The original listing survey
The loss of the Euston Arch
contributed to pressure
for listing to include
buildings up to 1914.
Although I was recruited as a listing investigator only
in 1968, at least four colleagues were still in post from
the very beginning of listing. I am indebted to them for
information about the early days.
Listing started as a result of section 30 of the Town
and Country Planning Act 1947. This stipulated that
the minister was to produce a list of buildings of spe-
cial architectural and historic interest for the guidance
of planning authorities. The listing section was fully
operational by 1949.
The first chief investigator, SJ Garton, had a most
unfortunately worded obituary in the national press. It
was to the effect that, having suffered a severe wartime
head injury, he was no longer considered suitable to
continue scheduling in the Ministry of Works and
was instead asked to head the newly formed historic
buildings section in the Ministry of Town and Country
A number of fieldworkers were recruited, mostly
working from home or travelling in the regions, with
only a small number of staff located at headquarters.
The investigators were always separately located from
their administrators in the Ministry of Town and
Country Planning, later in the Ministry of Housing. At
various times the unit was located at Chester Terrace
and Onslow Gardens. By the 1960s was on the second
floor of Fielden House, Great College Street.
Listing originally had three grades, I, II and III, but
Grade III was not statutory. At a slightly later stage
Grade II* was invented to bridge the gap in standards
between the two statutory grades by providing a grade
suitable for the best 10 per cent of Grade II buildings.
On resurvey it was discovered that local authorities
without an interest in heritage had found Grade III
a useful marker for demolition. Anglican churches
were graded A, B and C because of Ecclesiastical
Exemption: the last of these obsolete grades are only
this year being expunged from the statutory lists.
The cut-off date for listing was set at 1840. In the
later 1940s, before the Victorian Society had been
formed (let alone the Twentieth Century Society),
listing covered a later date range than the Royal
Commission on Historical Monuments, which at this
period stopped at 1714.
The early lists were in two parts, both consisting of
typed sheets of around A4 size. The actual statutory
lists consisted only of the grade, postal addresses and
the names of the owners of listed buildings. The more
useful part was the ‘provisional list’, which generally
had a preamble about the particular architectural and
historical interest of the area, followed by the addresses,
grades and descriptions of the listed buildings.
Investigators generally wrote their reports in manu-
script. At some stage a tear-off writing pad called an
HB30 was invented. This provided a column to the left
for the address, a central column for the grade and a
right-hand column for the description. The completed
lists were checked by the chief investigator, then sent
to the administrators, who sent them for typing and
issued the lists.
Investigators had many difficulties in the early years.
They operated against a background of fuel, food
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and petrol rationing. Petrol rationing was a serious
problem, though as wartime bombing had mostly
affected cities and historic towns, these were the top
priority and could usually be reached by train. Rural
districts were generally tackled afterwards. However
there were times when fieldworkers were instructed
to cover only the more built-up parts of rural parishes
because of fuel shortages.
The early years of listing also coincided with a
number of very severe winters when fieldworkers were
unable to travel for weeks on end. Garton’s car heating
system did not work and he insisted on driving with a
lit oil stove in the back. His car had an ancient convert-
ible cloth roof on which moss grew. On one occasion,
while carrying out an inspection, he parked next to a
field in which a horse was grazing. He returned to find
the horse had eaten half his car roof.
Another difficulty was the hostility of owners,
particularly landowners or developers. Typical was
the letter from the owner of a country house to the
minister, whom he addressed by his first name. He
complained that ‘some ghastly man’ had turned up
at his door asking to inspect his house, saying he was
an investigator in the Ministry of Town and Country
Planning. ‘Surely this couldn’t be possible?’
Having most staff detached from the office caused
problems with supervision. An investigator covering
the far south west had not produced any work for
some time. He was summoned to London where he
claimed, like Lawrence of Arabia, that he had left his
manuscripts on the train. He was summarily dismissed.
A further hazard was vulnerability to government
cuts. In the 1950s the section suffered its own ‘night of
the long knives’ when a Conservative minister sacked
half the investigators. They included Frank Forrest, a
fieldworker in Derbyshire. He transferred to a career in
local government, ending up in Hampshire, where he
resurfaced as a fieldworker in that county during the
early 1980s Accelerated Resurvey.
Listing investigators were blazing a new trail. The
first three volumes of Pevsner’s Buildings of England
appeared only in 1951. As a result there was a degree
of cross-fertilisation, with investigators using Pevsner
volumes and many Pevsner volumes referring to
MHLG lists. There was also a relationship with the
Royal Commission as by the 1960s the listing section
was co-located with the National Buildings Record
(later renamed National Monuments Record), and it
was mandatory to inspect the red boxes at the start of
a survey.
Fieldworkers also used the RCHM county volumes,
although only a few counties had been covered.
