Welcome to Surrey’s Historic Environment Record
What is Surrey’s HER?
The Historic Environment Record, or HER, is a comprehensive database which holds information on all the known archaeological sites, monuments, historic buildings and findspots across the county. The record is used mainly during the planning process where companies want to understand the archaeology and history of their site before a project begins. However it is also a public record, freely accessible to the public for any non commercial work. A snapshot of our data is available through this map.
How does information get into the record?
The record first began in the 1970s and was based on information recorded by the Ordnance Survey Archaeological Division. You will often see earthwork features (humps and bumps in the ground) marked by hachures and historic places of interest marked in an antique looking typeface on OS mapping. It was these sites which formed the beginnings of the Sites and Monuments Record (SMR).
© Crown copyright and database rights 2016 OS 100019613.
Below-ground archaeology began to be added to the record throughout the late 1970s and 1980s. This was a period of ‘rescue’ archaeology where government funded excavations might take place during large construction projects. In the county, a small number of sites during the construction of the M25 were carried out this way. If sites were identified during construction projects and if there was funding available, they were excavated as the building work went along and if there was funding available, the archaeology could be identified, excavated and recorded rather than destroyed. It was at this point archaeology began to be understood as a finite resource which needed to be recorded or the information would be lost forever. This kind of work was happening across the country, for example in Surrey, an excavation at Runnymede Bridge in 1976 identified finds of Neolithic date and some of the best preserved later Bronze Age material in the country. Archaeologists commented at the time that if a full-scale excavation, which had been planned from the beginning of the building, had been carried out that the site would probably have produced some of the most important information for the Bronze Age period, not only nationally but for Europe (see left).
Where sites were recorded and reported the information was added to the SMR, which was growing at a rapid rate. As construction grew so did the archaeological profession. It was clear that factoring archaeological and heritage advice into a project from the start would reduce the risk of ‘hitting the unexpected’ which would slow down the overall construction project. The amount of evidence of our past destroyed during this period of intensive construction can never be known as we can never have a complete picture, but that information is now gone forever.
In 1990 legislation was introduced which made it a legal requirement for developers to assess and protect any significant archaeological or heritage remains. This may mean looking at the potential for buried archaeological sites or protecting the historic character of an area. The developers have to show that they have taken these issues into account and have planned for the possibility of their site affecting the archaeology or built heritage of that location in order to obtain planning permission. This legislation led to an increasing amount of archaeological work being carried out and has greatly expanded our understanding of the history of the county.
By the late 90s the SMR held so much information it was impossible to store all the information on index cards and hand drawn paper maps and so a computer database was introduced. The record is now fully digitised and uses interactive mapping. In one week alone around 77 records can be created in order to make sure the database holds the most up to date information possible.
What information does the HER hold?
Since then we have come a long way and a broader range of historic information is now held in the database, including information relating to buildings and landscapes. The name was changed from SMR to Historic Environment Record to reflect that it was no longer simply a record of archaeological sites and monuments. As of today there are over 22,500 sites of archaeological or historical interest, findspots and buildings stored on our database of Surrey. We also hold records of all the archaeological excavations and fieldwork carried out in the county, which amounts to more than 15,000 individual projects and a large number of unpublished archaeological reports (called grey literature). Information on nationally designated sites, such as Scheduled Monuments, Listed Buildings and Registered Parks and Gardens are also available through us. We are constantly looking at ways in which we can add to and enhance the value of our dataset.
Our aim is to hold the most complete list of all the known sites in the county. If you have any information about the archaeology, landscapes or historic buildings where you live then we would like to hear from you. This can include information from single buildings to finds you make when about in Surrey. By reporting these features you can help towards creating a better understanding of Surrey’s past.
Over the next few months we will also be offering volunteering opportunities and creating a number of small and larger research projects. If you are interested in getting involved either drop us a line in the comments below or keep an eye out on the blog for updates. We will also be at the Heritage Showcase on 8th October creating a map with your memories and sharing our work with you. Details to follow soon….