Skip to content

Listed buildings

The concept of listed buildings was introduced during World War II as a way of determining which buildings should be rebuilt if they were damaged by bombing. Shortly after World War II The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 led to the compilation of the first list of buildings of special historical or architectural importance.

Who is responsible for listing buildings?

In England, listed buildings are designated by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, acting on advice from English Heritage. You can find out all about listing on the English Heritage website. English Heritage assesses the building and any material provided to support an application, and then makes a recommendation. The Minister has discretion to accept or reject English Heritage's recommendation. In Wales the Secretary of State for Wales acts on recommendations from Cadw.

What makes a building listable?

The criteria for listing buildings built between 1840 and 1914 are very strict, and if a building cannot meet them it is refused for listing. Despite the ravages of post-war redevelopment, many more buildings survive from the Victorian than from all previous periods. Selection for listing is therefore on a much stricter basis than for previous periods. The guidelines seek buildings that:

  • are interesting works by major architects or important examples of the work of local architects of merit.
  • form an important part of an architecturally sensitive streetscape or are part of a larger group built to a single design or purpose.
  • are very complete and/or early example of specific building type or built with a pioneering form of construction.
  • are very rare survivals of a specific type. Such should be a historically important part of an area or an industry's history.
  • are of definite architectural quality, or are an expression of a technical or social innovation of the period, such as pumping stations or lunatic asylums.

This means that it is nearly impossible for what might be described as ordinary Victorian architecture, such as terraced housing (however attractive) to be listed. The only exceptions are where such housing was built for a major company and has national significance. You can find out more by reading English Heritage's Principles of Selection for Designating Buildings.

What is the difference between Grade I, Grade II and Grade II* listing?

Grade I or II* are those of 'outstanding architectural or historic interest'. The difference in grading between Grades I, II* and II is not significant as far as the need to apply for listed building consent is concerned; the principal practical implication of grading is that a higher Grade I and II* buildings may be eligible for some grants and other forms of funding that are not available for Grade II buildings.

How does listing protect the building?

Listing does not guarantee that the building will never be altered, demolished or developed, but by requiring the owner to get listed building consent for the work and providing interested parties with an opportunity to comment or object, it ensures that the special historic and architectural interest of the building is taken into account in any planning decisions relating to the building.

What parts of the property are protected by listing?

It is not true that only the facade of a listed building is protected. Listing covers all parts of the building, including the interior. Listing also protects some fixtures and fittings, as well as outbuildings, boundary walls and all other structures 'within the curtilage'.

How can I found out whether a building is listed or not?

You can search English lists online at www.heritagegateway.org.uk but do not assume that if you can't find it there the building is not listed. Some can be quite tricky to locate.  You can also see lists and obtain copies of individual entries at your local council planning department, county council offices and most local reference libraries. A complete set of lists for England is available for inspection at the National Monuments Record, Kemble Drive, Swindon SN2 2GZ.

The list of listed buildings in Wales is held by Cadw, Plas Carew, Unit 5/7, Cefn Coed, Cardiff CF15 7QQ.Telephone: 01443 33 6000, and the RCAHMW, Crown Buildings, Plas Crug, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 1NJ.

How can I get a building listed?

You need to write to English Heritage or Cadw. English Heritage now have an application form to make things easier, and we recommend that you use it. If you write, your letter should:

  • summarise your research on the building (see below)
  • explain why the building is of listable quality
  • enclose all the necessary supplementary information about the building.

Before you start, you should refer to English Heritage's Principles of Selection for Designating Buildings which describes twenty broad categories ranging from Agriculture to the Utilities. These include historical overviews and special considerations for listing, plus select bibliographies. It will greatly increase your chances of success if you can show how the building you seek to protect fits the selection criteria.

What information is necessary?

A well-researched application stands a better chance of success. It is worth checking with the local authority conservation officer and any local studies group to see what is already known about the building. You need to establish:

  • what the building was (house, hospital etc.)
  • when it was built
  • (if possible) who designed it

Any background history of importance should also be included, such as whether:

  • anyone famous lived there
  • the design was revolutionary
  • the building was the setting for a major historical event.

Examples are the house designed by William Burges, the architect, for himself; lunatic asylums of particular plan types; and the house where Charles Darwin lived while he was writing The Origin of Species.

Your local history library or county record office should be able to either provide the information or direct you to possible sources. Newspapers are a good source to consider since many public buildings will have been covered when they were opened.

Do not lose heart if you cannot find all the information that you want. The building may still be listable, but the better case you can produce the more likely it is that the building will be listed.

What other information do I need?

Good photographs. It is likely that Cadw or English Heritage will make an initial assessment from photographs submitted. Hence these pictures are extremely important. There is no 'sympathy vote' to be gained by submitting photographs of structural decay; the pictures should convey the quality of the building, and should be taken on a sunny day and in colour so that the building is seen at its best.

A map will also be required. A photocopy of a map (preferably Ordnance Survey) should be marked up to show the location of the building. It is also useful to mark on this any nearby listed buildings, if known, since it is possible to list a building for its contribution to a group of listed buildings.

Anything else?

If the case is an urgent one, involving, for example, a threat to demolish or a change of ownership that might lead to damaging alterations, the letter should spell this out. The current backlog of spot-listing requests means that unless a case for urgent assessment can be made it may take a year to process the application. It is valuable to indicate whether access will be easy; some owners will be reluctant to help get a building listed and in some cases have demolished the building before listing could take place.

Where do I send the application?

Send the assembled research, photographs, and maps to:

Operations Team, Heritage Protection Department, English Heritage, 1 Waterhouse Square, 138-142 Holborn, LONDON EC1N 2ST. Email:hpoperations@english-heritage.org.uk
For the latest information about listing, see the English Heritage website: www.english-heritage.org.uk.

Applications for listing in Wales should be sent to:
Cadw, Plas Carew, Unit 5/7, Cefn Coed, Cardiff CF15 7QQ. Tel: 44 (0)29 2082 6877. For information on listing in Wales, see www.cadw.wales.gov.uk.

How can the Victorian Society help to get a building listed?

We can advise on how to apply for spot-listing and sometimes we submit buildings for spot-listing. However, local people are generally best-placed to do the necessary research, so we encourage people to do the submissions themselves. 

How quick is the listing process?

It varies. If a building is under threat, do not leave it until the last moment to submit a listing application. English Heritage, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Cadw all have heavy workloads. To list a building they need to give careful consideration to the information you provide. It is unfair to expect them to give an instant response because the demolition contractors are at the gates. Also, a developer may have spent a lot of money on a scheme thwarted by listing, which can sour any further discussions over the site.

How can I stop a listed building from being altered?

When an application for listed building consent is lodged with the local planning authority, interested parties have at least 21 days to comment or object. You need to write to the local authority, stating your objection to the scheme. You can ask us to comment. You can mobilise local support: see our useful campaign guide to running a campaign to save an historic building.

I live in a listed house, and want to open up a fireplace that was blocked up in the 1960s and put back an original Victorian grate that is more in keeping with the age and style of the building. Do I need listed building consent?

Probably. Listing protects the house as it was at the time it was added to the list, so even if you want to reinstate the fireplace as it was originally built, you may need to apply for listed building consent. Call the conservation officer in your local planning department for advice.

© 2014 The Victorian Society
1 Priory Gardens, London W4 1TT. T 020 8994 1019. E (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Charity No. 1081435. Company No. 3940996. Registered in England. Office as above.

Make a donation to the Victorian Society. Online donations are processed securely by PayPal.