Monday, 6 May 2013

"Who Would Live In A House Like This?"

(For anyone who doesn't get the reference: Through the Keyhole)  

Inspired by my visit to the Minnesota History Centre when I was there back in the Autumn and in particular their frankly brilliant exhibition of the social history of one house in St Paul, I have decided to research the history of the people who lived in my house since it was built.  

I find this kind of social history research fascinating and have particularly enjoyed TV programmes like The Secret History of Our Streets and, of course, Who Do You Think You Are.  

I bought my house in the summer of 2011 and whilst it's a fairly standard late Victorian semi, the district of Sherwood where I live is an area that's seen a goodly amount of social change over the years.  The potted histories on the back of the maps available here give some hints at the changes the area has seen - the prosperity brought by both the lace industry and the now defunct Great Northern Railway transformed the area from mainly fields in the late eighteenth century into a densely packed urban area today.  I thought that exploring the people who lived in the house would give a reasonable insight into the historical dynamics of the city as a whole.  

My interest was first piqued when I got the Land Registry info after my purchase had all gone through.  I was disappointed that I was going to be unable to boil soap or grind bones in my new house...

But I was also intrigued as to why it was felt necessary to covenant present and future owners against such practices.  Finding out a bit more about the past owners might help me understand this a bit better.  

Looking at the 1911 Census available online it shows that my house wasn't occupied when that survey was carried out - the house numbers simply stop about six or so houses down the road.  Frustrating and somewhat puts paid to the notion that my house is Victorian - instead dating it as Edwardian or even later.  Obviously these kind of era definitions are flexible to an extent and the architectural features of the house are definitely Victorian.  More interesting however is the fact that the house building would have incrementally been creeping out from the main road and up the hill away from the city and the district centre over a period of years - hard to imagine it now but very likely.  This kind of reminds me of what I imagine the original 'Metroland' train stations in London must have been like.  In Christian Wolmar's brilliant, The Subterranean Railway there is a reproduction of a photo showing the building of Sudbury Town station which shows it standing almost alone in the fields surrounding, it is remarked that these stations were, "often the first substatial buildings in the districts they were intended to serve".  'Build it and they will come' indeed.  

Anyway, back to my research.  Having drawn a blank with the Census (and needing to wait until at least 2021 for the next release), I instead started at the Electoral Register, ie, the list of people registered to vote in the house over the years.  This is held at the City Council's Central Library in the Local Studies section on the first floor.  Frustratingly, there is a gap in the records for the City between 1913 and 1932 (obviously!) but it was a start at least.  

And what a start!

The staff at the library were great and didn't look at me askance when I explained my project.  They were particularly helpful in orienting my to the correct records and explaining how to navigate through them.  And were keen to explain how to use the microfiche machine despite me telling the story of how the last time I used one I broke it beyond repair (sorry, JB Morrell library!).  Spending about three hours in the same hunched index-card-cabinet-rifling and fiche-reader-knob-twizzling position didn't do much for my back or my eyes but I emerged with a complete list of the residents from 1933 to the present day.  

And a fascinating story of social change.  

The earliest data I could get to which was from the October 1933 Electoral Register shows the Bonnallo family - Albert, Elizabeth and Leonard in residence.  

It looks like the Bonnallos were a reasonably large and well established Nottingham based family.  (I need to buy some of those pages from the Census to see what else I can find out).  So, a (probably) prosperous, well established family.  Name sounds a bit Italian but what's the problem with that?


So, by the autumn of 1938 the family have changed their name to 'Bonnalls' - one letter but a world of social acceptability I expect.  

(A really poor quality fiche copy but take my word for it, it's an 's' at the end, not an 'o')

By 1951 they have changed their name back to the original Bonnallo.  

The family lived in the house until around 1974, even with the death of the mother in the late 1960s the father and son stayed there alone.  So at least 40 years in the same house through the Second World War, the changes of the 1960s and well into the 1970s - what a series of changes they must have seen.  

The house then has a series of slightly more short-term occupants - but does feature a wedding in the early 1980s, a divorce or death in the early 1990s and a period of nonoccupational shortly afterwards - probably when the rennovation that made it so attractive for me to buy took place.  

This is just a snippet of the things I've found out so far - lots more research to do when I get the time.  I'm going to focus my attention on the following avenues for the time being;

- In the original deeds for the house, it records the vendor (William Richmond) and purchaser (James William Board) but also the mortgagee - ie the person who lent the money for the transaction.  This would usually be a bank these days but it's an individual back in the 1920 transaction and even more interestingly, it's a woman: Mary Cecilia Jackson.  A woman with capital and perhaps active in business would have been relatively rare in the 1920s I would guess so could be interesting to find out some of the details around this.  
- Also want to find out more about the original vendor and purchaser 
- I'm also planning to use the Trade Directories available in the Local Studies Library to see what gaps I can fill in of the residents
- Plus I will check right at the start of the available records for Nottingham City's Electoral Register - up to 1913 - just because the Census doesn't have records for my house doesn't mean that it wasn't occupied I suppose
- More info on the Bonnallos will be interesting to find out
- I believe that Nottinghamshire Archives as a collection of old maps and street plans that might show the progress of building along the road and neighbourhood.