Whatever happened to… the Domesday Discs?

Who remembers the BBC Domesday Project and the resulting Domesday Discs?

Well, I do at least. I’m not quite sure why, but the other day I started wondering what had happened to the project and the collected data.

Never heard of the project? Well, back in 1984 the BBC started a project with a number of companies to create a modern version of the Domesday book which was due to celebrate its 900th anniversary in 1986. School children were asked to write about their local area and send in photographs. All of this data was then collated onto two laser discs, along with statistics such as census data as well as maps, short videos and virtual walks around parts of the country. The texts that the children had written were saved as teletext pages and the whole thing required a specially adapted BBC micro computer to run.

I’m not quite sure if I ever wrote anything in school that got submitted to the project, but I do remember some years later when the discs were available that we didn’t have them at my school or in our local library, so when a set became available at another school it was arranged for me to spend an evening looking at them.

In the days before the World Wide Web and all the modern sources of information that are now available, this was a fascinating project of which I know no equal, and a few days ago I started wondering what had happened to all of that data and I was surprised to find an answer so quickly just by searching the internet.

Actually, what seemed like a revolution in terms of the amount of data back then is by comparison today quite small. Each of the laser discs could store 300MB on each side, meaning the combination of both sides stored less than a data CD today.

Recently, a project had been set up to recover the data and make it readable again. This included reverse engineering a set of discs to convert the data into modern formats. I read all about this at a fascinating website called Domesday Redux. Then I came across another site about the history of the project.

But the main surprise was this site: www.domesday1986.com – this is the result of that reverse engineering, an online version of the community disc (the one with the children’s texts and photos on).

I have been able to re-visit texts about places that I used to live and go to school in, and I have seen photos of those places as they were in 1984-1986, even one showing my school and the house that I used to live in!

Visiting that site is a real treat and I am so glad to have found it. Let’s hope that it remains on-line as long as possible so that future generations can learn about how we put together this amazing collection of information – without writing a single E-mail!


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