Modern colour photograph of the exterior of a four storey stone built hotel, with attic level dormers.
View of the George Hotel, Huddersfield, in 2020 from the south west. © Historic England Archive. Image reference DP262001.
View of the George Hotel, Huddersfield, in 2020 from the south west. © Historic England Archive. Image reference DP262001.

The Context for Researching High Streets Heritage Action Zones

Senior Architectural Investigator Rebecca Lane explains the context of research work that is underway in support of the Historic England High Streets Heritage Action Zones. 

This edition of Historic England Research focuses on the research work that is underway in support of the Historic England High Streets Heritage Action Zones. This government-funded £95 million programme is designed to ‘unlock the potential of high streets across England, fuelling economic, social and cultural recovery’.

Supporting the programme

Historic England is working with local partners, including local authorities, to deliver schemes in over 60 high streets in England. As part of this work targeted research is being undertaken by Historic England’s research teams, focused on places where heritage is poorly understood. This programme of work has been devised in partnership with the local communities involved, to ensure it meets the needs of each high street. This research ranges from large-scale Historic Area Assessments which look at whole areas of a town, to detailed study of individual buildings and sites.

Historic Area Assessments are useful where there is a need to consider areas holistically, for example to inform conservation area assessments or planned improvements to a street or whole town.

Studies of individual buildings can be targeted at specific properties which are likely to undergo significant changes – for example as part of a programme of conservation – or at buildings which are likely to play a significant role in revitalising a high street. It can be particularly valuable where the buildings are complicated with many phases of building and alterations in evidence – as is often the case in towns and cities.

The research work focused on delivering new understanding which Historic England and its local partners can use to underpin conservation programmes, to assess the significance of buildings and areas, and to work with local communities to celebrate the heritage of their high street. Much of this will eventually be available to the wider public via the Research Report Series database, and through the publication of associated articles and other public engagement activity in local areas.

Examples in this issue

This issue of the magazine highlights some of the individual sites which have been investigated as part of High Streets Heritage Action Zones schemes across the country.

  • In the South West an article by Johanna Roethe outlines two projects in Redruth; one looking at an important 19th-century site, The Buttermarket, and the other a wider study of the early bank buildings in the town. And in Gloucester Rebecca Lane looks at the history of The Fleece Hotel, a 15th-century set of buildings which served as an important inn in the town from at least the 17th century.
  • In the South East Johanna Roethe examines the history of The Guildhall in Newport, Isle of Wight – an important building by the architect John Nash.
  • And in the East, Emily Cole outlines a study of an individual building called The Cedars which forms a key site of the North Walsham High Street Heritage Action Zone.
  • In the North East and Yorkshire Lucy Jessop introduces many of the fine Victorian buildings in Middlesbrough and Huddersfield which form part of the High Streets Heritage Action Zones in those towns.
  • In the North West Elain Harwood outlines the history of The Empire Theatre, Burnley.
  • As an associated project, Gary Winter also highlights the contents of the Pennycuick Collection, and the history of the man who created it, held in the Historic England Archive. This contains many images of high streets across the country from the decades around the middle of the 20th century, reminding us of the time when high streets still had their traditional role within towns.

The impact of research

The results of the research presented here has highlighted the importance of individual buildings, both locally and nationally. It has also been used to emphasise what is unique and distinctive about the wider town-centre areas – from the quality of the commercial buildings of Middlesbrough to the long and complex history of the buildings of Westgate Street, Gloucester. Often it is the local character and significance which is central to the various initiatives under the High Streets Heritage Action Zones programme, as it emphasises the key role such buildings can play in establishing a sense of place, and encouraging people to engage with heritage on the high street.

In the build-up to the end of the High Streets Heritage Action Zones programme in March 2024, the research done so far will be used to celebrate the history and heritage of high streets up and down the country. It is hoped that these publications and events will leave a legacy which, together with the physical improvements to high streets, will long outlast the programme itself.

Name and role

Rebecca Lane

Title and organisation
Senior Senior Architectural Investigator South West Region at Historic England
Rebecca worked in the commercial sector for six years as a buildings archaeologist, and latterly as a historic buildings consultant before joining the Architectural Investigation team at English Heritage in 2010. Rebecca drafted the Historic England guidance on Understanding Historic Buildings.

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