Sunday, 31 May 2020

Researching your house through time

Researching the history of your house

I've read in the news recently that since the outbreak of coronavirus, and the government rules about not going out, many people have been turning to discovering the local history of their village, town or area. Along with that, there’s a new series just begun on television of ‘A House Through Time’. Not a programme I’ve seen much of before, but a fascinating look at one house and its history, and in the case of this particular house, its history from the time it was first built.

As someone who is interested in local history, I’ve always been fascinated by who lived where, and what they did for a living, and where they came from and moved to, if indeed they did move! Usually, my research only takes me up to the early twentieth century, as I try to respect the 100 year rule, and certainly don’t want to upset any living relatives. However, a few Christmases ago (when I say a few, it was probably about 10 – I tend to forget how quickly time flies!) I briefly researched the history of my own and my neighbour’s house, and popped the details into a Christmas card. I do appreciate that in doing this, I broke my own rules, but that was because the houses were built in the second half of the twentieth century, so the history was fairly new – and also fairly short!!! – and it was for personal use only.

In the process of doing that research, I learned quite a lot about how to go about finding the information I needed. I appreciate that I am lucky because I have a personal subscription to both Ancestry and FindMyPast, on which there are hundreds of resources, but we in Loughborough are also lucky because of the myriad physical resources we have at our disposal.

You may be interested in researching the history of your house – when it was built, who lived in it, what sort of area it was in, and maybe if there have been any major alterations to it. Here’s some of the resources I’ve found useful in my research and some hints and tips for researching the history of your own house. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it might give you a starting point.

Street directories

What? A street directory is an alphabetical list of streets and roads. Under each street name, properties – often residential, sometimes otherwise - are listed by their property number, and any house with only a name will appear in its correct position relative to the numbered houses adjacent. The alphabetical listing makes it fairly easy to find a specific street, unless it happens to be off another street, and therefore listed under the latter.

Who? A street directory can tell you who lived in a particular property, but will generally only list the head of the household, so, you won’t be able to find family information.

When? Street directories might be published in any year, and might appear annually, or less often. If your street isn’t listed in a particular directory, try an earlier one, or a later one, as this will help you to discover the approximate date your house was built.

Where? Loughborough Public Library, in the area called the Local and Family History Centre, hold a set of Loughborough street directories going back into the nineteenth century and into the twentieth (I’d tell you the exact range, but I can’t remember, and the library is currently closed, so it’s not easy to check). Occasionally, second-hand copies of street directories are available from booksellers.


Extract from a 1952 street directory

Census returns

What? Census returns are the results of a nationwide survey of every household on a specific night in a specific year. The results are recorded at parish level, and within that in a logical geographical location order, so replicating the progression of the streets, rather than alphabetically. In earlier census returns, house numbers are not included, but in later ones, as well as there being an item number, where the house is numbered, this also appears.

Who? Each person in a household on the night of the survey is listed. Although the details vary slightly across each census, the sorts of information that can be found include forename and surname; age (approximate); marital status; relationship to the head of the household; occupation; whether an employer or an employee; and county and town of birth. Sometimes people living at an address are not listed at that address because they were away on the night, and sometimes visitors are listed at the place they were visiting because that’s where they were on the night. Workhouses, schools and hospitals usually list all the people there on the night of the census.

When? The surveys were – and still are – taken on one evening every 10 years, apart from a few exceptions (e.g. 1941), and are made available to the public 100 years after they were recorded, although, the exception to this is the 1939 register which is already available. I believe the 1921 census returns will be made public in January 2022. If your house isn’t listed on a particular census, try the earlier one and the later one, just as you would with the street directory.

Where? Access to census returns are available through subscription websites like Ancestry, FindMyPast and Genes Reunited: one can take out a personal subscription, or members of the public library can access selected ones through their library membership. Free access is also available at the National Archives, and FindMyPast is freely available at the Record Office for Leicester,Leicestershire and Rutland. I’m sure there are plenty of other websites that provide access to census returns, at varying costs. 

