When was the Trust established and how is it still evolving?
The British Atlas of Historic Towns Project was established in 1963 as part of a pan-European project to produce atlases of consistent scale and content for the easy comparison of the growth and development of European cities.
The project's aim was to enhance appreciation and understanding of the history and character of European towns by providing information and facilitating comparative study. The principles behind the atlases were to provide maps and text in a way which filled a gap both in knowledge and in tools for urban studies.
View a historical timeline of our origins and key milestones including the impact of our atlas and map publications.
Former Trust Chair Professor Caroline Barron writes about the history of the project and its connections with Oxford.
Former Trust Chair Professor Keith Lilley writes about the Trust's evolving approach to the British Historic Towns Atlas and the maps that it publishes.
European Historic Towns Atlas
The European Historic Towns Atlas Project was started in 1955 by the Commission Internationale pour l’Histoire des Villes (International Commission for the History of Towns (ICHT)) of the Comité Internationale des Sciences Historiques.
Amongst the ICHT’s aims is to encourage and co-ordinate the production of atlases of towns plans, to common scales, accompanied by commentaries and subsidiary maps. The purpose of these atlases is to aid the comparative study of the history of towns in Europe.
Although many secondary works on the history of individual settlements have been written, making comparisons between towns has often been made harder by the lack of town plans of a comparable scale. The HTA programme has aimed to produce consistency between countries to allow for just such comparison.
Although member countries have approached the production of atlases in different ways, they have much content and approach in common. In particular, all atlases include:
A ‘main map’, newly prepared from contemporary sources (often a cadastral survey or one prepared by a state mapping agency) and drawn to modern cartographic standards of accuracy and clarity, which recreates the town as it appeared in the mid or early 19th century at a scale of 1:2500
A regional map at 1:25,000, which is often a reproduction of an early-19th-century map
A modern town plan, often based on state or national mapping agency work.
In addition, all towns include a series of maps which show the phases of the growth of the town. The history of the urban forms of towns has provided the chance to include special maps depicting specific features of the urban environment such as fortifications, Jewish ghettoes, parish and other administrative boundaries, and sometimes even maps of the distributions of trades and occupations.
The approaches taken by different countries have resulted in atlases which look very different in their presentation and approach, but nevertheless provide a means of comparison of the histories of diverse towns.
Further information about the European Historic Towns Atlas Project can be found at the University of Muenster's website The Institute for Comparative Town History. This link takes you to a map of the places in Europe covered by the EHTA project compiled by the project's co-ordinator, Dr Daniel Stracke.
A bibliographic list of all European atlases published to date can also be downloaded as a PDF via the Royal Irish Academy.
An article reviewing the state of publication of the HTA programme 'Retrieving the pre-industrial built environments of Europe: the Historic Towns Atlas programme and comparative morphology study' by Michael P. Conzen was published in Urban Morphology (2008) 12 (2), pp 143–56 and provides further details on the genesis and progress of the project.
The Historic Towns Trust is a charity which investigates the histories of towns in England, Scotland and Wales.