May’s Newsletter From Archistory

I often tell people that what we do at Archistory is unique. No other company produces architectural drawings and house histories combined into one picture. There are other house historians, there are house portrait artists, but the fusion of architectural drawing, typography, design and house history seems to be our domain alone!

The question of why we stand alone in our field is often on my mind. After three and a half years in business and approaching our 100th commission (yes, there will be a party), we still have no competitors! As far as we’re concerned, this is a very good thing and we’d like it to stay that way. There seem to be a combination of reasons to account for this. The World Wide Web has just celebrated its 20th birthday and we have a lot to thank its inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee for. Our business is a child of its time. The research we embark upon could have been undertaken without the aid of the internet, but the time it would take to access all of the relevant sources of information would mean that the costs would be prohibitive. That is not to say that all of our research can be completed from our desks.

The web is no substitute for first hand research

The web is no substitute for first hand research

Paul spends many hours of every project personally visiting the local archives searching through musty rate books or scanning microfiche of old deeds and documents, but so much of the background information we need can now be found online, making the fine detail accessible in a way that has never been available before. This recourse is growing every day; for instance, we recently discovered that the notebooks of the famous Victorian ‘Poverty Map’ maker and philanthropist Charles Booth have been published online. Here is an extract relating to a house we are researching just off Peckham Rye in South London.

“West of Barry Road a wedge of closely built and thickly populated houses are found. The houses of a working population, not poor in the sense of being in want of food but just able to live a decent life… One feature is the number of off beer houses…the child with the jug of beer is constantly in evidence” (B375pp76-77). It is wonderful to be able to include this level of local texture in our histories.

The type of map produced by Charles Booth

The type of map produced by Charles Booth

Other reasons why Archistory is a unique business may be that there are few who are lucky enough to have the particular combination of interests and skills needed to produce these pictures. A love of architecture, an interest in social and domestic history and an ability to survey, draw and design allows us the opportunity to unravel the original layout of the buildings we research. In the garden wall of a house I visited in York recently I found evidence of an old chimney stack and bricked up windows. We later discovered that this was part of a now demolished counting house which belonged to a tannery once attached to the property. The owner had assumed that the garden had led to an orchard, so this rather shattered the bucolic idyll he had imagined!

Being the only ones who produce a product like ours has one slight disadvantage; it is difficult to spread the word as people are not actively searching for a “house history combined with a drawing”! The flip-side of the internet experience is that you get what you Google, coming across things you haven’t thought to look for is not easy. That’s why we’d like you to tell your friends about Archistory- then they can look us up online!