“–This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,–This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”
Richard II,2.1 (excerpts)
How do you think of England without considering its millennia-spanning history or its storied role in the last millennium filled with utter villains and heroic princes? And can you contemplate England without acknowledging its vast contribution to western civilization’s literature, science, technology, law, and even the language spoken throughout the world? When you visit England, you’ll find they have passed a series of laws protecting their heritage and set aside over 500,000 sites, buildings, monuments, wrecks, gardens, and parks to be legally protected. These are placed on a list by the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, also known as Historic England, a non-departmental public body of the British government. There are similar groups fulfilling the same task in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland if you wish to explore those regions.
What does it mean to be a listed building?
Quite simply, a listed building is a heritage asset that has been placed on the statutory list maintained by Historic England. If the building is on the list, it cannot be modified, demolished, renovated, or changed in any way without special permission from the local government, who typically involve the federal government and national “amenity” societies. Depending on the structure or the contemplated repair, the owner may be required to use special tools or building techniques that may not have been in use for centuries. Failure to comply can result in criminal charges filed against the owner.
Classification of listed buildings
Specific procedures and processes follow the designation as a heritage asset and placement on the statutory list and legally protected. To confuse matters, the British government has passed different legislation protecting different assets. A building is “listed”, wrecks are “protected”, ancient monuments are “scheduled”, and locations of special historical, archaeological, architectural, cultural or artistic interest are “registered.” However, regardless of how they designate the asset, it is generally considered to be on the English Heritage Listed Buildings.
The lists are further classified into grade:
- Grade I define a building or a site that is of exceptional interest. The Palace at Westminster, Warwick Castle, and the Tower of London fall into these categories. These locations typically have a great deal of history behind them and are generally well-known.
- Grade II* define a listing that is considered important of more than special interest. Battersea Power Station and Trellick Tower in London are two sites that fit this classification. Some of these have a history while others are considered unique to England and the English culture.
- Grade II are buildings of special interest and every effort should be made to preserve them. Whitechapel Bell Foundry and Abbey Road Studios fall into these categories. Again, these have historical interest, perhaps on a localized level but are part of the English history and tradition.
How do you find a Listed Building?
In London alone, there are over 10,000 listed locations and almost half a million in England alone. There is a recorded history of some kind for each one. Simply trying to see every listed location in London would take you 27 years if you saw one each day.
Historic England has an interactive website that you can spend hours on that will help you locate and provide a map of the location. So, if you want to find Abbey Road crossing in northwest London where the famous photograph of the Beatles was taken for their album cover, the map can help. It may take some time to get where you want. If you’re not familiar with the site, or worse, you don’t know your way around London, you might search for hours.
When I typed in “Abbey Road”, the map generated fourteen different possibilities. Abbey Road was listed in fourteen locations forcing me to do a further search to cross-reference the correct citation. I didn’t know it was in greater London, or near Regent’s Park, or Camden but I need to accept a large part of the blame. It’s a map containing records and information on 10,000 points and I need to get my act together and provide a little more information in my search.
Another group called English Heritage also generates a map for English listed buildings. They are privately funded but generate a map that is also easily used to find locations of listed buildings and other points of interest.
The two organizations provide English citizens and tourists alike the opportunity to see the culture of England.
The Heritage of England
There are almost 10,000 years of history in England. The British government, via Historic England, is undertaking a prodigious effort to preserve and protect the accomplishments of the English culture during that time. It takes an outsider sometimes to understand and appreciate the accomplishments of others. Historic England has provided a venue for visitors, and inhabitants to learn and grasp the importance of what has been contributed by the English culture. The English Heritage Listed Buildings Map they created enables users to quickly find and learn about England’s past.
This article was written on behalf of Boulton & Boyce by Pieter Boyce. Pieter has an intense passion for English Architectural history and has been specialising in the conservation of original wooden windows and doors for decades. His exceptional knowledge of timber windows and doors, both listed or non-listed, is attributed to his hands-on approach to learning all aspects of the complete restoration of original features as well as having personally surveyed thousands of items throughout his long tenure as a head surveyor for one of the largest window and door restoration companies in the UK. He now runs a boutique wooden window and door consultancy and fervently champions the retention of original windows and doors. To learn more of Pieter’s services, visit his website at www.boultonboyce.co.uk.