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Researching the history of your house

If you've ever wondered about the history of your house, the RIBA Collections can be a great place to start your research.

24 February 2020

If you've ever wondered about the history of your house, the RIBA Collections could be a great place to start your research.

This guide aims to help signpost you to resources available through our library and collections that could reveal the history of your house. Here, we give an overview of what materials are available and how you can access them. 

Our online library catalogue is a great way to start exploring the history of your house, enabling you to search for material across all our collections. If you need more help, get in touch with our knowledgeable information team. 

Archives

Our archives collections cover around 1.5 million manuscripts, divided into around 800 specific collections. If your house was designed by an architect of national or international significance, you may find relevant material here. Our archive collections are particularly strong on British architecture, but also include material from British architects practicing abroad, especially in India and South Africa. Archival documents that may relate to the history of your house include contracts, specifications and job files, personal correspondence, notebooks and diaries.

Our archive collections are accessed through the RIBA Architecture Study Rooms at the V&A. 

Biographical information

We hold biographical files on 20,000 architects and related professionals, which cover obituaries, press cuttings and ephemera such as private view invitations. Complete a 'Closed Access Request' form in the RIBA Library Reading Room to access these files. 

More useful biographical information can be found in:

  • The Database of British Architects, to which names are continually being added - it can be accessed through the online library catalogue.
  • The 'Directory of British Architects 1834-1914', a printed directory compiled by the RIBA and available for reference at the library enquiry desk.
  • RIBA Nomination Papers, which contain biographical information on members of the RIBA, sometimes including a list of the architect’s works. These papers from 1834-1946 are available to view on microfiche/microfilm or CD in the RIBA Library Reading Room. To view nomination papers later than 1946 or to see the originals, contact the RIBA Architecture Study Rooms at the V&A.

Designs for a house and cottage in a letter from Halsey Ralph Ricardo to Ralph Whitehead, 1883. RIBA Collections

Books

Our library houses over 150,000 books and 20,000 pamphlets on architecture and design. If you're researching the history of your house within the UK, you might want to start with the shelf reference 72.03(41/42), which covers books on the architecture of British counties, towns and cities, while the section of books numbered 728 covers houses and housing. 

Our early and rare books collection includes a number of pattern books for Georgian or Early Victorian houses. There are also architectural and topographical books covering houses from earlier periods. Please complete an 'Early Works Request Form' to access these books.

Specific books in our library that you might find useful include: 

  • 'The Builder's Practical Director: or buildings for all classes' (available on request by filling in a pink 'Closed Access Request Form')
  • The series of 'Pevsner Architectural Guides', a series of guidebooks to the buildings of England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland
  • Nick Barrett, 'Tracing the History of Your House'

Styles and Periods

  • Steven Parissien, 'The Georgian Group Book of the Georgian House'
  • Helen C. Long, 'The Edwardian House: the middle-class home in Britain in 1880-1914'
  • Stefan Muthesius, 'The English Terraced House'
  • Judith and Martin Miller, 'Period Details'

London Houses

  • The 'Survey of London' series, covering London buildings arranged by parish
  • Colin Thom, 'Researching London’s houses: an archives guide'
  • Alison Kenney, 'Tracing the History of Your House: a guide to sources for the history of houses in Westminster' (available on request by filling in a pink 'Closed Access Request Form')
  • Alan A. Jackson, 'Semi-detached London: suburban development, life and transport 1900-39'

Diagram showing 'The Needs of the Family' in a 1944 booklet entitled 'The Home of the Citizen' by Elizabeth E. Halton. RIBA Collections

Drawings

Our drawings collection is the largest and most important collection of British architectural drawings in the world. The collection is particularly strong on architecture from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, including drawings for many large housing projects and individual buildings.

You can search for drawings via the online library catalogue or the printed drawings catalogued available on site, which include biographical and bibliographical information. Drawings can be accessed via the RIBA Architecture Study Rooms at the V&A. 

Journals

Published at regular intervals throughout the year, architectural journals provide the most current source of contemporary scholarship on a topic. We hold 2,000 titles, representing a comprehensive collection of architectural journals from all over the world and in a variety of languages. Our holdings are historic as well as current, dating back over 150 years, and include full sets of Architectural Design, Architect’s Journal, Architectural Review, The Builder, the RIBA Journal and Country Life.

You can search for journals via the online library catalogue, and access them via the RIBA Library Reading Room at 66 Portland Place. 

Specific journals you might find helpful if researching the history of your house include:

  • The 1996 'Gazetteer of Modern Houses in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland' produced by 'Twentieth Century Architecture' (published by the Twentieth Century Society). This lists the architects responsible for the house together with any published references that have been identified. Fill in a pink 'Closed Access Request Form - Journals' to access this. 
  • Issue No.1 of 'The Thirties Society Journal' (1980) lists references in periodicals to inter-war buildings, including houses. Fill in a pink 'Closed Access Request Form - Journals' to access this. 

Design for a kitchen in the Mountain Goat Country / Holtspur Park estate, Buckinghamshire, by Christian Hamp, 1960. RIBA Collections

Photographs

Our photographs collection is a rich resource for the study of architecture and related subjects such as interior design, topography, landscape, construction and planning. It includes many photographs of architect-designed houses and housing, and particularly strong holdings of material on post-war housing.

Many, but not all images, are listed on the online library catalogue, and you can contact the photographs team for more details about items not listed in the catalogue. Handlists/indexes of individual photographers’ and architects’ archives are available on request. Photographs are accessed via the RIBA Library Reading Room at 66 Portland Place. 

Other Resources

For more information, contact us

Public Information Line
Tel: +44 (0)20 7307 3882
(phone line open Monday to Friday, 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 4pm)

Members Information Line - please give your membership number
Tel: +44 (0)20 7307 3600
(phone line open Monday to Friday, 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm)

1 Rupert Road, Turnham Green, London: designed by Richard Norman Shaw (1880) and photographed by Martin Charles (2008). Martin Charles / RIBA Collections

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