I am one of two HER Officers at West Yorkshire Historic Environment Record, which is hosted by the West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service (WYAAS). Historic Environment Records (HERs) are publicly accessible datasets that provide information and evidence about the historic environment in a particular area. They are an essential source of information for managing, caring for and understanding the historic environment and are (on the whole) maintained by local planning authorities, so they are used for planning and development control as well as for public benefit and educational use.
At West Yorkshire we hold comprehensive records of archaeological sites, historic buildings and individual finds ranging from the early Palaeolithic to the Cold War and late-20th century. We are also the repository for commercial and local society fieldwork reports, and hold many other resources such as aerial photographic and slide collections, a range of historic mapping, and an extensive archaeological reference library.
The first thing I do every day when I get into the office is check my emails for enquiries. Typically we get a wide range of enquiries – these can include data requests from commercial archaeological units to inform desk-based assessments for development projects; research questions from local societies or university students; or queries from members of the public who simply want to find out more about their property. We also have a bookable visitor space for anyone wanting to come and consult our records in person, and although we’ve not got any visitors in our search room today, this week we have had one person come in to look at records for historic sand mines, and another to examine our aerial photographs taken around the Wakefield area.
The other main task in my job is to create new records, and to enhance the HER’s database. At the moment we are mainly concentrating on digitising our historic building records, which are currently only available in paper format here at our offices. As well as myself, our Assistant HER Officer and one long-term volunteer are working on this project, and today I have edited or created records for a 16th century timber-framed barn, a Georgian pub, a Victorian Baptist chapel, and a 1930s co-operative store. After we finish the building records we will switch our focus onto digitising our aerial photographic collections and colour slides.
Another current concern and ongoing task is to increase the public profile of the HER. We have recently created a Facebook page and are using this to showcase selected sites or buildings that we have in our records, and share information about current archaeological projects and events happening in our region. The public response to this venture has already proven to be lively and encouraging, with the page attracting over 100 ‘likes’ and counting! In order to make our records more widely available to the general public we are also in the very final stages of putting our database online via the Heritage Gateway website, which should be up and running by August of this year.
Although aspects of working within an HER sometimes feel like never-ending tasks (there are always new discoveries and records to add!), I do often feel lucky as I get to learn about hundreds of fascinating archaeological sites and finds, and because it is such a reactive job, every day is often varied and it constantly expands and revises my own personal knowledge of archaeology. It also makes me happy to know that I have a job that, at its heart, attempts to have a positive effect on the community of West Yorkshire by highlighting and sharing the rich history of our landscape with as many people as possible!