Every house has a story. Commission your House history research from an experienced professional historian with an international reputation and 30 years’ experience. Ian is able to cover all periods of house history. Projects have included a medieval deer park and its buildings, 16th-18th century cottages, an 18th-century coaching inn, a Georgian shipbuilder’s house, a Victorian villa and a 1920s cottage built for a famous writer.

A House History can add to the interest and enjoyment of living in your home.  It can also make a very special present for a family member.  Two types of house history report are available (prices cover projects in Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey):

House History Starter Report – £650

The work will include research in a record office using original sources, as well as online research. The Starter Report will be inkjet-printed on good quality paper, and will be presented in a springback folder. The Report will normally be delivered to you two weeks after the date of commissioning. If you would like Ian to undertake more research, this Report can be used as the basis for an in-depth House History Report (covers projects in Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey).

This includes:

A date for the construction of your house (this may have to be an approximate date, depending on the age of the building and the nature of the available sources).
A timeline for the house
A listing of earlier occupants, based on sources (where applicable) such as the 1841-1911 Censuses, local street directories, rate books, the Land Tax, Tithe Map and others
Copies of a selection of maps and historic photographs, where available
A summary history of the immediate locality
Pointers for future research
List of sources

House History In-Depth Report – prices from £975*

Your Report will contain an in-depth investigation of the history of your house, illustrated with photographs, maps and other images. What can be written about the history of a house and its occupants is subject to the nature of the available sources, but many properties in Britain are reasonably well-documented and some places come with a great deal of evidence. Ian writes each House History Report in the same way that he would write a small-scale book. To give you an idea of what your Report might contain, the major sections would normally include:

Timeline (summary history of the property)
The local setting
The development of the site
An outline of the structural development of the building and its architectural features
The history of the property and its owners
A date for the construction of the original building (this may have to be an approximate date, depending on the age of the building and the nature of the available sources).
Lists of occupants, taken from sources such as the 1841-1911 Censuses, local directories
A social history of the occupants
Sources and Bibliography
Two hardback copies of the Report, printed by a professional printer (more can be supplied at cost plus 10%)
Copies of a selection of maps and historic photographs, where available

* the price is dependent on the nature of the Report that the client wants, but also the character, extent and age of the property.

Timing, delivery & location

The time taken to complete the Report depends on Ian’s other engagements and the level of research needed, but the Report will normally be delivered within six weeks of commissioning. However, if you have a shorter deadline in mind (for a birthday or Christmas, for example), Ian will do his best to meet this. Ian is also very happy to undertake work in other parts of the country and has recently completed two house history projects in the Worcestershire/Gloucestershire area.  Please contact him to discuss your project.

Examples of previous house history reports

Please click below for samples of Ian’s previous house history & business property research projects:

Charlton (Residential property)

Pagham (Residential property)

Littlehampton (Business property)

Chichester (Business property)

Get in touch with Ian to discuss your project or get started by yourself

House history research is great fun, but getting started is not always easy.  People have written books on how to go about it, and there isn’t space here to go in that kind of detail.  However, what I hope to do here is get you started. The information here relates specifically to English and Welsh sources, but will also be of some help for people living in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Where to start your house history research?

Don’t immediately dive into the internet expecting readymade answers.  The internet is a very useful tool for house history research, but you have to know what you’re looking for and whether the site you’re using is reputable. You may get an immediate answer if you’re lucky, but you may also find something that looks right and then turns out to be wrong.

Look first at the house itself.  Does it look as if it was all built at the same time, or does it look as if bits have been added or if there have been other major alterations?   You can use books on architectural history (below) to help you date building styles.

Look at modern maps or online aerial photos to get a sense of local geography.  Walk around the area – are there other houses like yours, or is it one of a kind? Talk to your neighbours, ask them about who lived in the house before you, what they can remember about the house and the area.   This way, you can learn about things that may not have been written down anywhere, but do bear in mind that memories can be fallible!

