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Understanding historic character

Historic character lies at the heart of local distinctiveness and sense of place.

It is shaped by the activities of people over tens, hundreds, or even thousands of years. Many of the distinctive qualities of a place result from its history in the same way that the character of a person is formed over time. These can include its origins and significant periods in its history — how and why it developed and changed. It can also include particular activities and traditions, communities and people, or events associated with a place. These elements all contribute to historic character: we can see them in the form and fabric of a place as well as in the names, stories, art and culture associated with it.

Some elements of the historic environment have been identified as having special national interest or importance — our scheduled monuments, listed buildings, conservation areas and registered historic parks, gardens and landscapes. Historic character, however, is more than the sum of these nationally recognised assets. The ordinary and everyday may contribute as much to historic character as a grand old building. This means that even somewhere with few designated historic assets can have a rich historic character.

We can capture local distinctiveness through characterisation — identifying how places have been shaped over time and what makes them special. We find historic character in patterns of space and connection, as well as in traditions of building. These are the ingredients of the unique identity of a place. If we understand this unique identity, we can make sure that as places change we keep hold of what makes them special.

Cadw has been looking at a series of towns across Wales, each one of which has its own special character.  The studies set out a definition of local character which can inform the management of change.

Managing historic character explains how local planning authorities can use historic character to help create and sustain distinctive places for the future.