| Tracing the history of a building is great fun but can be rather like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing and often involves learning the skills of a detective. Relatively few buildings already have a written history and, even where a building is listed and you can start with the information in the list description, you will still need to delve into primary sources. |
Follow the trail to uncover the story
Studying a public building, or one of major architectural importance?
- Start with secondary sources such as Pevsner, Victoria County History and locally produced publications
- Look for them in the reference or local studies section of your nearest large library
Nothing in the general sources?
- Visit a local studies library or archives office
- Look at their subject index
- Search for sources about your chosen building.
- Ask if they produce a guide to researching the history of a building or the history of a house, using sources specific to the area
No written histories? Start from the building itself
- Look for a date, name etc. on the building
- No date?
- What is the architectural style?
- Use the timeline on the Images of England website, The Pevsner 'Looking at Buildings' web site or a reference book to help with identifying the style and establishing an approximate date
- Go back to the archives or local studies. Find your building on old maps and narrow down the date as much as possible. See how the building developed over time
- Look for more specific dates in plans, property deeds; taxation and rating records; estate agents records, sale catalogues, contracts for housing developments, photographs, old newspapers and trade directories
- If you want to find out about the people who lived in a building then you need to add probate inventories, wills, old electoral registers and census enumerators' sheets to the list!
All these sources are described in detail in the How to Guides part of this site.
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