Research Guide 1: Buildings

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Thankyou to Chris King, former Local History Librarian whose work forms the majority of this research guide.

There are plenty of resources to help you find out information about houses and buildings in the Canterbury area. This information can be useful if you want to know more about your relatives or the people who lived in your house before you. Please note that enquiries that are not historical (i.e. for current building purposes, DAs etc) cannot be answered effectively by this collection. Please contact Canterbury Council for an information request.

Examples of what you can find out

Here's a list of the sort of things you can find out about buildings in the Canterbury area.

  • date of construction
  • house name
  • for whom the house was built
  • names and occupations of the owners and occupiers
  • original form and layout of the house, and whether it was ever used for other purposes eg shop, or factory.
  • name of subdivision
  • name of the original person to whom the land was granted
  • history of your street and district

A word of caution: researching a house built after 1933 can be difficult, and researchers may wish to contact the library's Local History staff for assistance. Staff are always happy to assist with enquiries, and they are available on the Contact Us page.

Introduction to Land Subdivision

The key to understanding the development of our suburbs is land subdivision. In the early days of the colony of New South Wales, settlers were granted land in lots ranging from 30 acres to a single ex-convict to hundreds of acres if the person was well connected. Small farms tended to be bought up and consolidated into larger holdings by the wealthy. As Sydney and the suburbs expanded towards Canterbury in the late 19th century, the large farms were broken up into smaller farmlets for market gardening, dairying or chicken farming. With the building of public transport, these small farms became valuable, and they were further sub-divided and sold off as suburban house blocks. These subdivisions varied in size from a couple of streets to many acres.

Each of these subdivisions are documented and can be located through plans and records held by the library, Land and Property Information and the State Library of New South Wales. Ask the community history or family history librarian for more information.

Key Architectural Styles

The main feature of Canterbury housing is its bungalows. Apart from a small number of Victorian style buildings, the houses built before World War 1 are in the Federation style. Housing built between World Wars 1 and 2 are Interwar bungalows or Californian bungalows.

Very few blocks of flats were built before the 1960s, until a change in building regulations led to many bungalows being replaced by low-rise flats. This is a continuing process. This has made Canterbury one of the most densely populated local government areas in Sydney.

Victorian Style

The Victorian Style (1840-1890) features elements such as cast iron lacework, weatherboard, bull-nosed verandas, and curved corrugated iron roofs.

Federation Style

The Federation Style (1890-1915) includes features such as stained glass windows, curved windows, double red brick, Australian motifs, spattered ash chimneys and other elements inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement.

Inter-War Style

Californian Bungalows form the standard architectural choice of the Inter-War Style (1916-1940) with columned verandas, simply styled facades with vertical stripes and liver coloured brick.


Maps are extremely useful resources as they indicate features that have altered over time. The library has a number of maps by key resources are indicated below.

  • Parish of St George, County of Cumberland [map] / New South Wales Dept. of Lands. Metropolitan Land District Municipalities, Eastern Division, NSW [map] - Parish maps show the name of the subdivision and the names of the grantees - the people to whom the land was first granted after European settlement. Note that the subdivision shown on the parish map may not have sold, and streets may date from a later subdivision. Parcels of land are described as being in a parish and county. New South Wales is divided into 141 counties, and the counties are subdivided into over 7000 parishes. These parishes are used for civil purposes such as land description, and should not be confused with church parishes, and the counties should not be confused with county councils. Canterbury is in the County of Cumberland, and all of Canterbury south of Cooks River is in the Parish of St George. North of the river the parish is either Petersham or Concord.
  • Municipality of Canterbury [map] / Canterbury Municipal Council.Canterbury, NSW : Canterbury Municipal Council, 1957. Scale 4 chains to 1 inch, and 1 mile to 25 cm. 7 maps ; 75cm. x 188 cm. Hand drawn and coloured. Shows an outline of all buildings and geographic features, including brickpits. Includes 4 maps with Municipal boundaries proclaimed 28 May 1948 within Ward boundaries proclaimed 14 Nov 1952. Also includes Municipality of Canterbury planning scheme Ordnance No.106 consisting of 13 maps, each of two sheets.
  • Canterbury Road land uses [map] / Canterbury Municipal Council.Canterbury, NSW : Canterbury Municipal Council, 1954. 670cm. x 490cm. Hand drawn and coloured. Outlines of buildings are shown, types of businesses are identified, and some businesses are named. Includes later annotations.
  • Rate Books

    Rate books can be valuable to date when a house was built. Unfortunately only 3 rate books survive as follows:

    • 1879-1884
    • South Ward 1885-1887
    • East Ward 1900

    Rate Books include Lot Number, Owner Details, Tenant details, land and may include building descriptions and values.