Extract from the 1891 census for Ashby Road

Extract from the 1891 census for Oxford Street

Trade directories

What? Trade directories are very similar to street directories, but they often include a short history of a place, and an alphabetical list of people and businesses, rather than an alphabetical list of streets. Trade directories usually cover a larger geographical area than a street directory, although a street directory may include trading addresses too. Loughborough may be contained in a directory that covers Leicestershire, or Leicestershire and Rutland, or even in a volume also dealing with Lincolnshire.

Who? Like street directories, the information about the residents is restricted to naming the head of the household. A person may be listed more than once, under both business and residential address. Address details can vary depending upon the publication.

When? Early trade directories were generally published irregularly. Examples include Pigot’s and Kelly’s. A later example would be the Yellow Pages, which were published annually, but only include trade and business detail: personal detail (again, just listing, in this case, the bill-payer!) being restricted to one person.

Where? Like census returns, trade directories are available through subscription websites, from the public library and the record office, and some have been digitised. Leicester University have a collection of the latter. 


Extract from an 1876 trade directory showing private residents and commercial properties

Maps (can help to date a house)

What? I think we all know what a map is! An old street map can help to establish an approximate date for the building of your house: if it doesn’t appear on the map one year, try and earlier map and a later map. The main problem I find with maps is that they rarely have printed on them the date they were compiled or printed! An easy-ish way round that is to look at the cost of the map, particularly if you’re looking at a set by the same publisher.

Who? A map will not tell you anything about the previous inhabitants of your house. It might, however, indicate a change of use if, for example your house used to be a pub.

When? Maps have been in constant development since they were first drawn, so there is a rich body of resources available for most towns.

Where? I recently went into a local booksellers to buy a current map of Loughborough. Naturally, I assumed that the one they had on the shelves was the latest edition and so I bought it. When I got it home and looked at it properly, I surmised it was about 5 years out-of-date. These days, folk seem to rely more on Google street maps. Having said that, if you’re looking for older maps, these often appear in charity shops, or second-hand books shops. Also, there are a variety available to view online.


Extract of a 1901 map showing Burton Street without its more recent in-fill houses

Specialist publications, e.g. directories of professional bodies (like engineers etc.); registers of electors; land tax records; architectural drawings

What? Specialist directories exist for all manner of groups of people, including doctors, architects, dentists, Freemasons, and so on. Land tax records record ownership of properties and land, although this may not be the place of residence of the owner.

Who? These are membership directories, so only include information on people who are registered members.

When? Time coverage will depend upon when the institution was created, and if it is still going, or if it has ceased. Some directories are published annually, some less frequently.

Where? Some directories are still published in hard copy form, but many are now online, and probably subscription based. A selection of historical directories can be found on Ancestry.

Extract from a professional register


Newspaper articles

What? Local newspapers can be quite informative about people and properties. Information may appear in news articles, in entertainment news, in sports news, in reports of criminal activity, and so on. Although exact addresses are rare, knowing the name of at least one person who lived in your street can help you find out more about your own property.

Who? All manner of people can be mentioned in newspaper articles, but, depending upon the era you are researching, these are more often the ‘great and the good’, or those who may have committed a misdemeanour.

When? National newspapers go way back, so, for example, ‘The London Gazette’ was started in 1666, and in my experience, it’s useful as it lists bankruptcies and the dissolving of partnerships, although generally addresses given are the corporate ones, rather than the residential ones. Having said that, there are early forerunners of newspapers going back as far as 1513, but our local newspapers tend to start around the mid-1800s. As I write, we still have a weekly local paper, ‘The Loughborough Echo’, and also a regional paper, ‘The Leicester Mercury’.

Where? Microfilm copies of the local newspapers can be found in the Loughborough public library, and in the record office. Some titles and issues have been digitised and are available through subscription websites like FindMyPast or the British Library.

Extract from a newspaper advertising an auction

Wills and probate records

What? Like every birth and every marriage, every death is registered with the General Register Office, and a register of such events is produced. Once probate has been proved and granted, this is also produced as a register.

Who? A probate record, as well as providing personal detail of the deceased, often includes their last permanent address, which could now be your home. A will may also be available and will usually contain some detail about the abode of the person at the time they made the will, and that could now be your home.

When? A probate record is produced after probate is granted, which can sometimes take years.

