Writing About the Built Environment

Aims and approach

The evidence provided by studying sites and buildings is intrinsic to every other section of a parish history. Investigation of sites and the fabric of buildings can be used to trace the evolution of the settlement (Introduction) and help explain its character and that of the overall landscape of the parish. It can give information about patterns of landholding, and illuminate the social composition and development of a community. Analysis of how farms and industrial and commercial buildings functioned can enhance the understanding of economic history, and the study of religious buildings can not only give information of the parish’s religious history and practice but throw light on its social and economic life.

For these reasons it is not always necessary to confine information about sites and buildings to a separate section. The editor of the parish history should decide whether all or some of it is best discussed as part of the Introduction and whether it is more useful to include certain types of sites and buildings in the most appropriate section (eg. religious buildings as a section under Religious History; schools under education in Social History). Sometimes the story of a parish’s landscape, sites and buildings is so coherent that its is it is sensible to tell it as a single narrative in a defined section, for example where an estate village or dominant industry has determined the historic environment. If in doubt please discuss with Central Office.

Where sites and buildings are consistent in character throughout the whole study area of a ‘red book’, standard information can be included in the volume introduction and special cases only mentioned in the parish history.

The following main themes should be addressed in each parish history:

  • Continuity of settlement as shown by sites and buildings
  • Built and landscape character, including building materials and the visual impact of buildings and archaeological sites
  • Domestic buildings including farmhouses and farmsteads
  • Industrial and commercial sites and buildings
  • Manor houses, the houses of major estates and their parks and gardens
  • Community, educational and welfare buildings
  • Religious sites and buildings