House Detectives

How often do you look at the buildings around you? That is, really look? So often they are ignored, a backdrop to our busy lives, familiar, constant and rarely given a second glance.

But take a moment for a closer look and you might be surprised. Above the impersonal shop frontage may be a building of character, interesting architectural details will reveal themselves to the enquiring eye, changes in use, style and fortune may be detected.

Buildings can provide a wealth of information as they hold up a mirror to the society that built and used them. They tell us about the people who lived, worked and worshipped in them - their priorities and aspirations.

Valuable records were collected by our house detectives as they took to the streets to note down details of buildings old and new, like a structural census.



Simply a notebook and pencil is all you need to start, though a camera is useful if you have one. Start by looking at the place were you live – what can you find out about how it was originally built and has it changed over time? Remember to ask for the landowner’s, or householder’s permission, if you go onto private property.

• Building materials – can you detect what it is constructed from? Are the materials local or have they been brought in from afar?

• Does it show characteristics similar to other buildings nearby?

• Looking at historic sources may help to establish its age – does it appear on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map?

• Can you identify it on the census returns or in a trade directory?

• By carrying out a rapid external survey of a number of buildings in a small area you will get a feel for the different styles and construction methods.

Don’t forget to deposit your records at the local HER, as these will add to the body of knowledge for your local area.


Download our recording sheets and guidance notes in PDF format - all open in a new window.

Building Recording Guidance

Building Recording Form Instructions

Building Recording Form