Building control plans

A guide to the history of building control and to the surviving plans at Derbyshire Record Office.

Building plan

In the early Victorian period, outbreaks of disease – especially the cholera epidemics of 1848 – aroused public concern over poor housing and defective drains and sewers. The Public Health Acts of 1848 and 1872, as well as the Local Government Act of 1858 framed important legislation for the evolution of building control.

When building regulation was first introduced in 1848, requiring that all new buildings or alterations to existing buildings were approved, this applied only to those areas covered by the new Local Boards of Health (established in populated areas not covered by Borough Councils) and the existing boroughs. For most parts of the country, building regulations were not established until 1894 under the new Rural and Urban District Councils (replacing rural and urban sanitary authorities established in 1872). 

Note: Building control plans should not be confused with the plans submitted for planning permission since 1948, although sometimes the same plans may have been used for both purposes.

About the records

Registers: of the plans submitted give varying levels of information over time. Typically the register includes the date the plan was deposited, a plan reference number, situation and description of the property, name of the person who submitted the plan and the address of the owner. Very occasionally the name of the builder is given and often the decision of the planning committee. Some, but by no means all, are indexed by street name and/or the property owner.

Plans: the existence of plans varies significantly between authorities, as due to the significant storage space required to house the plans, some files may have been destroyed by the authority or its successor after 1974.  For some authorities, only a selection of the plans have been retained.

Where they survive, the plans are detailed scale plans, usually with elevations, sections and a site plan, and often in colour. They were generally produced by professional architects, surveyors, or occasionally, builders. In the case of alterations to existing buildings, there may be both before and after plans.

The surviving plans are usually part of the building control file that includes a copy of the application form and sometimes additional correspondence about the project.

Unfortunately, registers and plans only survive for a small number of Derbyshire authorities.  Please see our catalogue for a list of pre-1974 authorities where building regulation registers and/or plans have survived.  If the authority is not listed, unfortunately this means no plans or registers have been deposited at Derbyshire Record Office.

Using the records
  1. Unless you already have a good idea of when the property was built (or altered) it is advisable to consult Ordnance Survey maps to help narrow down the date at which the work occurred.  Other sources can also help with this.
  2. Identify the local authority that was responsible for the area in question – we are working on making this information available via our online catalogue. In the meantime, please use this list: derbyshire-place-names-database (Download)
  3. Check our online catalogue to see if any building plans and/or registers survive for that authority – enter the authority name in the Title field (e.g. Chesterfield Rural District Council) and then select ‘Fonds’ from the Level field.  Alternatively, click here for a list of the 31 local authority collections containing building regulation records.
  4. Consult the registers and/or indexes if there are any – this is especially helpful for those collections for which no list of plan numbers is currently available.
  5. We are grateful to our volunteers who have recently catalogued the surviving building plans for a small number of the local authorities. For the remaining authorities, if you have identified a plan number from the register we can check the boxes to see if a corresponding plan survives.  Alternatively, you are welcome to work through the unlisted boxes for a particular authority to see if any relevant files are available.
Research Possibilities

Building control plans can provide useful information on the history of notable buildings, houses, mills, factories, cinemas, new streets, housing estates, and so on.  They can also be used to provide evidence about the development of local landscapes and topography, to examine the relationships between the built environment and public health, to compare different building types and styles, to trace the development of factory design, and as historic data about the influence of individual builders and architects.  Plans can also help in dating modern additions to older properties – particularly the installation of modern utilities and amenities.

Other Building Plans

This guide specifically looks at the records created as part of the local authority building control system from 1848 and planning permission from 1948.   However, other building plans do survive amongst the collections at Derbyshire Record Office, including in the family and estate archives and business archives.  For schools and other public buildings a large number of building plans are held under references D335 and D2200.

Ordnance Survey maps c1880 and c2005, at the 25”:1 mile scale giving sufficient detail to be able to see building shapes. For larger towns, 50”:1 mile scale gives even greater detail.

Other records

As the applications required approval from the relevant committee within each local authority, occasionally some useful information may be found amongst the minutes of that committee.  Check the catalogue list to see what is available for the relevant authority.

Further Reading

For a brief overview of the development of planning regulations, see Riden, Philip (1987) Record Sources for Local History.

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