The Norfolk Record Office is embarking on an exciting project working with volunteers to enhance catalogue descriptions and improve access to an otherwise under used collection. The Norwich Building Control Plans Indexing Project offers a brilliant opportunity for volunteers to work together, develop new skills, and engage with archives.
Since the late nineteenth century, new buildings and major alterations to existing properties have required local authority approval. Plans and supporting papers were often lodged with the local building control or planning departments. The first phase of this project focuses on building control plans for Norwich City Council covering the period from 1894-1945. The plans include all sorts of buildings, including houses, chapels, shops, factories and schools. They relate to new developments and to extensions or alterations to existing properties. The plans are particularly useful for people tracing the history and development of a property. They also provide practical information about the original architectural and engineering specifications of existing buildings.
After 1894, the descriptions of the plans on the Norfolk Record Office’s online catalogue, NROCAT, give only the plan reference numbers, and do not include addresses or any means to identify buildings. Locating plans for a particular building is time consuming and frustrating, especially if searchers do not know the date when plans were submitted. With the help of volunteers, descriptions for the building control plans are being improved so that people can search them by street name. Volunteers are also adding other information to the catalogue such as names of building owners and architects which will help researchers who are interested in a particular person. Plans covering the period from 1894-1910 are now searchable on our online catalogue.
The project has uncovered some real gems including the plans for a new Woolworths’ department store in the city, a Turkish bathhouse on Prince of Wales Road, a skating rink, new gun and carriage sheds for the Volunteer Artillery Barracks, a cinema on the Haymarket, and telephone kiosks on Unthank Road and St Clements Hill which were built in 1909.
Other finds include plans for factories producing chocolate, mineral water, ginger beer and crepe, plans for the re-use of army huts after the First World War and a workshop and darkroom for George Christopher Davies, the Broadland photographer. A proliferation of plans submitted at the turn of the twentieth century for indoor toilets exemplifies changing attitudes to hygiene and improvements to domestic sanitation. The collection of plans presents many potential research opportunities for those interested in the built environment, and as the project progresses, further treasures are waiting to be discovered.
Volunteers working on the project have given positive feedback on their experience. It has provided an opportunity to meet new people, gain confidence working with and handling original documents, and also develop new skills, for example, in palaeography, which has encouraged further use and exploration of archives.
In the long term the Norfolk Record Office aims to extend the project to encompass post-war plans and to include other local authorities within the county. This project shows that volunteers are playing a crucial role in supporting cataloguing work by indexing and improving descriptive content, and without their contribution and enthusiasm for the task, collections such as the building control plans would remain inadequately catalogued and difficult to access. We are extremely grateful to our volunteers for the hours of work they have devoted to the task. Volunteering is certainly having a positive impact on the services we offer at the Norfolk Record Office and this project is testimony to that.
Belinda Kilduff, Archivist