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About The List

Here you can read about the history of the National Heritage List for England. The story of its development reveals both what you'll find in list descriptions and why the information may vary considerably.

The National Heritage List for England, or 'The List', originated in 1882, when the first powers of protection were established. These developed into what we know today as statutory ‘Listing’ just after the Second World War.

Drawing together all scheduled monuments, listed buildings, registered landscapes and battlefields, and protected wrecks, The List now holds almost 400,000 entries. Historic England continuously updates The List, which we curate for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The List has inevitably developed over time and anyone who reads across its range of entries will notice how the information they contain can vary greatly. Early listings were written primarily for identification, whereas we now take care to explain significance and define the extent of listing.

The first state protection for monuments

The first state protection came with the First Ancient Monuments Protection Act (1882) which established a schedule of 50 prehistoric monuments. Subsequent amendments, in 1900 and 1913, allowed the inclusion of later monuments and introduced greater levels of protection, as well as criteria and fines to prevent damage.  A series of high profile conservation battles around these decades raised awareness of the limitations of the legislation to protect historic buildings as well.

The wartime origins of listing

The listing of buildings of special architectural or historical interest was established in the Town and Country Planning Acts of 1944 and 1947. The basis for the first listing survey was the heroic war-time lists, known as 'Salvage Lists'. These were drawn up to determine whether a particular building should be protected from demolition if bomb damaged. It was around this time that a system of grading and specific criteria were introduced.

This pioneer survey, then under the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, took nearly 25 years and produced 120,000 entries on the lists. The entries were mostly medieval churches, country houses, and pre-1750 buildings. The information in these first list entries was quite basic as they were often drawn up without the benefit of an internal inspection.

Image of a spiral bound Blueback of the City of Bath published on 10 October 2010 and a spiral bound Greenback of the City of Westminster published on 1 December 1987.
The last ever produced Blueback for the City of Bath published on 10 October 2010 and the Greenback of the 156th list for the City of Westminster published on 1 December 1987. © James O. Davies/Historic England

The first listing resurvey

Due to intensive urban re-development in the 1960s, the Minister of Housing and Local Government initiated a resurvey in 1968. The survey focussed first on 39 historic cities and towns whose centres were particularly threatened by post-war re-development. Rural areas were not well covered and the list entry descriptions were still very brief.

From December 1970, Lists were published in spiral-bound volumes with green covers nicknamed ‘Greenbacks’. The civil parish became the basic administrative unit of the Greenback. At this time, the selection criteria were revised and the concept of group value – the listing of a building due to its value within a group of buildings of special historical interest – was greatly strengthened.

Exterior view of the opera house in Buxton.
The Opera House, Buxton. Built 1901-03, restored 1979. Designed by Frank Matcham, restored by Derek Sugden. The Opera House was listed in the first published Greenback of 21 December 1970. It was revised during the resurvey and re-published in a Blueback of 31 January 1997. Listed Grade II*. NHLE List entry number 1257789 © Historic England

The national resurvey

The demolition of the Art Deco Firestone Factory in Brentford, London over the 1980 August Bank Holiday sparked Michael Heseltine’s decision (as Secretary of State for the Environment) to resurvey the country. This resurvey was achieved in two phases: the first was managed by 22 local authorities, and the second was managed through the private sector in the form of contracts with 11 architectural practices.

Up until 1984 inspectors from the Department of the Environment supervised the work of numerous trained fieldworkers. In 1984 the inspectors were transferred to the new organization, English Heritage, established by the 1983 National Heritage Act. All fieldworkers were trained and equipped with a manual on how to choose a building and how to write the List entry based on the mnemonic:

“B DAMP FISHES” Building type, Date, Architect, Material, Plan, Facades, Interior, Subsidiary features, History, Extra information and Sources

The resurvey extended the range of structures and building types recommended for listing, so even smaller structures like milestones or tombstones could be listed if they met the criteria. It also extended the date range to include more modern structures such as lidos, airports and cinemas.

It was still not unusual for listings from this period to be relatively short and only refer to the exterior of the building. This was a national survey on a heroic scale – sometimes referred to as ‘The Modern Domesday’ – so the brevity of the entries is not surprising.

In 1987, Department of the Environment Circular 8/87 removed the 1939 ceiling on listing buildings, introducing the ‘thirty year rule’ that still operates today.

Later developments with The List

From 1989 English Heritage undertook a review of the urban lists. The Urban List Review lists were published in spiral-bound volumes with blue covers called ‘Bluebacks’. Between 1994 and 1996, we converted the hard copy lists into digital format, but they were not yet publicly accessible. In 2005 Historic England (formerly English Heritage) took over the responsibility for listing from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. From that time, new and revised list entries for all asset types took on a more standardized approach, including sections on History, Details and bullet-pointed Reasons for Designation.

The National Heritage List for England established

In 2011, the official entries were made publicly available online, a major achievement in opening up The List and bringing all the nationally important assets together in one searchable database. All 1,800 or so entries on Register for Parks and Gardens, established in 1984, were now included alongside the 20,000 or so schedulings, nearly 50 protected wrecks, and 46 registered battlefields, as well as World Heritage Sites. The National Heritage List for England is the only official and up-to-date statutory list of all protected historic buildings and sites in England. It allows for both text and map based searching and, for the first time, all entries include a location map.

New powers to legally define the extent of listing

Changes to the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, enabled by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act mean that since 25 June 2013, we have been able to legally define the extent of listing. These empowerments, found in amendment s.1 (5A) (a) and (b) of the 1990 Act, allow Historic England to say definitively whether attached or curtilage structures are protected; and/or to exclude from listed building consent objects that are fixed to a listed building. We can also definitively state that a part or feature of a listed building is not of special interest, for the purposes of listed building consent.  

A List entry that makes use of these provisions will clarify what attached and curtilage structures are excluded from the listing and/or which interior features definitively lack special interest. These more modern List entries will be apparent by reference to s.1 5A (a) and (b) within their text.

Enriching The List

From June 2016, through Enriching The List, Historic England has invited everybody to share their knowledge and photographs of the nationally important, protected historic places on the National Heritage List for England (NHLE). This means that list entries for any asset type can also include useful crowd-sourced information and photographs. You'll find this additional information positioned below the official entry.

Amending The List

We're committed to keeping the National Heritage List up to date.

Anyone can report minor errors or corrections as Minor Amendments to the List.

We can conduct fuller reassessments:

  • either where they meet one of our current priorities
  • or you can apply for a reassessment through our new charged-for service. For more information, please see our Enhanced Advisory Services.

Revising a list entry will normally involve a site visit and will provide a modernized description including clarification on the extent of listing.

Further reading

There are a number of useful sources on the history of scheduling and listing. A series of eight reports, which describe the formation of the national collection of ancient monuments and historic buildings from 1882 to 1883, in the context of legislation and other means of protecting heritage are available from History of the National Heritage Collection. The following books provide interesting reading on the history and policy of the modern practice of listing and conservation:

  • English Heritage. Practical Building Conservation: Conservation Basics (2013)
  • Michael Hunter (ed.) Preserving the past: the rise of heritage in modern Britain (1996)
  • Simon Thurley, The Men from the Ministry: How Britain Saved Its Heritage (2013)

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National Heritage List for England Enquiries