5. Compiling the Database


A brief account of the Building Applications collection at the City of Lincoln Council until 2014 by John Herridge


The late David Drakes, a member of the Heritage Team, rescued from disposal the collection of the City Engineer's Department‘s building plans and their ledgers some time in the 1990s. This collection amounted to just under 10,000 plans. Afterwards the plans numbered 7001–9673 dated 19 April 1932-19 March 1952 were sent to the Lincolnshire Archives. Mr Drakes told me that they were only selectively retained, and therefore it was resolved to keep the rest at City Hall.

Next stage

The only way to find individual plans at that time was to trawl though the bound ledgers, which had been necessarily compiled chronologically by Corporation staff over the years. After Mr Drakes‘ untimely death, it seemed reasonable to transcribe the ledgers in a format that would allow searching, so a start was made on entering the data from the ledgers into an MS Access database. MS Access makes it possible to see an entry in a single-page form view, as well as a table/spreadsheet showing many entries, but is easily converted to Excel, which does not have a form function. This transcription took place between 2007 and 2012, with the help of many young people on work experience and City Council apprentices.

By 2012 all three ledgers had been transcribed, and all plans individually viewed. Other data was added, referred to as metadata, such as columns for current address, Lincoln Heritage Database Monument number, a free notes cell, and extant (whether the building still existed), as well as the usual initials of data inputter, date, and date of edits. This exercise led to the creation of a large number of new Monuments in the Lincoln Heritage Database, and also resulted in the creation of drawn polygons of these properties as map overlays.


Enquiries to the Heritage Team involving searching the Building Applications were recorded in summary form in reports to the City of Lincoln Historic Environment Advisory Panel. We supplied information to family historians concerning the houses of ancestors, and to residents in respect of their current houses, as well responding to more academic requests. The latter are represented in section 6, and there were also outreach workshops and Heritage Open Days when we interacted with the public.

Transfer to Lincolnshire Archives

After the retirement of the Head of Heritage, there was a desire from the Planning Department to create room, and Heritage lost its own separate office space, and its closeness to its library, and there was also pressure to free up storage. The building plans were stored in a small room which was also used for the storage of other Planning Department Files. It seemed reasonable, for the long-term security of the plans, to approach Lincolnshire Archives with a view to deposit. This took place in 2014, and Lincolnshire Archives was supplied with a copy of the ledger database to facilitate access for users.

Interpretation of the records

The transcription was simple copying, but ‘Last Address’ always involved some research. Obviously major buildings, such as the Corn Exchange or the Assembly Rooms, for example, presented no problems. The terraced housing, however, being built rapidly in the period 1870-1910, was always difficult. If a junction with another street was shown, or any other clue, that certainly helped. If built before the 1880s' Town Plan at 1:500, the application plan could be checked against its very detailed mapping, to look for the pattern, particularly the rear parts of the buildings. These were sometimes mirrored, i.e. the rear parts were joined, or they might be separate, or a combination of both. When the Last Address column entry is listed as ‘not located’ it means that it was not possible to make a definite link, leaving the way open for future research to pin it down.

In the early part of the database, there is very little to go on. After that, some jigsaws can be slowly pieced together. What I always intended to do at the end of this project, but never had the time to carry out, was to revisit all the applications for one street, known and doubtful, put them together on a large table, and try to fill in the gaps. Often, the plans named adjacent owners, but when applications are separated in time, and the plans were recorded chronologically, the connections were not easily made. (This would make a worthwhile research topic for a future user! - ed.)