Where? Probate records are available through Ancestry and FindMyPast, but only up to 1995.


Probate record for Thomas Corcoran who lived in Loughborough, but died elsewhere

House deeds

What? House deeds are the correspondence connected with the purchase of your house, going back to at least the time the house was built, and often to ownership of the land prior to the house being constructed. These documents include the local search results, the conveyance document itself, and a variety of other correspondence, sometimes including details of mortgage agreements. 

Who? These documents should tell you exactly who owned your house before you did, and going back to who owned the land it was built on. Other supplementary details can add to information about the local area, as they include details of witnesses to signatures, solicitor’s details, building society details, and sometimes even more.

When? These documents will give the complete history of your house going back beyond the time your house was built.

Where? When you buy a house, the deeds are usually kept for safety by the mortgage lender, or perhaps the solicitor. Since most of these records are now digitised (although still kept securely) it is possible that they are returned to you, the latest owner of your property.


Extract from house deeds showing previous ownership

Planning applications

What? Major alterations and additions to a property often require permission from the local council, although these regulations are subject to change.

Who? The owner of a property, or the owner’s agent, like a building company, will lodge a planning application with the local council, and the details of the owner, or their agent, as well as that of the property and proposed alterations, will appear on the application.

When? I really am not sure how far back one can delve into planning applications.

Where? Charnwood Borough Council have an online site where it is possible to search planning applications, both current and old, both enacted and withdrawn. 

Planning application as it appears on the planning portal

Further detail about a planning application


Photographs and postcards (can help to date a house)

What? Old photographs and postcards can often provide an approximate date for a house. Postcards is probably a bit of a longshot unless you live on a former turnpike road, or in the centre of a town.

Who? Again, it’s unlikely you will discover who lived in your house from a postcard, but a photograph might be more indicative, if, for example, it’s a photograph of a family, and their names and address are listed on the back! Probably wishful thinking on my part!

When? Photographs and postcards will only exist since the invention of photography. Early ventures in this art may be in the form of glass slides.

Where? Old photographs and postcards turn up in all sorts of places like antique and second-hand shops and markets, or online at popular buying outlets, or through specialist websites like Frith or postcard sellers.

Postcard of Forest Road posted in 1954

Additional resources

Websites like Zoopla or the websites of local estate agents, while not telling you who actually lived in your house, might have information pertaining to previous sales, and selling prices, which might be of interest to you in your research, and potentially lead to previous inhabitants.

And finally, here are some hints:

  • Never assume anything
  • Never believe anything unless it comes the most reputable source imaginable
  • Never believe anything else unless you have tripled checked it
  • Always look for spelling variants and mis-transcriptions
  • Talk to the neighbours
  • Talk to former residents 

But, don’t forget:

  • House numbers may have changed
  • Street names may have changed
  • Houses and streets may have been demolished
  • Just because it was published in 1888, doesn’t mean the information is from 1888: the information contained in a published directory will usually have been collated in the previous year.

You are welcome to quote passages from any of my posts, with appropriate credit. The correct citation for this looks as follow:

Dyer, Lynne (2020). Researching your house through time. Available from [Accessed 31 May 2020]

Take down policy:
I post no pictures that are not my own, unless I have express permission so to do. All text is my own, and not copied from any other information sources, printed or electronic, unless identified and credited as such. If you find I have posted something in contravention of these statements, or if there are photographs of you which you would prefer not to be here, please contact me at the address listed on the About Me page, and I will remove these.
Thank you for reading this blog. 


Sunday, 24 May 2020

Whitsun holiday

Hathern Band taking part in the Whit march, May 2015

Something in some of the recent issues of the local newspaper, ‘The Loughborough Echo’, caught my eye: the editor had set a challenge, and not one for ignoring such things, I set about researching and finding an answer to the question. What a journey that’s been!! From Loughborough to Nottingham, back to Hathern and off to Clifton in Nottingham, and then up to the North West of England – all on a Whit weekend!

