hull demonstrates — 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 all — and also, particularly, the HTT's Cartographic Editor, Giles Darkes, for his continued unstinting work for the Trust, to whom I offer my wholehearted gratitude and appreciation.

Going forward, the Trust is in excellent shape and 2018 promises to be another significant year for us.

Keith Lilley

October  2017


The HTT's accounting year runs from 1st October to 30th September. The report and accounts for the Historic Towns Trust for the year ended 30th September 2017 are available below to view as a PDF.