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.

Building History – Getting Started

An introductory guide to the sources available for researching property in Derbyshire

There are a large number of different sources available for researching the history of Derbyshire buildings, but the survival and availability of sources varies significantly between different places.

Most records do not relate to specific properties and it is very rare to be able to identify records based on the house number (and almost never using a postcode) as these are relatively recent inventions in comparison to the dates of the records.  Therefore, it is often best to search just by place name rather than house number or street name.

When was the property built?

For many properties finding the specific year it was built is often not possible, but it is usually possible to narrow it down to with a few decades or years.  Search the Land Registry website to see if the property has been registered.

  • Title Deeds should be the starting point and ought to be in the custody of the current owner (or their solicitor) if the property hasn’t been registered.  If the property has been registered then the deeds may have been kept by the owner at the time the property was registered, transferred to Derbyshire Record Office, or (more often) destroyed.
  • Maps  are the key source used for working out approximately when a property was built.

Update (Jul 2020): we have just been advised of the Bricks and Brass website that includes a Dating Tool asking you questions about the architecture of your house to estimate an approximate date of construction.  We haven’t tested the tool ourselves though, so can’t offer a recommendation either way.

Who owned and/or lived in the property

  • Census Returns are particularly useful for identifying who lived in a property, the returns were made every ten years, and currently available to search and browse online between 1841 and 1911 (particularly via Ancestry and Find My Past).
  • Electoral Registers (available from 1832-1999) list voters at a particular property, although the descriptions are usually too vague to identify specific properties for most places before 1918.  Search the online catalogue using Reference ER* and entering the place name in the AnyText field.  No registers were made in 1833-1834, 1916-1917, and 1940-1944
  • Where they survive Rate Books record information about each property, owner, occupier and the rates payable.  You will need to know which pre-1974 local authority covered the area you are interested in and consult the catalogue for the appropriate archive collection.
  • Various Maps are available may have been created with schedules detailing owners and/or occupiers.

 Other useful sources

  • Search Picture the Past to see if any photographs are available for the property or street.
  • Sale catalogues are published accounts of properties at the point they are put up for sale.  Catalogues from the 1970s are available in the local studies library (indexed on site); earlier catalogues in the archives collections can be searched in the online catalogue, though rarely by property name/number.
  • Building regulation plans survive for a small number of pre-1974 rural and urban district councils and those that do are rarely individually listed in our catalogue.  Sometimes registers are available that can help identify a specific plan.  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.
  • Local newspapers can often give detailed descriptions of properties, especially relating to sales.
  • Never discount that someone may already have undertaken some relevant research relating a specific property, street or town/village.  Search the onsite indexes and online library catalogue for details of relevant publications and articles.

Discovering Ilkeston

Yesterday morning I visited Ilkeston Library to deliver a new workshop  introducing people to the various sources available for researching the history a Derbyshire building. It was a quiet session, with only two in attendance – though one had travelled all the way from Aston on Trent which took me quite by surprise!

With the opportunity to handle examples of all the original sources we talked about, learning how to use the record office catalogue and discussing more specific aspects of the research each was undertaking (one doing a history of their own house, the other looking more generally at their street and surrounding area, including a former laundry and former chapel), it was a very interesting and enjoyable session all round.

So what did we look at? There are a number of key sources we would always recommend consulting whichever part of Derbyshire you are researching – not all of these sources exist for all parts, though these are the ones you are most likely to come across either at the record office, your local library or elsewhere. There is one very useful source not mentioned below, and this is the tithe map and award as there was never one created for Ilkeston                                                                                                                         title deeds … enclosure map and award … land values map and domesday book c1910 … photographs … electoral registers … sale catalogues … building plans … local publications … official town guides … rate books … local authority records … (click an image for more information)

We also looked at the census – available to access for free at your local Derbyshire library – and talked about newspapers available across the county.

Many of the sources we used during the session were picked somewhat at random purely as an example of what was available, but the stories we found we really quite fascinating – I can’t go into details now, though I do hope to be able to do so very soon.

If you want to find out more about doing a building history, we will soon be publishing a series of new research guides on our website, including three guides relating to building history. We will also be re-running this introduction to sources for building history in the coming months so keep an eye out for more information in the next Events brochure. In the meantime, do contact us for more advice if you want to get started now.