Using archives for research

3. House history

Researching the history of your house can be a fascinating and rewarding exercise, but it is only fair to add that - contrary to the impression given in some handbooks - it can be a surprisingly difficult one and the results are frequently disappointing. First, the survival and accessibility of many kinds of records cannot be guaranteed. Secondly, problems of identification can prevent effective use of such potential sources as are available. House names are not necessarily helpful; some farm names, go back to medieval times, especially in areas of dispersed settlement such as the Chilterns, but more often existing house names are of recent origin and may have altered more than once. Again, house numbers are not found in rural areas or in small towns before the late nineteenth century.

Despite these difficulties it is often possible to find out at least something new about your house. In any case it is well worth while to explore the possibilities.

Sources available for house history

  • Start by looking at printed books and gather an idea of your local area, and how old your house might be.  If you have your own title deeds, this will also help.
  • Use maps to see when your house was there and when it wasn't.  There are many different types of map that can help with this, including modern Ordnance Survey maps, and older tithe apportionments, inclosure maps, and estate maps, amongst others.
  • If your house was included on one of the many large estates in Buckinghamshire (such as Shardeloes at Amersham or West Wycombe Park, for example), then there may be records that exist from those estates that can show who lived there and how much rent they paid, and so on.
  • Over time, property has been subject to different types of taxation.  The records of these different taxes have sometimes not survived, but there may be information about window, hearth or land tax about your property as well as more modern rate books.
  • There are many different types of miscellaneous records that could help with researching houses, including things like wills, inventories, photographs, newspapers, sale catalogues, records of estate agents and fire insurance.  All or none of these may be useful in your research.
  • For more specialised houses, such as public houses or former places of worship, there may be other sources such as registers of licensed victuallers or church records respectively that may be of use.
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Last updated: 12 March 2019

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