Housing: Sources before 1800

Abbreviations and Bibliographies ] Early Welsh Industrial Housing ] Evans Terrace in North Hill: High Density Victorian housing ] The Swansea Cottage Exhibition 1910 ] The First Welsh Garden City ] Greenhill ] Swansea's Garden Suburb ] [ Housing: Sources before 1800 ] Swansea's 'Homes for Heroes' ] Nineteenth Century Housing History in Wales ] Swansea's housing problem; A background ] Early Housing in Swansea 1902-1910 ] Henrietta Street in Swansea ] Early Landore in Swansea ] New Street in Swansea ] Housing History Basic Reading ] Recorder Street in Swansea ] Mount Pleasant in Swansea: An early map of the area ] The Mount Pleasant Estate in Swansea ] Mount Pleasant: An 'urban village' in Swansea ] Mount Pleasant in Swansea : A list of shops 1900 to 1960 ]

1. Numbers of houses

There is virtually no way of finding out comprehensively about housing in the community before the nineteenth century census. The earliest indication of numbers of houses (apart from a few rare surveys or rentals in closed villages) comes from the hearth tax returns. Not all of these are comprehensive however, and the local historian must be convinced that the local commissioners included all houses (including those exempt from the tax) before they can be relied upon. But a careful use of hearth tax returns (which indicate a minimum number of rooms) with contemporary probate inventories, censuses and/or family reconstitution would yield some fruit.

Local censuses of houses for some of the larger towns become more common in the later eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, and clearly relate the number of dwellings to growing population. Thus a local survey of Nottingham in 1779 records some 3,191 dwellings for a population of 17,584, a density of 5½ persons per dwelling. Most of these surveys appear in contemporary descriptions and they were often produced to be used in some local political controversy. Others, for smaller communities, were produced by local incumbents, like that for Letheringsett (Norfolk) in 1822. Such surveys do not usually include empty houses and are frequently guesses rather than careful counts. Rather better, where they exist, are those estate or other plans of villages and towns on which all the dwellings may be recorded. When these have the tenements numbered and the occupants enumerated, as in some surveys or enclosure and tithe plans, they are particularly useful. They may still have limitations; it may not be easy to distinguish houses from outbuildings, nor empty ones from occupied ones. But they will certainly help.

2. House sizes and use

The records for individual houses and their occupants are more numerous. Series of deeds, leases and estate records, together with parish rate books, probate inventories and (for parsonages and adjacent properties) glebe terriers, enable one to construct a view of the development of some houses, but not all are so fortunately recorded and in any case the records must be treated with care. Occasional sources give a glimpse — fire insurance records, sale notices, newspaper advertisements and memoirs being amongst the most useful — as well, of course, as field surveys. Looking at old buildings intelligently can almost always result in a good deal of information about them (as well as in many additional problems, of course — not all buildings carry date stones and those which do are sometimes of a quite different date!).

3. Topography

Topographical growth is probably better recorded. Once again, there is no substitute for field work — a long hard look at the streets and the layout of the place. There is other, non-documentary material such as street names and parish boundaries. Most important of course are early maps. Such maps exist in some numbers, produced to accompany awards or deeds or estate surveys or printed accounts of the place or for many another reason.

The process of infilling can often be clearly traced from deeds and may be related to early maps and to existing buildings. Especially valuable are the Enrolled Deeds (of Bargain and Sale) in the quarter sessions’ records, consequent upon the statute of 1536. An examination of the hearth tax by areas (parishes or wards of a town), classifying the houses into groups of exempt, one hearth, two hearth, three to five hearth and more-than-five hearth houses, can begin to reveal areas of at least somewhat larger houses.

4. Social structure of housing

The evidence for the social structure of housing is scanty. Open and closed villages may of course be revealed from statistics of land ownership such as the land tax returns among the quarter sessions papers, mostly of the period 1780 to 1832, listing owners and occupiers. Similar information may be obtained from enclosure awards or estate and manorial records. But urban areas are more difficult. It is not difficult to discover whether any town were mainly leasehold or freehold, but to analyse the way in which new housing provision was made is a larger task.



The View for Sunday 4 December 2000

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