Updates from the Workhouse: Mapmaking

A significant part of my work continues to be for Team Workhouse, including the work I did over winter break for Professor Susannah Ottaway ‘89. My earlier post detailed my process for determining the locations of parishes in England in order to better understand the use of workhouses for poor relief in the late 18th and early 19th century. I continued to find locations over break, and then double checked those locations I had found to make sure I hadn’t missed any parishes and so I was confident in the new locations. Finally, though, I finished that and reached a point where I could leave the spreadsheet behind and begin mapping! Of course, I quickly learned that you can never really leave the spreadsheet behind.

A map showing all parishes with access to a workhouse in England and Wales.

I quickly ran into a problem: I was working from home, so I only had access to ArcGIS online, which, while a great tool, is not as powerful as the desktop version. The online version will only take up to 1000 entries in a CSV upload at a time, and the database has a little over 3300 entries! I was able to get around this by splitting the spreadsheet into four separate uploads, broken up along county lines to make my life a bit easier. I finally got all four CSVs into ArcGIS online, double checking that all locations were in fact in the map document.

Once I had all the locations in, I was finally able to step back and look at the data as a whole (insert my rough map of all the workhouses colored by county). I soon noticed what looked to be another problem. Since the parishes were colored by county, there were some obvious outliers. In addition, I had imported a layer that showed the 1851 county boundaries, and many of these outliers did not match the county boundaries of that layer. I went through the counties again, looking at parishes that were at least three miles outside of the county boundaries, recording those that fell outside those boundaries to later check to see if the location was correct, and potentially correct it.

An example of the 1831 English counties and exclaves.

While I did find some incorrect coordinates, many of them were actually correct. As I dug into the parishes I thought were incorrect, I learned that many county borders had changed, and many had even had parts of their counties that were not continuous with the rest! Fortunately, I was able to find a layer file of the English and Welsh counties in 1831 courtesy of the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure , when many of these exclaves still existed. Using this layer, it was much easier to visually check that parishes seemingly outside their counties were in fact within their boundaries. Once again, the county layer made my life much easier – instead of going back through my spreadsheet, quicker visual checks were now possible for what I thought were incorrect – and many did turn out to be correct.

A map showing the number of parishes with access to a workhouse by county.

Now that I’m confident in the parish locations, my next steps are to really dive into the maps and cartography. The data for the maps is all there, but the task now is to create polished maps for both print and online publication. Despite some of my struggles with both the technology and the content (I had no idea that counties could have exclaves!), the use of GIS was a valuable tool, not just for the cartography, but also for the vital step of confirming that parishes were actually where they were supposed to be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *