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Tracing the history of your house


Tracing the history of your house is a fascinating project. You can uncover past details of the building and its site, its previous uses, its owners and occupants.

Street numbering is a relatively recent development. Often the only way to identify a property is by the names of owners or occupiers, or by a description of its site in relation to neighbouring landmarks.

For this reason, it is important to collect information about adjoining features, such as roads and rivers. Start with known facts and work backwards in time.

Many of the sources mentioned below are held by the Norfolk Record Office (NRO) or the Norfolk Heritage Centre (NHC) and others by The National Archives (TNA).

You may also find our guides to tracing the history of a parsonage and researching the history of your home in King's Lynn useful.

Preliminary steps

Talk to your neighbours - if they have lived in that area for some time, they may know something of the history of your house.

Then look at the property itself. Documentary sources are unlikely to tell you exactly when it was built, or when major alterations took place, but architectural features may help answer these questions.
Some of the books mentioned at the end of this guide include chapters on architecture and Norfolk Heritage Explorer (opens new window) includes advice on how to date a building from building materials and styles.

The Norfolk Historic Buildings Group (opens new window) surveys historic buildings in the county at the owner's request and provides reports interpreting their histories. Check too whether there is any published information about the property.

The NHC has many local history books. If the building is of special historical or architectural interest, consult Pevsner's Buildings of England (NRO and NHC) and the Department of the Environment's Lists of Buildings of Architectural or Historical Interest, which should be held by your local district council.

There may be information about a historic building at the Norfolk Historic Environment Record (NHER). Its Secondary Files include detailed reports, photographs and other records and can be consulted by prior appointment, during normal office hours.

The Norfolk Heritage Explorer website mentioned above will also tell you whether any information about a house or building is held by the NHER.

The Historic England Archive (opens new window) holds descriptions of listed buildings in England, as well as thousands of photographs of buildings from the 1860s to the present, aerial photographs from the 1930s to the present and survey reports on specific buildings.

Title deeds

Read through the deeds to the property, if you can gain access to them. They should include descriptions of the property and its location. It will also name former owners and occupiers.

Bundles of deeds may include abstracts of title, which may contain extracts from earlier deeds which no longer survive.

There may also be an enfranchisement deed or other evidence that the building was once copyhold (that it belonged to a manor). In this case, earlier records of ownership may be in the manor court rolls and books, described below.

The books by Dibben, Alcock and Barratt listed at the end of this guide can help you to interpret your deeds.

The NRO holds thousands of title deeds, but many relate to estates presently or formerly owned by large public, private, or ecclesiastical landowners. References to them are in the places card index in the searchroom and in our online catalogue (opens new window).

Deeds enrolled before the Clerk of the Peace or the courts of the city of Norwich or the boroughs of King's Lynn and Great Yarmouth survive for various dates from 1280 to 1887; please ask for details.

About two-thirds of property titles in England and Wales are registered with the Land Registry (opens new window) and copies of title plans and registers held in electronic format can be downloaded for a fee.

The information on the register includes a note of the location and extent of the property, the current owner's name and address and details of any mortgages or rights of way.



By checking maps of different dates to see if your property is marked, you may be able to work out roughly when it was built.

Changes in the size and shape of the building may also be shown. Some maps also include names of owners and occupiers.

To see what maps the NRO holds, try a maps search (opens new window) of our online catalogue.

You can look at 18th and 19th century Norfolk maps and 20th century aerial photographs of the county via Map Explorer (opens new window).

This site enables you to view and compare first edition OS maps and other printed maps of the county, tithe maps, some enclosure maps and aerial photographs from surveys made of the county in 1946 and 1988.

Ordnance survey maps (mainly NHC)

Work back through successive editions - the earliest generally date from the mid to late-19th century.

Copies of these and other relevant printed maps may help you to interpret older manuscript maps, which often have few landmarks recognisable today.

The NRO has one countywide set of very large-scale OS maps (mainly 1:2500; urban areas at 1:1250), ranging in date from the 1950s to the 1990s (see list LDR).

To look at ordnance survey maps 1840s-1970 online, see the Map Images pages of the National Library of Scotland's website (opens new window).

Tithe maps, 1836-c1850 (NRO)

These show individual buildings and field boundaries and usually cover the whole parish.

