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Assessing Significance through Research

The more we understand about the significance and character of our heritage, the better the decisions are likely to be when it comes to how we care for it.

We apply numerous research methods, considerable expertise and an in depth knowledge when investigating and assessing historic places, buildings, sites and landscape.

To do this we use several research techniques to inform listing  and to support Constructive Conservation as set out in Conservation Principles

The way we prioritise the research that we carry out on significance and character in England is based on national need. We consider the research areas below to be most under threat, the least understood, or to have the greatest opportunities for public involvement, enjoyment and benefit.

Our research helps to contribute to a strategic approach to defining national importance which in turn leads to heritage being better protected.  Our research also results in  new conservation methods being developed.  

Urban and public realm heritage

Most people in England either live or work in cities and towns. They generally appreciate the need to assess the significance and character of the heritage of these places in order to guide change.

Find out more about urban and public realm heritage

An oblique aerial view of a planned suburban housing estate. The houses and
cars make pleasing circular patterns from above.
Suburbs in Longbridge Village, Birmingham © suberbs, housing estate, Longbridge, Birmingham

Heritage of trade and industry

England has played an internationally important role in the development of industry and transport.

Our research includes assessing industrial heritage of twentieth-century and small-scale traditional industry and mining. We also assess the heritage of communications and infrastructure, including ports, dockyards, harbours and types of water management.

Find out more about research into industrial heritage

An oblique aerial colour photo of a London Gateway development, to the right is a large silty river, to the left a large industrial area.
This aerial view of 2014 shows the rapidly growing London Gateway port development, designed to handle the huge container ships at the heart of world trade today. © Damian Grady/Historic England

Heritage of faith and commemoration

For many in England, faith and its heritage are especially important. Sacred structures and places are among the most distinctive, beautifully designed and culturally meaningful in this country.

Our research priorities include Christian churches, chapels and burial sites, and the heritage of other faiths.

Find out more about the heritage of faith and commemoration

Centenary Methodist Church, Boston
One of the most impressive nonconformist chapels of its period in England, Centenary Methodist Chapel, opened in 1910 after its predecessor was destroyed by fire.

Military heritage

As an island nation involved in numerous conflicts, England’s heritage includes a wide variety of military complexes. Most have significance beyond the local, and character that inspires, daunts and disturbs.

Our priorities here include MoD (Ministry of Defence) sites earmarked for disposal and 20th century establishments.

Find out more about military heritage

Areial view of Hurst Castle
Hurst Castle, Hampshire, the first fortification was built by Henry VIII between 1541 and 1544, it was extensively modernised during the 19th century and remained in military use until 1956

Rural heritage

England’s rural landscape is fundamentally historic and ever-changing.  It is also highly valued by most people.

Our research priorities include assessing:

  • Settlements that are susceptible to expansion
  • Buildings subject to reuse and
  • Rural landscapes vulnerable to damaging forms of change

Find out more about rural heritage

Aerial photograph of earthworks near Kenilworth Castle
Aerial view of the Pleasance, with Kenilworth Castle beyond. © Damian Grady, English Heritage

Coastal, marine and maritime heritage

England’s coast is rich in historic structures and the sea hides much of archaeological importance, such as ship and aircraft wrecks and submerged landscapes.

Our priorities include sites threatened by the exploitation of resources and coastal change, and the heritage of ship-building and fishing ports and harbours.

Find out more about coastal, marine and maritime heritage

A black and white oblique aerial image of Tilbury docks in 1920. In the foreground are many ships and warehouses.
Between the Wars, Aerofilms’ aerial photographs recorded the growing port at Tilbury. The port flourished during the late 20th century as the Port of London declined and closed. © Historic England/AFL
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