WHY DO WE NEED THE DATA?
Information on a building's construction date and its age, has, over the past decade, become of increasing interest to urban scientists, and to those working in energy and urban sustainability research.
Building Age data are now commonly used in emissions analysis and urban heat assessments relating to the building stock. Here construction date is combined with other data types (shape, size, type and use), to help describe the building's form, geometry and volume. Age data are also required to calculate actual building lifespans (as opposed to the 'assumed' industry lifespans commonly used in life cycle assessments). These are now necessary to help predict, more accurately, when specific sections of the stock may have to be replaced, and to plan ways to extend building lifespans through adaptation and reuse. Age information will also be used, in future, within our 'Sustainability' category, to begin to provide an indication of potential building lifespans as well.
Open building age data, at building level, are not currently available for London. However, as with land use data at building level, age data are held by the Treasury's Valuation Office Agency, for most residential buildings. These form part of the VOA's property details database, used in the assessment of Council Tax, and are restricted even for academic research.
Colouring London sets out to demonstrate the direct benefit to the Treasury of releasing VOA age data. It does this by illustrating why these data are urgently required to support sustainable planning in London, and by visualising specialist knowledge on building age collected from many sources. These will range from local historians and civic societies, building conservation specialists, architectural historians, to urban morphologists, and construction industry professionals. The release of VOA age data will enable our specialist volunteers to check, enrich and update existing VOA age data rather than have to develop a new dataset from scratch.
We hope, that those with knowledge of, and interest in, the history of buildings will be amongst our main contributors. Historical knowledge is also needed for our 'Building Typology', 'Team' and 'Demolition'categories. We are grateful for any help you may give. Tips and sources are provided below. A simple guide to dating a house is also provided by the UK Valuation Office Agency.
ADDING BUILDING AGE
TIPS & SOURCES
The collection of building age data is more difficult than for many other categories as it requires knowledge of the building's history. It also needs our uploaders to be able to simplify information, often held within texts, and upload this as statistical data. We understand this will be frustrating, as buildings are complex, dynamic structures which are constantly extended and altered over time, but simplification is necessary to make the data as easy as possible to use in sustainability research.
If you've never dated a building, but would like to help, see our 'Tips and Sources' section below.
The buildings themselves
Some specialists may able to date a building's facade accurately just by looking at it, but normally you will need more information from either the facade or a map or text. When dating a building you will probably also want to view it, either in person or using an image. Building images are now easily accessible online. Just search for the building's address.
Fieldwork, can reveal visual evidence of the history and significance of a building. Street elevations may incorporate date stones and name plaques, as well as the names of architects, builders and clients. Dates on hopper or rainwater heads often indicate dates of construction or refurbishment.
Historic England is both a funder and key adviser to Colouring London. It is the statutory body that protects England's historic built environment. Historic England manages two major data resources of relevance: The Greater London Historic Environment (GLHER), a comprehensive resource for the historic environment of Greater London, and the National Heritage List for England (NHLE), the official government record of protected buildings and sites. List entry descriptions are an important source as they contain information on construction dates and on other attributes such as builders, use and size. The NHLE can be searched by keywords or using a map. Historic England has also compiled a detailed online guide to research into domestic buildings. Listing selection guides and the Introduction to Heritage Assets series provide expert summaries of particular building types. Historic England also manages the spectacular 'Britain from Above' archive.
The Survey of London
The Survey of London is an essential resource for the history of the capital’s buildings. It has been based at the Bartlett School of Architecture, at University College London, since 2013. The Survey of also a key advisers on Colouring London. In its 120-year history, its publications have explored a wide variety of districts in London, focusing mainly on the the capital's centre and inner suburbs. Each book explores the topographical and architectural evolution of an area, giving a description of its buildings, explaining how they came into being, and outlining their significance and historic associations. The text is based to a large degree on original documentary and field research. Later volumes contain descriptive gazetteers with building dates, architects and occupants. For the current study of Whitechapel, the Survey has launched a public collaborative website which contains draft accounts of buildings and sites. More information about the Survey of London and online access to all but the most recent volumes is available here. Explore the Survey of London’s online volumes by typing in ‘Control+F’, and searching for building names and addresses.
Pevsner Architectural Guides
The Pevsner Guides were established in 1951 by the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner to provide information about buildings in every part of the country, published as portable books to accompany readers on excursions. Each volume provides an introduction to the buildings in an area, followed by a descriptive gazetteer which includes building dates. Recent editions published by Yale University Press, cover the capital in six volumes, including Westminster and the City of London. The Pevsner Guides kindly provided input during Colouring London's first stage consultation.
Historical Map Research
Historical map research will provide broad date ranges for the construction and extension of buildings. By comparing historic maps, it is possible to narrow the construction date for a building or significant additions to a particular decade or period. This will enable you to fill in the upper and lower limits. The Institute of Historical Research's Layers of London project now enables you to view georeferenced historical maps of London online. LSE hosts the late 19th century Booth Poverty map of London online. The National Library of Scotland also has a large collection of maps, which is publicly accessible online. It may also be useful to refer to online street views, satellite views and bird’s-eye perspectives.
The Planning Portal provides access to planning websites managed by each local authority in London. These contain planning and building control applications relating to new buildings, and to extensions and alterations that require permission. They often include architectural drawings and documents which reveal the history, layout and phasing of a building, along with the architects, designers and contractors involved. It is necessary to find the relevant local council, and the planning pages on its website.
Archives contain a wealth of material relating to the history of London’s buildings and districts, such as architectural plans and drawings, deeds, maps, photographs and newspapers. It is possible to find relevant records in archives by searching catalogues for street numbers and names, bearing in mind that identifying details may have changed over time. Remember to plan visits to archives in advance, as it is important to check opening hours and whether it is necessary to bring proof of identity and current address.
Local borough archives
Local archives contain records concerning districts and boroughs. These repositories often include maps, old photographs, deeds, rate books, and records for local buildings. The collections of families and estates may also include building plans. It is possible to find the relevant local archive by consulting the National Archive’s database.
The Historic England Archive
The Historic England Archive located in Swindon, holds many significant records about buildings and places, including photographs, drawings and reports. Historic England also has a collection of aerial photographs, dating from 1919 to 2006, accessible online at Britain from Above. England’s Places is an online collection of photographs and ephemera in the Architectural Red Box Collection at Historic England.
The London Metropolitan Archives (LMA)
LMA is based in Clerkenwell and contains a wide range of records for the capital, from its administration and governance to the archives of businesses, religious bodies and institutions. There is an online catalogue, useful research guides. LMA also runs the London picture archive known as Collage.
The National Archives
The National Archives are the official government archives for the United Kingdom, located in Kew. There is an online catalogue that can be used to search for relevant records, such as deeds, photographs and plans, before making a visit. The catalogue also includes entries for records in the holdings of more than 2,500 archives across the country, including local record offices.
The British Architectural Library, Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)
The RIBA's collection of books and periodicals at its public library in Portland Place. The RIBA Drawings and Archives Collection is based at the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. It is possible to search the collections online using the British Architectural Library Catalogue. The RIBA also has an online collection of images, which includes photographs and drawings of buildings. The Library kindly provided advice as part of our first stage consultation.
Colouring London is an open data platform and we can only accept data from unrestricted sources. Just use first-hand knowledge of the building wherever possible, or, check your source is open and free for third party use.