Archaeology & Buildings
What has archaeology got to do with buildings?
Archaeology is the study of the material remains and environmental effects of human behaviour: evidence can range from landscapes to microscopic organisms and covers all periods from the origins of human life to the remains of 20th-century industry and warfare. Standing buildings, as much as the remains of their buried counterparts, are witnesses to that past and can tell us much about the technology, social organisations, aspirations and everyday life of their inhabitants.
Historic buildings are also essential components of our everyday surroundings. They are part of the familiar and cherished local scene and, together with street patterns and open space, define both the historic development of a settlement and the way we live today.
Legislation, archaeology and buildings
A small percentage of buildings is protected by listing because of special architectural or historic interest, while some unoccupied buildings are scheduled as ancient monuments (under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 and the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 respectively). Currently about 500,000 individual buildings are listed – a tiny number compared to the total stock. Buildings can be listed at Grade I (of exceptional interest: about 2%); II* (of more than special interest: about 4%) and II (of special interest: 94%). The protection offered by listing is universal and covers the whole building, including the interior – it does not differ with the listing grade.
Listing a building does not prohibit change. Instead it seeks to manage change by requiring owners to apply for listed building consent for demolition or for works of alteration or extension which would affect the building’s character. Unlike planning permission no fee is payable, and the process of making a listed building consent application gives an owner or developer access to expert conservation advice from the local authority, national and local expert societies and English Heritage.
The local planning authority is required to notify the national amenity societies – the Ancient Monuments Society, Council for British Archaeology, Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, Georgian Group, Victorian Society and The Twentieth Century Society, of any application for listed building consent which involves demolition of a listed building or alteration which includes the demolition of any part of a building. See The Joint Committee of National Amenity Societies’ (JCNAS) website for further information.
An archaeological approach to alterations to an historic building
Most historic buildings are the product of a series of additions and subtractions. This process provides archaeologists with physical evidence of changes in technology, fashion and social relations. Change must continue if historic buildings are to have a future; equally, listed buildings form a precious and limited resource, and it is right that proposals for change should be considered in a careful and informed way. It is particularly desirable to safeguard those aspects of a building which make it special.
Taking an archaeological approach to a building can save money and time. A full understanding of its structural development and its surroundings can inform repair, indicate where flexibility lies for more radical alteration, and provide an essential tool for future management.
Assessment and recording of buildings
The need for understanding the importance of the archaeology of buildings and sites is set out in government policy on planning and the historic environment (Planning Policy Statement 5) and explained in the Planning Practice Guide, prepared by English Heritage.
PPS5 sets out the requirement for assessment of the impact of proposals on the significance of heritage assets such as listed buildings, before applications are determined (policy HE6, PPS5). Such assessments are usually rapid and relatively inexpensive. Assessments are most useful at the earliest stages of formulating your proposal. They can help to avoid time-consuming and possibly costly alterations at later stages and should indicate the limits of alteration which would be appropriate. The local county or district archaeologist should be able to advise on the scope of such an assessment and on appropriately qualified people to carry it out.
Where a proposal has been granted consent by the local authority, but entails loss of historic fabric or there is a likelihood that hidden features will be revealed, applicants may be asked to make provision for recording (policy HE12, PPS5).
The former Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments of England, now English Heritage, must be notified of all alterations involving an element of demolition and allowed access to buildings which it wishes to record. Both the decision to record a particular building and the level of detail are made with English Heritage’s own priorities and budgetary constraints. A decision by English Heritage not to record does not mean that no record is necessary. The local authority may therefore seek to impose its own recording conditions on any consent.
The CBA and buildings
Over 4,000 listed building applications from England and Wales are sent to the Council for British Archaeology each year. Using a network of expert local correspondents, a specialist panel of advisors and professional staff we advise on how to minimise the impact of a proposal, and on assessment and recording.
The CBA’s primary concern lies not with aesthetics, or amenity considerations, but archaeology. The distinguishing features of such an approach include an appreciation of the building as a totality, an assessment of the significance of the building within its neighbourhood and region, an ability to estimate the likelihood of evidence latent within the building or the site it occupies, and an ability to recognise and draw attention to those buildings of complicated development which straddle the interests of several period societies and where the long evolution is itself of significance.
As well as advising on formal notifications through the listed building consent system we welcome informal contacts from owners, developers, architects, local groups or individuals. If you are interested in the history of a building, are seeking advice on alterations or redevelopment, want to contact specialist organisations or seek help in a local campaign, please contact us at the main CBA address or email us.
For information on the wider work of the CBA (in education, information, conservation, research and publication) please see rest of website or write to the address above.
The CBA publishes a range of books on historic buildings and sites and the archaeology of buildings; from research reports to practical handbooks. See Publications.
1 Waterhouse Square
London EC1N 2ST
tel 020 7973 3000
fax 020 7973 3001
Ancient Monuments Society
St Ann’s Vestry Hall
2 Church Entry
London EC4V 5HB
tel 020 7236 3934
fax 020 7329 3677
Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings
37 Spital Square
London E1 6DY
tel 020 7377 1644
fax 020 7247 5296
6 Fitzroy Square
London W1P 6DX
tel 020 7387 1720
fax 020 7387 1721
1 Priory Gardens
London W4 1TT
tel 0870 744 3698
fax 01727 868 580
Twentieth Century Society
70 Cowcross Street
London EC1M 6BP
tel 020 7250 3857
fax 020 7250 3022
Garden History Society
77 Cowcross Street
London EC1M 6BP
tel 01454 29488
SAVE Britain’s Heritage
70 Cowcross Street
London EC1M 6EJ
tel/fax 020 7253 3500
Institute for Archaeologists
School of Human & Environmental Services (SHES)
University of Reading
PO Box 227
Reading RG6 6AB
tel 0118 0131 6446
IFA Buildings Special Interest Group
c/o IFA Reading office
Factsheet content last revised April 2010
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