In the Nottingham Evening Post of 3 June 1936, a contributor to the newspaper wrote about the Whitsuntide holiday, and the staging of what was often the main event of the year in villages – the ‘walk’. The contributor suggests that the tradition of walking at Whitsuntide is associated with the ‘benefit clubs’ and friendly societies that existed in the nineteenth century, some, as he says, going back even as far as around 1790 in Nottinghamshire. The role of the friendly society (1) was to provide aid (financial, medical and social) to its members, long before the inception of the NHS and social services of today. There is also a suggestion that these Whit walks were born out of processions of Sunday school children who were celebrating the coronation of George IV in 1821.

The Whit walks were full of pomp and ceremony and helped to unite the gentry and landowners with the rest of the village population, and all members would join the procession. Of course, the better the event, the more new subscribers were enrolled and therefore the more help could be distributed. During the procession, the walkers would stop perhaps stop off for a blessing at the local church (let’s not forget that Whitsun is the Christian festival of Pentecost, a time which commemorates the holy spirit descending upon Jesus’s disciples), and then at various of the big houses, where sometimes they were provided with refreshments, before probably ending up at a large banquet for everyone.

The walks, the banquet and the evening dancing were usually accompanied by the village band, something which most villages had. From the report of the event that appeared in the Nottingham Daily Express of 29 May 1860, it appears that, as ever, the British weather was not at all conducive to the enjoyment of such an outdoor event as the Whit walk, although, thankfully some people did attend. There appears to have been no sport, no boating on the river Trent, which apparently was very choppy, and no music, singing or dancing. It was the wind that was really the problem, making the day feel chilly. People had been expected to picnic at Clifton Grove (2), to dance at the arboretum, and fish and take boating trips on the Trent. What did take place, however, were the friendly society dinners which included groups such as the Independent Lodge of Oddfellows, and the Ancient Order of Foresters.

So, bands were normally a big part of the Whit walks. Our nearest local band is Hathern Band, an amalgamation of two bands in the village, one which formed around 1856 and one later in the nineteenth century. The history of the band is on their website, and it was the entry for the 1860 Whit Week that sent me on this journey.

More recently (2010 and 2015 that I know about) Hathern Band have taken part in Whit marches around Manchester: there are two, one based around Saddleworth, the other around Tameside, and it was the latter which Hathern took part in. For the bands taking part, the marches are actually a banding contest, which is supported by thousands of spectators. Luckily, some of the band's performances have been recorded and saved for posterity! Have a listen to performance 1, performance 2, performance 3 and performance 4! And see some pics from the event:

It is but a short journey from Hathern to Loughborough, and so back to the challenge I mentioned at the beginning of this post, which was to discover who was ‘Heywood’, a writer who contributed articles to the Loughborough Echo back in the 1930s. You might guess from reading this post, that I believe Heywood to be Heywood Chilton, the person who contributed to the Nottingham Evening Post in the 1930s, although so far, this is all I know about the person!

(1)  I haven’t written much about our local friendly and fraternal societies on the blog – there’s something on the post about UnityHouse, and the Sparrow Hill Theatre – but there’s a bit more about them in ‘Secret Loughborough’.  

(2) Clifton Grove was apparently a bit of an attraction for the people of Nottingham, and was accessed by the ferry at Wilford. I wonder if Samuel Yates (journey Part 1, journey Part 2) chose Clifton for his daily walk in 1819, because of its position on the Loughborough side of the river Trent? By 1874 it was described in Shaw’s ‘Guide to Nottingham’ as follows:  ‘At Easter and Whitsuntide if the weather at all permits, thousands of Nottingham artizans with their wives and families, and young men and maidens, either with sweethearts or to gain sweethearts, flock to the Grove.’ as I discovered on the Nottingham Hidden History Teamwebsite.     

You are welcome to quote passages from any of my posts, with appropriate credit. The correct citation for this looks as follow:

Dyer, Lynne (2020). Whitsun holiday. Available from [Accessed 24 May 2020]

Take down policy:
I post no pictures that are not my own, unless I have express permission so to do. All text is my own, and not copied from any other information sources, printed or electronic, unless identified and credited as such. If you find I have posted something in contravention of these statements, or if there are photographs of you which you would prefer not to be here, please contact me at the address listed on the About Me page, and I will remove these.
Thank you for reading this blog.