By Matthew Slocombe Published 3 October, 2012
Matthew Slocombe is Director of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and author of the Shire book ‘Traditional Building Materials’.
If an historic building, site or landscape is to be properly appreciated and cared-for it needs to be understood. In part, this involves establishing what makes the place of historic interest. Historical understanding comes from investigation, which is aided by those with specialist research skills and knowledge. Often, this knowledge is held by voluntary societies with local interests, or by specialist national organisations.
Knowing what to do on a more practical level (and equally importantly what not to do) is also necessary. Understanding the material conservation needs of a building or site will allow effective management and care, ensuring that interest is retained for present and future generations.
When to seek advice
Conservation of historic buildings and sites is not an exact science. In fact, every site is different and has its own requirements. Nevertheless, there is much sound published advice available which explores the issues and sets out possible conservation approaches. A conservation principle common to all guidance is that regular care and maintenance is vital to good custodianship. Maintenance, which in the case of occupied buildings will involve such things as gutter clearance or the reinstatement of slipped slates and tiles, prevents the development of more serious defects. There are many maintenance tasks that can be carried out by a non-specialist owners or custodians of a building or site, provided the limits of personal knowledge and skill are not exceeded and safety requirements are observed. Beyond this, assistance from suitably qualified professionals may be required.
If repair becomes necessary, it is always best to seek specialist professional advice and assistance from those who have particular qualifications in and experience of work to historic structures and sites. Such professionals can be found through the organisations involved with this website. Historic places are generally too sensitive for the unsupervised use of volunteers, but they offer great potential for training if this is properly supported by experts.
Where to find out more
Historic England: Conservation Principles