AdviceHow-to

How to unravel your home’s history

Most of us have an ideal house in our minds when we buy. We know the look we like, the period of home we hanker for and the design features that we adore. Sometimes some of our style desires may be compromised over questions of budget, location and availability. But we usually buy a home because we love it.

For many of us, this is where the story ends. With films, art, fashion or furniture we tend to research the directors, designers or makers of things that we like. But when it comes to our homes, most of us don’t seek to find out more about the people who designed the space that we live in.

Image Source: Contemporist

Looking up the architects and the history of your home can be really rewarding, as well as potentially informing what you do with the interior and exterior of that home. Looking into original design ideas may help you seek out period features and even restore some of the original spirit of your home, whether it is a Victorian terrace, Edwardian townhouse or Modernist block. It will reignite your enthusiasm about your home and give you new style ideas along with a far greater understanding of the area that you live in. .

If you have a copy of the deeds to your house to hand then you should have an accurate idea of the date that your home was built and possibly who built it. But if these documents are not immediately available then you should be able to get plenty of clues as to the age of your home by studying its style and comparing it to similar houses online or in books at your local library.

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Local libraries can be an invaluable source of information for those who want to find out more about their home. They will carry local history books that will not be available commercially, as well as have knowledgeable staff who have experience of helping people find out about history in your area. They may even be able to put you in touch with local historians who specialise in the buildings of your area and canadvise you on other searches that you may be able to make, such as one of the local newspaper archive, if one exists.

English Heritage also have some very good resources that will help you find out more about your home, whether it is a listed building or you just want to know who built it and who has lived there in the past.

Image Source: Desire to Inspire

When you are starting out in your investigations you will often find that a walk around the neighbourhood will reveal a lot and that at least one home in your street or neighbourhood has a plate marking the date of its build. In cities especially, houses will have been built together, with tracts of land being purchased and built on by developers or local authorities.

The BBC and Open University teamed up recently to make a programme and a book about home history called The Secret History of Our Streets and that certainly provides a good model for looking at the age of your home and the social history around it.

Many homes will have been designed by unnamed or unknown architects, but you may find that your local council hold archives in their planning department that could help you find out more. Once you have found out the name of the architect of your home then you will be able to find more buildings by them in your area. It may even be the start of a new obsession for you, as you seek to track down all the work from a particular architect in your town.

Iain Aitch

Iain is a London-based writer who works as a journalist for a number of newspapers and magazines. He has also written two books, one of which is a hilarious lexicon about Britishness – Iain is a Brit through and through!

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One Comment

  1. What is this British obsession with looking bac. Is it because we are a defunct empire? Why should we want to know who designed our power guzzling inefficient, cold houses. The Romans 2000 years ago had more idea of building in our British climate. If more valuable time and effort was put into designing and building high efficiency, low energy consuming properties like the Germans have done, we might be halfway to being energy self sufficient, and not licking the Russians.

    Get your act in order, and give us more energy saving ideas, forget the corny design ideas of the Victorians…this is 2014

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