English Heritage

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English Heritage
Formation 1983
Legal status Non-departmental public body
Region served
Simon Thurley
(chief executive)
Sir Laurie Magnus
Website english-heritage.org.uk

English Heritage (officially the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England)[1] is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). By advising on the care of the historic environment in England, English Heritage complements the work of Natural England which aims to protect the natural environment. It has a broad remit of managing the historic environment of England and advises the relevant Secretary of State on policy and in individual cases such as registering listed buildings and scheduled ancient monuments. Simon Thurley has been chief executive since 2002.

It was set up under the terms of the National Heritage Act 1983. Its functions for maintaining ancient monuments had previously been undertaken by part of the Department of the Environment, which was the successor to the Ministry of Works. The 1983 Act also dissolved the bodies that had previously provided independent advice – the Ancient Monuments Board for England and the Historic Buildings Council for England and incorporated these functions in the new body. Another advisory body, the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) was not merged with English Heritage until 1 April 1999.[2]

English Heritage's best known role is as the steward of over 400 significant historical and archaeological sites, from Stonehenge to the world's earliest iron bridge. It has direct ownership over some historic sites and also liaises with private owners of sites that are managed under guardianship arrangements. It has major responsibilities in conservation, giving advice, registering and protecting the historic environment. It also maintains a public archive, the English Heritage Archive, formerly known as the National Monuments Record (England).


The English Heritage Archive building in Swindon

English Heritage (The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England) is a non-departmental public body which manages the historic built environment of England. Today it is an executive agency of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The latter was formed in 1997.[3]

Over the centuries, what is now called 'heritage' has been the responsibility of a series of State Departments. There was the 'Kings Works' after the Norman Conquest; the 'Office of Works' (1378–1832); The Office of Woods, Forests, Land Revenues and Works (1832–1851); and the Ministry of Works (1851–1962). Responsibility subsequently transferred to the Ministry of Public Building and Works (1962–1970) then to the Department of the Environment (UK) (1970–1997) and now the DCMS.[4] The state's legal responsibility for the historic environment goes back to the Ancient Monuments Protection Act 1882.[5] Central government subsequently developed several systems of heritage protection for different types of 'assets', introducing listing for buildings after WW2 and conservation areas in the 1960s. In 1983 Secretary of State for the Environment Michael Heseltine gave national responsibility for the historic environment to a semi‑autonomous agency (or 'quango') to operate under ministerial guidelines and to government policy. The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission (now known as English Heritage) was formed.[6]

Since then it has amalgamated with other bodies and archives to become the lead body for the heritage sector.

A national register of historic parks and gardens, (e.g. Rangers House, Greenwich) was set up in 1984,[7] and a register for historic battlefields (e.g. the battle of Tewkesbury) was created in March 1995.[8] 'Registration' is a material consideration in the planning process. In April 1999 English Heritage merged with the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) and the National Monuments Record (NMR), bringing together resources for the identification and survey of England's historic environment. By adoption this included responsibility for the national record of archaeological sites from the Ordnance Survey; the National Library of Aerial Photographs, and two million RAF and Ordnance Survey aerial photographs. These, together with other nationally important external acquisitions, means that English Heritage is one of the largest publicly accessible archives in the UK: 2.53 million records are available online, including more than 426,000 images. In 2010–2011 it recorded 4.3 million unique online user sessions[9] and over 110,000 people visited NMR exhibitions held around the country in 2009/10.[10] In 2012 the section responsible for archive collections was renamed the English Heritage Archive.

As a result of the National Heritage Act 2002, English Heritage acquired administrative responsibility for historic wrecks and submerged landscapes within 12 miles of the English coast.[11] The administration of the listed building system was transferred from DCMS to English Heritage in 2006. However, actual listing decisions still remain the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who is required by the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 to approve a list of buildings of special architectural or historic interest.

Following the Public Bodies Reform[12] (aka ‘bonfire of the quangos’) in 2010, English Heritage was confirmed as the government's statutory advisor on the historic environment, and the largest source of non-lottery grant funding for heritage assets.[13] It was retained on grounds of "performing a technical function which should remain independent from Government".

English Heritage is only one of several of government sponsored organisations with responsibility for the historic environment.[14] This reflects the length of time that heritage has been legally protected, the number of government reorganisations, and the importance of heritage to the UK economy and society. Local government plays an important role in making conservation decisions locally and keeping local Historic Environment Records (HERs).

