Preserving the beauty of our wilds and our links to the past by preserving historic buildings is of the utmost importance. Not only is this a way to teach our children about where we come from – it’s also a way to reflect on the innovations of that period and reimagine them to suit the scenarios we deal with today. Find out more on listed buildings in the UK by reading on.

History of listed buildings

The United Kingdom has long prided itself on the exquisite works produced by their forefathers, so it isn’t surprising that they’ve gone to great lengths to protect these historic architectural artworks. This desire to protect buildings has been present for centuries, but listed buildings are a relatively new category when you look at the historical timeline.

Discussions for creating a listed building category were already in motion to some effect in the early 1900s, but the discussion was accelerated during World War II when German bombing raids destroyed many historic buildings. The devastation left behind in the wake of the war helped to solidify the understanding that preserving historical landmarks was an important part of our societal duties.

What is a listed building?

A listed building in the UK is a structure that has been placed on a statutory list that is maintained by Historic England, Historic Environmental Scotland, Cadw, or the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. These four agencies maintain the lists in order to help protect the historic value associated with listed buildings in the UK.

The majority of sites that appear on the listed building list are actual buildings, but there are some exceptions. Bridges, monuments, sculptures, milestones and mileposts, war memorials – even the Abbey Road pedestrian crossing featured in The Beatles’ cover art are also considered listed buildings.

Regulations

Part of this protection for listed buildings in the UK is to regulate extensions, alterations, and demolitions. Each of the four committees works to determine whether it is appropriate for any sort of improvement project or demolition to be done. There are many factors that go into this, but one of the most important is simply making sure that the projects done on these buildings are either absolutely necessary (in the case of demolition), won’t cause damage to the building, or make it impossible to reverse the changes made to the building without damage.

Local Planning Authority

These specifications can make it difficult to make any sort of improvements to listed buildings. The best way to work around this is to contact your local chapter of these agencies and talk with them extensively about the changes you would like to make to the listed structure. Take note of any concerns they may have about the project and the permits/information they’ll need from you later in order to help get the approval you’ll need to start your updates.

What is the difference between a listed building and an ancient monument?

A listed building is any type of historic structure that has been determined necessary to preserve because of its historical significance. These buildings often have ties to some sort of important historical event or an influential person (or group of people). An example of this can be seen with the Globe Theatre which was determined to be significant because of Shakespeare’s connection to the location.

Ancient monuments, however, fall into a different class. They are not ‘listed’ – instead, any ancient monument that is determined to be historically significant and of national importance is ‘scheduled.’ Although this name suggests that only ancient structures and locations can be scheduled, this is far from true. Examples of more recent structures that have been categorized as ‘ancient monuments’ are war defences.

What requirements must a structure meet to be a listed building?

A listed building is any building that has either architectural importance or historical importance. In some cases, there are structures that meet both of these requirements. Additionally, almost any structure or location can be listed – there is no requirement that a listed building in the UK should actually be a building, despite the implications that are made by the name.

There are certain criteria that must be met for a building to be listed, however. Because there are many buildings with some sort of historical architectural importance, there are many who take the additional step of qualifying structures to the ‘UK listed buildings’ list by using the following criteria.

Criteria for making a building a listed building

In order to make the listed building list, there are certain criteria that the building or structure in question should meet. This helps to narrow down the list of structures that are considered a priority when it comes to preservation – especially when it comes to determining historical architectural significance.

Age and rarity

These two factors are one of the most important when it comes to determining the importance of a structure and if it should be included in the listed building UK list. There are two main thoughts behind these criteria.

  • The older the building is, the more likely it is to be listed. This is especially true for buildings that were constructed before the year 1700.
  • The rarer a building is, the more likely it is to be listed. If there were over 2,000 houses built in 1897 and designed in exactly the same manner, it is unlikely that all of them would be listed.

Though both of these criteria are for the same category, there tend to be some differences in how they are handled. Specifically, the age of a structure is the biggest determining factor when it comes to this piece of criteria:

  1. If a building was built before the year 1700 and is considered to hold ‘a significant proportion of their original fabric’ it will be listed without question.
  2. If a building was constructed between 1700 and 1840, it will most likely be listed. Slightly more attention will be given to the condition of the structure and the rarity of the structure. Despite this, the age itself tends to make an exceptional case for rarity and most are accepted.
  3. If a building was completed after the year 1840, there is considerably more time that goes into making the decision of listing the building. Usually, only buildings in excellent condition, or a condition that can be restored to its original quality, will be listed.
  4. If a building was constructed after the year 1945, the four committees spend considerable time when they make their decision over whether the building should be listed or not. They emphasize that ‘particularly careful selection’ is applied in these cases.

