Movable Type Projects

Sheffield Flood Claims Archive

In the spring of 1864, the Dale Dyke Dam above Sheffield burst, killing around 250 people and causing widespread destruction right through the industrial heart of Sheffield.

The Sheffield Flood Claims Archive is a project by Sheffield Hallam University to digitise the records of claims made against the Sheffield Water Company and make the archive available for general study on the Internet.

Entry from the Sheffield Flood Claims ledgerI was asked to design a database structure which would hold the details of the 11 volumes of claims for loss of property, bodily injury, and death of relatives, and to develop ASP template pages to present that information on a website.

However, the Victorian assessors were not constrained by computer input forms, and were sometimes quite creative as to how to enter more complex information – the details of claim particulars illustrated here might be arranged in columns, or grouped in various ways, and headings and marginal notes could be used at will.

So to devise a database structure which was consistent, which could be meaningfully manipulated for analytic research, and was searchable, was quite a challenge. A further aim was to be able to present the claims as web pages which bore reasonable similarity to the original entries (see claim 2582 shown above).

I was subsequently asked to design the web site itself, both the visual styling and the GIS integration.

A project aim was to integrate the claims with Ordnance Survey maps from the period, illustrating the location of the claims in contemporary Sheffield. As these were scanned at very high resolution (400 megapixel!), it was quite a challenge to design an interface which was both powerful and easy to use. I chose Zoomify for this, as it allows very powerful interaction with the maps, allowing users to zoom in and out and move around at will, with very good response speeds (see for example claim 61, opposite Kelham Island).

Claim 2582 as displayed on screenThe final challenge was to design the site structure and navigation which would enable people successfully to navigate around the 7,500 claims, of different types, with amendments and appendices, and links to maps. A lot of work was also put into search facilities and indexes, making the project a rich resource for research into Victorian industrial/social conditions, or straightforward genealogical research.

This project was implemented using Macromedia ColdFusion and Zoomify, and can be seen at www2.shu.ac.uk/sfca.