House History Tool – Architecture

1. Introduction

Old houses are physical archives. Their relative scale and expense represent both the ambitions and the means of the people who first built them:

  • - Their materials - perhaps masonry, perhaps timber - reveal the local geology and landscape
  • - The size of the chimney and pitch of the roof reflect the British climate and rainfall
  • - The shapes and arrangement of the living spaces mirror the habits of society
  • - The technology of construction shows the level of human ingenuity brought by the designer and builders.

That’s quite a list already, and we’ve only just started to think about what an old house can tell us. Like an encyclopaedia, buildings need to be approached methodically if we’re to access their valuable stores of information.

To a surprising extent, you can ‘read’ the basic story of any house by looking carefully at its exterior. The first questions I ask are usually: ‘When was it originally built, and who for?’ followed by: ‘What’s been added to it since then, and when, and why?’ If you’re curious, there are some very useful clues to spot. You might make a discovery yourself if you get the Hidden House History bug. To get you started, I’ll share some clues with you, in the materials that the walls were built of, and the shape of the windows.

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