South Yorkshire is an area of diverse landscape character including open moorlands, agricultural countryside, medieval villages, rural market towns and the expanding metropolitan centres of Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield. The methodology developed for this project allows the varied scales of these activities to be recorded and set within the context of the surrounding landscape.

The characterisation process begins by identifying physical patterns in the present day landscape from maps, plans and aerial photographs. The central concept behind this approach is that different processes of land use, which change over time, produce different patterns in the layout of the landscape that can be observed on these sources. The project has drawn boundaries around land with common characteristics; examples might include a large stand of ancient woodland, or an area of countryside featuring the straight boundary features of a Parliamentary Enclosure Award.

Left: Redmires Wood; Right: Parliamentary Enclosure fields on former Thurlstone Common

In urban environments each defined unit records a different type of urban layout, for example different housing types or phases of industrial expansion.

Left: Terraced housing, Darnall; Right: Cooling towers, former Blackburn Meadow power station

Data on each of these unique places has been recorded within a Geographic Information System (GIS), a computer system that links maps with related information. Each unique place has been allocated a ‘Broad Character’ type and a more specific ‘Historic Environment Character’ type (see list below)). Evidence has been sought to establish the date at which the place can first be shown to have its current character. Throughout the project, the confidence of these decisions has been recorded using the scale; Certain, Probable, Possible.

Broad TypeHistoric Environment Types


Example of Residential Broad Type
  • Prefabs
  • Elite Residence
  • Back-To-Back / Courtyard Houses
  • Estate
  • Semi-Detached Housing
  • High Rise
  • Terraced Housing
  • Villas/ Detached Housing
  • Burgage
  • Planned Estate
    (Social Housing)
  • Farm
  • Vernacular Cottages
  • Private Housing Estate
  • Low Rise


Broad TypeHistoric Environment Types

Enclosed Land

Example of Enclosed Land Broad Type
  • Strip Fields
  • Agglomerated
  • Valley Floor
  • Surveyed Enclosure
    (Parliamentary/ Private)
  • Open Fields
  • Assarts
  • Piecemeal
  • Crofts
  • Drained Wetlands
  • Cropmark Field Systems


Broad TypeHistoric Environment Types

Unenclosed land

Example of Unenclosed Land Broad Type
© Richard Webb
  • Regenerated Scrubland
  • Commons and Greens
  • Moorland


Broad TypeHistoric Environment Types

CommunicationsExample of Communications Broad Type

© David Hitchborne
  • Tram Depot
  • Motorway
  • Train Depot /
  • Transport
  • Motorway & Trunk Road Junctions
  • Bus Depot
  • Car park
  • Ring Road
  • Canal Lock
    Ladder System
  • Canal Wharf
  • Train Station
  • Airport
  • Viaduct/


Broad TypeHistoric Environment Types


Example of Commercial Broad Type
  • Distribution Centre
  • Business Park
  • Retail Park
  • Commercial Core - Urban
  • Warehousing
  • Markets
  • Entertainment Complex
  • Commercial Core - Suburban
  • Shopping Centre
  • Offices


Broad TypeHistoric Environment Types


Example of Woodland Broad Type
  • Ancient Woodland
  • Wet Wood
  • Spring Wood
  • Semi Natural Woodland
  • Wood Pasture
  • Plantation


Broad TypeHistoric Environment Types


Example of Industrial Broad Type
© Nigel Cox
  • Tannery/ Abattoirs
  • Craft Industry
  • Textile Trade
  • Metal Trades (Light)
  • Water Powered Site
  • Potteries
  • Glassworks
  • Metal Trades – Support
  • Chemical
  • Other Industry
  • Utilities
  • Metal Trades (Heavy)


Broad TypeHistoric Environment Types


Example of Extractive Broad Type
© Steve Fareham
  • Spoil Heap
  • Open Cast Coal Mine
  • Landfill
  • Other Mineral Extraction & Processing
  • Clay Pits/ Brickworks
  • Deep Shaft Coal Mine
  • Annular Spoil Heap (Bell Pit earthworks)
  • Peat Extraction
  • Quarry
  • Refractory Material Mine & Works


Broad TypeHistoric Environment Types

Ornamental, Parkland & Recreational

Example of Ornamental, Parkland or Recreational Broad Type
© Paul Store
  • Private Parkland
  • Public Park
  • Deer Park
  • Tourist Attraction
  • Walled Garden
  • Allotments
  • Playing Fields
  • Sports Ground
  • Golf Course


  • Zoo
  • Leisure Centre
  • Racecourse
  • Inner City Farm



Broad TypeHistoric Environment Types


Example of Institutional Broad Type
  • Military Airfield
  • Religious (Other)
  • Hospital Complex
  • Asylum
  • Religious (Worship)
  • Military (Other)
  • Workhouse
  • Prison
  • University/ College
  • School
  • Civil & Municipal Buildings
  • Municipal Depot
  • Cemetery
  • Fortified Site
  • Barracks
  • Nursing Home/ Almshouse


Broad TypeHistoric Environment Types

Water Bodies

Example of Water Bodies Broad Type
© Steve Fareham
  • Reservoirs
  • Lake


Broad TypeHistoric Environment Types


Example of Horticulture Broad Type
  • Orchards
  • Nurseries

Along with facts about the modern landscape, the project has recorded the past character of an area. The project officers have recorded this evidence as ‘Previous Character’. This information was gathered from a number of different sources including: old documents and historic maps, books, archaeological excavation reports and the South Yorkshire Sites and Monument Record (SMR). Sometimes all of these sources were not available for an area, making it necessary to make decisions based on comparisons with similar landscapes where more is known about the development history.

Earlier traces are generally harder to read the more different uses a place has had. Reading these earlier stories becomes harder over time, like something written on a blackboard that has been left in the rain! To describe how hard it is to read these hidden stories we have introduced a concept of ‘historic legibility’ of previous historic characteristics.

The extent of this legibility is recorded as being Significant, Partial, Fragmentary or Invisible.

Examples of ‘legible’ features include field boundaries preserved within housing estates and surviving industrial features in an area now dominated by public recreational uses.

Historic OS mapping overlaid on a modern aerial photograph, showing earlier field boundaries reflected in many later street patterns Remains of Frank Wheel in the Rivelin valley
Cities Revealed aerial photography © the GeoInformation Group, 2002; Historic maps © and database right Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Ltd (All rights reserved 2008) Licence numbers 000394 and TP0024
Photo of Frank Wheel © SYAS


The South Yorkshire landscape has been divided into twelve distinct character types, each further subdivided to reflect differences in the character of the historic landscapes within that type