Scheduling, on the other hand, was carried out by
the Ministry of Works in a separate building. Until
both ministries were merged in the Department of the
Environment, and co-located at 23 Savile Row, there
was little or no contact between the two sections. As a
result certain types of structure were both listed and
When the first chief investigator retired in 1962 there
were two main candidates to replace him. David Cecil
Wynter Verey, the architectural historian, notable for
his pithy one-line listing descriptions (and later for
being the husband of Rosemary Verey, the gardener)
was not successful. He left to become High Sheriff
of Gloucestershire and author of the Gloucestershire
volume of Buildings of England .
Anthony Dale, chief investigator between 1962
and 1976, had an Oxford law degree. But his real
enthusiasm was for Regency architecture and he had
written a monograph on James Wyatt. His days as a
fieldworker had been spent in Kent, Sussex and the
Isle of Wight. He was rather patrician (I was once
shown the timber-framed farmhouse where the family
chauffeur had been raised) and invariably wore a grey
three-piece, pin-striped suit of a pre-war cut, a floral
tie, two-toned shoes and gold-rimmed spectacles.
Dale insisted on doing his own typing on an ancient
Imperial typewriter, always recognisable because of
some defective keys. On field trips he would travel with
a shooting stick and an inflatable cushion for his back
problem. In the summer he would sport a panama and
on very cold days a fur hat purchased from the ladies
department of Bobbies of Brighton. His two stock
phrases were ‘listing is like the Forth Bridge’ (meaning
it would always require revision) and ‘we are not
doing a Royal Commission exercise’ (meaning it was
important to press on covering the country rapidly in
advance of the redevelopment blighting town centres
in the later stages of the listing survey).
His deputy was Molly Blomfield, who had compiled
lists in East Anglia and was a keen birdwatcher from
her cottage on the Norfolk coast. A no-nonsense office
disciplinarian, she nevertheless enthralled us with her
account of visiting a country house, following at a
distance down the drive behind a very old-fashioned
car which went past the house and through some gates
on the other side. When she drew up at the house, it
was clear it had been uninhabited for some time – and
the gates past the house were secured by a rusty
padlock that had not been opened for years.
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inspections (spot listing) because that might enable
him to fit in some fishing. Mary Davies, a pupil of
Pevsner, covered the north west counties. Because of
the inclement northern climate she had developed a
different pattern of working, travelling in a caravan
with her retired husband in the summer months and
writing up during the winter.
Mr Armitage, an architect who joined the listing
team when he retired from the GLC, ceased working
only at the age of 76. He was very popular with
the chief investigator because he was prepared to
travel anywhere in the country, and he saved up all his
annual leave to attend the Davos skating champion-
ships in February, a time never in demand. Armitage’s
other hobby was origami. On the rare occasions when
he attended the office it was vital to lock away any
loose papers, as he had an irresistible urge to transform
sheets of paper into his bird creations. This could
include ministerial correspondence.
By the closing stages of the listing survey only seven
staff were in post. However, following the creation of
the Victorian Society and loss of important structures
such as the Euston Arch, pressure was brought for
listing to include buildings up to 1914. In January 1969
the chief investigator arranged a party at the Eccleston
Hotel to celebrate the completion of the first listing
survey for England and Wales.
Those attending included the retired first chief
investigator Mr Garton, Lord Holford and, in addition
to the surviving staff from the original survey, a further
nine staff who had been newly recruited for a national
re-survey of buildings of architectural and historic
interest. But that is another story.
Derek Sherborn had been an investigator from the
start. He was a grammar-school boy, brought up in
Streatham, until his parents inherited Fawns Manor,
Bedfont, from a cousin. Sherborn’s passion was for
country houses, although he was a fount of informa-
tion on many other building types. In the early years,
because he was young and not a family man, he was
sent to the far north. The compensation was auction
houses with prices far below those in London, which
fed his constant appetite for paintings and antiques.
By the 1960s Sherborn was attached to the London
office, at first single-handedly approving all listed
building consents for every listed building in England
and Wales. In the lunch hour he would attend Sotheby’s
and Christie’s, returning with extraordinary treasures.
These included a hideous elephant foot inkwell used
by President Woodrow Wilson to sign some important
treaty. Sadly, Sherborn’s constant letters published by
Country Life magazine alerted the criminal classes that
Fawns Manor was of interest. After several burglaries,
he and a friend were held up and were lucky to escape
after many hours of being bound and gagged. The
experience led to his early retirement.
Another investigator from the earliest days was
William Collier, an Oxford history graduate who
listed counties around the Thames Valley and was the
author of books about buildings in that area. He came
from a diplomatic family who had to leave the British
Embassy in Oslo in haste when the Nazis invaded the
country. Many years later the Norwegian Government
discovered a very large painting by Alma Tadema in the
basement of the building bearing the family address. It
was returned, after the artist’s stock had risen.
In the later stages of the listing survey three inves-
tigators remained on detached duty. Mr Holt, who
lived in Bristol, carried out surveys in the south west,
including Bath. He was particularly keen on ad hoc
Carole Ryan works for
English Heritage in London
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