Village History
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How to do House Histories

Nick gained a PhD at Kings College, London and joined the National Archives: Public Record Office at Kew as a reader/adviser.

He worked as a specialist archive researcher for the first series of BBC TV’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are, and has subsequently presented numerous television series including Hidden House Histories (History Channel), and You Don’t Know You’re Born (ITV1)

Nick Barratt briefed the History Group on November 1st 2011, at the start of our House Histories project. These are notes on his talk.

They do it by magic on television. In reality, a lot of hard work requiring a systematic approach.

What do you want to find out?
Do you want to know when the house was built, who lived in the house, about the local community?
Be flexible! Local study centre best place for information, n.b. Victoria County History.
Place names change! So do boundaries, ownership &c, and places of occupation.
Cast the net wide – street or community.
Work back in time
Start in the present day, current administrative area &c, then work back. Use a modern map marked with historic administrative boundaries. Keep a list of owners and occupiers.

Framework documents – 20th century occupancy records, 1910 valuation office, tithe apportionments, census returns.
Electoral lists (arranged alphabetically by street). Rate books, trade and street directories.
Ordnance Survey Maps – track the property through time.

Architectural clues
Local vernacular often different from trends elsewhere – look at other houses in village. Houses closest to centre of village are usually the oldest. Salvage materials often used in construction. Rebuilds after fires often misleading. ‘Retrospective’ architectural styles can also mislead. Top or bottom of buildings usually oldest. Interior clues important as well as exterior.
Use of building often changes.
Look for design registers, inventories and insurance records.

Start locally – Local Studies or HRO. Then national resources, National Archive, British Library or Family Records Office.
Electoral lists – ward/street/house.
Rate books – use in combination with electoral lists – details of both occupiers and owners.
Directories – street/trade/tenants
Valuation Office Survey
1910 Finance & Property Act. Valuation of land and property. The country was divided into districts and sub-districts, surveyors sent out (not flattering descriptions!) Snapshot of owners and occupiers.
Based on O/S maps 1894 – 1904. Maps have yellow/red borders marked. (Use copy of modern map to copy lines.)
Field books – TNA series IR58 (searchable on TNA Catalogue). Information arranged by valuation district (see Ordnance Survey map for details). Continued up to WWI.
Details include: Owner, Occupier, Interest, Description.

Census returns

1841 – 1911 (work backwards)
Records 0wner/occupier. House names may have changed (but surveyors recorded their walking routes). Importance of local occupations/industries. Context!

Tithe Apportionments
1840s, assessment of tithe liability. Covers areas with residual tithes, arranged by parish.
Maps show liable plots of land or property, not the name of the property, each with tithe rent, charge, plot number. No modern identifiers, e.g. road names. Apportionment schedules show owner, occupier, plot description. IR29,30

Title deeds
The ‘family tree’ of the house. Modern legislation means that many have been destroyed. Mortgage provider to provide copies of current title deeds, may contain details of earlier transactions. Pre-1926, owners had to keep all previous title deeds.

Many title deeds are in private hands, or solicitors’, some in Records Offices. Because of fictitious court suits, copies were sometimes generated. 1190 – 19th Century – CP25 – C54.

Manorial records.
Vital to know which manor held freehold. From time of Norman Conquest, England and Wales divided into manors. Tenants held land by agreement with lord of manor.
Freehold/copyhold. ‘Copyhold’ involved tearing contract into three pieces, one to each party, one to lord of manor (indentures). Litigants bring their pieces to court. Chancery: C1-C25. Stewards administered.
Estate records, held by principal landlords. Record development of rural land for housing development.

Court Rolls

From middle ages to 1920s, though most end in 19th century. (In the case of East Meon, these include Winchester Pipe Rolls held by the Bishop of Winchester). Name of tenant, name of former tenant, description of land, terms of tenure – applied until death of tenant.

In addition, lord of manor maintained lists of individuals holding land who owed rent (rentals). Later superseded by stewards’ accounts.

Estate maps and surveys
From 16th Century, private estate owners drew up surveys, combining maps and survey books, sometimes assigned names or estate numbers some of which still survive.

Wills and probate documents

There were restrictions on disposal of real estate in wills until16th Century and on copyhold land until 1815. Often, no will was drawn up.
Wills from 1858 registered with Principal Registry of the Family Division, held at First Avenue House. Before 1858, wills proved in Prerogative Court of Canterbury are with National Archive, currently being digitised.

Wills before 1858 with HRO (probably).

Probate inventories help find out how property was furnished, how it was laid out.

20th Century sources
Listed building status; slum clearance and local authority planning schemes (at National Archive); WWII bomb census maps; utility company records; photographs

Pre-20th Century sources

Historic maps, local newspapers, insurance records, tax records.

Useful links;;