How to begin property history

HOW DO I BEGIN?

Begin by collecting as much information as you can on your property.  The key things to find out are:

  • who holds the deeds
  • who owned/lived in the property before you
  • an approximate date of the building
  • was the property built for a specific purpose i.e. school, public house, vicarage, shop

Neighbours may be able to supply information on previous owners. If you have a Local History Recorder in your parish they may hold information on your property. Your bank, solicitor or building society may hold the current deeds. Modern deeds and abstracts will give a short description of the property, its position, the dimensions of the plot and names of recent previous owners. Registration of title is now compulsory. Pre-registration deeds, now not needed to prove title, have consequently often been lost or destroyed, but provide valuable information if they have survived. If they are not with the present deeds, they may have been lodged in the Record Office, or they may remain with the solicitor who acted for the vendor when you purchased. Under the Land Registration Act 1988, the Land Register is now open for public inspection. The office in Hull undertakes land registration for Suffolk. You can contact them for a copy of the information they hold on your property.

HOW TO APPROACH YOUR RESEARCH

These basic principles will help you make the best use of your time. If you ignore them, you may find yourself going off on false trails. First of all, researching the history of a property is time-consuming. It will take more than one visit to the Record Office to look through all the possible sources that could shed light on your property. It will require patient searching through different types of records which will often not be indexed. Most important of all, you should always work from the known to the unknown. This means starting from the present day, and working methodically towards the past.

DATING A BUILDING

You are unlikely to find documentary evidence which will precisely date the building of your property. From written sources you can find out what the building was used for and who owned it. Sources tend to revolve around the people who lived in and owned the building rather than the fabric. A study of the architecture of the building may help you determine an approximate date for its construction. The Resources page includes books on architectural style to help you. Historic England produces Lists of Buildings of architectural and historical interest. These give a simple description of the style and features of ‘listed’ buildings. They are held in the search room for you to consult. Maps can also help to establish a time frame for the construction of your property.