The Research Assessment Exercise results for 2008 are now out, in theory telling us (among other things) the UK history departments doing the highest quality of research. The raw data is at the RAE website, while the Guardian has a ranked table. Their methodology is arguable (and in particular, its not clear on what basis theyve ordered universities with the same average ranking), but they do give a rough idea of where departments stand. If you compare those at the top with those from 2001, there are a few interesting changes (although because the grading system has changed, you cant make direct comparisons as to whether any university has improved or not). The biggest falls from grace are probably for Kings College London, Durham and East Anglia, which have gone from 5* (the very best) to being outside the top 20. The most improved performance is Kent (which was only a 4 in 2001).
There are a few oddities, such as Imperials top rating (from the tiny Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine), but in very broad terms the rankings look as you might expect, with Russell Group (research-intensive) universities dominating the top 10 and the newest universities at the bottom. There are some exceptions: two ex-polytechnics (Hertfordshire and Oxford Brookes) do particularly well, beating a lot of far more ancient universities. More depressing for medievalists, however, is that several of the top universities dont teach medieval history at all (neither Hertfordshire nor Essex do). Research excellence, as least as measured by the RAE, doesnt require a broad range of historical interest.