Monday, 1 December 2014
Recently I heard an exert from a book called My Life In Houses by Margaret Forster. I think it has been serialised on Woman's Hour but I only heard one. Maybe I can get to the rest on iPlayer.
However, it did get me thinking about my own "life in houses". The other day my children were questioning me about where I had lived when I dared to live a life without them, how many addresses I have had and why, which houses I rented and which were "mine".
Over the last couple of years, I have worked on a couple of projects to do with the history of buildings and I do find it completely fascinating to look at who has lived and worked in a place. Strangely enough though, for the first time in my entire life, this year I moved into a newly built house. My family are the first people to live here and it is great to think that we are starting the history of a new building. Not sure it will be as interesting to future researchers as Victorian buildings are to us but then the Victorian school inspector, who was the first occupant of my previous home, would probably not have expected to be investigated a hundred and twenty years later!
What about our ancestors' house choices? On Who Do They Think You Are? they often manage to find the addresses of their subjects' ancestors and to take people to the relevant places or to see similar homes (Brian Blessed in the last series was a hilarious example of this!).
I have written before about the ten year gaps in census data. About somehow we expect to see our relations still living happily in the same places as they were ten years previously. Actually, we do often, in the nineteenth century, see our ancestors remaining if not in the same properties but at least in the same localities. So we tend to assume that they are still doing ok. What WDYTYA shows us though is that a bit of research into the addresses can give more clues about the conditions in which our ancestors were living.
Our last family house was a good example of this. A large-ish Victorian townhouse, three floors, servant bells still on the walls when we bought it. And when I looked into the history of it, there were middle class occupants. However, the house was built twenty years or so after its immediate neighbourhood - composed of small terraced houses to house factory workers.
So you cannot assume that same neighbourhood means same condition when you look at census addresses. What is going to be interesting in decades to come is how census data will help or hinder researchers in this respect. We move so much more, so much further. So many larger houses are now flats, so many old houses are now student properties. I personally have lived at fifteen addresses in my life - parents' homes, student homes, moving to London and skint homes! Then my own family homes and now we are starting the history of a brand new address. An interesting thought - if I can prevent the puppy from chewing it down around our ears!