Trace the history of your house
You should be clear about what you are trying to discover before starting on your house history research. Do you just want to know how old your house is, or details about the previous occupiers? Perhaps you may be more interested in the earlier history of the site if you are living in a modern building. Businesses may also be interested in house history as well, because when developers are building homes, they need to check for previous contaminating industrial use.
There is already a lot of information available to you. The architecture of the house and where it's located in the borough will give clues about its age and status. If you own or you are purchasing the house you might already have access to some of the title deeds through your mortgage lender. Estate Agents or solicitors who handled the sale could have some information that they may be willing to share with you. Previous occupants or neighbours may also be able to assist you with getting information about the property and adjoining houses.
Within your home you could discover more clues. There could be interesting remnants abandoned in lofts and cellars and re-decorating a house can help you uncover clues as well.
Once you have assembled this information you can then start to look at published local history. Before beginning any detailed research, it makes sense to familiarise yourself with as much local history as possible. You will be more effective when using documents and other primary sources at the Archives, if you have a high level of understanding about how your house or street fits into the growth of Lambeth and the effect of larger factors such as suburban development, railway building, the war and post – war reconstruction. If you have never done historical research before, this initial research will give you more confidence in working with archive sources. It is advisable for you to read any published histories on your area of the borough, books of old photographs and books on suburban architecture and builders. You probably won't find any detailed history of individual properties, but you will gain an understanding of the larger development patterns that determined your particular street or house.
Look at printed secondary sources before archive documents
There is a good chance that a lot of the basic information you need already exits and it could have been published, so check published local histories first. When you visit the archives, bring any research notes with you.
Work backwards from the known to the unknown
You will find it easier if you work back from the known to the unknown and from the larger picture to the detailed. Try to resist the temptation to immediately try and find your present address in a 19th century rate book or census and do some further basic work.
Use current or recent Ordnance Survey maps that show individual houses with street names and numbering; check the footprint of your property and follow it back through the earlier 60" or 25" series for 1936, 1915, 1894 and 1870 and then even further back by using earlier maps. By doing the latter you should be able to bracket the construction of a particular property between two map dates. Maps can show how individual properties can fit into the larger development of an area. A changing footprint on intervening maps can indicate how a building has been extended or demolished and rebuilt.
Remember street names and house numbers change
It does not make sense to go straight into early documents as this can be time consuming and frustrating. The best starting point is the London County Council's (LCC) Street Naming List that will tell you when any post – 1855 Lambeth Street was laid out, when the street name was approved, what previous terrace names or previous road were used and when they were abolished and when the present street numbering was assigned.
Always keep notes and references of everything that you look at
Walk with the notes of all your previous research. Always keep records of what you have looked at and where it is. When you first come across a fact in a document or a paragraph in a book it could be meaningless, but may become significant as your research progresses. Making a note of a reference saves you having to waste time re-checking sources.
Increase your information by using different records
You can expand the quality and depth of information about a property by using a range of records. These may have similar core information about an address, but each will also contain different additional information.
Houses in Clapham or Streatham
Before 1966, Clapham and Streatham belonged to the borough of Wandsworth and so this means that many relevant records are split between the two boroughs. Many of the records held at Wandsworth are now available at Lambeth as microfilm copies. It's best to start your research at Lambeth Archives and then go onto Wandsworth Local History Service.
Allow plenty of time
When you use archives you do not know where your research will take you. There can be some quick wins, but it can be time consuming following up leads in indexes and catalogues and searching through long series of records.
Staff at archives, are accustomed to assisting with house history enquiries. They can suggest a research strategy for you if you need one, show you the fastest routes into different kinds of records by explaining how indexes and catalogues work and they can assist you to read or interpret different documents.