Purpose and remit[edit]

English Heritage commemorative plaques conference, 2010

English Heritage is the UK Government's statutory adviser and a statutory consultee on all aspects of the historic environment and its heritage assets.[15] This includes archaeology on land and under water, historic buildings sites and areas, designated landscapes and the historic elements of the wider landscape.[16] It monitors and reports on the state of England's heritage and publishes the annual the Heritage at Risk survey which is one of the UK Government's Official statistics. It is tasked to secure the preservation and enhancement of the man-made heritage of England for the benefit of future generations.[16]

Its remit involves:

  • Directly managing the national collection of sites, monuments, archive records and photographs taken into state care since the 1880s.
  • Giving grants national and local organisations for the conservation of historic buildings, monuments and landscapes. In 2010/11 it made grant offers worth £34.8 million to support heritage buildings.[9]
  • Advising central UK government on which English heritage assets are nationally important and should be protected by designation (i.e. listing, scheduling etc.).[17][18] In 2009–10 it advised on about 2,000 requests for listing, and processed 14,072 applications affecting Grade I and II* listed buildings, 97% of which were dealt with within the agreed deadline.[10] In 2010–11 the annual report states that it was consulted on 17,302 planning cases.[9]
  • Administering and maintaining the register of England's listed buildings, scheduled monuments, registered battlefields, conservation areas and protected parks and gardens.[19] This is published as an online resource as 'The National Heritage List for England'.
  • Administering the Blue Plaques scheme in London since 1986.[20][21]
  • Advising local authorities on managing changes to the most important parts of heritage.
  • Providing expertise through advice, training and guidance to improve the standards and skills of people working in heritage, practical conservation and access to resources. In 2009–2010 it trained around 2,500 professionals working in local authorities and the wider sector.[10]
  • Consulting and collaborating with other heritage bodies, local and national planning organisations e.g. the preparation of Planning Policy statement for the Historic Environment (PPS5)[22]
  • Commissioning and conducting archaeological research, including the publication of 'Heritage Counts' and ‘Heritage at Risk’ on behalf of the heritage sector which are the annual research surveys into the state of England's heritage.

It is not responsible for approving alterations to listed buildings. The management of listed buildings is the responsibility of local planning authorities and the Department for Communities and Local Government.[22]


Stonehenge, one of English Heritage's most famous sites

English Heritage is the guardian of over 400 sites and monuments, the most famous of which include Stonehenge, Iron Bridge and Dover Castle. Whilst many have an entry charge, more than 250 properties are free to enter[23] including Maiden Castle, Dorset and St Catherine's Oratory.

Stonehenge visitors' centre. Opened in December 2013, over 2 km west of the monument, just off the A360 road in Wiltshire.

The properties are part of the portfolio of over 880 sites amassed by the British Government between the 1880s and the 1970s to form the National Collection of built and archaeological heritage. (The balance is in the care of Historic Scotland and Cadw.) These sites represent a deliberate attempt by the state in the 19th and early 20th century to take the nation's most significant prehistoric sites and medieval sites, which were no longer in active use, into public ownership.[24] This national property collection performs the same function as pictures in the National Gallery and the archaeological material in the British Museum.

Unlike the National Trust, English Heritage holds few furnished properties. New sites are rarely added to the collection as other charities and institutions are now encouraged to care for them and open them to the public.[24] One recent acquisition, in late 2011, was the Harmondsworth Barn in west London, close to Heathrow airport.

The properties are held by English Heritage under various arrangements. The majority are in the guardianship of the Secretary of State for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport with the freehold being retained by the owner. The remaining properties are either owned by English Heritage, other government departments or the Crown Estate.[10]

In 2010–2011 there were 5.5 million visits to staffed properties, an estimated 6 million visits to unstaffed sites and a further 32,340 free educational visits.[9]


English Heritage is a non-departmental public body, or quango, with most of its funding derived from taxation. In 2010–2011, English Heritage had a total income of £184.7 million. Of this, 70% came from government through grant-in-aid. Earned income of £49.8m accounted for 27% of revenue – £14.3m from property admissions; £12.1m from catering and retail; £18.8m from membership; and £4.7m from other sources. The balance came from donations and grants.[9]

Following the budget review in October 2010, the Government announced a 32% cut in the grant to English Heritage. Since 1997 it has received cuts in its grant-in-aid settlement, resulting in a real terms reduction of £130m.[25]


Members of the public are able and encouraged to join English Heritage. Membership provides benefits such as free admission to its properties and member-only events.[26] In 2010–2011 there were 1,026,000 members.[9] Membership does not convey voting rights or influence over the way English Heritage is run.

