Written by Emily Gee, Head of Listing Advice at Historic England
1. How did listing start?
Listing emerged as a legal system of protecting England’s most precious buildings during the Second World War. The first lists were compiled as an emergency measure to identify what should be protected in post-war rebuilding. The next generation of more systematic lists on a geographical (parish) basis were heroic in their scale, but inevitably quite brief in their descriptions and often done from the road, sometimes from bicycles, without internal inspection.
The system today is dramatically different. We notify and consult owners as a matter of course. On a site visit, we find out as much as we can about a building’s historical development, architectural quality, internal features, degree of survival, relationship with other buildings and historic interest.
Each listed building has its own description – the statutory List entry – on the National Heritage List for England (the List). The List is a free searchable online database and is a remarkable collection of all England’s designated assets (listed buildings, scheduled monuments, registered landscapes and battlefields, and protected wrecks). We estimate that 99.3% of people in England live within a mile of a listed place, so go online to discover your local treasures.
2. Making the grade – Grade II, Grade II* or Grade I?
There are almost 400,000 entries on the List covering listed buildings, scheduled monuments, registered parks and gardens, registered battlefields and protected wrecks. While all listed buildings are of special interest, there is a system to grade relative significance. The great majority of buildings (92%) are Grade II, which means they are special. There are two higher levels of listing: Grade II*, which means ‘particularly important buildings of more than special interest’ (5.8%), and Grade I, which covers buildings of ‘exceptional interest’, normally what we consider ‘textbook’ examples (2.5%).
3. How are buildings chosen?
The key criteria for listing are special architectural and special historic interest, but these will differ according to the building in question. Our Selection Guides explain what makes different places listable.
Not surprisingly, the older a building is, the more likely it is to be listed. All buildings built before 1700 which survive in anything like their original condition are listed, as are most of those built between 1700 and 1840. From around 1840, the start of the Victorian period, when materials become more standardised and mass produced, and from when greater numbers survive, the more selective we are. Buildings that date from after 1945 require particularly careful selection and only the best examples will be listed. There are about 770 post-war listed buildings and sculptures, which is just 0.2% of all buildings on the List. This is still more than in any other country in the world.
The youngest building on the List is the very recently Grade II* listed Western Morning News building in Plymouth of 1991-93 by Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners. Listing is rare for more recent buildings, and very selective indeed: 50 buildings from the 1970s are listed, ten from the 1980s, and just one from the 1990s.
4. It’s not just buildings that are listed
The List is a unique record of the country’s evolving history and character and includes barrows and bunkers, palaces and pigsties, plague crosses and piers, tower blocks and tombstones, cathedrals, windmills and rollercoasters. The latest listings include a diverse selection of unusual structures such as the ‘Giant’s Stride’ (pictured above) a rare surviving piece of Victorian playground equipment in Hunstantonworth, Co Durham; the Rom skatepark (header image) of 1978 in Hornchurch, London; and Margate’s 1930s tidal seawater pool in Kent.
5. Add your knowledge and photos to the List
This year, for the first time, you can get involved in keeping the List rich, relevant and up-to-date. We are opening it up and asking people and community groups across England to share their knowledge and pictures, so we can record important facts about places, and even unlock the secrets of some. Many places and buildings on the list are well-known and even world-famous. But in some cases there is much that remains unknown. That’s why we need your help – so we can share images, insights and secrets of England’s special places, and capture them for future generations.
Find out more at HistoricEngland.org.uk/etl
For more information on listing, to search the List and to see the various selection guides for listed buildings and other historic places, go to: www.historicengland.org.uk/listing