Researching the history of a property – why do we do it?

By now, some of you will be familiar with our historical research on properties we’re instructed on. We don’t pretend to compete with full time professionals but enjoy ferreting out little snippets of info for our clients. Here’s two recent examples;

No70 Third Avenue first appears in the Bath Street Directory of 1913, as the residence of William Cooper. His profession is not listed but close neighbours worked as cabinet makers (No68), GWR checkers (No74) and GWR engine drivers (Nos 55 and 59 opposite). From directory and electoral registers, it appear Mr Cooper stayed at the property until 1919.
The next owner, a GWR railway clerk by the name of William James Stokes, occupied the property in 1920. The 1936 electoral register shows his wife Amy joining him at the house. Although there are some gaps in the records, it seems William died in 1950, leaving Amy at the property up to 1962. From this point, a Mr & Mrs Robert Read are listed on electoral registers from 1962 to 1965 but the property shows as unoccupied on street directories. By 1966, the property was taken over by I.F Glazier.

In the late Georgian period a few speculative builders erected terraces such as Bloomfield Place above Bear Flat but the area remained unspoilt farmland for many years, with just the annual horse fair to enliven proceedings. It did this so effectively that, in 1836, the Corporation set up a committee to control or stop it, as it was inconvenient and encouraged immorality (prefaced from “Awash with Ale” by Kirsten Elliott). Bloomfield Place and Bloomfield House (dating from around 1800) were both designed by Charles Harcourt Masters. Bloomfield Crescent, at the top of Bloomfield Road, was originally called Cottage Crescent and dates from 1801. These buildings, in addition to Westfield House, are the only homes shown on 1886 maps of Bloomfield (named as South Lyncombe at the time).

Since we started including this type of research in our property details, several other agents have questioned why we bother. Our first answer is simple – it’s fun to find out about the homes we’re instructed on and, as a Modern History graduate, one of our partners is used to delving into records. However, there are other reasons to use this information;

  • Geneaology – a massively popular hobby, with new websites springing up daily and local libraries devoting sections to family research. Whilst we don’t expect to help many people with their family trees, we thought the same techniques could be used on properties and would appeal to geneaology fans.
  • Local history – we’ve been collecting information on Bath and the local area since we opened in 2010 and often display this info in our newsletters/window displays. Since doing this, we have been delighted to receive lots of comments, donated photos and plenty of visits from local people keen to share or learn about their area. Adding history to our properties adds enjoyment for these friends and acquaintances.
  • Ownership – as estate agents, we are required to make best efforts to confirm information given by our clients (and thus, through us, to our potential buyers). Tracing ownership back through independent sources is simple due diligence as well as fun!
  • Accuracy – many local estate agents assume they know their patch “like the back of their hand” and blithely write property descriptions without any research. Only the other day we took on a property that we found out was built in 1904 (Edwardian) yet, when checking past sales, every single agent had described properties on that terrace as Victorian. Not a catastrophic misdescription by any stretch but a small example of what mistakes can be made. We also find that checking wartime history can reveal information about properties being rebuilt (Bath was heavily bombed in the Second World War and many buildings destroyed or badly damaged). Bath is also full of properties with detached gardens or access lanes across property boundaries – sometimes looking back through old records can serve to confirm what is potentially unclear from owners recollections or the Land Registry.
  • Eye-catching – we include historical detail in our property adverts (and it’s funny to us how many other local agents have tried to copy this in the last year) and have already had specific comments from potential buyers that our advertisements are more engaging/interesting/different to the rest. If it takes 15 minutes of our time at the local library to achieve this differentiation, we think its worthwhile.
  • Websites – we’ve found two major benefits since including our research on our online property details. Firstly, the amount of property info most agents place online is extremely sparse so our history serves to “bulk out” our entries without being irrelevant or redundant. Secondly, we’re finding more and more search queries relating to history being sent to our websites or our blog – this can only help with SEO for us.

We don’t expect the majority of our clients to be interested but, if even a few have learnt facts about their local area they didn’t previously know, we’d consider our time well spent. If you’re one of the few and would like to know more, search this blog using the “history” tag, call us to discuss or visit your local library.¬†

For more info on Madison Oakley or contact details for our directors, do visit our website.