Data and Source Appraisal
During the development of the GIS the initial Study Areas chosen for the project (the south-east coast, the Thames Estuary and the English Channel) were found to be problematic. For example, it was difficult to gather data solely relating to specific areas due to the scarcity of data capable of being mapped. As a result the Study Areas were changed to highlight the capabilities of the database and to maximise the use of the GIS. The most suitable data was identified along the East Coast, including information on vessel traffic journeys, battle and casualty locations recorded in, offshore hazards, anchorages, wreck sites and aggregate extraction areas. The Study Areas were thus reassessed to focus on the Solent and the East Coast of England from Norfolk to the South Kent coast.
Research was carried out to first identify and then appraise as many appropriate primary and secondary sources as possible. The catalogues of Southampton City Library (SCL), the Public Record Office (PRO) and the Caird Library of the National Maritime Museum (NMM) were searched for relevant sources.
The appraisal showed that the quantity and quality of data varied from region to region, particularly in respect of merchant shipping. Virtually no information was available on fishing industries, non-commercial transport and the use of private vessels before the 18th century.
The appraisal of sources proved to be an ongoing process during the project. The types and formats of historical records on maritime activities vary a great deal. During the gathering of data, new data is often identified which requires the project to adapt to contain it.
The primary sources of information on shipping routes identified were Port Books, early Customs records, Board of Trade Shipping Returns, Royal Navy Masters’ Logs, ship's registers and other Logs. Historic charts were also evaluated during the project as sources of information on battle site locations.
In practice, the large amount of information identified during the project could not be dealt with in the time available so it was necessary to limit the number of sources accessed by project staff. Also, difficulties with accessing, reading and translating pre-1730 original sources meant that recording focused upon secondary sources, especially transcriptions of Port Books.