Most historic buildings are the product of a series of additions and subtractions. This process provides archaeologists with physical evidence of changes in technology, fashion and social relations. Change must continue if historic buildings are to have a future; equally, listed buildings form a precious and limited resource, and it is right that proposals for change should be considered in a careful and informed way. It is particularly desirable to safeguard those aspects of a building which make it special.
Taking an archaeological approach to a building can save money and time. A full understanding of its structural development and its surroundings can inform repair, indicate where flexibility lies for more radical alteration, and provide an essential tool for future management.
Evaluation and recording of buildings
The need for understanding the importance of the archaeology of buildings and sites is set out in government policy on planning and the historic environment (National Planning Framework) and explained in the Planning Practice Guide.
The National Planning Framework sets out the requirement for assessment of the impact of proposals on the significance of heritage assets such as listed buildings, before applications are determined. Such assessments are usually rapid and relatively inexpensive. Assessments are most useful at the earliest stages of formulating your proposal. They can help to avoid time-consuming and possibly costly alterations at later stages and should indicate the limits of alteration which would be appropriate. The local county or district archaeologist should be able to advise on the scope of such an assessment and on appropriately qualified people to carry it out.
Where a proposal has been granted consent by the local authority, but entails loss of historic fabric or there is a likelihood that hidden features will be revealed, applicants may be asked to make provision for recording.
Building surveying and recording
Canterbury Archaeological Trust undertakes historic building recording projects all over the county of Kent, and occasionally further afield. We record buildings of many kinds and periods — from medieval timber-framed buildings, such as houses and barns, to the wide range of nineteenth- and twentieth-century building types.
The vast majority of surveys are undertaken in advance of, or during repair, alteration or demolition. Such work often forms part of the planning process as set out by central government in the National Planning Policy Framework. We also undertake emergency recording, for example after a fire. Surveys can also be undertaken for property owners who simply want to learn more about the buildings in which they live, or to inform decisions about a building’s future use.
A survey can range from a brief site visit and examination, followed by a short written appraisal, through more detailed recording, analysis and interpretation, to minutely detailed survey for dismantling and re-erection. A range of techniques may be employed, including hand-measured or electronic survey; photography (including rectified photography); and written description. If appropriate, documentary research can be undertaken to enhance our understanding of the building’s fabric and history.
The local church is one of the major features of the English landscape. Churches and other places of worship are often the most visible and oldest buildings in their locality. Some, such as Canterbury Cathedral, are major tourist attractions and internationally famous. Others may be small and less well known, but are just as significant to their communities.
More than 80% of churches are listed buildings. They are significant archaeological sites as well as active places of worship. It is essential to maintain the balance between this use and the specialist requirements for preservation. No one understands this better than Trust Director, Paul Bennett, who holds the post of archaeological advisor to the Diocese of Canterbury. Supporting him is a team of skilled staff with specialist knowledge of church archaeology, built up over many decades.
Churches are ‘living’ buildings and there is usually enthusiasm for maintaining them, often via the Parochial Church Council (PCC). Here at Canterbury Archaeological Trust we encourage and support such community ownership and the recognition that these represent historic assets.
Our staff are always on hand to advise and provide skilled intervention where necessary.
For further information on our Built heritage services, please contact Rupert Austin, Building Recording Officer: firstname.lastname@example.org.