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What is a Grade II* Listed Building?

Today we return with another blog post on listed buildings. In one of our previous posts, we have talked about the significance of Grade II listed buildings - including our advice on owning and altering these designated structures, which you can read more about here. This time, we will be exploring the next tier of listed buildings in what is known as a Grade II* designation. Although there are many different types of buildings which can fall under this type of designation, we will explore some of the two most common types of Grade II* listed buildings - domestic houses and agricultural buildings.

Listed Buildings

As described in our previous blog post on this topic, listed buildings are nationally protected heritage assets in the United Kingdom. Historic England defines the process of listing as the following:

Listing marks and celebrates a building's special architectural and historic interest, and also brings it under the consideration of the planning system, so that it can be protected for future generations. The older a building is, and the fewer the surviving examples of its kind, the more likely it is to be listed. The general principles are that all buildings built before 1700 which survive in anything like their original condition are likely to be listed, as are most buildings built between 1700 and 1850.

What are the Listing Grades?

Listed buildings are categorised into one of three tiers of protection, as defined by Historic England. The grades are tiered according to the asset's perceived importance and historic interest - something which is assessed based on a variety of complex factors.

  • Grade I listed buildings are deemed of 'exceptional interest', meaning that only 2.5% of listed buildings in the UK merit this listing.

  • Grade II* listed buildings are defined as 'particularly important buildings of more than special interest'; only 5.8% of listed buildings in the UK have obtained this listing.

  • Grade II listed buildings are deemed of 'special interest'. As such, 91.7% of all listed buildings have obtained this listing grade which is the most common type of designation for historic buildings in the UK.

Grade II* Listed Buildings

Many people wonder what the difference is between a Grade II and a Grade II* listed building. This is especially given how Grade II* listed buildings are theoretically subject to higher levels of protection and, thus, more planning constraints. The reasoning behind this is clear. Whilst 91.7% of listed buildings in the UK are Grade II listed, only 5.8% are Grade II* listed. This clearly implies an increased level of historic significance and rarity in Grade II* listed buildings which merits further protection. The criteria for the different listing grades vary according to the type of historic building. These guidelines have been published online in Historic England's listing selection guide.

Agricultural Buildings

'The presence of a group of historic farm buildings, if of early date, or exceptional architectural quality, or which clearly represent local farming traditions over time, can sometimes strengthen the case for listing at a higher grade.'
(Historic England 4.1).

Generally, the listing criteria for agricultural buildings focuses on the survival of historic fabric, fixtures and fittings predating the year 1850. Most farmsteads contain substantial later interventions dating to the 20th - 21st centuries which often resulted in the removal of their original planforms alongside evidence of historic farming equipment and systems. As such, evidence of this nature becomes increasingly rare and informative regarding periods of agricultural improvement and the impact of mechanisation on these rural farmstead sites. You can read more about the significance of mechanisation in our dedicated blog post on this topic. Model farms - often carefully designed for large estates in response to advancements in the agricultural industry leading up to the 19th century - are also considered to be of national significance. Their planned approach differs much from smaller farmstead sites which gradually evolved to meet the changing needs of the farm, instead of being optimised from the beginning for mass production. The criteria for listing agricultural buildings at a higher grade therefore often includes considerations of the following:

  1. Architectural quality, survival and group value.

  2. Regional diversity and character.

  3. Fixtures and alterations predating 1850.

  4. Evidence of model farms.

  5. Evidence of farmsteads situated in urban areas which fulfil different research objectives to rural sites.

  6. Farmsteads accompanied by substantial historical documentation.

Domestic Houses

Historic England's listing criteria groups domestic houses into four main categories; 'Vernacular Houses', 'Town Houses', 'Suburban and Country Houses', and finally, 'The Modern House'. The first category of Vernacular Houses largely concerns buildings erected prior to the Victorian Period which were largely illustrative of local construction techniques employed up until the 19th century. The growth of railways and canals during the 19th century - in addition to the advancements of the Industrial Revolution - led to the mass production and trade of more standardised building techniques and materials. This led to a considerable impact on the way the built environment was constructed, planned and managed. Historic England's listing criteria for townhouses generally concerns buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, many of which are terraced domestic houses.