Participation in consultations and web-based surveys facilitated by English Heritage is not restricted to its membership.[27] It invites various groups and members of the public to give views on specific issues, most notably in recent years, about the Stonehenge road tunnel project proposals.


The organisation welcomes volunteers. Roles range from room stewarding, running education workshops and gardening, to curatorial cleaning and research.[28] In 2009–2010 volunteers contributed over 8,022 hours of work to English Heritage.[10]

Management and governance[edit]

English Heritage's Holborn Bars headquarters.

The Commission is the governing board of English Heritage. Since August 2013 this has been chaired by Sir Laurie Magnus. Baroness Andrews.[29] Was the previous chairman. The Commission provides the strategic direction of the organisation within the policy and resources framework agreed with Government. There are 17 people on the Commission including Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe CBE, Ms Maria Adebowale and John Walker CBE.[30] Commissioners are appointed by the Secretary of State for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Meeting minutes are published on the English Heritage web site.

The Commission delegates operational management to the chief executive, Dr Simon Thurley, who was appointed in 2002.[31] The chief executive is supported by an Executive Board of four directors. In addition, there is a range of advisory committees and panels which advise on and administer specialist areas. For example: The London Advisory Committee, Battlefields Panel and Urban Panel.[32]

In 2010–2011 English Heritage employed 2013 FTE staff.[9]

It has a "Planning Charter" which explains the role of English Heritage in the planning system. The charter includes information on how it deals with requests for pre-application and statutory advice; and the advisory service on policy and management issues relating to the planning process.[33] It has also published the principles on which its conservation advice is based.[34]

Future status and funding[edit]

In June 2013 the British Government announced plans to provide an £80 million grant to enable English Heritage to become a self-financing charity (roughly following the precedent set by the transformation of the nationally owned British Waterways into the Canal & River Trust). The national portfolio of historic properties is intended to remain in public ownership, but English Heritage will be licensed to manage them. Its statutory planning and heritage protection functions will be rebranded as the National Heritage Protection Service ("until a friendlier title is chosen"), and may be transferred to the Department for Communities and Local Government.[35][36][37]

It was later confirmed that English Heritage is changing into two organisations. From Spring 2015, it will convert into

  • Historic England, a government service championing England's heritage and giving expert, constructive advice, and
  • the English Heritage Trust, a charity caring for the National Heritage Collection of more than 400 historic properties and their collections.

Images of England[edit]

Main article: Images of England

Images of England was an English Heritage project intended to create a freely accessible online database of the 370,000 listed properties in England at a snapshot in time at the turn of the millennium. Each database entry includes a representative photograph and a description of the building written by an expert architectural historian. The project is now closed and only those properties that were designated as at February 2001 are recorded.


English Heritage sites in Cornwall[edit]

In 1999 a pressure group, the Revived Cornish Stannary Parliament, wrote to English Heritage asking them to remove all signs bearing their name from Cornish sites by July 1999 as they regarded the ancient sites as Cornish heritage, not English. Over a period of eleven months members of the Cornish Stannary removed 18 signs and a letter was sent to English Heritage saying "The signs have been confiscated and held as evidence of English cultural aggression in Cornwall. Such racially motivated signs are deeply offensive and cause distress to many Cornish people". On 18 January 2002, at Truro Crown Court, after the prosecution successfully applied for a Public Immunity Certificate to suppress defence evidence (these are normally issued in cases involving national security), three members of the group agreed to return the signs and pay £4,500 in compensation to English Heritage and to be bound over to keep the peace. In return, the prosecution dropped charges of conspiracy to cause criminal damage.[38]

In 2011 Conservative MP George Eustice stated that Cornish heritage "is not English" and that there is "a growing feeling that Cornwall should have its own heritage organisation, taking over from English Heritage."[39] He suggests that English heritage be replaced "with a Cornish Heritage group, just like they have for instance in Wales and Scotland."[40] The then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was called upon to give cash to a new autonomous body in Cornwall by "top slicing" English Heritage's budget.[41]

Fortress House[edit]

Fortress House: the former London headquarters of English Heritage at 23 Savile Row, now demolished

In 2006, The Secretary of State at the DCMS issued a certificate of exemption from listing for Fortress House, the then English Heritage headquarters.[42] In 2009, it was demolished and the site redeveloped for a commercial office building.[43]


In 2010 the organisation sent an email to open access photograph agency fotoLibra, attempting to ban the unauthorised commercial use of photographs of Stonehenge. A subsequent statement of regret was issued, clarifying that "We do not control the copyright of all images of Stonehenge and have never tried to do so." The organisation added that they request that commercial photographers pay fees and abide by certain conditions.[44]

Equivalent organisations[edit]

See also[edit]

A typical English Heritage "blue plaque", here marking the former London residence of guitarist Jimi Hendrix at 23 Brook Street.


