Sources for house history

Wiltshire Buildings Record is a non-profit organisation partly funded by Wiltshire Council and is based at the History Centre

A beginner's guide

Since old buildings have been continually altered and documentary sources rarely give a precise date of construction, the question "how old is my house?", which usually prompts an enquiry, is often the wrong one to ask. More success is likely if an attempt is made to trace the history of the ownership and occupancy of the building. This will require several hours for studying finding aids, printed sources and original material. This brief guide is intended to indicate locally available sources for the history of your house.

Before tackling archive sources

A typical inventory of goods
  1. Make a note of details from your deeds of the property - particularly owners and occupiers.
  2. Form an opinion as to the approximate age of the building: consult the Wiltshire Buildings Record (organiser Dorothy Treasure, 01249 705508: open Tuesdays) and Listed Buildings Reports available in the History Centre or in Salisbury or Swindon libraries.
  3. Check printed sources in the Wiltshire Studies collection.

Archive sources

Identify the house on the parish tithe map, c.1840, or on Ordnance Survey maps dating from the 1880s. Both these series of maps for the county are kept within the archives

If on the tithe map

  1. Check the subject indexes for earlier maps, including enclosure maps and Andrew and Dury's map of Wiltshire, 1773 (N.B. estate and enclosure maps rarely cover whole parishes);
  2. Check if the owner and occupier can be identified from these map sources;
  3. Use land tax returns (A1/345) and Parish Rating records to trace the owner and occupier back from the tithe map;
  4. Check Subject Index for sale particulars and architectural plans;
  5. Use Personal Name Index or, in the case of a major estate owner, Parish Information Lists and the annotated copy of Summary Guide to Private Records in the W.S.R.O. in the searhroom; use the appropriate catalogue and try to identify the house either as a freehold, leasehold or copyhold property by means of deeds, leases, admissions, rentals, surveys or manorial court books.
  6. Check our on-line catalogue of archives and the National Archives Discovery website for any other records which may relate to the property.

Success in identifying the occupier of the property should be followed up by checking the Wiltshire Wills catalogue for a will and inventory. For later history of the property see below.

If later than the tithe map

  1. Check Place-Names Index and catalogues for title deeds, and Subject Index for sale particulars and architectural plans;
  2. Proceed by way of rating and valuation records (parish and local council), registers of electors (from 1832), census returns (1841-1891), printed directories, building regulation plans, and Inland Revenue valuation records (1910). N.B. Street numbering was not established in urban areas until the late 19th century and is often unreliable in view of subsequent recasting to include new houses.
A deposited drawing of a house

Particular categories of houses


  • Check our on-line catalogue of archives and the Discovery website
  • Check Subject Index: Pubs
  • Check deeds and estate surveys, inns may be referred to indirectly as an adjoining property
  • Alehouse licences to 1827 (but signs are rarely given before 1822)
  • Licensing records under Petty Sessions survive from the late 19th century
  • Trade directories
  • Census returns


  • Check our on-line catalogue of archives and the Discovery website
  • Check Subject Index: Mills
  • Like inns, these are significant properties which feature directly in deeds or are used as points of reference to locate other properties.
  • Manorial accounts and court rolls may include references to their occupancy and upkeep.
  • O.S. 6" maps may assist in their identification.

Parsonage and Vicarage Houses

  • Check our on-line catalogue of archives and the Discovery website
  • Check Subject Index : Parish : Incumbent : Parsonage & Vicarage Houses.
  • Check Parish Index Cards to Diocesan Archives.
  • Glebe terriers late 16th century-1783.
  • Visitation enquiries for the archdeaconries of Wilts and Sarum and the bishops' peculiar parishes with brief note of the state of repair, 1787-1789, D2/9, D3.14/1, D1/54/58 respectively.
  • Petitions for licences for non-residence (often due to the unfitness of the parsonage of vicarage houses) 1804-1896, D1/12/4.Mortgages for repairs or rebuilding with plans to early 20th century. 1778-1969, D1/11, D5/3, D28/6 and also Church Commissioners E files. See Parish Index Cards to Diocesan Archives to 1937.
  • Ecclesiastical Dilapidations Act 1871: Returns of completed works and of works to be undertaken 1872-1925, D38/8.Ecclesiastical Dilapidations Board: minutes, files, 1919-date, D350-367.
A page from a sales particular


  • Check our on-line catalogue of archives and the Discovery website
  • Check Subject Index.
  • Schools Misc. F8/600.
  • Plans late c.19. Acc. 782.
  • Photographs and plans c.1910. F8/320

Houses close to the lines of railways, canals, and turnpike roads

These are likely to appear on the deposited plans of public undertakings (A1/370) which have schedules stating owners and occupiers. The typescript list in the catalogue only states the title of the project and not necessarily all the parishes through which it ran, but also includes schemes never brought to fruition. The routes of projected railway schemes have been drawn on a bound set of 2½" O.S. plans available in the search room.

Houses adjacent to highway and footpath diversions or closure

These may figure in the limited series of plans in the Great Rolls (A1/110) and as a separate series (A1/316). A composite index to both series, covering the years 1774-1914 may be found in the typescript list of Quarter Sessions records (A1/316). These plans do not always name owners.

The first page of a legal indenture


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