England’s Record Breaking Heritage

The Guinness World Records celebrates 60 years of extraordinary achievements this week, from globetrotting explorers to sports heroes smashing records.

In this spirit, we’ve delved into our Heritage List to identify listed buildings, scheduled sites and registered gardens that might – if tested! – break records. Competition is fierce and what qualifies often sparks debate between heritage experts.*

*Disclaimer: these aren’t a definitive list of verified record breakers, but give you a flavour of England’s extraordinarily diverse heritage.

  The Oldest

Fritchley Tunnel, Derbyshire
The opening to Fritchley Tunnel in 1946. Both ends were buried and only recently have archaeologists exposed and recorded its interior © Railway Canal and Historical Society
The opening to Fritchley Tunnel,1946. Both ends were buried and only recently archaeologists have exposed and recorded its interior © Railway Canal and Historical Society.

In 2014 Fritchley Tunnel, built in 1793, was protected as a scheduled monument. As the world’s oldest known surviving railway tunnel, this has actually broken a Guinness World Record!

Star Carr, Yorkshire & West Kennet, wiltshire
L: Star Carr brushwood, excavated by Grahame Clark in 1950 © Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society: exploring the past through excavations, fieldwork & lectures. R: West Kennet Long Barrow, Wiltshire © Historic England Archives
L: Star Carr excavation, 1950 © Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society: exploring history through excavations, fieldwork & lectures. R: West Kennet Long Barrow, Wiltshire © Historic England Archive

North Yorkshire’s Star Carr remains are probably our oldest scheduled archaeology, at roughly 11,000 years old. Archaeologist Grahame Clark’s excavations of the site revealed exceptionally rare evidence of a Mesolithic settlement in 1950. His team unearthed waterlogged remains of built huts, walking platforms and the earliest evidence of stone tools.

West Kennet Long Barrow in Wilshire is another very early example. Dated c. 3650 BC, the former burial chamber – now part of the Avebury World Heritage Site – was excavated in the 1850s to reveal grave goods and the remains of 46 humans.

The Youngest

Western Morning News Building, Plymouth
Plymouth's recently listed Western Morning News building © Historic England Archive
Plymouth’s recently listed Western Morning News building © Historic England Archive.

Historic England only considers buildings for listing if they are over 30 years old, or if their significance is so exceptional that the building should be Grade I or Grade II*.

Our youngest listed building fulfils this remarkable criteria: the Western Morning News building in Plymouth, listed at Grade II* this year. Built between 1991-3 by Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, the landmark newspaper and production building has a ship-like profile, with curved walls, steel tusks and fixed-point structural glazing.

The Tallest

the Express Lift Tower, Northampton & the Arqiva Tower, Emley Moor
L: The Express Lift Tower in Northampton, 127m; R: The Arqiva Tower at Emley Moor in Kirklees, 330m © both Historic England Archive
L: The Express Lift Tower in Northampton, 127m; R: The Arqiva Tower at Emley Moor in Kirklees, 330m © both Historic England Archive.

The lighthouse-like Express Lift Tower in Northampton – impressively lofty at 127m – loses out in this title round to the Arqiva Tower (formerly the ITV Broadcasting Tower) at Emley Moor in Kirklees. Recently remeasured to accurately include its aerial, the 330m-high tower was built between 1969-71 by Ove Arup and Partners.

Whissendine Windmill, Rutland
The Windmill at Whissendine, Rutland © Historic England Archive

Near Whissendine in Rutland is said to be the tallest stone windmill in England. Built in the early-19th century, it is listed at Grade II* to reflect its virtually intact machinery. With 4 sets of grindstones and a very rare Wegmann Porcelain Roller Mill preserved inside, the windmill stopped operating in 1922 but is now open to the public.

The Smallest

the duck house, otford Village pond, kent
Otford Village Duck House, our smallest listed structure © Glen, Creative Commons License
Otford Village Duck House, the smallest listed structure © Glen via Flickr, Creative Commons License

The award for smallest listed structure goes to the Duck House in the middle of Otford Village Pond roundabout in Sevenoaks. This rubble and brick circular house shelters the luckiest ducks in England – they enjoy a food allowance from the Parish Council!

The Best of the Rest

a FISH COLLECTION BOX, Yorkshire AND a HOT BRINE BATH, isle of wight
Best of the rest listed structures compare
L: The RNLI’s Fish Collection Box, Robin Hood Bay © Eric Branse-Instone; R: The Victorian Hot Brine Bath, Shanklin Chine, Isle of Wight © Historic England Archive

The oldest collection box in service is the 1.2 metre-high Cod Fish at Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. Crafted in 1886, it sits on the dockside for passers-by to donate loose change to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, but was intended as a memorial to fishermen lost at sea and to brave RNLI volunteers.

The only surviving example of a Hot Brine Bath is at Shanklin Chine on the Isle of Wight. Listed at Grade II, the c.1845 marble basin provided visitors with the latest in healthy Victorian living. With wooden handrails and steps to ease bathers in, hot brine baths (heated sea water) were believed to have special health-giving properties before dips in the sea became popular.

Cattsford Farmhouse and privy, Kent

Saving the best ’til last: an unusual set of loos have been listed in a late-17th Century farmhouse in Kent. Surviving Victorian toilets are unusual; two-seater Georgian examples even more so. Yet in 2008 an oak free-standing privy house was listed as a rare example of a three-seater loo, with room for mum, dad and child to let nature take its course. We don’t have a photo, so you’ll have to use your imagination!

Join the debate: do you know of taller, smaller, older, younger and even more unique examples of England’s heritage? Let us know below or tweet @HistoricEngland.

For more record breakers, the Guinness World Records have compiled a fascinating collection of images, videos and stories to celebrate their Golden Anniversary.

For more details of the different types of heritage protection – listing, scheduling and registration – visit our Listing pages.

Curious about arts and crafts, mystified by medieval settlements or intrigued by industrial heritage? Our “Brief Introduction to” series is for those who want to find out more about the historic environment. From buildings and monuments to art and landscapes, we summarise our knowledge using examples from the National Heritage List for England.

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