  1. ^ Who We Are About Us English Heritage
  2. ^ Conservation Bulletin, Issue 35, April 1999
  3. ^ "English Heritage (The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England)". Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  4. ^ English Heritage leaflet "The evolution of the National Monument Record"
  5. ^ "AMA-1882 Ancient Monuments Act". Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  6. ^ "National Heritage Act 1983". Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  7. ^ Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England: "Report and Accounts 1983–1985" p26
  8. ^ English Heritage Annual Report and Accounts "Working in Partnership" 1994/1995 p 6 & 41
  9. ^ a b c d e f g "English Heritage Annual Report 2010-2011". English Heritage. Retrieved 15 July 2011. 
  10. ^ a b c d e English Heritage 2009–2010 Annual Report and Accounts
  11. ^ "National Heritage Act 2002". Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  12. ^ "Public Bodies Reform – Proposals For Change". Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  13. ^ "Historic Environment". Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  14. ^ "Protecting the Historic Environment". Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  15. ^ "Historic Environment". Retrieved 16 May 2011. 
  16. ^ a b "Funding of the Arts and Heritage". Retrieved 16 May 2011. 
  17. ^ "Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979". Retrieved 16 May 2011. 
  18. ^ "National Heritage Act 1983, Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England". Retrieved 16 May 2011. 
  19. ^ "Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990". Retrieved 16 May 2011. 
  20. ^ "The commemoration of historians under the blue plaque scheme in London". Retrieved 16 May 2011. 
  21. ^ "Local Government Act 1985, Schedule 2 Listed buildings, conservation areas and ancient monuments". Retrieved 16 May 2011. 
  22. ^ a b "Planning Policy Statement 5: Planning for the Historic Environment". Retrieved 16 May 2011. 
  23. ^ "See English Heritage history for free". Retrieved 10 May 2011. 
  24. ^ a b "English Heritage Information Pack 2010". Retrieved 10 May 2011. 
  25. ^ "Funding of the Arts and Heritage". UK Parliament. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  26. ^ "Member benefits". English Heritage. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  27. ^ "Consultations". English Heritage. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  28. ^ Volunteer with. English Heritage. Retrieved on 2013-08-13.
  29. ^ "Baroness Andrews". Retrieved 10 May 2011. 
  30. ^ "Commission". Retrieved 10 May 2011. 
  31. ^ Worsley, Giles (14 December 2001). "A buildings man among bureaucrats". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 10 May 2011. 
  32. ^ "Committees and Panels". Retrieved 10 May 2011. 
  33. ^ "Planning Charter". Retrieved 10 May 2011. 
  34. ^ "Conservation Principles, Policies and Guidance". Retrieved 11 May 2011. 
  35. ^ "£80 Million Boost for Heritage". English Heritage. 26 June 2013. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  36. ^ "English Heritage to become a charitable trust". Salon: Society of Antiquaries of London Online Newsletter 301. 1 July 2013. 
  37. ^ "Measure for Treasure: Dr Simon Thurley, head of English Heritage, on philanthropy, funding and the future of heritage". PrimeResi.com. Retrieved 24 September 2013. 
  38. ^ "Historic signs case trio bound over". BBC News. 18 January 2002. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  39. ^ "Heritage is not English; it's ours". This is Cornwall. 29 September 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  40. ^ "Cornish MP is critical of English Heritage". BBC News. 11 October 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  41. ^ "MP calls for 'Cornish Heritage' to replace English body". This is Cornwall. 11 October 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  42. ^ Joseph Mirwitch (May 2006). "Fortress House Threatened". The Twentieth Century Society. Archived from the original on 2012-03-10. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  43. ^ "A new suit on Savile Row". Mace. Archived from the original on 2010-11-25. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  44. ^ Cheesman, Chris (22 October 2010). "Stonehenge bosses 'regret' photography ban (update)". Amateur Photographer. Retrieved 27 October 2011. The storm centred on a message sent to picture agency fotoLibra which read: 'We are sending you an email regarding images of Stonehenge on your fotoLibra website. [...] The statement, published on the English Heritage website, adds: 'We do not control the copyright of all images of Stonehenge and have never tried to do so. [...] 'If a commercial photographer enters the land within our care with the intention of taking a photograph of the monument for financial gain, we ask that they pay a fee and abide by certain conditions. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]