Reprinted from Newsletter 103, dated 2002 April

Why buildings are listed

Adrian Pearse

A talk by Patrick Brown

Patrick Brown’s career as an architect and in the survey and assessment of buildings for the listing authorities made his February 8 lecture particularly informative. This is a core subject for any conservation society.

Buildings or, more accurately, structures are added to the statutory list if found to be of special architectural or historic interest. They usually are not complete in their original form.

At first they were classified as Grades 1, 2, or 3, but this system has been replaced by classifications of I, II*, or II. Grade I represents a structure of national significance, such as Wells Cathedral; II* classifies structures just below the first rank.

Listed buildings may be seen as in temporary care, for the future. Almost all pre-1700 buildings are listed, most of those from 1700 to 1840, and post-1840 buildings selectively.

The process of listing began after the Second World War: as a result of war damage and demolition of many buildings it was decided that an inventory should be compiled. Initial surveys were superficial and missed much. Eventually in 1982 the environment department began an accelerated re-survey of listed buildings in every parish; English Heritage took over in 1984 and continues.

The process of listing is slow: various checks follow initial inspection, and eventually “greenbacks” are published with details of resultant listings.

From his collection of 30,000 slides and anecdotes from his surveying days, Patrick illustrated interesting buildings and features in them, in a very wide range of materials, and explained the difficulties in deciding on listing criteria or grades. The variety of listed structures is enormous — from mediaeval woodwork to rusting aircraft hangars and part Mulberry Harbour.

The audience will look at the built environment with a more critical and educated eye.