How to Research a Street History

Sources for Researching a Street History

Primary and secondary sources are the two types of materials you will use while undertaking your research.  Both types of sources have importance and merits of their own, but they are also immensely different.  Be careful not to think secondary sources are correct or facts.

Types of Sources  A primary source is anything original which comes from the period or event which you are researching. Generally speaking, if your primary source is in text format, it will not contain any footnotes, references or citations.

Examples of primary sources:

  • Census returns
  • Street directories
  • Electoral rolls
  • Maps
  • Taxation lists
  • Title deeds
  • Letters
  • Eyewitness accounts
  • Audio or video recordings
  • Photographs
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Legal and/or financial documents
  • Architectural plans or drawings
  • Newspaper articles published immediately after the event
  • Historical artefacts such as clothing samples, fragments of clay, cutlery, crockery, remnants of dwellings

Primary sources are vital because they will enable you to make your own judgement on an event, person or activity. Secondary sources are always biased, in one sense or another, so engaging with the primary source yourself allows you to view the topic objectively.

Examples of secondary sources:

  • Books, such as ‘The Phoenix Suburb’
  • Articles
  • Website such as ‘Wikipedia’.
  • An overview of an event written by someone who did not witness the event
  • A review of a book/piece of art
  • A commentary
  • An encyclopaedia

Using secondary sources as your starting point will direct you to the primary source(s) through footnotes, references and citations.  A website will often refer to the letters, diaries or accounts of local figures, so this gives you some clues as to where the author got their information.

Maps and Land Ownership

Use historic maps to understand how long the street’s been there, any changes in name, and when buildings start to be built on the street.  You will be able to find out who owned the land by looking at the inclosure (sic) or Tithe maps for example.

The National Archives

Enclosure Awards

The National Archives

National Library of Scotland

Has a vast collection of old maps of different scales available free online.
The most useful are the 25inch to the mile and 6-inch to the mile. The library can be searched by place name or by zooming in on a map of Britain and then clicking on the location you want. A list of maps will then appear to the right of the screen and clicking on one will load it to your screen. You can then zoom in on your street and screen capture it to print out later.

The Charles Close Society:  Plan of the Crystal Palace and its Environs 1863

The Norwood Society, archive or website

Holds original copies and digital versions of the following 1950s maps:

  • 1:25,000
    • TQ3279
    • TQ3270
    • TQ3369
    • TQ3370
  • 1:1250

TQ3370 SW

TQ3370 SE

TQ3370 NW

TQ3370 NE

  • TQ3369 SW

If you search the codes online the exact location will be given as well as information and photographs

Holds original copies and digital versions of the following 1895 1:25000 maps:

  • South Norwood
  • West Norwood

The Norwood society also holds various books and articles which are in the process of being catalogued.  The website has numerous articles about local residents, buildings and events

Rate Books

Find My Past

Street Directories

The National Archives and local archives offices – Croydon, Bromley, Lambeth,Lewisham and Southwark have collections of Street Directories which will list who owned land and property.  The Norwood Society holds digital versions of the Croydon directories for:

  • 1859
  • 1894
  • 1898
The Building of the Street

Renumbering of Streets

Local archives have records of how streets were renumbered.


      Conservation Plans


·      Linda Osband – Victorian House Style: An Architectural and Interior Design Source Book

·      Hilary Hockman – Edwardian House Style: An Architectural and Interior Design Source Book







Searching by street name will often provide information about properties for sale with descriptions of rooms, fixtures and fittings.  Searching for a resident’s name with street name may throw up lots of interesting results.  Narrowing you search down to local newspapers will reduce the number of irrelevant finds.

      Sales Particulars

  • Archives often have Sales Particulars in their collection with details of the interior and exterior of a property.

      House Plans

  • Available in local government planning office and archives
Social History

Census Records

Once we know what was where and when we can start to ‘populate’ the story of the street – learning about the people who lived and worked in the area, and something of their lives. To do this census research is vital. From 1801 a census has been taken every decade, with the exception of 1941 when it wasn’t taken because of the Second World War. From 1841 the census records the individual names of every person living at an address, so we can start to see who was lived in a street and how they moved around. By transcribing census and street directory data onto spreadsheets provided under “Resources” in the “Getting Involved” section of the website you can analyse all sorts of data – gender, birth place, occupation, mobility, family size, mobility.


Searching by street name allows you to find references to


You should start off by searching online and may or may not be lucky.

Newspapers   (paid subscription)

Local archives such as Croydon Borough keep newspapers such as the “Norwood News” on microfiche.


It is important to have signed permission from the interviewee.  A blank permission form can be found in “Resources” in the “Getting Involved” section of the website.  The interview can be written up and include photos where possible.  There is a sheet in the ‘Getting Involved” section with examples of questions that can be used when interviewing.  People may also volunteer to write up their memories without being interviewed but written permission still needs to be gained.


