House and Property history
What do you already know about your home?
Before you come to the record office, find out as much as possible. Architectural features may help date the property. Contacting the local land registry may provide useful information. Check whether property is a listed building or in a conservation area.
It is also worth visiting the Plymouth Central Library and doing some background reading on the surrounding area. This will give you a basic knowledge of the place names, local family names and history, which will help as your research progresses.
Sources held at the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office
As a first point of call please check our online catalogue. If you do not find an entry for the property you are researching please contact us via email and we’ll see if we can help by suggesting other sources.
Maps and plans
Ordnance survey maps for Plymouth and south west Devon areas are held here. Scales 1:2500 (25″ to 1 mile) various editions 1855-post 1945; 1:10560 (6″) 1855 onwards; and 1:500 (Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse only – 10.56 to 1 mile) circa 1855 and 1894.
We hold tithe maps and apportionments for Devon dating from the late 1830’s to 1840’s, some with later amendments. The numbers correspond to those in a separate apportionment which lists land owners and occupiers, name of the property or field, its state of cultivation and acreage. Tithe maps and apportionments are also now available on the Devon Archives and Local Studies Service.
We have Plymouth City Council’s building control plans (part of the planning application process) dating from 1851 to mid-1970s, with a few later additions. Details of many of these plans are on our online catalogue. Please bear in mind that some plans do not contain street names as they were for new building/housing estates, and are catalogued using the estate name given by the developer (even in the 19th century).
Local large estate records may include title deeds, leases, rentals, surveys and sale catalogues, as well as inventories. Occasionally manorial records exist for earlier properties, however these may be written in Latin. Estate maps exist for some large land holdings within the West Devon area and smaller plans may appear within the deeds of a property. Details of these are available on our online catalogue.
These records include local authority plans (late 19th to 20th century – see above), rental books, rate books (including parish), land tax assessments and Finance Act 1909/10 Inland Revenue valuation books. See also records of war damage (and compensation) to houses within Plymouth 1941-1954. Solicitors’ and surveyors’ papers also include details of sales, photographs, plans and correspondence. Some records are also held at The National Archives in Kew where there was involvement with central government departments and agencies.
Local directories and census
We hold local directories for Devon and Plymouth, early 19th century-mid 20th century. These have several sections, including those arranged alphabetically by street name (not some of the very early ones). Please bear in mind that street names have sometimes changed or been re-numbered. The census returns, 1841-1911, are available through the Ancestry and FindMyPast websites which can be accessed for free at the record office. These give lists of all individuals living in a property or institution on census night.
We have many collections of photographs which show street and villages scenes. The majority of these have been catalogued individually. The descriptions are available to view on our online catalogue, and some also have images attached to the entry.
Documents held elsewhere
Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery: Extensive photographic collection