House Detective - Take Two
Lindy Malone explores the history of her home..
Have you ever thought about who used to live in your house and what life was like for them, especially if you live in one of the many older houses in Godmanchester?
Is it a lucky house for example and have people been happy here? If you are a bit like me, you get curious and start badgering the neighbours and those who look as if theyve been around the locality long enough to fill in some gaps, until they think youre a bit wacky or nosy or not got anything better to do than ask daft questions!. But, on a par with family genealogy there is the thrill of putting together a traceable historical record of your home, apart from getting to know your new environment there is a lot of fun to be had, also it makes you think twice before you knock a nail into that beam that has supported that upper floor for so long, how many knocks can it take one wonders!
Of course the first port of call would be to investigate the Title Deeds to the house sometimes held with your bank or solicitor. But since the re-organisation of land registration, house title deeds are no longer handed on to the new owners as there is no legal need to. Also it must be noted that deeds only record changes in legal status so if there were no changes there will be no deeds. In our case the cottage was, we know, rented for about 50 years in 1885 and so any deeds will have been with the landowner. Unless you are lucky and can trace your deeds lodged somewhere for historical interest you cannot rely on this source. Therefore you are on a history trail taking clues from your house.
Is it listed like ours is? If it is then you can arrange a meeting at Pathfinder House in Huntingdon and ask to see their Listed Building database record. This is a fascinating record made when the house was first listed, for us 1969. It gives a general description of the building internally and externally and the methods of construction. Those features which the layman would not notice, like the 18th Cent stud walling (and theres me thinking this was a new development!) the importance of a certain type of staircase and the peculiarity of having two early fireplaces in one house, with one in the front and the other to the rear. What really fascinated me was that the house had apparently been built as one dwelling house divided into three and is now two. Obviously there is nothing new in DIY and the weekend horror of trying to adapt accommodation to meet personal specifications. One thing is for sure with an old house, there no need to think of finding features to make it different. This place certainly broke the mould! At the time of writing I see I will have to make another appointment at Pathfinder House as I see there are references to internal and external photographs, now that will be really amazing........
Another starting point for your research project is Huntingdon Library. Their reference section has a collection of local OS maps and history books. The OS map will pinpoint your house location and give clues as to the ages of the houses nearby, from this you get an idea of the total picture down your road. OS maps were first published between 1882-1887, this was the first large-scale survey of the county in 6inch and 25 inch scale so it is a relevant starting point. The very helpful library staff will root out what you need and the clear cataloguing of reading material means the frustration is kept to a minimum! I found it useful to make a brief note as to what you had looked into so that on a later visit you did not go down the same route. Also dont forget that for more recent history The Hunts Post can provide you with previous selling details, via its advertising pages. If you know roughly when the house was on the market you can scroll through the microfiche and find out how cheap your house once was! The editions are all kept on microfiche which is an experience not to be missed, though if you are worried about your eyesight I advise you to give it a miss.
Armed with a few bare bones you can then cross over the market square in Huntingdon to Huntingdon County Records Office. You will need to take with you two pieces of identification with your address on if you intend to be a regular visitor, otherwise you can sign in as and when. The investigation may take several months (or years!) as the office is only open one Saturday a month, unless you want to devote some precious leave. But it makes it more of a hunt if you are working against the clock! There are more OS maps, 1:500 town plans and Tithe maps for the whole of Huntingdonshire. The latter, were drawn up to assess the taxes due to the Church so are more concerned with the apportionment of the land and are not so detailed, but much interesting information about the community and the use of the land. There are also the manorial records to investigate for those properties which were Copyhold tenure. Up until 1922 all property dealings had to be done through the lord of the manor so a search of the court books if they survive, will show any conveyances or mortgages of the property. There are a few photographs to be looked through and other references such as The Hearth Tax assessments which cover the years 1666 and 1674 available for searching.
We were able to start our search from an Inland Revenue map surveyed in 1884. From the map we found the name of the tenant, her age, number of children , occupation, (laundress) land value (£68.25d) and the number of rooms 3! Not sure whether that is bedrooms or rooms in total! We have managed to get an idea of life down our street in 1885 and it doesnt seem to have altered too dramatically! Gas lighting was an innovation in 1870 and there seems to have been continuous discussion about the drainage! The ownership of most of the houses was divided between Farm Hall and a lady of independent means named Jane Shelton Thackray. The two pubs The Nelson and the other, the name of which escapes me, seemed bursting at the seams with itinerant agricultural workers, I guess who constituted the seasonal labour. In one of the larger houses, (having 4 rooms), the tenant had 8 children packed in, to me it conjures a picture thats not quite so rosy as some people would have you think.
If my amateur attempts at house genealogy have encouraged one or two of you to do your own investigative work Im sure youll find it just as absorbing as I have happy hunting!
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