Contrastingly, country houses of this period were situated outside of these urban environments and were often connected to substantial plots of land - something which is attributed to how these houses emerged out of the tradition of castle-building. Whilst houses from the Victorian period are increasingly common, special interest lies in the Arts and Crafts Movement and the Garden City Movement. It is generally considered that only the more 'architecturally ambitious terraces' from the latter portion of the Victorian period are listable. These structures are therefore less likely to meet the criteria for Grade II* listing and above. According to Historic England, types of modern houses considered for listing might also include:

  • Neo-Georgian and historicist houses.

  • Modernist and post-war houses.

  • Pre-1939 social housing.

  • Pre-1939 private flats.

  • Some hostels.

  • Some post-war housing.

Which Domestic Houses Merit Grade II* Listing?

Whilst most buildings constructed prior to 1850 will be listed, the likelihood of a higher tier of listed building protection increases with age. However, regardless of age, exceptional and unusual examples of domestic architecture are likely to merit a higher degree of listed building protection. Rarity is therefore a key factor in obtaining higher listing grades. For example, earlier examples of lower-class housing prove exceptionally rare and therefore be more likely to merit Grade II* listed building protection or higher. Furthermore, the degree of survival of the original planform, identifiable and historically-significant changes to the planform, and decoration choices will all constitute factors in the listing grade.

In terms of townhouses, rare evidence is considered to comprise historic wallpaper, stencilled / painted wall decoration, and ‘below stairs’ features which can include ranges, pantries, special-function cellars, built-in dressers and coppers. In terms of historic timbers, their age, decoration, and proven connections with other buildings or ships are key factors in determining the listing grade.

Examples of Grade II* Listed Buildings

Historic England also provide a variety of examples of Grade II* listed domestic buildings falling under these four separate categories. This provides an excellent indication of the types of buildings which warrant a Grade II* listing due to their perceived historic importance and associated special interest. Once again, these examples can be found in Historic England's listing selection guides. However, links to the listing descriptions have been provided below for each example.


Vernacular Houses

'The best and most intact of houses of the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries will merit consideration for listing at a higher grade.'

Historic England 2.9


Town Houses

'The earliest, most complete and elaborate terraces may be listable at a high grade. High grades take account of exteriors with decorative brickwork and fine details such as door cases, and interiors with an elaborate staircase, moulded panelling, ornate plasterwork and chimneypieces and possibly distinctive plan forms. The most skilfully composed set pieces from the mid to late eighteenth and early nineteenth century are likely to be listed in high grades for their architectural importance and picturesque use of their site.'

Historic England 2.10


Suburban and Country Houses

'Country houses, villas, and suburban houses survive in such large numbers that they will need to be carefully assessed for listing...Listing in the higher grades may be appropriate when architectural interest of a particularly high order is present. Early and influential examples of developments in domestic architecture may qualify, as may component parts of particularly significant ensembles and exceptionally intact examples of clear note. Outstanding decorative elements may sometimes warrant consideration for a higher grade too: the survival of interesting interiors or early wall paintings, for instance, may be relevant in this regard. Historic associations may occasionally have an impact too.'

Historic England 2.2- 2.13


Modern Houses

'Influence, imagination, scale, ambition and ingenuity together with the quality of craftsmanship or the striking use of materials (not least concrete) are the principal benchmarks. Planning and lay-out, decoration, relationship with setting, reputation of the designer: these too are considerations, as is the extent to which the original design has survived unaltered.'

Historic England 2.0


At Blue Willow Heritage, we provide expert advice on planning, the historic environment and conservation works to historic buildings. If you need support managing your listed buildings, then Blue Willow Heritage can help. If you would like to discuss your project or simply need some impartial, no-obligation advice, then please do not hesitate to get in touch.


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