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Transport and Communications NHPP 4B3

Research carried out 2011-2015, concerned with understanding the character and significance of heritage surrounding transport and communications. Transport networks are important agents for change within the historic environment and also have their own heritage. This work formed part of the National Heritage Protection Plan.

Modern photographic image of Wolfreton Signal box an ornate brick built box
Wolferton signal box, built 1884, was one of the most ornate boxes ever constructed, because it was intended to harmonise with the equally elaborate station buildings serving the Sandringham estate. © John Minnis and English Heritage

Scope of the activity

Transport is one of the most significant agents of change. At the time of this Activity, it was also at the heart of government spending on infrastructure. Investment in rail is steadily increasing as more and more people are using the railways. Coping with this demand means major changes to the network which has implications for the historic environment.

With roads too, there is rapid change: changing methods of petrol distribution mean many filling stations have closed, older car showrooms in towns have been replaced by new ones on the edge, ever-increasing numbers of cars mean more demands on parking space.

At the time of the plan, canals were seeing the biggest change in their ownership and management for over 60 years and this too has implications for the many historic buildings and structures associated with them.

Modern photograph of Torquay South's stone built Signal box
Torquay South signal box, built about 1876, once controlled the trains of Brunel’s broad gauge. Unusual in being constructed of stone, the box is listed. © John Minnis and English Heritage

Expected protection results

The projects outlined below aimed to deliver a range of protection results: ranging from legal protection for the best examples of transport heritage, to increasing awareness of particular types of heritage to feed into future conservation or management decisions.

A modern photograph of Hertford East railway station
Hertford East (1888) by the Great Eastern Railway’s architect W N Ashbee is a fine example of a station in the neo-Jacobean style fashionable at the time it was built. © John Minnis and English Heritage

Projects in this activity

 The car project

In 2012, Yale University Press, in association with English Heritage, published a major book, Carscapes: the Motor Car, Architecture and Landscape in England, by Kathryn A Morrison and John Minnis. It was the culmination of a national research project to examine the impact of the car on England, as it affected cities, towns, suburbs and the countryside and also examines the history of the types of building that grew up with the car such as garages, filling stations, car parks and motorway service areas.

It provides a basis on which conservation decisions affecting motoring buildings can be made in the future.

John Minnis also worked on  England’s Motoring Heritage from the Air, published by English Heritage in February 2012. This book brings together some stunning aerial photographs, many from the 1920s and 30s, that show graphically how the motor car has changed the face of England. See related publications below for more information about the book.

The Car Project led to over a dozen buildings being listed including the unique filling station canopy on the A1 at Markham Moor.

Signal Boxes

The vast majority of traditional signal boxes were due to be phased out of use under Network Rail’s resignalling plans. A report, identifying the most significant remaining examples has been compiled as part of a Signalling Heritage project with Network Rail and the National Railway Museum. The report recommended a number of the Network Rail boxes for assessment for listing.

The report also identified a number of signal boxes on heritage railways or in private ownership for possible consideration for listing in the future. Additionally, further Network Rail boxes were identified as having some significance and this secondary list is being used by it and other interested bodies to try and make sure that some of these buildings have a future with heritage railways, museums or community groups.

In total, the project resulted in an additional 51 signal boxes being listed.

Railway buildings and structures review

The railway buildings national review carried out by consultants RPS provided a view of the significance of railway buildings and structres and what the impact of improvements to the railway network were likely to be.

Railway Air Raid Precaution Control Centres

This project looked at another previously poorly understood area: the legacy of buildings used to coordinate the protection of England's railways from air attack, through both World Wars and into the Cold War. You can download the illustrated report on 20th Century Railway Air Raid Precaution Control Centres from our Historic England website.

Heritage assets in inland waters

To fill an identified gap in understanding, we commissioned a report from consultants Fjordr appraising the significance and levels of protection of heritage within inland waters. The report looks at the national picture but also offers a more detailed case study of the heritage of the waterways within the Kennet and Bristol Avon river system. Find out more from the digital report. We also supported publication of a journal article about archaeology underwater in England's rivers and canals, by Antony Firth. "Heritage Assets in Inland Waters: An Appraisal of Archaeology Underwater in England’s Rivers and Canals." The Historic Environment: Policy & Practice 2015; 6 (3), 229-239.


During the plan period, we commissioned a preliminary overview of the heritage of canals from industrial archaeology expert Keith Falconer, in 2017 this preliminary report was subsequently replaced with an extended version with an illustrated gazeetter. You can access this extended overview of canals heritage on our Research Reports Database.

A modern photograph of an early petrol station at East Sheen
East Sheen Service Station, built 1926, one of the best examples of an early purpose-built filling station, was inspired by American gas stations. Listed following research by the Car Project. © Derek Kendall and English Heritage

Key links to other NHPP activities

This activity had strong links to the following other NHPP Activities:

Modern photograph of an early purpose built garage, which resembles town hall architecture
The Castle Garage, Worcester, built in 1939, shows the influence of contemporary town hall designs. It was Listed following research undertaken for the Car Project. © Peter Williams and English Heritage
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