A History of Listed Properties

A listed building or listed structure, in the United Kingdom, is one that has been placed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest.

There is a statutory body for each region in the UK responsible for maintaining their own list, these are Historic England in England; Cadw (The Historic Environment Service of the Welsh Government) in Wales; Historic Scotland in Scotland; and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) in Northern Ireland.

There are over 400,000 listed buildings and structures in England alone with a single list maintained by Historic England on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). This file is normally referred to as the ‘The List’.

The requirements of The List along with the level of detail captured has changed a lot over the years so it’s worth having a quick look at the history of how it came about.

State protection for monuments

State protection for monuments officially started in 1882 with a list of 50 prehistoric monuments. There was reluctance to restrict the owners of occupied buildings in what they could do to their property so these were not included.

It was the damage to buildings caused by German bombing during World War II that prompted the first listing of buildings that were deemed to be of particular architectural merit. This was formalised in the Town and Country Planning Act of 1944. The basis for this change was the heroic war-time lists, known as ‘Salvage Lists’. These were designed to determine if a building should be protected from demolition if bomb damaged.

The original entries were mostly focused on ancient churches, country houses, and pre-1750 buildings.

The List today

Up until 1984 the Department of the Environment supervised the work of numerous trained fieldworkers who maintained the List. However, in 1984 responsibility was transferred to a new organization, English Heritage. As part of this all fieldworkers were retrained and equipped with instructions on how to select a building and write a List entry based on the mnemonic “B DAMP FISHES”:

Building type

Date
Architect
Material
Plan

Facades
Interior
Subsidiary features
History
Extra information
Sources

Between 1994 and 1996, Historic England converted the hard copy lists into digital format. In 2005 Historic England (formerly English Heritage) took over the responsibility for listing from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

More recently it has been recognised that buildings and structures of special historic interest come in a wide variety of forms and types, ranging from telephone boxes and road signs, to castles

There are three types of listed status for buildings in England and Wales:

Grade I: buildings of exceptional interest
Grade II*: particularly important buildings of more than special interest
Grade II: buildings that are of special interest, warranting every effort to preserve them

The future

Many local councils also maintain a list of locally listed buildings separate to the national statutory list (and in addition to it). There is no statutory protection of a building or object on the local list but many receive a degree of protection from loss through being in a Conservation Area and/or through planning policy. Councils hope that owners will recognise the merits of their properties and keep them unaltered if at all possible.

As our understanding of what defines culture and history is better understood it becomes ever more necessary to protect buildings which today may not be of significant historical interest to us, but could be to future generations. This includes buildings such as Trellick Tower completed in 1972 and up to very recently considered an eyesore.

There’s rarely a year goes by when there isn’t some controversy about the type of structures being added to the list. But it’s good to know there are a lot of dedicated individuals working on preserving past and contemporary structures for future generations.