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Mapping the Hundreds of England and Wales in GIS

Hundreds and their northern equivalents (wapentakes and wards) were one of the principal and most enduring units of administration in England (11th to mid-19th centuries) and to a lesser extent Wales (16th to mid-19th centuries).[1] The importance of the hundred as a unit of administrative geography is manifest in the volume and quality of the historical data associated with it. For example, taxation returns ordered under hundreds survive for six centuries (PRO, E 179) and the hundred was the administrative unit used for parliamentary enquiries into poor relief expenditure in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and the first four national censuses from 1801 to 1841. As the only administrative unit in widespread use intermediate in size between the parish and the county, the hundred is unique in its potential to reveal sub-county regional differences at a national scale over an extended time period.

Hitherto large scale mapping of hundredal data has been rendered impossible by the absence of any national map of hundred boundaries which conforms to the conventions of modern mapping. This in part reflects the problematic cartographic evidence. Hundred boundaries were a common feature on the numerous county maps produced at a scale of one inch to one mile (1:63360) from the late eighteenth century but these are not sufficiently accurate to produce a modern map. By way of contrast hundred boundaries were largely omitted from the first class of accurate national mapping - the first edition of the ordnance survey six inch maps (1:10560) produced in the second half of the nineteenth century. Historians and geographers interested in earlier periods have also been reluctant to consider wholesale mapping given that hundreds were not wholly static entities and elements of their boundaries have changed over time.

The ESRC-funded project 'Male Occupational Change and Economic Growth in England 1750-1851' has begun to address the problem of mapping the hundreds of England and Wales using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software. Given the potential value to the project of mapping data ordered under hundreds it was decided to investigate the practicalities of creating hundredal boundary data in digital form for a significant geographical area. A pilot project was undertaken comprising six contiguous counties: Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire. The exercise was rendered practicable due to the existence of accurate digital boundary data at township and parish level for all of England and Wales. Our thanks goes Roger Kain and Richard Oliver of the University of Exeter who first created the boundary data in a digital format and Nick Burton, John Westwood and Paul Carter of the University of Portsmouth who placed it into GIS.[2] Lists of the constituent township and parishes of each hundred of the six county block were generated from F.A. Youngs, Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England (1979) and the censuses of 1831 and 1851. Once the townships and parishes of the hundreds were identified they were amalgamated in GIS to form the hundred boundaries. For the modest numbers of problematic areas where a township or parish lay in two or more hundreds boundaries were adjusted using data derived from a variety of other historical cartographic sources including rectified scans of the county maps in James Bell's, New and Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales of 1834.

The website features static images of the boundary data for the six counties but its true value lies when it is in a GIS format. In June 2005 Tony Wrigley was awarded a British Academy Small Research Grant to enable Max Satchell to extend the GIS mapping of the hundreds to the whole of England and Wales. The creation of this dataset will be immensely useful both to the project and the wider academic community. The project will use the GIS boundary data to plot and compare new hundredal population data from 1761 at decadal intervals to 1801 and, at similar intervals from 1801 to 1841 using census data. A trial example of this mapping of this data for the hundreds of the six counties is available.

As of the end of April 2006 the work necessary to map all the hundreds and wapentakes of England and Wales is largely complete. Only minor revisions to the boundary data of a few counties remain and the entire dataset will be finished by mid-May. Click here to view the hundreds and wapentakes finished so far. See also a map of population growth rates 1761-1841 using the boundary data.

[1] Prior to the acts of union of 1536 and 1543 the equivalent Welsh unit to the hundred was the commote.

[2] UK Data Archive, SN 4348 R.J.P. Kain and R.R. Oliver, Historic Parishes of England and Wales: An Electronic Map of Boundaries before 1850 with a Gazeteer and Metadata; SN 4828 N. Burton, J. Westwood and P. Carter 'GIS of the Ancient Parishes of England and Wales, 1500-1850'.