Some former street residents will have experience of military service in the British Indian Army, the Boer War in South Africa, and the First and Second World Wars.  There is also evidence of war damage from the Second World War including a comprehensive set of bomb maps for London.


War Damage

Local archives have records of how aerial bombing from the Second World War affected individual streets e.g. Croydon

Census and Street Directories

Census data can be found online.  Street directories can be found in both local and national archives.  See details below.


Public Library Local History Collections

Local Archives – Croydon, Bromley, Lambeth and Southwark

London Metropolitan Archives

National Archives – Kew

Lambeth Palace Library


Public Library Local History Collections

Local Archives – Croydon, Bromley, Lambeth and Southwark

London Metropolitan Archives

National Archives – Kew

Resources can be photographed for free or a scan provided for a fee.


Upper Norwood Library has a reasonable collection of street directories and some other local resources but in locked cupboards upstairs. Ask for them to be unlocked and mention the Norwood Society

Welcome to the Upper Norwood Library Trust

Croydon Museum has a larger collection of street directories 95% is on open shelves, some by request.  There is also a large collection of old maps.  There is a large collection of photographs organised by street name and a few other things such as churches.  They hold numerous sales catalogues for old houses in Croydon. Ask in advance by email if they have any in your road.
020 8253 1022    Croydon Clocktower Katharine Street Croydon CR9 1ET


High Street, Bromley  BR1 1EX     020 8460 9955


They have street directories, old maps and photographs.

Tuesday – Saturday, 10.30am – 5pm (except public holidays).


Download this link to see their main index of resources. It will also give you an idea

of the sort of documents you might ask for in Croydon or Bromley.

MINET LIBRARY, 52 Knatchbull Road, London, SE5 9QY check opening times:

Southwark Archives

211 Borough High Street  London  SE1 1JA

  • Monday 10am to 7pm
  • Tuesday 10am to 5pm
  • Wednesday Closed
  • Thursday 10am to 7pm
  • Friday 10am to 5pm
  • Saturday 10am to 3pm
  • Sunday Closed

London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) SEARCH

40 Northampton Road London  EC1R 0HB  020 7332 3820

They have millions of documents relating to people and buildings in London and a photograph archive called Collage.  You can search their archives on line, including a photograph library: archives/Pages/search.aspx

Resources may be photographed by buying a £5 licence for one day but you will need to ask about copyright permission if you intend to include your photographs on the website..  Resources can be ordered at the archive; someone will help you get to grips with the system and then take 20-30 minutes to be provided. It is easier to order online in advance once you get to grips with the system.

The London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) collection on includes over 20 million London Parish records consisting of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials from the original Church of England registers and Bishops’ Transcripts that have been deposited at the archive. This amazing series of records date back to 1538 and is fully searchable by individual’s name. Other records currently available within the collection are Non Conformist chapel and congregation registers and London Poor Law records such as workhouse admission and discharge registers.

Open: Monday 9.30-4.45; Tuesday-Thursday 9.30-7.30; selected Saturday 9.30-4.45 (see website for details), Closed Fridays.

Newspaper Archive:

Has 24 million newspaper pages dating from the 1700s and may be searched on line without being a member. For example there are over a thousand referencing ‘Cintra Park’! BUT you then have to buy a subscription! There is a brief outline of content before you need to go any further and if you find one or two that look good I may be able to help (

You may find an article about a person from their address or an advert for the sale or auction of a house.

You can narrow down searches to years, months or even days. But don’t think that only local newspapers as news was often just copied ‘willy nilly’ and news for Norwood might appear in a regional newspaper for the north of England.


Is free to access in most local libraries:
And has census details, baptisms, marriages and burials, electoral roles, phone directories etc.

Also numerous family trees already researched which often include photographs of family members.

Other sources


Brooks, P., 2007. How to Research Your Home. Oxford: How To Books.

Crago, C., 2014. How To Read Buildings. London: Bloomsbury.

Parker, J., 1992. A Concise Glossary of Architectural Terms. London: Studio Editions.

Thompson, N., 2011. Corrugated Iron Buildings. Oxford: Shire Library.

Yorke, T., 2012. Victorian Gothic House Styles. Newbury: Countryside Books.

Yorke, T., 2013. Arts & Crafts House Styles. Newbury: Countryside Books.

Yorke, T., 2017. Art Deco House Styles. Newbury: Countryside Books.

Yorke, T., 2018. British Architectural Styles. Newbury: Countryside Books.

Yorke, T., 2019. Georgian & Regency Houses Explained. Newbury: Countryside Books.