Buildings in Need Workshop report: House Histories with Dr Nick Barratt
Posted by Alice Kershaw on 7th April 2012.
Last week in the Becket Chapel of Peterborough Cathedral, as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Buildings in Need programme 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. The full presentation is on the Buildings in Need project website under the ‘Resources’ dropdown.
He started by showing the audience the basics of researching a property, from the first questions you should try and answer, such as ‘what do you want to find out?’ and ‘do you know when was the house built, and who lived in the house?’. The location of the property is another basic question, however this may seem obvious but isnt always that clear cut, as administrative districts can change.
Peterborough alone has been in Northants, Cambridge and Hunts, and is now a Unitary Authority so all those record offices hold details that may pertain to local buildings. Other things to watch out for are that house numbers and names also change; these are a relatively recent invention.
The names of house and streets can hold historical clues that can be easily overlooked, such as ‘Millers House’ or ‘Drapers Arms’ pointing to a former use.
You will also need to research the local community as historical development of the area is important to contextualise the occupants or owners. Talk to local people, oral histories are important. Use your local study centre for background information and publications (e.g. Victoria County History), photos and maps.
Wider research will be required, make sure to research neighbouring houses and streets, this context will be helpful as their histories may reference yours. Remember that genealogical skills are also essential –researching a house is about people as much as property.
Nick made an important point about how you research a building, always work back in time when doing research. Start with 20th century owners and occupiers, even if you live in a 17th century property.
You should use research aids such as a large-scale modern map marked with historic local administrative boundaries and a modern photo of the house and street. Remember that the first historical document you will use is the property itself.
Take a good look at your house as architectural clues provide dating evidence, look out for rebuilds, e.g. 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. Other documentary sources will include Ordnance survey maps, and the 1910 Valuation Office Survey.
Alongside these the following may prove helpful:
Nicks final points were valuable and well worth repeating here:
Alice Kershaw is the Heritage Regeneration Officer for Peterborough City Council and Opportunity Peterborough.
Peterborough Buildings in Need is a project which comprises of events and training modules relating to the built environment of Peterborough, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Peterborough City Centre Conservation Area is on the 'at risk' list, but the full extent of issues are unknown. This project will provide training, events, lectures and workshops for people to learn about the historic environment and to do short surveys of buildings in Peterborough.
Events have included Social Media training from Projectbook, lectures from local specialists and hands on activities. The Buildings in Need project still has lots of upcoming events which can be found on the ‘Events’ tab of the project website.