10 ways to find out more about your home’s history
PUBLISHED: 15:56 18 January 2018 | UPDATED: 15:56 18 January 2018
The BBC’s A House Through Time has left many of us wishing we could become domestic detectives. Find out how you can discover the secrets your house is hiding and unearth important clues to your house’s own history and previous inhabitants.
Every old house has a story of its own – but how do you unlock the secrets of the home you live in just like David Olusoga has done in the BBC’s A House Through Time?
If you’d like to find out more about your home, the key is to start from firm ground – your ownership of the house – and work backwards through time to see what you can discover about the history of your home. It’s not always an easy task, but the rewards are plentiful.
From the largest mansion house to the smallest cottage, every home has a story - the history of your home isn’t just about the building itself, it’s about the people who bought the land, built the house and lived in it which has influenced its shape and structure.
Through the prism of one single terraced house in Liverpool, A House Through Time tells a story of Britain from the 1840s to the present day - a period of seismic social change.
Searching through city archives, scouring records, and tracking down their living descendants, presenter David Olusoga tells the untold stories of the people who once lived in 62 Falkner Street in Liverpool and gains a unique insight into the making of modern Britain.
But how easy is it to turn domestic detective and find out more about the bricks and mortar that we call home? Here are 10 simple ways to start looking into your own house’s story to discover the hidden history under your roof.
How to find out about your home’s history:
1) Find the visual clues: You can quickly establish a great deal about the house you live in by simply looking at it – from the very obvious (look for a mark made when the house was built or the name of the house incorporated into the façade) to the architecture inside your home, such as fireplaces, which can tell you a lot about the status of your home. The most important room to check is the first floor at the front of the house, which was historically the room where guests would be entertained (now often the main bedroom in a modern house). Brick styles and building methods, window and stairway styles and designs all help with dating.
2) Ask your neighbours: Older neighbours who have lived in your area for a long time may have information which will help you or anecdotal stories about your home and where it was built which may help your research. A neighbour of mine who had lived on the street since the 1950s was able to tell me about three other owners of our home and stories about how many people lived there – fascinating.
3) A list of listings: If your house is listed, the National Heritage List for England (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/) has a register of all nationally-protected historic buildings and sites in England and offers a description of the property and its claims to special interest. Listings after 2005 are far fuller than earlier listings. Information may include information on the architect or figures associated with a house, details of later alterations or excavations, material the house is made from, its style, design and layout.
4) Map it out: You can look at old ordnance survey maps which can show you how the area where your house is has changed over time. You can generally find old OS maps from the 1840s onwards at county record offices and local libraries. Older maps from can be found at the National Archives (nationalarchives.gov.uk) which show land boundaries, names of tenants or owners and usage. In 1910, the Valuation Office survey mapped every property in the country and recorded details about their owners, occupiers and addresses or your home may be listed on estate maps, if it was once part of a large estate. Look at www.old-maps.co.uk to find Ordnance Survey maps dating back to the 1800s.
5) Location, location, location: It’s worth looking at where your home was built for clues, but be aware that your home may have changed its number or name over the years. Is your house attached to a local estate? Is it near a railway, or an old railway line? Was it built to house factory workers? Did it have a previous use as a vicarage, rectory, public house, school, toll house or farm building?
6) Where there’s a will...If your house is Georgian or older, there’s a chance that a will could unlock more secrets. Wills often had inventories of furniture, too, so you can find out exactly what used to be inside your house and how much it was worth. Wills for people who died in or after 1858 may be found at www.gov.uk/search-will-probate.
7) Find out who lived in your house: You can search through electoral rolls, which are available in libraries, but remember there were no electoral rolls during the second world war due to more frequent changes in ownership and evacuations. Gaps can be filled by looking at local taxation records, also at the library, which list the names of people who lived in a house. If you have access to the deeds to your property, you’ll be able to find out useful information about previous owners and occupiers.
8) Read all about it: Your house name or street address may be mentioned in newspaper reports and once you’ve discovered who has lived in the house, you can search for their names and discover if they were ever written about. Many newspaper archives are available online, some pay per view but many available freely through libraries, The British Library’s newspaper collection is the largest in the UK.
9) Answers in the archive: Visit www.mycouncil.direct.gov.uk to find your council’s website and unlock a host of information in the form of local archives and records about the area where you live.
10) Look from above: You may be able to date your house, and the houses around it, by looking at aerial photographs. It’s possible to see changes in boundaries and the size and shape of buildings if you look from above. Most local councils will be able to point you in the direction of where you can find aerial photographs which typically date from the late 19th century to the present day.
* A House Through Time is on BBC2 on Thursdays, 9pm and on iPlayer.