The South Downs National Park has a wonderful heritage of buildings and standing structures, recording 1,000 years of human habitation. A rich pattern of settlement and development can be seen in almost every corner of the landscape. The buildings that remain provide a fascinating insight into everyday life over the centuries:
- scattered farmsteads and agricultural cottages,
- Norman castles,
- invasion defences of 1940
- historic churches from every era,
- impressive country houses, set in beautiful landscaped grounds,
- villages clustered in the valleys of streams and rivers, and
- small market towns that have thrived on trade for hundreds of years.
Historic buildings were usually constructed from materials quarried, gathered and hewn nearby. Roads were poor, especially in winter, and although boats were useful for shifting heavy materials such as stone, navigable rivers do not flow everywhere. Most people had no choice but to build with the materials they had near at hand, timber from the woods and forests of the weald, stone from local quarries and delves, flints gathered from the chalk downs and local clays won to mould bricks and tiles. This sheer variety of materials reflects the underlying geology of the landscape and is one of the great joys of the distinctive architecture of the National Park.
Over time some of local materials ran out. In the 18th century Local hardwoods were in demand for charcoal-making and shipbuilding so Scandinavian softwoods were used for buildings. With the arrival of the railways it was possible to have blue slate roof tiles from North Wales, but this didn’t totally replace the local roofing materials (clay or Horsham stone tiles and thatch). They often added yet another layer of diversity to the fascinating mix already in evidence.
To give similar protection to historic buildings as had already been conferred on the landscape, the idea was developed to safeguard those worthy of preservation from change by placing them on a list. This meant any proposals to demolish or alter them became controlled by a legal process. Today, local planning authorities, such as the South Downs National Park Authority, have a responsibility to monitor and regulate changes to listed buildings. Since 1968, these authorities have also had the power to designate conservation areas, which protect the character of settlements or groups of buildings within them.
Today, there more than 5,100 listed buildings within the South Downs National Park and 166 conservation areas. In addition, there are 30 registered historic parks and gardens within the boundary, as well as two registered historic battlefields at Cheriton and Lewes.
Buildings in the Landscape of the South DownsThis presentation provides an introduction to the historic buildings of the South Downs National Park and is particularly useful to schools participating in this year’s annual schools art exhibition, Our Place, setting the context of building materials, chronology and type.