The term ‘house detective’ is very apt for this line of work. Like solving a crime, you ask questions, look for clues, analyse the evidence, and prepare a hypothesis. Then more evidence emerges and you have to rethink the story. Occasionally you have a ‘eureka’ moment when everything falls into place, other times there’s an annoying gap in the records to work around. Eventually you draw conclusions and present your case.
There are other similarities. For a start there’s a ‘crime scene’ – the house itself. And it can tell you a lot if you know what to look for. Some clues are obvious to any observant passer-by; others reveal themselves when you step inside the building, such as a 17th century timber-framed building wearing the façade of a Georgian townhouse. And some require the knowledge and skill of an architectural historian who can mentally undo centuries of alterations to reveal the building’s original layout.
Then there are the documentary records that mention the house, its land, its owners and occupiers and something of their lives. There’s all kinds of evidence out there – even, occasionally, a metaphorical skeleton in the cupboard. Knowing what to look for and experience from ‘solving’ other cases all help but keeping an open mind and adopting different approaches are also important.
Best of all though is the challenge of a new investigation, the excitement of the chase, tracking down the ‘suspects’, and the thrill of discovery. And ultimately, presenting the case to the final judge – the client.