Tag Archives: Warwick

My contribution to the 1986 BBC Domesday project is online

A PR representing the BBC has been working hard to get my attention with regards to Auntie’s attempts to upload, and reload, the 1980s Domesday Project. The pitch in itself is not surprising because, well, that is what PRs are supposed to do. But I was pleasantly surprised to be targeted.

My pleasure comes from the fact that I have a special place in my heart for the original BBC Domesday project. As I wrote in a piece for IT trade paper Computing in 2003, the scheme was set up to mark the 900th anniversary of William the Conqueror’s original Domesday Book in 1086 and was intended to provide a snapshot of British life in the late 20th century.

The new Domesday provided a cute collection of information. But as I also wrote eight years ago, while the data in William the Conqueror’s original manuscript is still accessible 900 years on, the pace of change in technology meant that the BBC Domesday project had become inaccessible. Mid-1980s video disc technology had been superseded by portable compact disc systems. And the LDV hardware used to run the BBC project’s video-discs was in short supply.

Which was particularly upsetting for me. You see, I was in the original Domesday project (the BBC one, not the one from 1066). When I was kid, I lived in a place called Hampton Magna. It is a small village outside Warwick (in fact, it is close to the site of a deserted village called Budbrooke which was in the 1066 Domesday but which was wiped out by the plague). However, I digress. As I wrote in the Computing article of 2003:

“I never won much as a child, so I was genuinely proud when I was chosen to represent my school on the BBC Domesday project … I was asked to provide a description of my house in Hampton Magna.”

The Computing piece subsequently detailed the attempts of researchers at the University of Leeds to preserve the Domesday material. I remember that they were lovely chaps, even providing hard copies of my data for illustrations in the magazine. Anyway, I completed my editorial folly in Computing with the following conclusion:

“Thanks to the emulator, the BBC Domesday is available again. Now it’s time to sort out the copyright situation and make its treasure trove of data accessible to us all.”

And almost exactly eight years later, those issues seem to have been sorted. BBC Learning today unveiled its resurrection of the 1986 Domesday project and a dedicated web site called Domesday Reloaded. And yes, MARKS [sic] HOUSE IN HAMPTON MAGNA is there (as well as pictures from the school summer fete).

It is, as you can see, a work of low-level genius. But it was my first publication and I loved going to look at the description on the BBC Micro at Warwick Library as a kid. BBC Domesday – it is good to have you back, old friend.

Wanstead, Tesco and the changing High Street

I live in a place called Wanstead. If you live in London, it’s on the Central Line loop; if you don’t, it’s to the east. Wanstead is nice. My Dad is always saying: “What I don’t get about this London is that even when a place is nice, there’s something really grim just round the corner.”

He’s right, of course, but he lives in Warwick. And that is basically the posh Midlands. So, he’s a bit spoilt. But Wanstead – when it comes to London and it’s rather frustrating mix of nice and grim – is fairly grand. That sense of grandness is provided by the wide, tree-lined streets, some splendid period architecture and some lovely open spaces, such as the green on the High Street and Wanstead Park.

The village – if you can call Wanstead a village when it’s five minutes from the M11 and served by two Underground stations – has managed to retain a strong identity, particularly as the rest of east London is either being smashed for the Olympics or going to the dogs (or not, in the case of the former dog track at Walthamstow Stadium).

Then last week, a Tesco opened on the Wanstead High Street. It’s been a source of conjecture, debate and protestation. The store takes the place of a former Woolworth’s (RIP, you good retail friend). The protests against the store have been long and loud (hence the delay in the store opening). A particularly vocal compaigner has been a chap called Ashley Gunstock, who admitted using the Leytonstone Tesco branch after being ‘outed’ by a local newspaper. It’s been that sort of debate.

People objecting to the store say Tesco will kill shops on the High Street. Like elsewhere in the UK, shops are always opening and closing in Wanstead – and I guess the presence of a retail giant is hardly likely to help the independents. And the community of Wanstead – and it does have a nice community; we know all our lovely neighbours – seem keen to ensure the shop is empty.

Which is why I was surprised to see people virtually fighting to get into the Tesco earlier this week, while the local Co-op – which is normally packed – was the retail equivalent of the Mary Celeste: “It’s always like this now,” said one of the workers to me at the Co-op.

Change, eh? Who needs it? Virtually everyone, it would seem.