Sunday, 23 December 2012

2012: A Year in the Life of a Buildings Historian

The Somerset Vicarage Pre-Victorian Addition

Well, what a year 2012 has been! Jubilees and Olympics aside,  it really hasn't stopped and my work has taken me all over the country researching the history of buildings, predominantly to support planning applications for listed buildings, but also for the owners to simply understand their historic home better. I have also been giving talks on house histories, architecture as well as “How To Read Your Church”, to various groups around the country.

1700 Map of Aylesford by Abraham Walter
Buildings I have been privileged to uncover in 2012 include: An early 18th century farmhouse in Hertfordshire with links to King James I; a late 18th century mill house in Buckinghamshire with tragic tales of bankruptcy and disaster, but with a history that stretched back to the 9th century and an 18th century farmhouse near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. A project that particularly stood out was a beautiful vicarage in Somerset, ostensibly a Victorian structure with earlier, surviving evidence that went back as far as the 14th century.  

I also uncovered the story of a house in Aylesford in Kent, built in 1709 and owned by barge-builders in its time. The intriguing part was the cellar, that proved to be a good deal older than 1709 and helped us understand its relationship with the ancient pub next door.

Other projects included two elegant townhouses in London; assessing the historic interior of a red-brick “Pont-Street-Dutch” house in Chelsea and piecing together the story of one of John Nash’s elegant Grade I houses in Regent’s Park.

Booth's Poverty Map of London circa 1890 Showing Regent's Park 

One of my favourite archives to visit is the East Sussex Record Office in Lewes and this year, I found myself visiting ESRO to research a 17th century longhouse on the Sussex Downs that had been occupied by one family of tenant farmers for over 250 years. Despite staff shortages, they couldn't have been more accommodating, helping me to pull out nearly 400 years of recorded history in the form of photographs and drawings, maps, plans, leases and deeds for me to piece together. 

One of the last projects this year was for a hotel in London which led to researching not only the story of the building and the business but also its links to the Age of Steam and the famous people, politicians, writers, philanthropists and actresses who have passed through its brass-dressed revolving doors in its 150 year history.

So what of 2013? Well, it will be my fourth year exhibiting at the Listed Property Show at Olympia (16th/17th February). I will also be giving a talk there on the Saturday, 16th February. This year the show is bigger than ever with the event sponsored by The Daily Telegraph and English Heritage. Click this link for details:Listed Property Show 2013

But the big news of 2013 is that I will be holding my house history workshops at two of England’s most elegant and historic country house hotels, namely Cliveden in Berkshire and Ickworth in Suffolk, starting in March and continuing throughout the year. So, if you want to unlock the history of your house for yourself but don’t know where to start, details about the day are on my website!

Cliveden Housex

2012 was a great year … looking forward to seeing how next year unfolds. Thanks for reading my blog and may I wish you all a very Happy 2013!