In 1986 I demonstrated an ambitious project on Tomorrow’s World. Over a  million people (mainly schoolchildren) took part and contributed over 147,819 pages of text and pictures about their local area to create the BBC Domesday Project – a pair of interactive videodiscs to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the original Domesday Book. If you brace yourself for 80s hair and shoulder pads, you can watch the original piece here

The equipment needed to play the discs cost over £4000, so it’s not surprising that only a few schools and libraries made the investment. This thorough, yet  idiosyncratic record of life in 1986 is now available to explore and update on the BBC Domesday Reloaded site.

Back in the 80’s we showed how it was possible to “search” and find the information and invited viewers to tell us where they lived so we could track down pictures of their local area. In today’s internet world, it may seem extraordinary but people were delighted to see their village shop come up on the screen.


A Domesday system at the Vintage Computer Festival 2010, Bletchley, UK

There were two discs in the Domesday Project package: the Community Disc and the National Disc. The Community disc is map-based and shows Britain as seen by the people who live there while the National disc is topic based and provides an overview of Britain. The country was divided  4 km wide by 3 km blocks, based on Ordnance Survey grid references. Each block could contain up to 3 photographs and a number of short reflections on life in that area. More detailed maps of key urban areas and blocks of 40×30 km and regional views were captured, allowing “zoom-out” and “zoom-in” functions.

If you check out the block containing York Minster, you won’t find a picture of  the cathedral , the three photographs show a lady ironing clothes, a row of terraced houses and a street scene.

Andy Finney ,who worked on the original project once wrote, “If I personally have  one regret about Domesday, it is that many of the people who contributed to it never got to see the results of their efforts”

He wasn’t alone in thinking this. A 2002 piece in The Observer reflected on the irony of how the original Domesday Book could still be read after 925 years, whilst the then 15 yr old one could not.

He and the team must be thrilled to see their project breathe again, as we all have the chance not only to look back to 1986 but to update all those pictures. And who knows, maybe York Minster will get a look in.