back to article Domesday Book put on touchscreen at Bletchley Park

The first Domesday book was published on vellum in the 11th century. 900 years later when the BBC wanted to mark the anniversary of Britain's oldest surviving dataset, they gathered a whole new clutch of information about Britain in photos, videos and text, and because it was 1986 saved it all on laser discs. Unfortunately the …


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  1. James Le Cuirot

    Didn't keep well

    Our school's disc was already buggered by 1994.

  2. EddieD

    We use this as a cautionary tale

    Whenever the gnarly subject of data archiving comes up...and the beauty of open standards - ink on vellum - sorted. Proprietary disk format with proprietary data format and proprietary disk reader - not sorted.

  3. TeeCee Gold badge

    The march of progress.

    Vellum - 1000 years and still going.

    Laser disks - 20 years.

    At that rate of advance, pretty soon we'll be able to have new archive methods that become obsolete during the writing process at first use.

    1. Giles Jones Gold badge

      What's worse is so much modern digital data is wrapped up in copy protection and DRM so in years to come it will be pretty hard to recover without the help of encryption experts.

    2. Steven Roper

      And in 1000 years' time

      Historians will have more surviving records from, and know more about, England in the time of William the Conqueror than they will about England in the 20th/21st centuries.

    3. TooDeep

      But how many records from 1,000 years ago have been lost? Comparing today's products with a rare survivor is misleading. If no laserdiscs can be read in a millennium from now then you have a point.

  4. DZ-Jay

    What's a "Doomsday Book"?

    And why were they publishing it in the 11th Century?

    1. John Ruddy

      The book was designed as a record of land holdings at the time (1086) and at the Conquest (although the Normans being Normans, and not recognising Harold as a legitimate king, called in "at the time of Kinf Edward").

      Should any dispute arise, then reference to the book would settle your doom (as in fate).

      It wasnt about the end of the world.

      1. DZ-Jay

        >> "It wasnt about the end of the world."

        Ah! Thanks for that tidbit.


      2. Jedit

        "The book would settle your doom"

        That's not where the name came from. The name derives from the content being so complete and accurate a record that a judgement based upon it would be as final as those that would be made on the Day of Judgement (AKA "Doomsday") based on what was written in the Book of Life.

        So no, it wasn't about the end of the world, but it was referring to it. As such, "Doomsday Book" is just a modern spelling of the title.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Community Disk was available online from 2004...

    ...until 2008.

  6. Hollerith 1

    Doom = Judgement

    Doomsday or Domesday, 'doom' meaning 'judgement'.

    It not only spelled out what land you held, but if you were free or a serf. later on, if you got yourself free, you have to keep your bit of paper to prove it. Not unlike freed African American slaves in the UD+SA in the 19th century who kept their manumission papers.

    I have had the pleasur eof studying the Winchester Pipe Rolls, which were started in the 12th century and were kept for over 200 years. They are also on vellum and perfectly easy and clear to read. Every once in a while the scrivener would doodle: a face, a ship, and suddenly you are touching what he touched, in AD1145 or whatever, and humans leap through time to bush against each other's lives.

    Even paper from the 16th or 17th centuries is holding up. Of course, many benighted librarians threw out ancient newspapers once they had them on (badly photographed0 microsfilm. Guess which would have lasted longer...

    1. Richard Cassidy
      Thumb Up

      Vellum = old boots

      Having spent yesterday at the National Archives, looking at 13th century documents, I can confirm that they are amazingly tough. Which tends to make medievalists remarkably casual about handling them - none of that nonsense about white gloves which you see on TV. Parchment is not only more durable than computer technology, it also beats most paper - some of the cheap paper used in 19th century books is turning brown and crumbling, while parchment marches on.

  7. Wemb


    I was forced by my boss to send a fully operational doomsday^H^H^H domesday machine to the scrapyard in '99 - alas, I only wish I'd had the room to keep it myself. Damn shame.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Product of it's time?

    The project was a little too ambitious for it's time. If they'd done it just a few years later they could have had the data on CD-ROM running on a far superior Archimedes system, probably on standard hardware.

    Then it could have got into every school (well every school with Archs) and the only expense would have been the CD-ROM drive. It would have then got a far wider audience and would have been easier to convert to a modern system.

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing though

    1. Local Group

      "Hindsight is a wonderful thing though"

      Still, timing is everything

  9. Spud2go

    Unequalled Archival Format...

    An oldie, but still a goodie

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Very good!

      I hadn't seen that before - very clever.

      I've just had to buy an e-book reader (moved to a much smaller house, so my library went into storage, and I am extremely limited as to how many new books I can fit in the new place.(I almost never get rid of a book once I have it, and I read everything I acquire, regardless of how crap it turns out to be)). Whilst there are advantages to e-books (I can carry a lot around with me, and I can edit them to get rid of spelling/formatting mistakes), I don't think I'll ever regard e-book readers as being as good as the real thing.

      1. Local Group

        A recommendation

        Pray don't take this amiss, but if you like the work of Thomas Pynchon (Gravity's Rainbow), I think you might like his latest novel, "Against The Day." I have only read 240 pp out of the 1100 and am already worried about what will become of me when I finish it.

        Against that day there will only be the comments here at el reg.

      2. ja

        Toss out the CRAP books

        I finally chucked out my copy of Spycatcher. Its only value was to get Maggie T's knickers knotted up.

        I remember going to the donated book auction held to raise money for The Ottawa Public Library .. there were hundreds of copies of it for sale. Some people are unwilling to landfill ... landfill.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Intractable Potsherd

        Come back in a few months and tell us if John Waters was right!

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