Every House has a Storey

7 October 2021 by Ellen Leslie

For anyone and everyone interested in a house and its secrets, this was essential listening. An in-depth interest in houses may include learning about its general background, listed (and de-listed) building consent, maintenance and repair, and heritage statements. Ellen stated that she had dealt with important properties, such as Anglesea Abbey (N.T.), 17 Portland Place, a cottage at Yateley, and Mill House, at Wetheringsett, Suffolk, as well as acting as architectural advisor for the author Natalie Livingstone at Cliveden.

Several useful resources are available, Ellen having made use of all these:

Parameters to be considered include date of construction, period of structural changes, the original architect/builder, occupants over the years, historical connections, and how/when the building has been used. Not only the bricks and mortar, but also the people of the house are of great significance.

Archives available include the National Archives at Kew, county archives, specialist archives, town or local history groups, and online archives and catalogues [Find my past, Ancestry.co.uk, Land Registry, etc.].

Types of historical information include parish registers, census records, sale particulars, newspapers, plans, maps, drawings/photographs, deeds/tenancy agreements, letters, diaries, and valuation surveys.

Regarding census information, although the first English census was undertaken in 1801, it is only from 1841 that information is available, up and including the 1911 census. In 2022, the 1921 census details will be released under the 100 years rule. No census took place in 1941, understandably, but the 1939 register (for ID and Ration Books purposes inter alia) holds considerable data.

Ellen spoke of 14th Century Horsegrove, concerning which she had consulted a tithe map of 1840, together with censuses showing the main occupant as Wm Fenner (1851), Wm Walker (1861, 1871), Wm Harrison (1881, 1891), who was Wm Walker’s godson, Wm Newman (1901), and George Lavender (1911). The 1939 register showed a Basil Nicholls living there. Horsegrove was mentioned in the Kent & Sussex Courier of 1879.

She had discovered sale particulars relating to Paxhill House, Lindfield, a 17th Century Jacobean-style house, with useful pictures from 1870, and a mention in the Sussex Advertiser of 1828.

Finally, Ellen mentioned briefly four other properties of note, all of which were of some age:

  • Hammonds Place, Burgess Hill: 15th Century (1783 manorial map, a tithe map of 1848, the 1937 Ordnance Survey)
  • Black Swan, Ware: 16th Century (one could see how the front of the building, originally an inn, had been cut back, and that an adjacent building demolished reveals the original dimensions of the end wall of the inn)
  • The Old Manor, Dorsington, Warwickshire: 15th Century (photographs had proved invaluable in tracing the evolution of the building)
  • Mill House, Stoke Doyle, Northamptonshire: 1860s, yet late 16th century in origin (1606 manorial map, a tithe map of 1845, 1923 Ordnance Survey)

It was abundantly clear, from this presentation, that such investigative work, while requiring much patience and painstaking application, is both rewarding and interesting in itself, besides being, in Ellen’s case, work carried out professionally on behalf of interested parties.

No doubt everyone present will view his/her own property in a different light now, and may, perhaps, be encouraged to carry out a little further examination. Who knows what stories the house could be telling them!

Stefan Gatward