They come with an apportionment, which gives the names of the owners and occupiers of each property.

They survive for almost every parish and most are available on microfilm. (See lists DN/TA and DE/TA)

Enclosure maps and awards, c1750-1850 (NRO)

These are also large scale plans, which give details of land ownership, highways, footpaths and boundaries.

They do not exist for all parishes and may not cover the whole parish. (See list C/Sca 2)

Private estate maps (NRO)

These survive for some parishes from the 16th century onwards.
They generally cover property belonging to one individual only, but sometimes mention owners of adjoining properties as well.

Road order maps, 1773 onwards, and deposited plans, 1809-1952 (NRO)

Road orders were made to close or divert roads and footpaths, while deposited plans show land affected by Parliamentary Bills concerning railways, canals, turnpike roads etc.

These records include names of owners (and sometimes occupiers) of land affected by the proposed schemes. (See lists C/Sce and C/Csf)

Sale particulars, c1800 onwards (NRO and NHC)

These describe properties for sale. They often contain maps and some include photographs.


Compiling a list of owners and occupiers

There are various ways to identify the names of owners and occupiers for key dates, such as by checking the tithe map of the 1830s-1840s or the registers of duties on land values, c1910 (described below).

Work forwards and backwards from these dates to build up a list of inhabitants - the following sources may prove useful to your research.

Directories (NHC and NRO)

These were published intermittently for Norfolk from the early 19th century onwards and for Norwich from 1783. They include selective lists of the principal residents and tradesmen of each place.

They are most useful for urban areas, where street names and numbering make it easier to identify a particular property.

Census records, 1841-1911 (NRO and NHC)

These list the names and occupations of those present in the building on census night. They were taken every 10 years and are arranged by place and then by street.

The Norfolk censuses are available at NRO and NHC. You can also search the 1841-1911 censuses on various genealogy websites.

See our guide on Tracing Your Family Tree for how to use and access these records.   

Electoral registers

These begin in the 1830s and record the names of people qualified to vote. They are arranged by electoral division, polling district and then either alphabetically by voter or by street.
The NRO has the following electoral registers (see list C/ERO):

  • Norfolk County, 1845-1975 (on microform).
  • Norwich, 1832, 1920-80 (original registers; see series N/TC 66 in the online catalogue).
  • King's Lynn, 1834-1901, 1918-75 (on microform; King's Lynn is included in the Norfolk County electoral registers from 1918 onwards).
  • Great Yarmouth, 1832-1975 (on microform, 1832-1915, 1949-75.For original registers, 1918-39, see series Y/TC 20 in the online catalogue. Yarmouth is included in the Norfolk County electoral registers from 1949 onwards).

The NRO holds electoral registers for the county, 1974 to the present, among district council records (see series DC in the catalogue). These include Yarmouth, but not King's Lynn and West Norfolk or Norwich.

The post-1974 registers have not been bound into volumes so it is much easier to use the copies at the NHC, which has Norwich registers from 1834 to the present and county registers, 1832 to the present. King's Lynn Library holds Lynn registers, 1846 to the present.

Taxation and rating records

These may help you to establish when different individuals lived in the house. Changes in the assessment levied on the property may reflect the extension or division of the building. The following sources will help with your research:

