How Does Historic Building Restoration Ensure The History Of The Property Is Preserved?

Maintaining historic buildings has been at the forefront of many people’s minds in recent years. History is so vital to our society, and ensuring that we preserve this history is key so it is not forgotten. There are so many historic buildings in the UK that either have had or need restoration work.

This is not limited to over 500 historic properties covered by the National Trust and over 450,000 listed buildings throughout England with 2.5% of these categorised as Grade 1 and 5.5% categorised as Grade II* as of the end of 2010.

But the argument can be made, if a building is being restored, how is the history and legacy of the property behind preserved? In this blog, we’ll explore just that, so read on to find out more.

What Are Listed Buildings?

Listed buildings are a way of defining structures of particular architectural and/or historic interest. Although most sites are buildings, other structures such as sculptures, monuments, bridges, memorials and milestones are also listed. A listed building may not be altered, extended or demolished without special permission from the local planning authority.

Listed buildings first came into prominence after World War 2, when extensive damage by German bombing prompted people to want to protect buildings that were deemed to be of particular merit.

Owners of listed buildings are expected to maintain and repair them if needed, with alterations often done using specific materials or techniques as a requirement.

There are three grades defined by The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission:

  • Grade I: Buildings of exceptional interest
  • Grade II*: Particularly important buildings of more than special interest
  • Grade II: Buildings that are of special interest

While this might seem vague and hard to define, several specific criteria are looked at when considering where a building should be listed. These are:

  • Age & Rarity: All buildings erected before 1700 that ‘contain a significant proportion of their original fabric’ will be listed, with most built between 1700 and 1840 also listed. Newer buildings than this are selected more carefully and less often but can be chosen if they are of outstanding architectural quality and under some kind of threat.
  • Selectivity: If similar buildings survive, the policy is only to list the most significant examples.
  • National Interest: Things can be both nationally important or distinctively regional
  • Aesthetics: Whether a building is visually appealing can affect the listing. However, those without visual appeal can still be listed on other grounds.

Common Issues With Historic Buildings

Buildings that require restoration can normally have a plethora of issues that need to be addressed. However, there are a few common ones that will typically be the cause and need for repair and restoration. These are:

  • Stone Decay – Stone elements can erode and fade due to the weather. This can result in a loss of structural integrity or for decorative elements to disappear
  • Roofs – Roofs very commonly need restoration, with the roofing materials becoming worn or damaged over time, causing leaks or structural damage.
  • Cracking – Building materials such as concrete will suffer from temperature fluctuations, structural stress and other issues. When this occurs cracks form which weaken the structure.
  • Masonry – Similar to the cracking issue, masonry walls can develop issues due to similar reasons. Bricks and stone can also crumble due to moisture exposure, and the mortar holding the masonry units together can deteriorate over time

The Ship Of Theseus Argument

Preserving the history of a property during restoration brings into mind the Ship of Theseus thought experiment. In Greek mythology, Theseus was the iconic mythic Greek founder-king of Athens who slayed the minotaur and rescued the children of Athens from King Minos. 

Each year the ship they escaped on was taken on a pilgrimage to honour Apollo, however after several centuries of maintenance, each part of the ship was probably replaced. The question can then be posed, if each individual part of the ship was replaced, is it the same ship?

The same can be said about historical building restoration and ensuring that history is preserved. If too much is taken from the original building, is the history still there? Where do we draw the line between necessary replacement to preserve the building and keeping historical elements intact?

Well, read on to find out how it is accomplished.

Listed Building Renovation – How Is It Done?

Luckily when historical and old buildings need to be restored, plenty of care and consideration is put into the process to ensure that they maintain the history of the property, while making changes that can ensure its legacy for years to come.

Older buildings require maintenance and repair work due to the inevitable decay and deterioration of building materials that can occur over the years due to neglect, climate conditions, wear and tear or any other threats to it.


Maintenance and repair are two different things, with the goal of maintenance to limit deterioration and is often cheaper than general repair work. Maintenance can consist of routine care and minor repair work can ensure the health of the building and anyone who visits. Sometimes these tasks can seem quite small and mundane, but can really help with overall building conservation.


On the other hand, repair work is the work that goes beyond just maintenance work. This can include fixing problems caused by damage, decay or other factors that have escalated it past what general maintenance work will cover. It can keep the building in use and sustain its significance through this.


Restoration is a third thing typically used in preserving older properties, with the line between repair and restoration a bit blurred. Restoration can involve returning a building to a known earlier state, with the proposed changes carefully considered based on compelling evidence.

This can be weighing up the effects restoration work would have on the value of a building, seeing if the form of the building as it currently exists is not historically significant in itself, the maintenance implications and whether the proposed work respects previous forms of the place.

In some cases, restoration may provide conservation benefits that cannot be accomplished through repair alone, and sometimes repair work is the only way something can be accomplished without it deteriorating further.

Using Authentic Materials

One of the biggest challenges when restoring buildings is identifying, sourcing and using authentic materials. Authentic materials must be used in restorations to maintain historical integrity. This can be tricky, however, as sometimes traditional materials can be difficult to identify and source.

For true authenticity, the materials should be sourced from areas local to the building, and sometimes the building materials are not sold as much or as available as they used to be. The use of the materials must be carefully considered, with thought put in about whether it will damage the historical architecture or aid future maintenance purposes.

Restoration Of Old Buildings With James Perkins

When it comes to stately home renovation and the restoration of old buildings, many put their faith in James Perkins. He has led the property restoration on a great number of Grade I and Grade II listed buildings and country homes, putting his mark on some of the nation’s most iconic properties.

James has been developing his listed building renovation skills over the past two decades and only continues to go from strength to strength, with his vast knowledge sought by famous interested parties such as Netflix, The BBC, Channel 4 and Grayson Perry.

And it’s not just this blog who are singing James Perkins’s praises – with extensive international press coverage in iconic publications such as Vogue, Tatler, Architectural Digest, Country Life and even more.

James has been working for over 20 years in the large-scale restoration industry, winning several awards for their accuracy, sensitivity and architectural ambition. This includes famous historic properties such as Aynhoe Park, Gosfield Hall, Howsham Hall and Dowdeswell Court.

Parnham Park

Currently, James is working on the restoration of Parnham Park, Beaminster alongside his wife Sophie. After a devastating fire hit Parnham in 2017, the two of them have been working to save and restore this historic house and to provide a home for their family.

It is a Grade I listed building in Dorset, known as one of the oldest stately homes in the area and also boasts Grade II listed gardens and parkland. Its 1810 remodel was overseen by John Nash, who is famously known for his work on Buckingham Palace, The Royal Brighton Pavilion and much more.

James and Sophie Perkins are partnered with world-renowned architect Thomas Heatherwick, as well as a team of the most skilled consultants and craftsmen found in the West Country, Historic England and Dorset Council.

Enquire About Listed Building Renovation

If you have any inquiries related to the restoration of historic or old buildings that you think would be of interest, feel free to get in contact here.

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