History of Architecture in the IHR library

Buildings are a historical topic in their own right and an important source for historians, and the library’s collections support a range of study in this area. These include an eclectic range of works on specific buildings types (breweries, peasant houses, monasteries and workhouses to name a few) and works on understanding buildings, as well as their preservation, interpretation and display.

The collections also include a vast range of primary sources relevant to the subject. Landowners, tenants, architects, policy-makers and commentators are represented in editions of letters, diaries and papers alongside works of biography and prosopography. Travel writing and antiquarian histories include contemporary descriptions and impressions of the built environment. Household and trade records give insights into the building trade, and records of government highlight social concerns and resulting legislation. There is much accompanying visual material in the form of illustrations and plans.

Material is dispersed around the geographically-arranged collections, although the classmark BC.264 contains general British material. Subject headings such as architecture, buildings, vernacular can be browsed in the catalogue. The areas below suggest other places a researcher could look. 

medieval builders

Guyart des Moulins, Bible historiale [La Bible historiaux, ou les histoires escolastres]. Tome 1er, f46 
Public domain. Source: gallica.bnf.fr / BnF

Highlights of the collection: sources

Highlights of the collection: reference and secondary works

Other organisations


Highlights of the collection: sources

Letters, Diaries and Memoirs


The correspondence and miscellaneous papers of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Vol. 3, 4 Jun 1817

The library's holdings of edited letters and diaries contain commentary on architecture from landowners, occupants, architects and policy makers. Examples include:

Travel Writing and Guide Books

travel writing

Oudt Stathuys from Beschrijvingh der wijdt-vermaarde koop-stadt Amstelredam

These range from explorers' accounts to tourists' travel accounts and cover all parts of the world. Many are scattered across the collections by geographical subject of place or writer, but there is a concentrated section at CG.17 including the Hakluyt Society series. See also the travel writing collection guide. Many include plans and illustrations of buildings.

Examples include:

Household, Estate and Building Records

building accounts

From Dugdale, The history of Saint Paul's Cathedral, in London

Examples include:

Business and Trade Records

business records


Business records:

Trade and organisation records

Records of Central and Local Government


An act for granting his Majesty several rates or duties upon houses in Statutes at Large 7 & 8 William III c.18

A variety of sources are held for different countries. These include Parlimentary Debates and Proceedings, Petitions and Reports and Acts of Parliament. See also the separate Guide to UK Parliamentary History in the library. Examples covering the subject include:

  • Legislation on housing standards
  • New towns
  • Commissions for building new churches
  • Window, hearth and brick taxes
  • Licences to crenellate


Antiquarian Histories

image from an antiquarian history

Memoirs historical and topographical of Bristol and its neighbourhood

The library holds a range of county and local histories which can provide invaluable descriptions and illustrations of buildings standing at the time they were written. Examples include:

Visual material: Maps, Plans, Drawings, Photographs

building plan

From Dugdale, The history of Saint Paul's Cathedral, in London

As well as many works illustrated by plans and drawings, compilations are also held. Examples are listed below. See also the Guide to map collections.

Newspapers, Magazines, Annual reviews

gentleman's magazine

North View of the Mansion of Sir Walter Rawlegh at Islington, Gentleman's Magazine, 1791,

Online newspaper collections (onsite only) - both fully searchable:

Nineteenth century periodicals

  • Gentleman's Magazine
  • Edinburgh Review
  • Quarterly Review
  • Notes and Queries
  • Nineteenth century

The Builder and illustrations index, 1843-1883

Highlights of the collection: reference and secondary works

Biographical sources

biographical sources

The strong biographical collections include both biographical lists and more detailed biographies. They will help to identify landowners, social commentators, policy-makers and architects. The collection includes many general biographical reference works and some specifically on architects. Examples include:

General works

  • Dictionaries of National Biography
  • Burke's Peerage
  • Trade and university listings

Listings of architects

Inventories, Gazetteers and Surveys



The collections include:

General works

Specialist works

Secondary works

secondary works

The library collections include a range of secondary works. There are many items exploring individual buildings, local and regional traditions and guides to particular building types. Examples include:

Geographic area

Building type

Methodology and Historiography


A range of material is included here, bibliographies, guides to doing architectural history, glossaries of terminology, historiography, preservation and interpretation of buildings. Examples include:

Periodicals and Theses



Current copies of most of our periodicals are on open access in the periodicals room on the ground floor. Back issues can be ordered from the store. Many are also available online within the building via the links on the catalogue entry. There are many relevant articles in periodicals such as Vernacular Architecture, Urban History, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and The Local HistorianBibliography of British and Irish History and JSTOR are examples of the online databases that can be used to locate journal articles. 


See further information on our theses. Examples covering the subject include:


Other organisations and resources

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