Saturday, 31 January 2009

The Joy of Listing

With around 350,000 Listed Buildings in England you'd think that most of what was worth protecting had been identified by now. Certainly that's the subtext of the Government's cynical treatment of the whole Historic Environment business over the last few years - a result of never going outside the M25. And of course, those of us who think that nowhere near enough is listed should remember that even if we pulled them down at a rate of one a day, it would take a thousand years to erase them all - part of Gordon's plan, no doubt, and it would create significant employment in the vitally important demolition sector, as, naturally, did the removal of the removal of the Liverpool Customs House (above) in the years after the Second World War - "relieving unemployment" really was given as the reason for demolition. That unemployment might also have been relieved by repairing it (it had been bomb-damaged but was structurally largely intact) escaped the notice of the City Fathers, which in itself says much of what you need to know about our elected representatives.

Another city that suffered badly in the War was Plymouth, where the same pattern of hasty clearance after the bombing gives the impression, in photos from 1945, of total destruction by the enemy, rather than the truth, which was total destruction by the City Engineer. At least in Plymouth the rebuilding followed a vision (albeit one rapidly watered down by economics and political expediency). It is the legacy of that vision which is now being disparaged and destroyed.

You may laugh, but Plymouth is Britain's only Art Deco city - the architectural language chosen when the rebuilding started in the late 1940s was an already rather charmingly old-fashioned Clarice Cliff mode, and the first stage of the rebuilding followed this diligently all the way along Royal Parade, the new grand avenue crossing from east to west, and up the first part of Armada Way, the great north-south vista from the railway station to the sea (that Plymouth Hoe interrupts the view and prevents a view of salt water was just a mnor inconvenience).

Having had such vision 60 years ago, the successors to that city council are now busy finding ways to smash it all up. Their "vision" can be found in video form here:

A very loaded consultation has made it quite clear that the council see any further listings as a "constraint" (the City were livid at the listing of their own offices - which are admittedly difficult to like at first glance but are, on close inspection, excellent of their type and date

And declaring a conservation area has been ruled out too, despite two independent reports (one by English Heritage and CABE) strongly suggesting that much of the city centre should be designated.

But I digress, as always. The protection of Post-War buildings is, for reaons of fashion, going to be a controversial issue for a few more years - Laver's Law of clothing fashion applies just as much to architecture

In the meantime, I commend these websites: which is a bit over-enthusiastic even for my tastes at time, but does show that the tide might be turning, and:, which deals with Plymouth and is very good on how later alterations, rather than the original designs, are to blame for the tattiness which is all the City Council can see (though the photos don't quite do justice to the experience of being there).


  1. Do you know, that's not what I'd originally intended to write about at all, even as I typed the title and first paragraph? Interesting how the brain gets sidetracked.

  2. Interesting article though.

    My view is that there is a careful balance between listing everything for protection and also not 'diluting' the power of a listing by ensuring it remains the preserve of truly special buildings

  3. Ah - the Joy of Writing CO - taking the mind for a walk!

    Listing is, however, a mysterious process even to those of us with some insight, and if it was only so simple as Grafik would like it would at least be some comfort. It isn't however. Which is no comfort at all.

  4. Ah, but listing in England is a delight compared with listing in Wales. A tiny fraction of those buildings which should be listed actually are, and getting new listings is a fraught process.
    No, the time is not yet ripe for a Cadw rant...

  5. But Caius, haven't Cantdoo just finished the complete national resurvey of Welsh listed buildings? they surely haven't missed anything, have they?

  6. Actually, Caius, I'd say much the same is true in England. In Scotland things seem to get listed more readily, then they also seem to be destroyed more readily also.

  7. But Caius, haven't Cantdoo just finished the complete national resurvey of Welsh listed buildings? they surely haven't missed anything, have they?
    If I didn't know you better, I'd say a tongue was planted firmly in the cheek with that post!

  8. I thought the resurvey was carried out in order that listings could be removed, not added? ;-) If all the listed buildings in England were resurveyed now, I suspect that a large number would be deemed unworthy, altered too much (with consent of course) so the 'special interest' has gone, etc. It's all a mess really.

  9. How about this then:

    Cadw, Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings; closing date 6 February 2009

    Assistant Inspector of Historic Buildings, ref 1066696; salary band £25,000 to £32,100
    The post involves a wide range of duties relating to the built historic environment of Wales, including designation.

    For information visit