Where next?

Go to your local record office, local history library or museum.  It’s a good idea to also look at their websites in advance of the visit to find out what sources they have, but do also ask the staff if they can suggest things to look at (some record offices will also undertake limited research for a fee).

Which historical sources?

That may sound like a daft question, but the identity of a house or plot of land can change enormously over time.   House names may change from owner to owner (e.g. one owner called it ‘Belle Vue’, the next one preferred ‘Mordor’), but house numbers can also change.   In most places these didn’t come into use until the period between 1850 and 1900, and some areas didn’t get them until the 20th century.  They can change a great deal over time, as a street gets renumbered to accommodate new buildings or other changes.

Detailed street directories (available in record offices, libraries and museums) are a good way to quickly find the names of past inhabitants of a house, and in some cases these go back into the 19th century.   To get over the problem of street renumbering, just count back from a fixed feature like a side road or public building in order to work out which was your house in an old numbering scheme.  The names of long-term inhabitants can also help you in this regard.

Old maps are another key source for house histories.   The first detailed Ordnance Survey (OS) 6-inch to the mile maps appeared in the 19th century, and these (and the later 25-inch maps) show the layouts of individual buildings.   The earlier Tithe Maps (1830s-50s) are also an important source for house plans, if your house is that old.

The next stage of research

Your preliminary research has now given you a list of names, dates, places and so-on.   You can now go to more detailed archival sources like the ten-yearly national Census (1841-1911 data available online on commercial sites, or free from paper/microfilm sources in your record office).  However, the Census has its own peculiarities, and dwellings before the late 1800s may not come with street numbers, so the more background info you have from the street directories and maps, the better.

The website Access to Archives (A2A) will give you access to the documentary catalogues of all the country record offices in the country, and many others, so it’s a good idea to check on that to see if any of the names you have come up in the right place.  Archives have all kinds of documents useful for house history, including sale particulars and other documents, planning application plans and much more. As well as using A2A, check the finding aids in your local record office, library or museum to see if anything comes up about your house or street, including any historic photos.

The books and sites listed below will give you more detailed information (though I’m not responsible for their content!), but this starter page should help you begin to track the history of your house and its inhabitants back into the 19th century, if it is that old.

Going back before that, things get more complicated, with changes in handwriting and increasing numbers of documents in Latin.  However, you can teach yourself to use those kinds of sources – they were written in order to be understood and it’s just a case of knowing how to read them.

The great thing about historical research is that you don’t need a history degree to do it – just an open and enquiring mind, and a willingness to learn.  Have fun!

Research guides

Anthony Adolph, Tracing Your Home’s History, Collins 2006

Nick Barratt, Tracing the History of Your House, The National Archives 2006

Architectural history

Pevsner’s The Buildings of England – a county-by-county series, many of them updated

The artist and illustrator Trevor Yorke has produced an impressive and well-illustrated series of books on building history – www.trevoryorke.co.uk

Shire Books also has a good series of books on different kinds of historic buildings – www.shirebooks.co.uk

J T Smith and E M Yates, On the Dating of English Houses, Field Studies Council, Shrewsbury 1991

Web sources for research

  • A2A – Access to Archives – www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a
  • The National Archives (TNA) at Kew can be a key source for house history, and has many guides to using the records on its site, some records available online  and an invaluable catalogue – www.nationalarchives.gov.uk
  • Census and other data about people  – available on various sites, such as:
  • www.ancestry.co.uk
  • www.genesreunited.co.uk
  • www.findmypast.co.uk
  • (these sites do charge a fee if you go beyond a certain level)
  • British History Online – a massive historical source (fee payable beyond a certain level) –  www.british-history.ac.uk
  • Vision of Britain – important free source for local history -http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk
  • Listed Buildings – free database of Listed Buildings at www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk
  • British Newspaper Library – huge database of regional newspapers from the 18th century onwards (search for free, but pay to access) – www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk