House Histories: Dr Nick Barratt March 2012
Nick in Becket Chapel

Nick lectures in the Becket Chapel, Peterborough

House Histories Workshop

On March 3 Dr Nick Barratt gave a fascinating workshop on how to research the history of a house. Over two and a half hours he had some great advice and tips for those wishing to start researching. Some of the top tips I wrote down are below. Any errors are mine.

1.Starting your research.

What do you want to find out?

Do you know when was the house built, and who lived in the house?

Establish where your house is located (important). This seems obvious but…

  • Administrative districts are vital (but change…) NB Peterborough has been in Northants, Cambridge and Hunts, so all those record offices hold details, as well as the Local Studies Centre at Peterborough Central Library)
  • Beware: house numbers and names also change, these are a relatively recent invention.
  • Hidden clues we overlook: house, street names eg Millers House could be a clue to a local Mill.

Research the local community

  • Historical development of the area is important to contextualise the occupants or owners. Talk to local people, oral histories are important.
  • Local study centre for background information and publications (eg Victoria County History), photos and maps

Wider research will be required

  • Research neighbouring houses and streets, this context will be helpful as their histories may reference yours.
  • Genealogical skills essential –its about people as much as property

Work back in time: Start with 20th century owners / occupiers, even if you live in a 17th property

Research aids

  • Large-scale modern map marked with historic local administrative boundaries
  • Modern photo of the house and street

2. Your first document: Your property!

Take a good look at your house

  • Architectural clues provide dating evidence, look out for rebuilds, eg roofs from other houses, as well as mock builds such as 1930’s mock Tudor. Learn about fixtures and fittings as these were made by patterns en masse.
  • If your property is listed the listed building record (available online on the English Heritage website) may give you an idea of why it was listed and what features it has of interest. Also local lists held by councils may be useful.
  • Suggested reading R.W. Brunskill, Illustrated Handbook of Vernacular Architecture
  • Look at build style of local houses

3. Documentary Sources:

OS Maps:

Online (paid for) resources

1910 Valuation Office Survey


  • 1910 Finance Act: valuation of land & property for tax
  • National snapshot of owners & occupiers
  • Country divided into districts and sub-districts, surveyors sent round to assess taxable values
  • Continued until World War 1
  • Based on OS maps from1894-1904
  • Duplicate sets made, main set at National Archives – Individual plots assigned ‘hereditament’ number
  • Maps: often include details of the valuation district in red on the border, or yellow boundary
  • To use them need to use the field books (National Archives number IR58 – searchable at the National Archives)

Census Records: From 1841 – 1911, as will all research work backwards!


Nick answers questions

Nick answers questions at the House Histories workshop

Tithe Records: Show assessment of tithe liability in the 1840s

Title deeds: Land Registry will show you most recent owner in terms of registered title and a plan of the property. This costs £4 and can be done online.

Historic deeds may be in local archives or with mortgage providers.

Manorial records may also hold information going back to the Medieval period.

Probate records: property in wills: there are limitations on passing property in wills

Probate jurisdictions, these are found in the National Archive pre 1858. Lower hierarchy probate registries held at local archives

Probate inventories are also a useful source of information.

If the ownership of the property has been disputed this can be a great source of information. – and paperwork on Equity court hearings exists for some properties.

Tax records for hearth tax, window tax and rate records may also give an idea.

Key national events such as World War 2 bomb records may also provide some information.

Always work back in time

Plan your work & keep careful notes

Be bold – experiment

Enjoy your research!

Further help:




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