Buildings that are no more than 30 years old are hardly ever considered to merit the title of a listed building in the UK. However, there are special considerations that can be made if these structures are ‘of outstanding quality and under threat.’

Suggested further reading: Period windows: all about your listed building windows

Aesthetic merits

Aesthetic merits (especial those concerning significant historical architectural practices) are a very big factor when it comes to accepting a building onto the listed building UK list. It has been determined that a building should be aesthetically pleasing to make the list. There have, however, been instances when buildings that are not aesthetically pleasing have been accepted onto the list because they represent certain aspects of social and/or economic history.

Selectivity

When there are a large number of a certain type of building that has survived into the modern era (especially those that were constructed around the same time), the committees will only list the buildings that serve as the best representations of that particular building style. Buildings that hold some sort of historical significance, however, may still be preserved over a building in better condition but with no significance.

National interest

Another key determination in deciding which buildings should be listed is the national interest that they may represent. For example, buildings that represent a nationally important but localized industry are likely to be listed. Additionally, buildings that are significant or distinctive to their region will likely be listed in the UK listed buildings.

Can you apply to register a building as a listed building?

You can have a building in your area listed by applying to the secretary of state. This is done by going to the Historic England web page and submitting an application detailing the importance of the building and why you think it should be listed. You do not have to own the building in order to attempt to have it added to the listed buildings list.

Once the Historic England committee looks over your application, they will forward their advice to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will then make a final decision on whether the building should be listed or not. The same process as detailed above is also used to determine which buildings should be delisted.

What are the different listed buildings categories?

A building qualifies as listed because different qualities, but only three grades may be assign to those added in the list. Although the criteria and grading status may vary depending on what committee and country oversee a particular building, these are some similarities that carry over. These are the criteria for England and Wales.

Grade I

Grade I structures are considered to be buildings of exceptional interest. Only 2.5 per cent of over 370,000 listed buildings qualified as a Grade I status. Interestingly, 45 per cent of all Grade I listed buildings are churches.

Examples of Grade I structures include:

  • Tower Bridge in London
  • The Cenotaph in London
  • The Manchester Liverpool Road Railway Station in Manchester
  • The Pontcyscyllte Aqueduct in North Wales
  • The Humber Bridge in East Riding of Yorkshire
  • The Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol
  • The Palace of Westminister in London
  • The Warwick Castle in Warwick
  • The Portchester Castle in Hampshire

Grade II*

Grade II* are structures that are considered ‘particularly important buildings of more than special interest. Only 5.5 per cent of all 370,000 listed building in the UK qualified as Grade II*.

Examples of Grade II* structures include:

  • The Cleveland Bridge in Bath
  • The Trellick Tower in London
  • St John’s Jerusalem in Kent
  • Shibden Hall in Calderdale
  • Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough
  • Rise Hall in East Riding of Yorkshire
  • The Battersea Power Station in London
  • The Capel Manor House in Kent
  • The Coliseum Theatre in London
  • The Manchester Town Hall Extension in Manchester

Grade II

Grade II buildings are structures considered to be ‘of special interest, warranting every effort to preserve them.’ The majority of listed buildings are placed on the Grade II list. About 92 per cent of all listed buildings qualified as Grade II listed building!

Examples of Grade II structures include:

  • The Broomhill Pool in Ipswich
  • The BT Tower in London
  • The Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London
  • The India House in London
  • The Surbiton Railway Station in London
  • The Abbey Road Studios in London
  • The Kursaal in Southend-On-Sea

Locally listed buildings

In addition to nationally recognized listed buildings, there are also many city councils that choose to make their own listed buildings list. The Birmingham City Council and the Crawley Borough Council have their local list. Sometimes these locally listed buildings also belong to the nationally listed buildings list – but this isn’t necessarily the case.

City councils sort these locally listed buildings into three different grades: Grade A, Grade B, and Grade C.

Grade A

Grade A structures are considered to be of statutory list quality. They are so prioritized because they are ‘to be the subject of the notification of Historic England if imminently threatened.

Grade B 

Grade B structures are seen as being important in terms of the city’s surrounding architecture or local street scene context.

Grade C

Grade C structures are considered to be significant in the local and historical context – including buildings that have industrial archaeological features, making them worthy of retention.

These structures make up the architectural history of England. So, once you decide to go to the United Kingdom, or a resident seeking to find new adventures, check out these historical sites and marvel at their beauty!

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.

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