The Parish Maps project is arguably one of the most popular and enduring initiatives of the arts and environmental charity, Common Ground. The project sought to encourage people to look around their local area, identify what is distinctive about it and what they value, and then to chart this on a map of their ‘parish’.
Common Ground used the term ‘parish’ as a way to describe a home place. As the English language has no single specific word for the sense of belonging to a place (such as the German Heimat), Common Ground chose the word ‘parish’ to imply this, due to its connotations with familiarity, belonging and localness. This allowed parish map makers more freedom and fluidity in interpreting what part of their local area they considered to be their ‘parish’; they could create a map according to administrative boundaries, or adapt the boundaries of their map to their own sense of place, whether that be their street, neighbourhood, village, town, district or region.
But what exactly is a parish map? According to a Common Ground pamphlet, printed in 1996:
‘A parish map demonstrates what people claim as their own locality and what they value in it – wild life, history, work, landmarks, buildings, people, festivals. It does not have to be cartographically correct, but by illustrating locally distinctive activities and features, it helps you to focus on the everyday things that make your place significant to you and different from the next…Parish Maps are a starting point for local action, they are demonstrative, subjective statements made by and for a community, exploring and showing what it cares about in its locality…Parish Maps can be made by anyone in any way, of any place’. [EUL MS 416/PRO/5/4/8, Common Ground pamphlet ‘Parish Maps’ (1996), p. 3-5]
The idea for the Parish Maps project grew out of Common Ground’s book ‘Holding Your Ground: an action guide to local conservation’, and work began soon after its publication in 1985. Common Ground commissioned eighteen artists to create maps of their home parishes for the exhibition ‘Knowing Your Place: an exhibition of artists’ Parish Maps’, which opened in March 1987 and toured to twelve venues across the UK. In the same year, Common Ground published two pamphlets entitled ‘Parish Maps’ and ‘The Parish Boundary’, as well as a video and information pack produced together with ACRE entitled ‘The Local Jigsaw’.
The Parish Maps project appeared to quickly capture the public’s imagination and inspired the creation of thousands of parish maps by individuals and community groups across the UK. Common Ground offered advice to parish map makers, and information about new parish maps was sent to and enthusiastically collected by Common Ground. In 1996, the charity selected a number of examples of these parish maps to put on display in a national exhibition entitled ‘from place to PLACE: an Exhibition of Peoples’ Parish Maps’. It opened at The Barbican Centre in London, before going on tour to venues across the country. The exhibition led to the publication of a collection of essays entitled ‘from place to PLACE: maps and Parish Maps’ (1996).
The Parish Maps section of the archive has taken several weeks to catalogue because I wanted it to be as accessible as possible. In addition, I was keen to remove the abundance of plastic sleeves in which many of the papers had been kept by the organisation (now replaced with acid-free paper) – a time-consuming but worthwhile task! The files in the archive that were in unsuitable packaging have been placed into folders and boxes. Some files have retained their original housings of ring binders and box files, providing interesting insight into the charity’s approach to recordkeeping.
Common Ground organised their files of collected material relating to the creation of peoples’ parish maps by region. To enable these files to be as searchable as possible, I was keen to identify the names of the places in which parish maps had been made and include these in the file descriptions on the catalogue. Not only will this hopefully allow you to quickly find information on particular parish maps, but it will also enable you to compare and contrast the numbers of parish maps made in different regions of the UK. For example, based on the material collected by Common Ground alone, Devon stands out as the region in which the most parish maps were created! (See the file description below)
As many of the files in the Parish Maps section of the archive include recent correspondence containing personal names and addresses, some restrictions to access apply, in accordance with current data protection legislation. You can contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The files in the Parish Maps section of the archive have been arranged into five series: files of assorted material; files relating to the making of peoples’ parish maps; files relating to exhibitions and events; publications and promotional material; photographs; and publicity material and press clippings. You can click on the image below to take you straight to the catalogue to start exploring!
I have now started cataloguing my next section of the archive: material relating to the creation of Common Ground’s encyclopedia ‘England in Particular: A celebration of the commonplace, the local, the vernacular and the distinctive’. With more than 200 files, this will be a challenge and my largest section so far to catalogue, so do pop by again soon for the next update on the cataloguing project!
By Annie Price, Project Archivist
Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online archives catalogue today?
You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts.
For more information on the Parish Maps project and images of parish maps, see the Common Ground website.