I love source documents, with their immediacy and relevance. They were created for a specific purpose and their utility says a lot about the processes of daily life in our places.
Obviously a one-place study is looking at the history of our places. Whilst doing so, it is good too to keep an eye on the documents being produced as part of current events in our places. These become the primary sources for tomorrow’s history.
One example from my place recently is the range of documents associated with planning permission. Over the past 12 months or so there has been an application to build on the field across from Springhill Lane, formerly the paddock for the Springhill estate. This of course triggered the usual set of objections from the residents with the to-ing and fro-ing of correspondence, the engagement of consultants to write reports on this and that with counter-arguments from consultants coming from the other side and so on. All of which produces lots of lovely documents to peruse. Even better they are all freely available online, although sadly not copyright-free.
Together they give a good summary of the process:
• exactly where the proposed dwelling is to be built and what changes will be needed to facilitate this
• what materials will be used with their rationale. These give insight into the construction of other buildings in the area and an indication of their date of construction.
• the discussions regarding highways focus on the heritage of retaining two stone gateposts and repairing vaccary walling whilst undertaking any widening.
• a summary of the objections of the residents and others.
There are some surprises however:
• the document from the Land Registry used as a basis for the plans has one of the properties in the wrong place. What is even more surprising is that the Land Registry entry for the house in question is correct.
• the application refers to the lane being the front access to two houses and rear access to two more. In fact it is the front access to all four.
• there is a reference to police involvement which would make a juicy story in 20 years time but might not actually have occurred
• there is discrepancy between the two expert ecologists on the species of trees in the field
So even official documents can get it wrong and need to be crossed-checked.
These documents in turn refer to others. The ‘urban boundary’ makes an appearance (*check files* yes, got that one) as does the ‘conservation area’ (yes, got that one too) together with the ‘landscape report’ and ‘housing strategy’ amongst others. These help set the proposed changes in the wider context but also are primary documents in their own right, arising out of the need to define what should or not be conserved or built upon. So what questions and influences drove those decisions?
There was a series of major development in my place in the early 1930s. I would love to find the plans (houses were subdivided, outbuildings converted into dwellings etc) and highways impact reports (it coincided with a period of major road widening). Most of all I would love to know the grounds for objection by the current residents and how these were answered. I have spend many a happy hour in the library going through the Council minutes for the time which are models of brevity and raise more questions than they answer. Collecting these documents now lead to preservation of the arguments and form the basis for research and telling of the story in the future.