Index Villaris needs help to identify places

Things have been quiet here for longer than I expected because I’m busy earning money, which is the best thing to do at a time like this. Meanwhile, someone else’s project needs help, and it will also help By The Sword Linked in the long term.

Index Villaris is a project to create freely reusable geodata from a directory of places in England and Wales printed in 1680. The printed book lists 24,000 settlements along with their latitude and longitude, and the county, hundred and rural deanery they were in. This data will obviously be very valuable for By The Sword Linked and for many other things. It will allow me to:

  • add every English settlement that existed. Currently I have 12,000 wiki pages for settlements that had administrative units named after them, and an offline list of another 1,000 names of units that I haven’t yet been able to match to settlements.
  • add Welsh settlements more easily. So far I haven’t tried to tackle Wales.
  • get more accurate coordinates for the locations of settlements in the 17th century. My existing coordinates are taken from Ordnance Survey data showing where the settlement is now. Some will have moved because of landscaped parks, coastal erosion or other reasons.
  • link settlements to hundreds and deaneries. This will make my current practice of using settlements as proxies for parishes and townships more effective, and would make it easier to add parishes in future.

An alpha version of the data has already been released. The project team have been able to identify and locate 95% of the settlements in the list, but they need help with the other 5%. The instructions page gives details of how to help. You can do the task in a web browser on a computer. I’ve found it easy to use and have been able to offer a few suggestions. The unidentified settlements are often misplaced on the map, which is why the correct identification wasn’t always obvious. Sometimes this is just an error in the coordinates in the original printed edition. For example, Shenley Brook End and Warrington (both in Buckinghamshire) were listed under the correct county and hundred but had the wrong coordinates printed. They were both easy to correct because they are fairly well-known places. Printed coordinates of some places are so wrong that they appear in the wrong county or even in the sea! In other cases, the printed counties or hundreds may be wrong, and the place names may use archaic phonetic spellings. Some settlements may be very small and obscure. That’s why more people with detailed knowledge of local history are needed to help.

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