  • Land tax records (NRO) are arranged by parish and list the names of owners and occupiers and the amount of tax paid. However, land tax could be redeemed on payment of a lump sum from 1798 onwards, so the records may not include all properties. The NRO has the following land tax returns:
    • Norfolk County, 1767-1832 (on microfiche)
    • Norfolk County, 1831-1963, with some strays from 1797 onwards (not on microfilm/fiche; see series P/LT in the online catalogue (opens new window), which includes a useful introduction to land tax records)
    • Norwich, 1710-1832 (on microfiche)
    • King's Lynn, 1693, 1702-5 (on microfiche)
    • Great Yarmouth various dates, 1750-1949 (not on microfilm/fiche; see Guide to the Great Yarmouth Borough records p53, available in the searchroom).
  • Registers of duties on land values (also called the 'Domesday Books') c1910 (NRO). Under the 1910 Finance Act, a valuation was made of all properties in England and Wales. The Domesday Books give a brief description of each property, the names of its owner and occupier and a note of its value. Properties are shown on large scale OS maps, but these are only available for the western half of the county. For more information, see series P/DLV 1 in the online catalogue for the Domesday Books; the maps are not included in the online catalogue, but a draft list is available in the searchroom. More detailed records and maps are held by TNA (opens new window).
  • Rate assessments (NRO) survive for some places from the late 17th century until the mid-20th century. They are mainly found among parish records (see PD lists). Early poor rate lists generally record only the occupier's name and the sum assessed. Descriptions of properties may not be given and even in later rate books may be imprecise. The names of owners appear after 1834 and rate assessments are commonly entered in separate books. Rate books may be arranged alphabetically by owner or street: the latter is more common from the late 19th century. For further information see catalogues for Norwich City, Great Yarmouth Borough, Poor Law Unions, district councils, parish councils and parish records.
  • Hearth tax assessments survive for various dates between 1662 and 1674. For each parish, they list the names of each householder and the number of hearths in the house. The records are held by TNA, but the NRO holds copies of the Norfolk hearth tax returns on microfilm. A 1671 assessment for Norwich is also on microfilm. The returns for 1664 and 1666 are published in Norfolk Genealogy volumes 15 and 20, available in the searchroom. Hearth tax exemption certificates for Norwich, Great Yarmouth, King's Lynn and Thetford, 1670-4, are published in Norfolk Hearth Tax, eds. Peter Seaman, John Pound and Robert Smith (British Record Society and Norfolk Record Society, 2001). This volume is also available in the searchroom.

Copyhold property, wills and probate inventories

Copyhold property

Manor court rolls and books record the transfer of copyhold land, by sale or by inheritance, from person to person. The records may begin as early as the mid-13th century.

They commonly survive from the 17th century up to the abolition of copyhold property in 1925. They are usually in Latin before 1733.

Entries describe the property, giving the names of the new and the previous tenant, as well as the date when the previous tenant was admitted. It is therefore possible to trace the property back, owner by owner.

Many manor court rolls and books are on microfilm. Other records of a manor may include surveys which describe the land belonging to the manor, plot by plot. Rentals (lists of tenants and the rents they pay) may also describe individual properties.

Manorial records held by us are listed in the places card index and in the draft list of Norfolk Manors ('Mandy') in the searchroom. Many are included in the online catalogue (opens new window). Some manorial records are still in private hands.

The Manorial Documents Register (opens new window) contains information on the whereabouts of many manor court rolls and books. We also have guides to help you read and interpret manorial documents.

Wills and probate inventories

Bequests in wills may mention houses or other property. Probate inventories list and value household furnishings and other goods of the deceased, often room by room.

See our guide to wills and probate records for detailed information on how to use and access these documents.

Plans and architectural drawings

Architectural drawings

We hold some collections of late 19th and 20th century architects' drawings, notably those of H C Boardman.

References to these can be found in the online catalogue (opens new window). You can refine your search by using the genre 'Architectural/building plans'.

Also check in the searchroom the places, map and architects' names card indexes; the subject card index under 'architectural drawings'; and the person card index under the architect's name. Plans survive for few buildings erected before the late 1800s.

Building control plans and planning applications

New buildings and major alterations to existing properties have required local authority approval since the late 19th century.

Plans and supporting papers may have been lodged with the local building control or planning departments. We hold plans for the following districts (for other areas, please contact the relevant district council).

Norwich City Council

We have Norwich City Council building control plans, 1877-1988 (see list N/EN 12) and planning applications, 1949-76, 1980-6 (see list N/P 2).

Building control plans, 1877-1933 (part) are indexed on the online catalogue. After this, the catalogue only gives plan reference numbers, so you will need to consult the finding aids available in the searchroom for these very large series:

  • Indexed registers to building control plans, 1893-1952 (see list N/EN 31, available on microfilms MF 977-978)
  • Indexes to building control plans, 1877-1927, 1937-66 (see list N/EN 12/2). A typescript list and index of plans, 1877-94, is available on the searchroom shelves with list N/EN 12.
  • Indexed registers to planning applications, 1949-74 (available on microfilms MF/X/281-283).

For indexes after these dates, contact CNC Building Control Consultancy and Norwich City Council's Planning Department (see below).

