Preserving historic sites and buildings

Parliament has recognised the need for the protection of monuments and buildings for well over a century.

The first legislation on the preservation of archaeological and historic sites in Britain was the Ancient Monuments Protection Act of 1882. It made arrangements for the 'guardianship' of some 50 prehistoric sites and appointed a single inspector of ancient monuments.

Listed buildings

Responsibility for sites and monuments was developed through further Acts during the early 20th century. The most significant changes, however, took place after the end of the Second World War. The Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 began the system of listing buildings and structures of special historical, architectural or cultural importance.

However, the demolition of listed buildings, particularly in the countryside, continued almost unchecked in the 1950s and 1960s until rigorous new planning procedures were laid down in the Planning Act of 1968. This Act also explicitly introduced for the first time the concept of a listed building, a status which now carries full statutory obligations of care and conservation.

English Heritage

English Heritage was created by the National Heritage Act of 1983 as the successor to several older bodies responsible to the Government for heritage sites. It places special emphasis on fostering public interest in all aspects of the historic environment in England and Wales.

Scotland's heritage is managed separately by authorities appointed under legislation enacted at Westminster.

The National Trust

The National Trust, founded in 1895, is an independent charity which also cares for heritage and country areas in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Scotland's own National Trust was founded in 1931). It was incorporated by the National Trust Act of 1907, and its constitution and powers have been revised under subsequent legislation.

Related information


Historic Hansard

The House of Commons debates the Second Reading of the Ancient Monuments Bill

The House of Commons debates the Second Reading of the Town and Country Planning Bill

The House of Commons debates the Second Reading of the Town and Country Planning Bill 1968

The House of Lords debates the Second Reading of the National Heritage Bill

Did you know?

Preservation orders to prohibit the alteration of historic buildings were introduced by the Ancient Monuments Act of 1913