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2. What is a Historic Environment Information Resource?

Research has shown that the things most people in the UK associate with the phrase 'historic environment' are historic buildings and palaces (MORI 2000). The MORI research also showed that people also associate places within their local area that have personal significance, such as football grounds, parks, industrial buildings, chapels, megaliths and local landmarks, in their definition of the 'historic environment'. However, if people wish to explore their interest in a particular place or building they soon find that relevant information is held by different organisations.

J.R.R. Tolkien lived in Sarehole as a child and the village is said to have provided him with a model for the Shire. Sarehole Mill is referred to as 'the great mill', which was home to Ted Sandyman and an important landmark in Lord of the Rings.


Sarehole Mill
Birmingham City Council
Matthew Boulton
Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery
Images of England

Take the hypothetical example of someone who visits Sarehole Mill in Birmingham because of its connection with J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and whose curiosity is sufficiently aroused to undertake some research. A simple search of Birmingham City Council's website would reveal that Sarehole Mill was home to Matthew Boulton who converted the former corn mill to use it for metal rolling and making buttons. The City Council's website also reveals that Boulton was an important figure in Birmingham's industrial past – the mint that Boulton established at Sarehole later moved to another site in the city where coins, trade tokens and medals were produced. An interested researcher could search Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery's on-line catalogue and find that the museum holds coins produced in Boulton's mint. If our hypothetical site visitor were to develop an interest in mills and early industrial sites in Birmingham, more information could be found by contacting the Birmingham Sites and Monuments Record or English Heritage's Images of England project. In turn, these resources might lead our visitor to consult specialists such as the Wind and Watermills Society.

This example is intended to illustrate the fact that information about any particular aspect of the historic environment in the UK tends to be distributed between many different organisations. These organisations operate in different sectors (national agencies, local government, museums, libraries, voluntary) and may be located anywhere in the UK or world-wide. As a result, it can be very difficult to know where to begin a piece of historical research and who to contact. There are large numbers of information resources and some are very much better advertised than others. Many, but not all, are available via the Internet where they compete for our attention with each other and with more populist resources. Unfortunately, the best advertised resources are not necessarily the most relevant or useful for research into a particular topic and many good resources are lost at the bottom of search engine result listings.

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Last updated: Tue Feb 18 2003