How to Find Out about Your Home's History
There are a wide range of resources available if you want to start researching the history of your house - in libraries and archives, local studies centres, or on specialist websites. Some will charge a fee for their services but many are free.
Before you begin your research try to establish the following key points:
- Is your house listed? The National Heritage List for England (NHLE) records a brief overview of the date of construction and significant features of every listed building in England.
- Get a rough estimate of how old your house is. This can be established through basic visual clues, by reading up about the local area, and by talking to your neighbours and other members of the local community. The date when it was built may even be carved on the building.
- What administrative area your house is in. Knowing the names of the county, registration district and parish in which the property stands will help with locating relevant records.
- What do you know about the area? A general understanding of the area can be useful when you're researching the history of an individual house. Whether it's in a village, a suburb, or a city, you can find such information through published resources such as the Victoria County History series or the Survey of London, and on the British History Online website.
There may be obvious clues to guide your research. Older properties may have an 'Erected' date, or the name of the house itself, carved into the façade.
If your home is in a converted church, chapel, pub or school, the building may well have a name plaque on the front wall. Converted pubs often retain their name up high on the parapet.
Street numbering, and often street names, may well have changed over the course of time, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Compare the location of your property with other buildings in the street to make sure that you are looking at the right house.
Local history societies
Local history societies may also be able to help you. You should be able to find details of your nearest one and other useful information on the Local History Online website.
What do you want to know?
There are two main strands of research that relate to the history of a house.
- You can find out about your home's architectural history, how it has changed over time and the part it has played in its surroundings, using old maps, plans and photographs.
- You can trace the occupants of your house over time, using the census, electoral registers and other archive material.
Historical Plaque Schemes
Many local authorities and societies run schemes to commemorate important local historical events and people with a plaque fixed to a relevant building. The London-based Blue Plaques scheme, currently run by English Heritage, is thought to be the oldest of its kind in the world and has been going for more than 140 years.