Landmark History Albums online for the first time

Over 50 years of research

To mark the opening of our 200th building, Llwyn Celyn, for the first time the we are making each of our History Albums available online. Each of our 200 properties possesses an in-depth chronicle of the building’s history that charts its original and subsequent uses, past inhabitants, later decline and (often-tortuous) fundraising appeal, culminating in the restoration of its structure. Landmark has had just two in-house historians in its 50 years, Charlotte Haslam (to 1997, ably assisted on specific albums by Julia Abel Smith, Charlotte Lennox Boyd, Clare Percy and others ) and Caroline Stanford (since 2000).

The canon of history albums therefore brings together over 50 years of research, an era that spans the arrival of the internet. The green-bound albums have always been available for you to read in hard copy if you stay in or visit a building, but this is the first time they will be available to everyone across the world in a digital format. Each album typically comprises some 100, well-illustrated pages and incorporates archival, archaeological, genealogical, social and economic research.

Browse the Landmark History Albums

We asked Landmark Historian Caroline Stanford a few questions about the process for researching and writing a Landmark History Album...

Where and how do you tend to start the process?

The research trail actually starts with the very first approach we receive about a building in peril, to get an idea of how important it is. That will involve a quick internet trawl of listing description, British History Online, perhaps the Dictionary of National Biography…. But at this early stage it doesn’t do to get too engrossed – it might not become a Landmark project! Only once our Trustees have passed it as a project does my research start properly. After a more thorough search of online resources and library and archive catalogues, I will then spend a few scattered hours in the library to draw together material to help our Development team with the their fundraising appeal, including key portraits, plans and maps. Sometimes we may commission a documentary report externally, if medieval sources are involved for example, when reading the Latin and the script requires specialist skills.

How long does each one take?

Researching an album takes as long as the project to save it! I fit in ongoing research as and when I can around the rest of my busy role. Writing it all up is the equivalent of writing a dissertation each time, trawling back over notes that may stretch back over up to a decade. The restoration section can only, by definition, be written when the project is complete so there’s always time pressure at the end to get it finished before a new Landmark opens. And from long experience I know that new information very often emerges only during our opening events.

What are the most useful sources?

There’s no single answer on sources, because each research project is different. Sometimes its secondary sources that place a building in the context of a famous architect’s canon. In the case of a vernacular building, it’s often fresh research into primary sources in a local record office that no one has looked at before.

Do you reach dead ends? If so what do you do?

You never know whether the end of a trail is really a dead end. My time pressure is such that I will just have to leave it at the time, but I often continue to reflect on it, to see whether I’ve missed something, or try to think if there’s anyone else I could ask. Sometimes you suspect more information may be out there, but you have to leave it for a future doctoral or other researcher to bottom it out.

Favourite bit of the research process?

That moment when I open a dusty document or leather bound book in a library and know that it has fresh evidence relating to the building in question – and the moment when I walk out at the end of the day knowing that I have captured a whole tranche of pertinent notes.  Sometimes it can have a real effect on how we restore the building.

Least favourite?

I don’t really have a ‘least favourite’ part, other perhaps than trying to clear the decks of the rest of life when it comes to the write up….

Have you come across anyone you wish you could have met?

Pick your building! Every historian would like to be a time traveller – Elizabeth I has been top of my list forever. Of the characters I meet in my research, I often think ‘who would you be like today?’ Right now I’d give a great deal to meet the person who in 1420 built Llwyn Celyn, our latest Landmark. What tales they could tell, not just about why they built Llwyn Celyn but also the Glyn Dwr rebellion, life in medieval Monmouthshire, how the local priory was doing. And I’d really like to meet Eleanor Coade – just how did she hack it as a single woman in late Georgian London, transforming the man’s world of architecture with her artificial stone wares?

Do you update the albums?

I see our albums as living documents, so every album will continue to evolve and they are often updated when new information comes to light. Many of the early albums were researched and written long before the internet, so they are particularly susceptible to updates.

Are there any particular nuggets that stick in your mind?

There’s a eureka moment with many projects, though sometimes it comes from timber dating or paint analysis as much as my documentary research. Perhaps it’s discovering that James Gibbs’ original drawings for Cobham Dairy are at Yale, or perhaps it’s closing the missing link in an ownership sequence for little Bush Cottage in the Shropshire Archive. Or sometimes it might be recognising a so far unknown connection with a famous architect, like that The Ruin is based on a watercolour by Robert Adam.

So what’s next on your research trail?

We’re busier than ever at the moment at Landmark. Over the next year, I’ll be working on the albums for 17th century Dunshay Manor (with a fascinating interwar crossover into the artistic world of the Spencer Watson family); for 1790s gem Cobham Dairy, designed by James Gibbs for the 4th Earl Darnley; for C. F. A. Voysey’s Winsford Cottage Hospital, and for a Napoleonic-era semaphore tower. And that’s not to mention ongoing thoughts about Calverley Old Hall and Fairburn Tower…