Before the UK vehicle-licensing authority came up with the no doubt efficient but rather dull vehicle registration document, one of the delights of buying a second-hand car was obtaining its log book. Each new owner entered their details below the previous one and as time went by, the logbook became the history of the vehicle – who had owned it, for how long, where they had lived and therefore how many careful owners the vehicle had really had. The demise of the logbook saw all but the last owner of a vehicle air-brushed out of its history as far as its future owners were concerned.
I’ve long thought that houses should have logbooks. Imagine buying a house and having in your hand the record of each owner’s time in the property: who they had bought it from, when, for how much, what changes they had made (and maybe the thinking behind those changes), complete with photographs inside and out, and documents relating to the property such as plans, planning applications, and so on. Now take that document back one hundred years, two hundred years with similar information and what you have is an immensely valuable and fascinating record of how the house worked, how it developed and the people who influenced its appearance, style and history.
A house history can reconstruct some of this information and I sometimes discover drawings, photographs and paintings that reveal how a property looked in earlier times. Having someone’s personal account of their stewardship of a property is the ultimate goal and as rare as hens’ teeth. However that doesn’t stop anyone creating a house logbook now for the benefit of its future owners, starting with photographs of each room, the garden and exterior views of the house and any outbuildings. In the meantime I will continue to puzzle over why someone installed our staircase across two sash windows, and speculate which of the house’s previous occupiers was responsible for that decision. If only they’d written it down.