Tracks in Time is the name of a Heritage Lottery funded project that has conserved, captured digitally and provided free online access to the historic tithe maps that span the modern Leeds Metropolitan District. Each hand-drawn plan, together with its accompanying apportionment data, provides an illustration of land ownership, land occupancy and land use within the urban and rural townships of Leeds between 1838 and 1861. Collectively, they represent the earliest systematic, large-scale cartographic record of the area and thus constitute an important and valuable archive resource.
The tithe maps were originally working documents for diocesan and parish officials in the mid-nineteenth century. Although generally in good condition, several of the plans had become fragile and suffered peripheral damage following many years of use. Some had accumulated a layer of coal dust due to previous exposure to poor storage conditions. Expert conservation work was therefore undertaken by West Yorkshire Archive Service to carefully clean and repair the maps, restoring each one to its original splendour and so prolonging the long-term survival of the collection.
Preservation was further enhanced through the creation of a digital archive. High-resolution scans yielded top-quality digital surrogates of the maps, images that have been mounted online within our Tithe Map Digital Resource. This powerful tool enables not only the visualisation of the tithe maps but also makes easier their investigation and analysis. The data from the accompanying apportionments, which was transcribed by teams of volunteers, has been linked to the relevant tithe plots and townships, thereby allowing interested parties to interrogate the resource and obtain answers and display results to suit individual research requirements. The user may query the database to find a specific land owner, for instance, and be taken to the portion of the map once held by that person. Or they might assess land usage and highlight all orchards, woodland and other land types within a given area.
The digital resource brings together all of the tithe plans for Leeds, and the data underpinning them, so as to enable the user to add value to the maps, discerning a wealth of information that was previously difficult to ascertain. People can therefore access the underlying data to trace their family tree, research local history or else satisfy other personal curiosities. The resource also houses historic and contemporary Ordnance Survey mapping data and detailed aerial photography so as to enrich research potential and enable cross-district historical comparisons to be made. The ability to zoom in and out of locations and search by modern postcode identifiers simplifies and enhances this process. Users can also view and print full-colour custom copies of the tithe maps, both in their original format (complete with ornately drawn cartographic flourishes) or as extracts from a seamless layer of the various townships.
Tracks in Time has improved access to Leeds’ tithe map collection, currently only available at Archive offices during opening hours, by removing physical, financial and intellectual barriers to participation. It is hoped that the Tithe Map Digital Resource will both encourage exploration and inspire research, helping community groups, young people, and traditional and new audiences alike.
West Yorkshire Archive Service