Looking after, managing or making changes to an older property requires a good understanding of the building so that no unnecessary damage is caused. This understanding needs to encompass:
- the building's special qualities, its character and significance
- how the building is constructed and how it performs
- the condition of the building and whether it has any defects that need attention
Significance is a word used to summarise what is important about a building or place or any type of historic asset. It can be defined as the sum of the heritage values of a place. These are often set out and described in a 'statement of significance'.
These values can incorporate:
- evidential value - relates to the potential of a place to yield primary evidence about past human activity
- historical value - relates to the ways in which the present can be connected through a place to past people, events and aspects of life
- communal value - relates to the meanings of a place for the people who relate to it, and whose collective experience or memory it holds
- aesthetic value - relates to the ways in which people derive sensory and intellectual stimulation from a place
English Heritage promotes a values based approach to significance as set out in Conservation Principles.
Statutory designation is an important indicator of the significance of a particular property and can include the following:
- listed buildings
- conservation areas
- scheduled ancient monuments
If you are planning to make changes or carry out repairs to an historic building then understanding the significance and the impact of the proposals on this significance is the key to good conservation practice.
If the proposals need to have some form of consent application submitted to the local planning authority then it is important to provide sufficient information for the planning authority to be able to determine the application. Through pre-application consultation the local planning authority will be able to set out the minimum information requirements that will be needed to consider a proposal.
Drawings, photographs and written information should be used to convey the existing character of the historic building. These should demonstrate the likely impact of a scheme on its significance and setting and the measures that have been taken to avoid or minimise damage.
Depending on the complexity of the application and proposals a specialist assessment may be required to provide an understanding of the significance of the historic building. The assessment might include some or all of the following:
- historical research
- fabric analysis
- architectural investigation
- an examination of any surviving fixtures and fittings
- exploratory work
- the detailed analysis of decorative schemes or particular materials
- an archaeological evaluation
A specialist assessment is not an onerous exercise but it needs to be undertaken by a suitable qualified specialist who can present the information in a manner which is acceptable to the local planning authority. Applicants should always ensure the assessment will be fit for purpose by agreeing its precise nature and extent with the local planning authority before commissioning any work.
Understanding Historic Buildings: A Guide to Good Recording Practice describes a range of approaches that are available for the investigation, recording and interpretation of an historic asset and provides guidance on when they are applicable. These include forms and levels of recording, the role of documentary research, measured survey and drawings, photography and the content and format of a report.
Understanding Historic Buildings
28 Feb 2006
This document is the outcome of extensive consultation among practitioners with many years' experience in the field. It provides clear, practical guidance on the ways in which the wealth of historical evidence embodied in buildings can be gathered and disseminated for the lasting benefit and enjoyment of all.
Understanding the construction and condition of the property
Part of really understanding a building is being aware of how it is constructed, what materials have been used and its overall condition. It is also important to be aware of what changes have occurred over the life of the building. Changes often occur that disfigure a building in some way or create long term problems. Alterations and extensions of different periods can though contribute to the property's character and interest.
If you are considering purchasing an older property then it is advisable to have it surveyed professionally before making up your mind. If you already own an older property you probably know it sufficiently well and are aware of what needs attention.
Read more about surveying your property.