The Regent Street frontage of Chesham House, the premises of Liberty and Co and Rowlands and Frazer, London, 25 August 1898.

The Regent Street frontage of Chesham House, the premises of Liberty and Co and Rowlands and Frazer, London, 25 August 1898. © Historic England Archive
The Regent Street frontage of Chesham House, the premises of Liberty and Co and Rowlands and Frazer, London, 25 August 1898. © Historic England Archive

Historic High Streets

England was once called “a nation of shopkeepers”. It certainly was meant to be an insult but more than 200 years later, Brits still love to shop.

Despite our love of a bargain, you can’t help but notice these days our high streets are going through some hard times, suffering because of out of town shopping centres and more and more people shopping online.

For decades, high streets have been hubs of the community and today they can still tell us so much about our ancestors’ lives.

To celebrate what high streets meant to people in the past, and what they can be again, take our fun quiz to see which historic high street you’d be most at home in.

Why are historic high streets important...?

Historic high streets are key to the local identity of their towns

They are not boring "clones". Each historic high street reflects the unique character of their town, with a wealth of quirky architectural detail.

People in a historic high street with a cathedral spire in the background.
People enjoying Salisbury's Historic High Street © Historic England, Steven Baker

Our high streets bring communities together

They hold shared community history in their shop fronts and bring the community together to shop and browse, with the potential to be a focus for local civic pride.

People at the entrance to a market hall
The entrance to Brixton Village market, London © Historic England, Chris Redgrave, image reference DP183165

Historic high streets attract businesses and visitors to your town

Our research has shown that well kept historic areas are attractive places for business and are a great place to be for locals and visitors alike. Heritage led regeneration can lead to further economic growth and an improved sense of wellbeing.

Thanks to a nine year collaboration between Historic England, Derby City Council and local retailers, Derby's historic city centre conservation area has been transformed.

An elegant row of historic high street shops.
Once one of England’s poorest-performing retail areas, it's now an award-winning shopping destination.

So why do High Streets struggle and what can go wrong...?

Despite their potential advantages, our high streets face new economic challenges.

Out of town retail parks and online shopping have changed shopping behaviour

Aerial view of an out of town retail development.
How do our shopping preferences affect our historic buildings?

Historic buildings left vacant are at greater risk of damage and decay

Which means local character is lost, people are less likely to invest in the high street and our civic pride and sense of wellbeing can take a knock.

Coming soon... High Streets Heritage Action Zones

We will soon launch our new High Streets Heritage Action Zones scheme, which will provide £40 million to find new ways to champion and revitalise a number of high streets. Working in partnership with owners, developers, local government and the local community, heritage-led revival will be used as a catalyst for wider regeneration.

This forms part of our wider work to support sustainable and positive change in historic places. Find out about further work in the 'also of interest' section below.

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