    Waterboard Plans

    Waterboard plans are extremely useful as the name of houses are often indicated, along with the original dimensions of the houses that predate the 1930s. These were created by the Water Board when sewerage was planned for an area, and remained their working reference copies for maintenance of the sewerage system. The library holds paper and microfilm copies- but must be requested from the community history or family history librarian.

    Valuation Card

    The library holds the Canterbury land valuations conducted by the New South Wales Valuer in 1921 and 1923, so these cards are a good source of information about houses built before 1923. They are located in the local history collection at LH333.332 NEW - shelved with the books.

    There is a card for each property containing details of:

    • owners name and address.
    • improved and unimproved value.
    • estate (subdivision) and house name

    Each card has also has:

    • A brief description of the land eg 'good building land, creek through rear'.
    • An abbreviated description of improvements (ie buildings), such as 'df cott w/b 3rms, k&o, tile roof' is a double fronted cottage, weather board, 3 rooms, with a kitchen and outhouse and a tiled roof.

    They are arranged by street name and grouped in estates and lot numbers. It is very helpful to have the lot number of the building or land being researched. This is found on the rate notice or from Customer Services at Canterbury City Council, phone 9789 9626.

    Sands Sydney Directory (Sands)

    Nicknamed "Sands". this is an excellent directory dating 1858-1932. Included is a suburban directory that lists house occupiers by street, sometimes with the house name or number. The library holds Sands on microfiche in the family history room and printed in binders in the local history collection. The directories be accessed online via the City of Sydney.

    Phone Directories

    Directories are a fantastic source of addresses if the name of the person or business is known. The library keeps a number of dirctories including pink pages, yellow pages and white pages in incomplete runs going back to the late 40s. Key early directories include:

    • New South Wales telephone directory [1889-1920] [microform]. FH 919.44 - kept in microfilm folders
    • Telephone directory: Sydney [1947]. Sydney : Commonwealth of Australia, 1947. LH384.6 Tel - Kept with Comunity History Librarian
    • Telephone directory: Sydney [1952]. / Sydney : Commonwealth of Australia, 1952. LH384.6 Tel - kept with Community History Librarian
    • Telephone Directories 1970+ : Various years available from Telecom and Yellow Pages, please ask the Community History Librarian.

    Street Directories

    Canterbury Library Service also has a number of street directories in incomplete runs ranging from the fifties to the nineties. These are a good measure of current streets and geographical positioning. Ask the community history or family history librarian for access.

    Council Minute Books

    Council meetings record the proceedings of ordinary council meetings where aldermen and the mayor met from 1879 onwards to decide on matters ranging from construction to celebrations. They are a good source to check if well known individuals in the area are involved with the building being researched. Canterbury Council Minute Books 1879-1920 have been microfilmed and are available at Campsie Library. Please ask the community history or family history librarian.

    Building Inspectors Reports

    Only for 1925-26, Building Inspectors Report Books list building applications with owner's name, name of estate and street but lot or street number is not included. The builders name and address is also listed. Available on microfilm, ask for the community history or family history librarian to provide them.

    Electoral Rolls

    Electoral Rolls are helpful when the name and general area is known but the exact address is not. The library holds NSW electoral rolls (Commonwealth Division) [1903- 1928] on microfiche in the Family History Room. Some assistance may be required in locating the current electoral divisions. Please ask the community history or family history librarian.

    Pictorial Canterbury

    Pictoral Canterbury contains an extensive collection of over 10,000 images relating to persons, houses and subjects concerning the local area. A simple search is all that is required.

    BAs, DAs

    Older Building and Development Applications are housed with Canterbury Council and can be assessed with a council information request.

    Council Information Request

    Records are held pertaining to each property by City of Canterbury Council and an information request can be completed for a fee to gain access to records that are permissible under the GIPA (Government and Information Provision Act). Please contact the Community History Librarian for more information.

    Trove Newspapers

    Trove is an excellent resource that contains digitised, searchable newspapers from the Sydney Morning Herald and a variety of other local, important newspapers. Click newspapers and search by person, address, house name or other key terms to bring up relevant data such as advertisements, notices, articles and more.

    LPI Torrens Information

    The Land and Property Information Office provide essential documents such as Torrens Title that detail accurately the history of land purchases. They include a complete list of previous owners and is essential for any thorough research into a house or property.

    Contact Us

    Contact details for the Community History and Family History Librarian are available on the Contact Us page.