Historic Landscape Characterisation: Case Studies

Applying the HLC Data

The data produced by the Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC) Project was created to offer an insight into the historic cultural character and evolution of the landscape of Wiltshire and Swindon. The data and attributes recorded for the c.14,500 parcels of land across the county can be analysed and presented in a number of ways to help researchers investigate topics, queries and themes.

When considering historic landscapes these are some of the possible ways of interrogating the HLC data:   

  • ‘Time-slices’ – can show snapshots in the evolution of the modern landscape
  • Statistics – giving a breakdown of HLC types and their rarity, survival and characteristics
  • Narratives – providing descriptions of HLC types and, as appropriate, their significance and potential
  • New Interpretations – reviewing and challenging existing preconceptions
  • Relationships – comparisons of the HLC data with other themed spatial or distributional datasets

           Fieldscape         SwindonStreet

The project report demonstrates these analytical techniques by looking at the following case studies which can be accessed as part of the full report:

  • Swindon – an urban environment
  • Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA) – a distinctive and extensive land use
  • Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site – a designated landscape
  • Wiltshire Historic Farmsteads – rural buildings in the landscape

Click to go to the Download Page

Some examples of how the data can be analysed and manipulated are demonstrated in the sections below, but there are many other possibilities. Users who have obtained the dataset for themselves are encouraged to generate their own narratives, statistics, distributions and theories using the information recorded by the Wiltshire and Swindon HLC. Nevertheless, users should note the following:

This data is free to use but is the copyright of Wiltshire Council and Historic England and not to be reproduced
without permission and acknowledgement.


Trends in Current Broad HLC Type:

By studying the Historic Landscape Characterisation data at a county level you can send trends and patterns across different regions and these have evolved due to factors like human occupation and land use as well as differences in geology, hydrology and topography.


  • Largely rural county, with swathes of fields dominating the landscape
  • Large blocks of woodland in the south and east – former ancient forests
  • Rural settlements seem especially focused along river valleys
  • Many well-spaced medieval market towns have grown into the present urban settlements, especially in the west
  • Major concentration of unimproved land and military land on Salisbury Plain, with settlement on the fringes
  • Fairly high numbers of ornamental/designed landscapes
  • Not a heavily industrialised landscape



As an example, here we can see how the town of Highworth has evolved over time using the HLC data. As HLC looks at traces of past character  that are legible in the present day, we start with the modern town on the left and the transition from the early 20th century and finally look back to its character in the late 19th century on the right. This process works particularly well with urban areas and can be effective in drawing out key stages in a place's development or underlining its distinctive history compared to other places in the area. The observations below are made on the current Broad HLC Type data (general character) but it would equally be possible to do such an exercise on a town using the Narrow Type data (finer grained character) instead!

Modern: The town's full present footprint is developed and is dominated by modern houses set out in cul-de-sacs. There are several schools with associated facilities but little other green space, and no obvious historic core in the compact layout.

1920s-1940s: Much smaller than in the present and not a very dense urban area – a moderate town adjacent to an outlying village. There is still plenty of arable land and allotments surrounding the core of the town and, with the loss of the former brickworks, few obvious industrial areas.

1890s-1910s: Highworth is a small town and is surrounded by large villages (Eastrop and Westrop). Otherwise it is mainly a rural landscape of fields with few community amenities. Some industry exists in the form of two brickworks on the edge of town.


The HLC dataset can be analysed to produce statistics relating to character, land use and change. Sometimes this could be done through an analysis of Type (Broad/Narrow – i.e. general/specific), period (e.g. early post medieval or modern), rapidity of change or the attribute data that is recorded for each land parcel.

In the example below there has been a calculation of field loss/gain in areas of Wiltshire that are currently classified in the ‘Fields and Enclosed Land’ Broad HLC Type. This was produced by looking at the attribute data where the number of fields recorded on the modern OS map was compared to the number on the 1 ed. 6” OS map (c.1872-94), with the change denoted by a colour. The map below  (gaps denote areas that are not current fields) shows the trend.


Trends in Change in Field Number

  • Darker colours indicate heavier loss/gain of the field boundaries
  • Seems to be a general northwest-southeast divide with loss greatest  in the northern parts of the county and gains largely in the southern parts of the county
  • Loss of field boundaries is typical in the west of the county around the large market towns
  • Extensive field boundary gain is focused on the Marlborough Plain, Salisbury Plain and southern river valleys around Salisbury
  • In general the amount of field loss or gain is  not considerable – as shown by the dominance of the neutral (yellow) colour

Possible Factors Behind the Distribution

  • Original field size
  • Changes in farming technology
  • Development of settlement areas/road networks

Explore More!

These examples represent just a small selection of the ways in which the HLC data can be analysed to answer particular queries and questions. To see further applications of the Wiltshire and Swindon HLC dataset, the Analysis and Case Studies sections of the project report can be viewed and downloaded.

Click to go to the Downloads Page


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