How to discover the history of your house
Have you ever wondered how old your house is, who built it and who lived there before you? This is a short guide by the Hastings and St Leonards Save Our Heritage Group to help you answer those questions.
How old is your house?
Ownership details for most houses in England and Wales are held on the national Land and Property Register. You can do an online search at: www.gov.uk/government/organisations/land-registry to see if the property is registered and for a fee get a copy of the entry. The entry should contain an extract from the original title deeds giving you a date when the land first changed ownership.
The Register may hold other documents relating to the house. Copies of those documents can be obtained for a fee but you may need help from someone familiar with deeds etc.
If the age of your house is still a puzzle it may be because it is older than it appears. During the 18th and 19th Century it was quite common to update your house by giving it a new façade. It was cheaper than building a new house. Sometimes the foundations of an older building were reused.
If your house is in the Old Town it is worth remembering the current street level is 2 to 3 metres above the original street level. The Old Hastings Preservation Society (http://www.ohps.org.uk/ ) which is based at the Hastings History House, 21 Courthouse Street (Open Thursday to Sunday 11am to 4pm) may be able to help with the history of your house.
If your house is in St Leonards the Burton’s St Leonards Society (http://www.burtonsstleonardssociety.co.uk ) may be able to help with the history of your house. They are based at South Lodge (West), Maze Hill, St Leonards on Sea (Open Wednesday 11am to 2pm, Saturday 11am to 4pm and Sunday 11am to 3pm)
Pevsner Architectural Guides: The Buildings of England, Sussex: East with Brighton and Hove by Nicholas Antram and Nikolaus Pevsner 2012 published by Yale University Press could also contain information about your house or street.
Who lived in your house?
The Hastings Reference Library, Brassey Institute, 13 Claremont has a large collection of printed directories, produced by various publishers. They span the period 1854 to 1974 although not for every year, Using the date when the land first changed ownership as a starting point, you can search those directories to find the first reference to your house. This will give the name of the person living in the house. There was usually a time lag of 1 year between the data being collected and the publication of the directory. Using the directories you can build a timeline of who lived in your house before you.
The Hastings Reference Library has a large collection of books, maps, press cuttings and other material relating to Hastings and St Leonards. You can view their collection at http://www.eastsussex.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/DAFC1F8E-48DE-478F-88C1-B0180C1CBD2F/0/guidetolocalstudiesresourceshastingslibraryapr2012.pdf
Hastings Museum & Art Gallery, Johns Place, Bohemia, also have a large collection of books, maps, press cuttings and other material relating to Hastings and St Leonards. You can view their collection by contacting the Archivist: Hannah Miles (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visiting the Local Studies room on a Wednesday
During the nineteenth century many streets in the town were renamed and streets were re-numbered. For example part of Queens Road used to be called St Andrews Road. The Hastings History House, 21 Courthouse Street has records showing those changes. Open Thursday to Sunday 11am to 4pm.
In England and Wales the Census of Population has been carried out every 10 years since 1841. The 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 censuses are available online. There are many family history sites, some of which you can search for free.
The local directories usually have the person’s initials and surname. Most online databases have a facility to search by name. Choose a census date that matches the entry in the directory. If you enter the person’s initials and surname and that they lived in Hastings or St Leonards, Sussex you should be able to find the right entry for your house. The census will give you the names, ages, occupations and place of birth of the people present on census night.
Family history sites will enable you to build up a more detailed picture of the people who lived in your house. If the occupier of your house was a local tradesman or businessman then the local directories will enable you to track their business life. The local directories are a useful source of information about local builders and architects.
Who built your house?
The National Archives have an extensive online database. It holds early local government records for Hastings including building control records. These early records often contain details of what was applied for, the address, who made the application (this was often the builder) and who designed the building (usually the architect). There are two ways to search for this information. You can go to http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ and take your search from there. The site contains instructions and a useful guide.
An alternative approach is to carry out a Google search on the address of your house. Remember streets can get renamed and houses re-numbered. The National Archives may also hold other documents relating to your house which can be searched for using your house address. If you discover the name of the builder or architect you can use the local directories to find out more about them.
Who owned the land your house was built on?
Until 1800 Hastings was confined to the Bourne Valley between the East and West Hills. Hastings was surrounded by a number of large estates. From 1800 onwards those landowners started to sell off their land for development. The land registry entry may well contain the name of the land owner or estate who sold the land your house is built on. Hastings Reference Library and Hastings Museum and Art Gallery hold information about those estates and the families associated with them.