We have only a selection of city building control plans and planning applications from 1967 onwards, but this selection does include the plans of most new buildings. 

All plans from May 1967 to the present day (with a very few exceptions) have been microfilmed by Norwich City Council. You can consult microfiche copies of the building control plans by making an appointment at CNC Building Control Consultancy (opens new window).

For microfiche copies of planning applications, make an appointment with the planning department of Norwich City Council.

The microfiche copies of building control plans numbered 32941-44825 (May 1967 to March 1974) were filmed with the planning applications and are available at the planning department, rather than at CNC Building Control Consultancy.

North Norfolk District Council

We have building control plans, c1898-1974 and planning applications, 1949-74, for the former urban and rural district councils which now comprise North Norfolk District Council. These are:

  • Cromer UDC
  • Erpingham RDC
  • Sheringham UDC
  • Smallburgh RDC
  • North Walsham UDC
  • Walsingham RDC
  • Wells UDC

There are indexed registers to all the districts (except North Walsham UDC) on microfilms MF 526-540.

For North Walsham, you will need to consult the original registers (see list DC 21/4/1-10).

Borough Council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk

King's Lynn building control plans, 1883-1962, are held at the King's Lynn Borough Archives. We have a small number of plans for Docking Rural District, 1937-47, and Downham Rural District, 1912-47.

No plans are known to have survived for the other districts which became parts of west Norfolk in 1974.

Great Yarmouth Borough Council

We have the following items:

  • Great Yarmouth County Borough building control plans, indexes and registers, 1860-2000 (see list Y/TPL)
  • Building control application registers 1885-1989 give the plan number, along with the address, landowner and builder (see Y/TPL 3/1-19, 23-28)
  • For card indexes to the plans, 1945-c2000, see Y/TPL 7 and 8
  • For plans (with gaps), 1860-1989, see Y/TPL 9.

We also have some building application registers and plans for areas merged into the borough in 1974: Blofield and Flegg RDC, 1961-64, and Mutford and Lothingland RDC, 1897-1950s (see Y/TPL 3/20-22 and Y/TPL 10)

Norwich city architect's plans

Both the NRO and the NHC have a set of 62 microfilms of city architect's department plans from 1920-1990s (microfilms MF 1221-1283).

They relate to schemes with which the city architect's department was involved, such as council housing and the maintenance of historic buildings owned by the City Council (such as Norwich Castle, St Andrew's Hall, the Guildhall, Theatre Royal).

The films include images of many thousands of plans. For an index to the plans, see the green A3 folder, labelled N/AR, on our searchroom shelves. We also have three other microfilms of city architect's plans of historic buildings, 1920-92, on microfilms MF 575-577.

For more details, see N/AR 6/1-3. For other Norwich city architect's plans deposited with NRO, see list N/AR.



The NHC has a large collection of local photographs, dating from the 19th century onwards. Some of these photographs are available via Picture Norfolk.

We have a relatively small collection of photographs, but try searching the online catalogue (opens new window).

The NHC also has aerial photographs taken in 1988, which cover most of the county, except King's Lynn, Thetford and Yarmouth. The photographs of those areas are held by the local studies department of the relevant town library, as well as other photographs of their respective areas.

There may be aerial photographs of an historic building in the Norfolk Air Photography Library. This is maintained by the Historic Environment Service and is open to the public by appointment. There are relatively few aerial photographs of individual buildings, but two countywide vertical surveys, in 1946 and 1988, are available via Map Explorer (opens new window).

Further reading

  • A Adolph, Tracing your Home's History (Collins, 2006) ISBN 10 0 00 721140 6

  • N W Alcock, Documenting the History of Houses (British Records Association, Archives and the User 10, 2003) ISBN 0900222 14 X

  • N W Alcock, Old Title Deeds (Phillimore, 2nd edition, 2001) ISBN 1 86077 160 2

  • N Barratt, Tracing the History of your House (Public Record Office, 2001) ISBN 1903365228

  • N Currer-Briggs, Debrett's Guide to your House (Headline Book Publishing, 1993)

  • A A Dibben, Title Deeds (Historical Association, 1997) ISBN 0852780788

  • D Iredale and J Barrett, Discovering your old House (Shire Publications 4th edition, 2001) ISBN 0747804982