photograph showing detail of a radiator from John Outram's 1986 Wadhurst Park, Sussex
Detail of a radiator from John Outram's 1986 Wadhurst Park, Sussex © Historic England Archive
Detail of a radiator from John Outram's 1986 Wadhurst Park, Sussex © Historic England Archive

Recording and Conserving Historic Building Services

Building services are often viewed as the most recent and least historically important part of a listed building. The earliest surviving historic services date from around 1850–1860. This has resulted in a lot of early examples of heating, ventilation and lighting systems being either badly converted or removed and all record of them lost.

We conserve early examples of building services installations because they are rare and part of the story of England’s engineering heritage that includes steam ships, railways, pumping stations and metal hulled ships. As well as the principal building, there may be other interesting services such as heating systems for glasshouses and walled gardens.

We are trying to conserve these early examples in as original a state as is possible. For example by leaving original radiators and pipework and reusing them as part of a refurbished system. It will be rare that a fully functioning, unaltered early Victorian heating or lighting system will be found, but when that does happen, minimum intervention and maximum retention should be the desired approach.

Where complete retention is not possible, due to modern safety standards for example, then alterations may have to be considered. These should be kept to an absolute minimum and carefully thought out. As much of the original installation should be kept in situ and carefully recorded before any modifications are carried out.

Through research you can establish whether any of the building services are of historic significance, and whether any part of the installation is in good enough condition that it can be retained and used within a modernised system. If parts cannot be integrated into the new design, it is good practice to photograph and record the features before they are removed and to ensure this is archived with the property records.

In some buildings, particularly those after 1900, building services are much more part of the architectural design rather than added on. Some of the services, such as the lighting may have even been designed by the architect to complement the building design and are important features that should be retained.

Researching historic building services

The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) Heritage Group offers advice about researching historic building services. CIBSE also provide a list of useful references.

A good place to start to your research would be to check whether any of the existing building services are already recorded as being of historic significance:

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