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How to trace the history of a building
Bus Shelter, Newbury Park Bus Station, Ilford, Greater London - IoE number: 204888 © Mr Peter H. Evans

Tracing the history of a building is great fun but can be rather like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing and often involves learning the skills of a detective. Relatively few buildings already have a written history and, even where a building is listed and you can start with the information in the list description, you will still need to delve into primary sources.

All the sources mentioned here are described in the section on Sources with information on where and how to find them.

Follow the trail to uncover the story Longton Bottle Oven, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire - IoE number: 384460 © Mr Brian Peach LRPS

  • Studying a public building, or one of major architectural importance?
Start with secondary sources such as Pevsner, Victoria County History and locally produced publications

Look for them in the reference or local studies section of your nearest large library


  • Nothing in the general sources?

Turnpike Lane Underground Station, Hornsey, Greater London - IoE number: 431905 © J. CallonVisit a local studies library or archives office

Look at their subject index

Search for sources about your chosen building.

Ask if they produce a guide to researching the history of a building or the history of a house, using sources specific to the area.

    The Barber Institute, Birmingham University - IoE number: 411449 © Dr John Davis
  • No written histories?

    Start from the building itself

Look for a date, name etc. on the building

No date?

What is the architectural style?

Use the timeline on this site, The Pevsner 'Looking at Buildings' web site or a reference book to help with identifying the style and establishing an approximate date

Go back to the archives or local studies.

Find your building on old maps and narrow down the date as much as possible. See how the building developed over time

Look for more specific dates in plans, property deeds; taxation and rating records; estate agents records, sale catalogues, contracts for housing developments, photographs, old newspapers and trade directories

If you want to find out about the people who lived in a building then you need to add probate inventories, wills, old electoral registers and census enumerators' sheets to the list!

All these sources are described in detail in the Sources part of this site.

Follow any of the links below for more information on listed buildings

Listed Buildings and the Listing Process :
Suggested Learning Activities : Useful Publications

Please note that the inclusion of a listed building on this website does not mean it is open to the public.